The morning after the heartbreaking night before and the head is still sore, the throat is still raw and there’s a sickening sense of ‘what might have been’ – but the overwhelming feeling this morning after watching Rangers lose narrowly on penalties in the Europa League final in Seville is immense pride.
Yes, Rangers are still waiting for the club’s second European trophy and yes, the Light Blues face a huge task to get themselves ready for Saturday’s Scottish Cup final at Hampden but the journey that the Light Blues have been on in Europe over the last four years has been nothing short of sensational.
Going all the way back to Steven Gerrard’s first games as Rangers manager against the likes of Shkupi and Osijek – and fearing a repeat of the Progres debacle – to standing toe-to-toe with the likes of Dortmund, Benfica, RB Leipzig, Feyenoord, Galatasaray and more has been incredible.
Seeing the Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán with thousands of blue shirts long before the teams even emerged from the dressing rooms to warm up showed just how much it meant to the 100,000+ Rangers fans that travelled from every corner of the planet to be in Seville.
As much as the empty feeling that came as Frankfurt scored the winning penalty is one that will live with Rangers fans for a long time, the sheer elation that followed the final whistle at Ibrox against Leipzig and the mind-blowing dash for tickets and travel arrangements that followed will live every bit as long.
And it’s not just the Rangers players and staff on the pitch – but the fans too.
For too long the travelling Rangers support has been used as some sort of boogeyman (sometimes through our own making) but the sheer scale of the support in Europe – both at home and abroad – has been one of the most enjoyable parts of the entire run.
Whether it was thousands of fans travelling to obscure destinations like Ufa and Alshkert or chartering their own jet to fly to Seville, the Rangers support is unlike any other.
14 years after Rangers’ last European final and 50 years after the last European success, who knows when we’ll find ourselves back at the centre of things in one of UEFA’s showpiece finals.
Having seen Rangers lose twice now though, hopefully, the third time is a charm and whenever it is and whoever it is against, we’ll be the ones celebrating.
On a personal level, getting to write about Rangers in a European final was never something that I expected to get to do and, as someone who grew up so obsessed with football I could rhyme off every player in Walter Smith’s squad before I could do my times tables, it made the whole thing only that little bit more surreal.
Thank you Rangers – the players, the staff, the fans – for this incredible journey over the last four years and making us dream.
Read our match report as Rangers suffered the agony of losing the Europa League on penalties