There was a time, as long ago as it seems now, where I could name the opposition’s starting eleven and tell you whether they were any good or not. Dougie Arnott always scores against us, don’t let Duncan Shearer turn you in the box or just hit it high towards the box – Rogan will try and catch it. Scanning the Motherwell line up before the game last week I realised this was no longer the case and I realised the same applied for football in general. I’m simply not interested anymore. I rarely check other scores, unless coupon related, haven’t seen more than ten minutes of Match of the Day in almost two seasons and unless I’m at Ibrox it just doesn’t interest me. It got me wondering what else had changed and at what point my experiences on a match day altered. It would be easy to say post 2012 – more on that later – but when did it simply become ‘All about the Rangers’.
Over the next few blogs I’ll try and relate my personal experience as a football supporter and more importantly as a Rangers man, first and foremost. This is not my attempt to disparage football, far from it. If anything it’s my declaration of love for the beautiful game – as long as it involves Rangers.
I came late to football or at least by today’s standards. As I have alluded to in a previous blog, I was only interested in cartoons and such in the late 80s and although I had a Rangers strip I didn’t play football out on the street or at school. When I turned 10 this all changed and within a few weeks of being in Primary 6 I was playing football non-stop and I could tell you who every Rangers player was and what our results had been for the season so far. My dad had finally gotten his wish. This was late August 1992 and like most my age my hero was the real life Roy of the Rovers – Alistair McCoist.
Those first few months consisted of buying ‘Match’ magazine and the Rangers News for all my latest information on my heroes and watching highlights on a Saturday Night or Sunday afternoon (see previous blog). It’s a real shame that the Rangers News has been made redundant by the internet but such is life. It also has to be said here that I would watch the highlights of whatever game was on, I simply couldn’t get enough football. I’d watch Motherwell v Aberdeen, Airdrie v Hibs - anything. I watched my dad’s 88-89 season review video over and over and it didn’t seem to matter that it was 3 years old by that point but I still hadn’t seen them in the flesh. I was by this point going to watch my dad play with the local amateur team but I longed to go to Ibrox and see with my own eyes what I’d watched non- stop on TV for months.
My dad came in from work on 11th November that year to inform me we were going up to the game that night to try and get a ticket. At least that’s how I remember it now. I can’t recall being excited for days as I clearly would have been. So my mum wrapped me up in my winter finery and my dad’s pal picked us up and we began our journey from the Irvine Valley to Ibrox. Given this was before the M77 existed, the journey took a considerable amount longer as we went through Newton Mearns and Giffnock etc This would be the case until the late 90s, and with the motorway extended now it literally takes 25 minutes to get to Ibrox from Kilmarnock, traffic permitted.
I digress, I remember getting up there and stepping on the fly over across the m8 looking at a glow coming from behind the sandstone tenements in front of me. We turned a corner on to Edmiston Drive and there it was. I don’t know if it is because my first game was a night game but I just love seeing Ibrox all lit up on a cold winter’s night more than any other scenario. I’d never seen so many people in all my life and it made going shopping with my mum up King Street in Kilmarnock seem like a ghost town in comparison. Incidentally it now actually is.
We queued at the ticket office which was then at the side of the Edmiston House building in an alcove of sorts. I remember my dad being shocked to find that Rangers didn’t do father and son tickets anymore and he had to pay in full for an individual ticket for me. His last experience of taking a child to Ibrox would be when his dad took him and he was lifted over the turnstile, or so they say. That momentary blip aside we went to get in to the ground. We were sitting in the Broomloan front and I remember being in awe at how big and bright it was inside, considering how cold and dark it was outside. I homed in on Ally warming up at the other side of the park straight away and excitedly remarked as such to my dad. The visitors were Dundee and as it turns out we weren’t that far away from their support. The man sitting in front of me looked like someone from Whitesnake and I suppose at that time in the early 90s hair metal would have been at its dying end but he wasn’t for giving up lightly.
Ally McCoist would open the scoring, diverting an Ian Ferguson drive past Paul Mathers. I had studied the programme beforehand and knew all their players. I would have charts on my board on my bedroom with top goal scorers for each team and who their man of the match had been the previous week. As I have said, I was a swot and I knew everything about our opposition (enemies as I refer to them now) and what they looked like too. So much so I knew that Den Bieman would be dangerous in the air as he proved by heading in an equaliser. McCoist would add a second in the second half which at the time seemed as though he was a million miles away up at the Copland Road end and the game seemed to be fizzling out to a 2-1 victory. Our driver was working that night and we left with a minute to go to beat the traffic. A roar let up from the ground as we were walking away. My dad tells me that is the final whistle and it’s not till we get back to the car and turn the radio do we realise we have a missed a Mark Hateley clincher at the end. I was annoyed that we had missed a goal and as such I wouldn’t miss another goal at a game I was at until Noel Hunt’s opener in the 2008 League Cup Final. I was at the time doing my third pee of the first half but more on that when we reach the ‘alcohol years’.
On the car on the way back my dad asked if I had enjoyed it and I asked when we were going back. I would attend three other games that season. A 2-0 win over St Johnstone just before Christmas (Robertson and Gough were the scorers), a 3-2 win over Dundee Utd just after New Year which is still one of my favourite games I’ve been at and the 2-0 defeat of Aberdeen which all but secured 5 in a row. Ferguson and McCoist got the goals that night and it was also the first time I had experienced what a cauldron of noise Ibrox could be. The place was absolutely bouncing that night.
The Wednesday night Champions League games on TV that season would see my education in players on the continent – Van Basten, Gullit, Romario and others who starred that season. It would also see my education in some of the more ‘cultural’ aspects of being a Rangers supporter. The houseful of men there would be my oblivious tutors in things I would soon learn not to repeat in unfamiliar company and certainly not as a ten year old. We can argue the rights and wrongs of it but it was a different time then. I vividly recall the bedlam in the living room at Nisbet’s fluke and I also remember the despair at the end of the CSKA game. I naively assumed it would be like that every year...
Season 92-93 came to its conclusion with the Scottish Cup final, played at Parkhead, as Hampden was being redeveloped. I watched this game at Nan and Papa’s in Stevenston (the good bit on the high road) as we completed the domestic treble in the sunshine, the first of three in my lifetime so far and I knew Rangers would be the focal point of my life from there on in. I’d been to games, I watched our highlights and I listened to commentary on Radio Scotland. I watched highlights of other games whoever it may be and I even watched highlights of Celtic beat Cologne 3-0 on BBC one night thinking it’d been quite a good game. I had players I liked at other teams in our league. I watched Football Italia. I bought football magazines. I was a Rangers supporter, like my dad and his before, but I was also a football fan. One of those statements is no longer true; I’ll leave it up to you to figure it out.
Next time I will recall my teenage years and getting my season ticket which in turn started the end of my naivety and innocence regarding Scottish football yet whilst at the same time were some of the best years of my life.
Gary Spence (@garywolfboy)