And so, a painful variation on a very familiar theme finally came to a close. The experience of watching the recent Scottish Cup final was really the experience of the whole season distilled into 90 frustrating minutes. A flat start with players seemingly ill-suited to their task, a sharp increase in misplaced hope and belief and then, inevitably, the final gut punch of despair. An emotional Rangers arc that is unparalleled in any season during my lifetime.

You’d have to go back 45 years to find something similar with the 1978/79 campaign graphing the Old Firm’s changing league positions eerily close to what we have just witnessed. The start to that season was horrific, with just one win in the first nine league games and John Greig finding the transition from captain to manager a tough one to deal with. The league challenge ended at Parkhead, as it effectively did this time around, against ten men in a farcical game that Rangers should have seen out and gone on to claim their fourth title in five seasons. Beating Hibs at the third attempt to win the Scottish Cup doubled Greig’s trophy count for the season but it felt like an anticlimax to thousands. If you’d spoken to them in the January of that year, however, they would have been far more buoyant.

The Rangers recovery had pushed them ahead of Celtic in the table and they were now well in the hunt to secure their third treble in four years after disposing of their great rivals in the League Cup semi-final before Christmas. What’s more, Rangers were second favourites to win the European Cup after knocking out both Juventus and PSV Eindhoven en route to the quarter-finals. A legendary season directed by a club legend looked to be on the cards before weather-affected pitches and injuries took their toll and the campaign limped to its weary end. Plus ça change. Even with that disappointment still stinging, the Rangers support would almost certainly have said that the club was in decent shape in the summer of 1979. None could possibly have imagined what the next seven years was about to bring. Perspectives can change quickly. Perspectives are so often illusory.

Perspective has been on my mind a lot this season with its sharp turns and thrusts. After my last column on the madness of being a football fan, my editor impressed on me that I might think about doing more contemporaneous pieces instead of always being stuck in the past. Or words to that effect. Tempting as it was, writing about history - with a safe distance of at least 25 years - is a hell of a lot easier. We have a better view as historians, despite the past being a foreign country where they do things differently. The present is all smoke, crossfire and an endless cacophony of noise but if you want to know who to blame for how this season ended as it did, the answer is still a standard historian’s response: everyone and no one, depending on where you’re looking from.

Upon taking his seat in the Manager’s Office for the first time, Philippe Clement may have been forgiven for thinking that winning one trophy, losing another narrowly in the final under dubious circumstances and taking the league to the penultimate game would be considered fair return bearing in mind the mess that he had walked into. Last summer, fans tried to convince themselves of the qualities of players they’d barely heard of by reading graphs they didn’t understand but very quickly returned a damning verdict. Most of those left inside Ibrox Stadium at full time on Saturday 30 September stayed only to boo and the performance later that week, in Cyprus, gave life to every waiter and holidaymaker cliché used about Rangers abroad in the past. It was an abject shambles.

By the time he was raising the League Cup trophy into the cold night air on December 17 however, the perspective - and expectation - had changed. Within two months Rangers were through to the last 16 of the Europa League as group winners, had one trophy in the bag and were now in the driving seat in the league table. By the end of February, the grip had been strengthened with two excellent but very different wins at home to Hearts and away to Kilmarnock. Hope had been converted into belief. This was now all very much on.

Although nothing was lost the following weekend, the warning signs were there in the home defeat to Motherwell that fatigue was catching up and that those players on the fringes might not be trusted to see out routine fixtures as the race tightened, Nico Raksin, in particular, putting in one of the worst 45 minutes of the season. Driving home from Rugby Park I was so sure that Rangers were going to win the title. It felt emotionally significant being in the away end that night as Rangers got out of trouble by showing both character and class, coupled with all the data suggesting that the trends were going our way. As I sat at half-time two league games later, with Rangers leading Hibs 2-1, I knew that it wasn’t going to happen. Tired legs, wasteful finishing, a weekly defensive disasterclass and a massive gaping hole in the midfield every time Hibs won the ball in transition, did not paint the picture of a side who were about to power home to glory under increasing pressure. The belief had vanished as quickly as it had arrived.

READ MORE: 'Roundheads and Cavaliers' - What history tells us of Rangers, perception and success

And so, instead of bouncing into the new season with a strong wind behind him, Clement starts it under pressure. No wins in four against Celtic and surrendering the advantage at the top of the table renders the evidence gathered throughout the winter meaningless. Few are actively calling for his head - the support isn’t yet that bipolar - but there are more than enough who are wearily predicting that Rangers will find themselves yet again in the now annual autumnal hunt for a new manager, with the first Old Firm game of next season being at Parkhead hardly setting his side up for a smooth start. But, how fair really is that? Some have argued that that if he took the credit for the uptick then it is not unreasonable that he take the blame for the decline. That if he impressed many with his direct clarity when speaking in public then he should be criticised for the confusion and contradiction that he has also been guilty of, especially when under the pump. If there is room for a more specific responsibility, then it is surely that massive space in the middle of the park that increased his side’s vulnerability with each passing week as winter turned to spring.

Unlike other areas of the pitch where his options were only ever likely to make a negligible difference, he had an answer that he chose not to deploy. Clement did what any good manager would do coming into an underperforming side in the middle of the season; he shored up its defensive structure. Rangers conceded nine goals in his first 20 league games but 18 more in his next ten. The highlights of that initial spell - Aberdeen at Hampden and the second half away to Betis - were underpinned by the use of John Lundstram and Dujon Sterling in midfield. Not a midfield duo that Rangers should need too often but under pressure, it was an energy and discipline that worked.

Without a willing partner like that, Lundstram is a very different Rangers player, trying to do far too much and being a lot worse for it. Clement may point to a need to use Sterling elsewhere or, given that the Mohammed Diomande deal came up and had to be grasped for the long-term good, all three in midfield wasn’t an option either. But that is for managers to wrestle with. Either way, a lack of control was clear from Motherwell onwards and the refusal to try that partnership again in an attempt to stem the flood is a failure that he has to wear. That, however, is really the extent of it.

British football culture has made big strides over the last decade or so in its appreciation of tactics and the use of space on the field of play. The mainstream analysis can better deal with abstract concepts and has moved away from blood, snotters and getting it in the mixer. But perhaps it is now in danger of going too far the other way. A place where absolutely every facet of the game can be quantified, where online punters genuinely believe that they can do the job and where the role itself becomes ever more the chess grandmaster. The seductive simplicity of complete agency. It remains the single most important job at any football club but we must be careful of reducing all others to mere pawns. Managers may have great ideas but they need the personnel to execute those, especially in tight situations. To misquote Bill Clinton’s election strategist James Carville: it’s the players, stupid.

Many of Clement’s critics were original sceptics in the first place, with a perverse hope of being proved correct eventually. For them, another pragmatist wouldn’t cut it. They wanted the Rangers answer to Ange Postecoglou. They wanted identity. Which is fine, of course. Who doesn’t want to be excited by their team every week? Who doesn’t want a manager with a clear plan that they can get right behind? The myth around Postecoglou however, is that he arrived in Glasgow armed only with attacking ideas and affable vibes. Not that he spent the best part of £50,000,000 over two years on fast, hard-working players whom he knew would buy into his vision and sell it to their new teammates as well as bringing in the best centre back in the country by some distance.

An expansive ideology is sexy as all hell but, as he has found out in the Premier League, you had better have the biggest budget and the best players in the league to actually achieve anything. Given the mess that Chelsea and Manchester United were in, and how exhausted Newcastle and Aston Villa ended up, Tottenham should have had more than enough to secure Champions League football. Instead, they failed to reach the points total set by ‘Tiger’ Tim Sherwood as Spurs manager in 2013-14 where they finished eighth. It was, as the brilliant Jonathan Liew put it, a ‘catfish season’. More marketing than substance. Without the right players, ideas may as well stay on the whiteboard.

READ MORE: Graeme Souness, bad history and the importance of a Rangers vision - Martyn Ramsay

The reason why 55 was a one-off hit rather than an overture to a longer classical piece of work is most probably because Celtic have spent £70,000,000 since that trophy was lifted and Rangers less than half that. And not very well. It arguably isn’t much more complicated than that. Clearly, amongst that outlay, there have been complete misfires but some decent players came to Ibrox, possibly even a couple of good ones. Clement’s problem - like those before him - is that good won’t do. Rangers need great and that is where it gets tricky. Last season was lost in the margins, it has been said. Refereeing calls, managerial decisions and, of course, injuries, were ultimately costly. On the face of it, the point is a compelling one. Five Old Firm games with one draw and four defeats by the odd goal and those three crucial games at home to Motherwell and away at Ross County and Dundee all following the same pattern. However, when a side continues to be on the wrong side of those margins - and when Celtic were never behind in those games - then it is most likely a mirage. There is something deeper at play behind the mere numbers.

From the outside looking in, the dressing room culture at Ibrox - standards, drive, resilience in adversity - needs to be transformed before any serious talk of consistent success can begin. A manager sets the tone of that culture but needs a core group of players to make it stick. To borrow from my obsession with history, the ideas and words of Holmes, Souness and Smith would have meant very little without the cash to buy Woods, Butcher and Roberts. It was the big signings that transformed a dressing room of losers into champions every day in training and then in the middle of battle.

Game-changing players repair scar tissue and spread confidence where once there was very little. They help set a new narrative. ‘Things are going to be different now.’ How many of those have Rangers truly brought in since Steven Gerrard’s first season? Jack Butland was a marked improvement on an ageing legend and, for three-quarters of the season at least, had a genuine impact on the team. Filip Helander and Kemar Roofe were as much a reason for that isolated title success as anything else but didn’t have the bodies that could be relied upon beyond that. Instead, it has been a leadership group of three or four who badly need led themselves.

Some serviceable players have come and gone in that time, but they arrived at Ibrox looking for help rather than providing it. Players who, under a more secure culture with a healthy habit of winning titles, would have been nurtured and guided towards better careers. Others would take the lead while they got going. At Rangers, however, the cumulative pain, frustration and impatience crushes that fairly quickly. When you’re playing catch-up, you need to take far bigger - and more expensive - strides than the team you’re chasing.

The blame for not making those strides has quickly extended outwards from the field of play towards the boardroom for not keeping pace with Celtic’s spend and the support for being so accepting of second best and not demanding more. The Rangers support criticising one another is nothing new, of course, but there is sometimes legitimacy in it. Fans get managers the sack after all. But we need the perspective of history once more to judge just how varied that influence can be. If you want to blame Rangers fans for the current predicament then focus the ire on my generation and those before me who failed to question the level of spending after 1997. Or, when a reckless lack of corporate governance was becoming apparent in the early part of the new century, those who weren’t more careful with how much they spent on the club if it wasn’t going to be used wisely. Or, in the immediate aftermath of 2012, when there was an opportunity to bed in long-term planning, those who rattled a bucket for Charles Green’s IPO when his less-than-stellar history as Chief Executive of Sheffield United was widely known.

Those were moments in history when pressure could have actually changed the future. Call me a dreamer if you wish, but it is not clear what alternatives are being ignored and suppressed by the current custodians. And this is the thing with any fan action: it has to have a defined point. Owners who are asset-stripping or who are blocking a rival group with more money and better plans have always been legitimate targets. Demanding rich men waste more of their children’s inheritance so that you can enjoy more weekends than you currently do, isn’t. We’re all hurting but simply shouting that 55 was the start of a new era of parity, doesn’t make it so. Demanding that it be 1993 again, doesn’t make it possible. History’s shadow remains.

That being said, if not arresting the overall dynamic of dominance, Rangers should have acquired more silverware since that title win than they have and much of that failure can be laid at the door of the directors. It appears to me that the biggest risk in football is that, at some point along the chain of any organisation, a business professional has to hire a football one. By definition, there will always be an element of luck there but Rangers have to blow on new dice soon. The lack of overall technical responsibility is a massive concern and it is a hole that they have chosen not to fill, instead putting blind faith in the power of the manager last summer and wasting whatever funds they were able to put together. Add that to the constant instability within the executive team - James Bisgrove timing his departure perfectly as I type - and PR missteps such as the Australia friendly and there is little confidence that the head of the house has everything under control.

But even if they were willing to release more of their wealth or a Saudi Prince was interested or you won a triple rollover EuroMillions, it is not clear how quickly anyone could fast-track that power. The events of 2012 would have been dreadful at any time but the timing could arguably not have been worse, as the world of football tightened its rules to try and prevent the nouveau riche from tipping the game on its head overnight. Rangers could have boxed a hell of a lot smarter than they have and got better players for the money spent on some but I am yet to be convinced that it is not a straight jacket that keeps true, consistent success beyond us. Game-changing players - with the ability, mentality and track record to quickly change the dressing room mood at both Ibrox and Parkhead - seem unattainable but nonetheless necessary if Rangers are to turn the tables by their own strength alone.

And this is the equation that has been in place since Rangers returned to the top flight in 2016. Getting our own house in order alone was never enough. Celtic’s regression - through complacency, poor signings, bad injuries or simple sporting gravity - was always necessary and still is. In the short term, a title can still be won if they find themselves in a mess, as they did in 2020/21, threatened to do in the season just gone and will do so again. In the longer term, a more institutional malaise is needed for any Rangers gradual build and nose for new opportunities to be rewarded. It was ever thus. Celtic’s ruthless modernity on the field in the latter half of the 1960s still needed Rangers to be caught cold, too reliant on the gentlemanly methods of success that had made them kings of Scotland for generations. Likewise, the Rangers ruthless modernity off the pitch in the late 1980s was amplified by the Celtic board’s inability to find their brand of own dynamic ambition. Their later rebuild flourished as a result of the Rangers hubris, when it is not inconceivable that more measured spending and governance could have kept Celtic at arm’s length until the present day. All three periods of relative dominance are underscored by each other’s ingenuity and dullness, fortitude and arrogance.

Waiting for your rivals to have an off day, season or decade, doesn’t make for cheery reading as fans move into yet another ‘Huge Summer Ahead for Rangers’. It is something of an unspoken risk but one wonders if there is a point soon where the huge and defiant loyalty shown since 2015 hits its limit, with little joy with which to trade for the money spent. I spent £1697 on tickets, MyGers and RTV last season before fuel, flights and hotels are factored in. At some point, families will start to wonder if it is all worth the candle. ‘Glory hunters!’, would be the cry from fans of normal clubs but this isn’t a normal club. It is weighed down by tales of riches and success and when this generation’s legacy looks nothing like the ones that were bequeathed to those before, doubts could create apathy.

The hope might kill you but it is this that will keep you going again come August. We are blissfully unaware of what future historians will know. We obviously lack their perspective. Just like Rangers fans in the summer of 1964 who would have assumed that it would be them - or at worst, Dundee - who would be champions of Europe soon. Or Celtic fans basking in their double celebrations in the summer of 1988, satisfied that Graeme Sourness’s so-called ‘revolution’ was just a flash in the pan. If Rangers fans were told by a clairvoyant in June 2000 - after 5 trophies in two years and a winning margin of 21 points - that the coming decade would see their club in a European final and Dick Advocaat holding the trophy aloft, it would have all sounded perfectly reasonable. If they were then told that it would actually be Walter Smith in charge on the night and that they would only see five more titles over the next 20 years, it would have resembled a fever dream.

Jim Baxter’s broken leg, Mo Johnston’s signing and Henrik Larsson’s chip serve as nice signposts for new long-term directions but all they ever did was underline bigger changes that weren’t yet visible. Despite their ability to knock professional heads together, get key players back and knuckle down for the closing stages of the season, I am far from convinced that Celtic are now on the edge of some fresh new dawn. It is still a club with a fanbase teetering on revolt against its board and a manager whose ego does not fit well when back in the little leagues. You can’t keep living off injury-time winners forever.

Whether or not all connected with Rangers can start to forge a new path and show the necessary patience and perseverance to stick to it, is another matter entirely.

Or indeed, we could all benefit from one of those historical meteors from left field. A huge slice of luck that changes the whole picture. We are surely due one.