Our Rangers Heroes

Incredible stories of forgotten heroes from across the ages

Written by Ian Hogg (Hoggy)

At every turn, Rangers Football Club is steeped in history, but often that history centres on the club’s well-known legends whose names and deeds are part of football folklore. What about the players whose stories have been lost in the fog of time? Rangers’ history is about more than just a select group of stars. Rather, it is a rich tapestry of interconnecting tales, with each of the hundreds of players to have played for the club having their own unique story. Following on from Ian’s podcast series ‘Our Rangers Player’, Our Rangers Heroes brings to life some of the lesser-known tales of icons of the past. From a Scotsman managing Egypt in the 1934 World Cup, to the Danish Resistance fighting the Nazis, to a Croatian car mechanic who lived the dream on the Côte d’Azur, there are countless untold stories from Rangers’ proud and interesting past that need to be told. This book uncovers some of the very best of them – hopefully the first volume of many.

The book is a hardback, with 16 photo plate pages in the middle.  All orders bought through the site will be signed by Ian.

Below are some extracts from four chapters.

Extract from Chapter 2 - The Old Lady of Turin and Her Two Rangers Lovers

To someone who did not apply himself in preparation and the game, Aitken might say jokingly, “Miei cari, if I played like you, I could be a footballer until I’m 60!”’ (Umberto Maggioli)

Who knows, probably that Chalmers was born in the same Scottish village that gave birth to Sir Matt Busby may have confused poor Gianni.’ (Stefano Bedeschi)

A GOOD friend of mine, Tom Clark (responsible for over £1m in fundraising for the Rangers Supporters’ Erskine Appeal), sent me a message in January 2020: ‘Hoggy, Bill Aitken. Have you covered this guy? I knew nothing of him, but Rangers and Juventus. Wow! There must be a story there.’

Tom, who introduced me to the legendary Rangers winger and quite remarkable Davie Wilson, knows what to say to trigger my brain into action when it comes to Rangers. Within an hour my message back simply read, ‘He is one of two Rangers to have managed Juventus! He’s one, I’m off to research the other.’ The ‘other’ is William ‘Billy’ Chalmers.

Billy Aitken did not spend long at Rangers after joining from Queen’s Park in 1918, yet having had a very decent playing career in England he blazed a playing and coaching trail throughout Europe across a 20-year period from the late 1920s. Although he remains practically unheard of in Scotland, he is rated as one of the most important managers in the history of Juventus, credited for changing the playing philosophy of the Old Lady herself. Just how could Aitken be revered in Italy yet be relatively unknown in his native Scotland?

Similarly, Billy Chalmers is known to have had a very promising career at Ibrox in 1924. However, a leg break in 1926 cut his Ibrox time short and he became a journeyman player and aspiring coach. That was until the summer of 1948 and for reasons unknown, Juventus came calling.

Billy Aitken – Rangers

Billy Aitken was born on 2 February 1894 in the port of Peterhead. Although his name was William, he was known as Willie, Billy or George across his playing and managerial career. Willie and Billy are self-explanatory. However, with the middle name of John it’s commonly thought that any reference to George Aitken is derived from Italy with the pronunciation of ‘John’ and ‘George’ being similar to the ear of native Italian speakers. Of course, this meant the research on Aitken was often somewhat confusing.

Having played football through his early years, young Billy moved south to settle on the north side of Glasgow in 1912, wanting to realise a footballing dream but also to escape the fishing lifestyle that he was desperate to avoid being sucked into. He played with junior sides Kirkintilloch Harp, Kirkintilloch Rob Roy and Kilsyth Rangers, appearing mainly in friendlies as he tried to break into the first teams. However, with the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, Aitken joined the British Army to serve like thousands of others, often being posted on duty in France, and he reached the rank of sergeant.

He signed for Queen’s Park in September 1916, to enable him to play as an amateur, and when he was in Scotland he was a regular starter for Queen’s, appearing 66 times and scoring 15 goals in all competitions as a rightsided forward. He was making heads turn with his goals and his performances, with a rather unique on-field party piece of running along the touchline while bouncing the ball on his head, a full 90 years before Brazilian Kerlon attempted the same trick, even naming it ‘the seal dribble’. If, in 2007, Atlético Mineiro defender Dyego Coelho took exception to Kerlon’s tricks by elbowing him full in the face resulting in a five-match suspension, one can only wonder how battle-hardened defenders took to the audacity of Aitken in 1916.

He made his debut on 30 September 1916 at outside-right in a 2-2 draw with Dundee at Hampden with high praise from the Daily Record, ‘The most satisfactory feature was the splendid debut made by Aitken. Fresh from the junior side Kilsyth Rangers, he was the best Queen’s Park forward.’ Aitken’s team-mate on the opposite flank was one of the greatest Rangers of them all – Alan Morton.

With Scottish league football still playing to keep the morale of the country going, Queen’s narrowly avoided relegation on a unique technicality with Aberdeen, Dundee and Raith Rovers being asked to retire from the league due to increasing travel difficulties under wartime conditions.

Even so, Aitken played 31 times and scored four goals in his debut season, appearing for the first time against Rangers in a 4-1 home defeat in April 1917.

His second season, 1917/18, proved a far more prosperous one for the Spiders, finishing seventh. Aitken had a great campaign which included his first and second career hat-tricks in wins over Airdrie and Falkirk. Two more league outings followed against Rangers in September and November 1917 respectively, both resulting in defeats once again. However, his goalscoring exploits had caught the eye of Rangers manager William Wilton, so when offered the chance, he had no hesitation in signing professional terms with the league champions in late May 1918. Aged 24, he became William Aitken of Rangers.

He was pitched straight into the starting line-up for the first league match of the new season, on 17 August 1918. In front of 30,000 people at Ibrox Park, Rangers defeated Falkirk 1-0 thanks to David McLean. If the opening day was unspectacular, the first three months were incredible as Rangers won 13 of their opening 14 matches, drew the other against Motherwell, scored 36 goals and conceded only four. It was a start to the season with real consistency and Aitken was key to that, integrating immediately and seamlessly into the line-up.

He scored his first goal for the club against St Mirren and netted three times in those opening three months. This included the decisive goal in his first Old Firm game, on 5 October 1918, to win the Glasgow Cup Final in front of 65,000 at Hampden Park. Jimmy ‘Sergeant’ Gordon gave Rangers the lead and although they dominated the match, it took until the final minute for Aitken to beat two men and score into the corner. The Post Sunday Special painted a captivating picture, illustrating the charm of the reporting of the time, ‘Till the last kick, the “Govanites” had it, and just on time Rangers whipped home a second goal. This was a fine Aitken effort, who in his run home beat both backs, and with a fast grounder gave Shaw no options.

It was Aitken’s first senior winners’ medal and made all the sweeter by coming against Celtic. Two weeks later the side travelled to Parkhead and dominated Celtic again to win 3-0. Rangers were in a good place as the Great War ended in November 1918, four points ahead of their rivals and having beaten them convincingly twice already.

However, as we know in football, any lengthened period of consistency tends to come to a crashing end and Rangers experienced several periods of wobble, enough to gift-wrap the title to Celtic by a single point. The first occurred directly after the end of the First World War, with trips to Broomfield and Cappielow and a draw with Airdrie then defeat to Morton respectively. However, Rangers ended 1918 with an exceptionally hard-fought win over Motherwell to go five points clear, albeit Celtic had played a game less. The fierce tackling from both sides in the Motherwell tie resulted in Aitken sustaining an injury that kept him out of the next three new year games, over the following four days. A draw with Celtic, loss at Partick Thistle and narrow win over Airdrie meant the title was too close to call. Upon his return to the side, it was clear the injury had not healed and Aitken broke down again against Clydebank at the end of February 1919 – he was ruled out for the rest of the season and it proved to be his final game for Rangers.

In the summer, William Wilton started to restructure the forward line. Sandy Archibald had impressed at outside-right, Andy Cunningham had come back into the side and Rangers re-signed Dr Jimmy Paterson at outside-left, meaning when Port Vale enquired about Aitken’s availability, Wilton allowed him to move to Staffordshire in the summer of 1919 to play in the equivalent of the third tier of English football.

Port Vale had been playing non-league football since 1907, but after the war, in March 1919, the Football League held elections to fill five spaces in the senior divisions. Stoke City, West Ham United, South Shields, Rotherham County and Coventry City were all successful, yet Port Vale were short by just one vote meaning they began the season in the regionalised third tier. However, Leeds City collapsed financially and were expelled from the Football League after eight games, with Vale invited to take their place and their points tally for the 1919/20 season. It meant senior football once more and the Staffordshire derby against Stoke City could recommence.

Nine goals in 44 games in all competitions for Aitken solidified Port Vale’s mid-table place in the Second Division and he was a wanted man once again. Rumours circulated in the press of a return to Ibrox alongside new signing Alan Morton from Queen’s Park, but Newcastle United bid a record-equalling £2,500 for his services and Aitken was on his travels again, to sign for the Toon Army in May 1920.

Billy Aitken – Newcastle United

Newcastle were one of England’s premier sides in 1920 and Aitken loved his time on Tyneside, playing predominantly as an inside-forward, following what must have felt a rather nomadic existence since moving to Glasgow in 1912. He loved the area and called it home for four years, eventually returning to the Tyne and Wear area to settle after his football career had ended.

In his first season, he played 38 times and scored three goals as Newcastle finished fifth in the First Division. Despite not re-signing for Rangers, Aitken received his chance to run out at Ibrox in front of 30,000 fans again in April 1921 in Tommy Cairns’s goalless testimonial match. Season 1921/22 was a frustrating campaign as Aitken was injured in the Tyne–Wear derby against Sunderland in November and missed the next five months as Newcastle slipped to seventh. After several false starts, it took him until October 1922 to complete a proper pre-season and return to the first team. He played often in his third season, 26 times in total, and scored four goals as Newcastle finished fourth, but still some way behind champions Liverpool.

Aitken’s final season on Tyneside saw him score three goals in 30 appearances as Newcastle finished in mid-table. As the season drew to a close, injury forced him out of the side once again and he could not recover in time for a gala occasion. Newcastle had reached the FA Cup Final having disposed of Portsmouth, Derby County, Watford, Liverpool and Manchester City along the way. They then defeated Aston Villa 2-0, Neil Harris and Stan Seymour scoring in the final seven minutes to secure the club their fifth major honour.

However, despite the success of the season, Aitken was 30 years old and was struggling with recurring injury; with a growing nucleus of younger players in the Newcastle squad, his time with the club was over. In June 1924, he signed for Preston North End for £1,000 and played 58 times across two seasons. He was deemed ‘too old’ to play in his pacy inside or outside-right positions and he drifted down the divisions for a couple of seasons to join Chorley, Norwich City and Bideford Town, commentators expecting the announcement of his retirement in April 1928.

Billy ‘George’ Aitken and the Old Lady of Turin

Aitken was an avid studier of football tactics and both training and game setup and after he left Bideford in April 1928, he travelled to the French Riviera to undertake coaching sessions with various teams, all designed to broaden his experience with his training methods based on the great Herbert Chapman of Arsenal.

By sheer chance, Juventus chairman Edoardo Agnelli was also on the French Riviera and became fascinated, watching Aitken’s approach to the game and his ‘borrowed’ take from Chapman on how to combat the new adaptation of the offside laws brought into football in 1925. After many discussions across several days on coaching and footballing philosophy and explaining that Juventus had just lost their previous coach József Viola, Agnelli invited Aitken to move to Turin as player-coach, meaning he would have to become an Oriundi – a foreign-born and naturalised Italian.

Benito Mussolini’s fascist government did not allow foreign-born players to compete in the country’s top flight. The term Oriundi’s basis is to describe an immigrant of native ancestry, and in footballing terms it was originally used in Italy to describe players with dual nationality who did not require naturalisation, such as Giovanni Moscardini from Falkirk, whose parents were from Tuscany, therefore he was allowed to play for Pisa. However, with the rules being flaunted often, the authorities passed the law that allowed those with no Italian heritage to become naturalised Italians and play top-flight football. In the words of Italian manager Vittorio Pozzo before the 1934 World Cup, ‘If they can die for Italy, they can play for Italy!’ Aitken thought it through and concluded he was 34 years old, unlikely to play for Juventus on a consistent basis and it would be almost impossible that he would be selected for the Italian national squad; therefore he decided to dedicate himself to coaching and managing.

Agnelli was impressed with both his logical decision-making and single-mindedness of wanting to export the playing system and work ethic pioneered by Herbert Chapman, so officially made Aitken the manager of Juventus in August 1928, despite him having no coaching background.

In taking over the management of the squad, he set about introducing Chapman’s innovative 3-2-2-3 formation which became known as the Sistema in Italy and was adopted over time throughout the country, most notably by Torino in their all-conquering Il Grande Torino team of the 1940s. The key phrase here is ‘over time’ as initially it was met with resentment and hostility. The March 1966 edition of the Juventus fan magazine Hurrà Juventus describes Aitken as ‘a very nice gentleman’ who ‘brought structure, a proper fitness and English training regimes to Italy for the first time’. It was, seemingly, a shock to the Italian system. While Agnelli gave Aitken his full backing, the full-backs in particular resented playing the Sistema.

Previously, such players would sit off and wait for the opposition’s wingers to attack, but Aitken urged Mario Varglien and Luigi Bertolini to push up on their opponents, go beyond them and supply the ball to the attack. It required a whole new level of fitness and athleticism. The full-backs and others did not want to know, as Umberto Maggioli wrote in Hurrà Juventus: ‘Mr Aitken, it must be painfully admitted, did not find too much encouragement in the environment of the company and the team. He had the full esteem of the president, but not that of some other members of the management: some simple technical ears, others too backward in the football mentality that did not make them favourable to the innovations that the new coach intended to apply. Even several players were not in favour of him and did not indulge him: first of all, they were the full-backs who did not intend to play in a way in which they had never operated.

Even back then, player power held a lot of sway, with the full-backs in question complaining to Agnelli and making their feelings known to the wider Bianconeri support. During one short holiday break in the south of France, according to Maggioli, Aitken met some Italian friends while sporting a large bruise on his head. ‘Mister, what happened?’ they asked, ‘mister’ being an Italian term of respect. ‘What hurt you?’ ‘Tomatoes,’ he replied, to expressions of surprise and bewilderment. ‘They were still in a box!

For two seasons the chairman stuck with his beliefs and his new manager and the players did become both visibly fitter and more tactically aware. In his first season, Aitken’s Juve came second to title winners Bologna and were formally accepted into the newly formed Serie A for 1929/30. In that second season, Juventus came third behind eventual winners with the fascist-imposed name of Società Sportiva Ambrosiana, or as they would once again become known in 1945, Internazionale. However, player power and continual in-fighting meant Aitken became surplus to requirements in the summer of 1930 and he returned to the south of France that summer, leaving many friends in Turin who understood and respected him, but also a legacy that would be copied, built upon and would provide success for Italian teams for many years to come.

Billy Aitken – Post-Juventus

Upon his return to France in the summer of 1930, aged 36, Aitken signed for AS Cannes as player-coach and it turned out his playing days were not over. He won the Coupe de France with Cannes in April 1932, defeating RC Roubaix 1-0, before taking over as player-manager that summer and guiding Cannes to a second-placed finish the following season. In the summer of 1934 he dropped down a division to take over Stade de Reims in the champagne region as player-manager, winning the Championnat de France in 1935. Aitken’s final role in French football – either managing or playing – saw him return to the south coast and FC Antibes in 1936 as playermanager until 1939 and the onset of the Second World War, when he retired from playing aged 45.

Upon his retirement he moved back to Newcastle, working as a defence contractor at Vickers-Armstrongs, and after the war he coached across Europe, most notably in Belgium and Norway, while working for a wine and spirits distributor, and often returned to France and Italy with his knowledge and love of the various wine-making regions. Aitken died in Gateshead in August 1973 aged 79.

His career with Rangers lasted only a season – 23 competitive matches, three goals and a Glasgow Cup winners’ medal. Yet his playing career was long and varied – from Glasgow to Staffordshire, to Newcastle and a handful of other English clubs before blazing a trail into Europe. The fact he won the Coupe de France with AS Cannes and the second tier with Stade de Reims, playing until he was 45, is remarkable enough – until you factor in his management of Juventus in the face of hostility and adversity and how he is remembered fondly for his impact in Turin, both for introducing a new brand of tactics and imposing a more professional style of training that was adopted by the top Italian clubs.

While his sessions were tough by the standards of the time, Aitken was always ready with a witticism to fire up his squad. When the full-backs were complaining about the pressing style, the grizzled Scot shot back, ‘Miei cari, if I played like you, I could be a footballer until I’m 60!’ Although his time in Turin was trophyless, he is credited for changing Juve’s training methods, formation and philosophy, leading to a side renowned for pressing and smothering opponents and the basis for achievements which followed. A man very much ahead of his time.

Umberto Maggioli summed this up best in 1966, ‘Mister Aitken was this: an excellent football coach, friendly and a jovial man. He had the character of innovators: and they rarely have all the luck.’ The initial suspicion of Aitken gave way to the dazzling series of victories that followed his departure. Juventus owe a certain dose of gratitude to this ‘very nice Scotsman’ who perhaps was the forerunner to a second former Ranger taking charge of the Old Lady.

More of Chapter 2 to follow in the book – all quotes fully acknowledged.

Two Separate Extracts from Chapter 6 - The Swedish Scotsman

My excitement soon turned to curiosity as I watched a small man with a curly mullet enter the field of play at Benburb’s now-demolished Tinto Park, situated just a few hundred metres from Ibrox where he had made his debut for Rangers 16 years earlier.’ (Chris Marshall)

AS THE 1970s gave way to 1980, Rangers were under the managerial leadership of legendary captain John Greig. The old guard of his midfield left the club as he looked to rejuvenate his squad. Ian Redford and Jim Bett joined from Dundee and Sporting Lokeren respectively, along with the return of Willie Johnston from Vancouver Whitecaps. They complemented Bobby Russell and Davie Cooper in what looked like a stylish and skilful midfield, certainly not in keeping with the onset of the 1980s long-ball phenomenon.

By the summer of 1982, Willie Johnston left to return to Canada and Greig turned to a 22-year-old Swedish midfielder and European Cup finalist, who became a decorated player with more than 50 caps, million-pound transfers and a career spanning Sweden, Scotland, Switzerland, Italy and Germany.

He became known for his love of Scotland as his home and even managed to forget his native tongue during a televised match commentary having spoken English for such a length of time. John Greig turned to the Swedish Scotsman, Robert Klas-Göran Prytz.

European Cup Final 1979

Robert Prytz was born on 12 January 1960 in Malmö, Sweden, and grew up in a crowded household with his seven brothers and sisters. After playing through the various age groups, he signed a youth contract with his hometown club, Malmö FF, on his 16th birthday, effectively an ‘intent to sign adult terms’ one year later. It is an odd phrase, ‘adult terms’, and is a literal translation from Swedish meaning ‘part-time terms’ as Malmö were making the transition from amateur status to fully professional in the late 1970s under chairman Eric Persson. Robert did not sign full-time professional terms until the summer of 1979.

Not long after Robert had signed as a youth player, his father and footballing mentor Göte passed away. It was an exceptionally tough time for the family; however, Robert was determined to succeed at Malmö for his late dad and embraced a chance to be loaned out to Kirsebergs IF in the middle divisions of Swedish football. He shone and quickly progressed into the ranks of the Malmö first team squad, signing ‘adult terms’ prior to the start of the 1977 season. His manager, Bob Houghton, was only 26 when he joined Malmö in 1974 after a short career in English non-league football. Houghton was described in the local press at the time as ‘a very “English” manager’, but he quickly and successfully transformed Malmö into a direct, fast-paced and uncompromising team. They became by far the fittest and most aggressive side in Sweden and won the 1974 Allsvenskan, Sweden’s top division, and successfully defended their title the following year, although the European Cup adventures were short-lived.

Robert made his debut under the watchful eye of his manager towards the end of the 1977 season as Malmö won back their Allsvenskan title from Halmstads BK, ensuring entry into the 1978/79 European Cup. Across the following summer season of 1978, Robert started six matches as Malmö finished runners-up in the league to Östers IF. However, the real excitement for Malmö was the start of the 1978/79 European Cup in mid-September 1978, just six weeks before the end of the Swedish league season. Rangers famously defeated Juventus in the first round at Ibrox Park, while Malmö were drawn to face French Ligue 1 champions AS Monaco.

Malmö were massive underdogs for the first leg in Sweden and at only 18 years old, Robert came on with 30 minutes to play to help secure a 0-0 draw. Two weeks later in the return leg, Robert – with his trademark blond curls – was selected in the starting line-up. The Swedes shocked the Frenchmen and probably every betting coupon worldwide that night, winning 1-0 in Monte Carlo to progress to face Dynamo Kyiv in the next round. The French press decried Malmö’s roughhouse tactics and Robert was disregarded as a young upstart in midfield, despite his performance with a poise that defied his age and ability to outpace his professional counterparts.

He did not feature in either game against the Soviets as Malmö won 2-0, and incredibly the part-timers from Sweden were into the quarter-finals alongside Rangers, who defeated PSV Eindhoven. Rangers lost out to FC Köln and it seemed as though Malmö were also exiting the competition, trailing 3-1 on aggregate to Wisła Kraków with 23 minutes to go. Incredibly, Wisła fell apart as Malmö scored four times in those 23 minutes to reach the semi-final.

In the days of unseeded draws, 1978/79 saw major casualties in the first two rounds including Juventus, Liverpool, Porto and Real Madrid. That meant the draw opened up and none of the semi-finalists were ‘established’ European sides with previous distinction – Malmö drew Austria Wien, while Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest faced Köln. The semi-finals coincided with the start of the 1979 Swedish season, which meant Malmö were pre-season fit and ready for a very strong Vienna side, containing five of Austria’s 1978 World Cup squad. Robert had to satisfy himself with a place on the bench, not yet a regular starter aged 19. After Malmö packed their defence in front of 67,000 in Vienna to secure a 0-0 draw, the part-timers did the impossible to reach the final thanks to Tommy Hansson’s header early in the second half which earned a 1-0 win. Malmö became the first – and subsequently only – semi-professional club to reach the final, albeit they turned fully professional later that year.

Wednesday, 30 May 1979 will live long in the memory of both Robert and the Swedish public. Roy Andersson, the vastly experienced Swedish midfield destroyer, was injured prior to the final and into the starting line-up came Robert to face Nottingham Forest. Although Andersson was missing, Robert played alongside Malmö’s inspirational captain, Staffan Tapper, the embodiment of manager Houghton’s vision for his side and the beating heart of the ‘midfield engine’. By contrast and typically for a Brian Clough team, Forest had consistently entertained throughout the tournament, having knocked out Liverpool, and were unbeaten in their eight games to the final.

Malmö had played in a particularly restrained fashion throughout the rounds, utilising away goals and packing their defence. However, the final in Munich’s Olympiastadion was a one-off tie and Houghton used every Nordic stereotype and imagery possible to motivate his squad as they attempted to bring Forest to their level with a deep defensive line to limit space, while using Robert to release the forward line in the counterattack.

Sadly for Robert, future Ranger Trevor Francis scored with a diving header to win the first of two back-to-back European Cups for Forest. However, the part-time team had made the final and had made Clough’s side look decidedly mortal. Those who prefer an entertaining brand of football will hate Malmö’s defensive style from 1979, but it was effective, as Walter Smith found and successfully used in 2008.


Final Season at Ibrox

Wallace looked to add steel and goals to the starting 11 by signing Dundee’s captain Cammy Fraser and forward Iain Ferguson, who had both shone against his team. Fraser complemented Redford, Cooper, Bobby Russell and Robert in competing for places; indeed it was thought he was Robert’s replacement when he signed. However, Robert’s pre-season was disrupted by an injury sustained in a July friendly in Switzerland against FC Grenchen. It meant he was out of action for seven weeks and by the time he returned, Rangers had started the domestic campaign well, while in Europe they progressed to the UEFA Cup second round.

Robert got back playing and scored against Aberdeen’s reserves in mid-September and after a league defeat to Hearts in early October, he was recalled to the first team. He had missed the opening 15 games in all competitions and Rangers were only two points behind the leaders. However, by the manager’s own reckoning, the team’s performances had taken a dip and the midfield required a fresh spark. Robert was eased back in against Meadowbank Thistle and St Mirren, then heavily relied upon in Milan in a five-man midfield against Internazionale. Rangers were overrun in a 3-0 defeat in the San Siro, and Robert suffered a slight relapse of the injury which meant he was fit enough only for a place on the bench for the next two games.

The latter was the League Cup Final against Dundee United on 28 October 1984. Rangers took the lead just before half-time as Iain Ferguson finished off a creative move and scored against the side he would later join in 1986 and show his ability in the Camp Nou. Robert came off the bench after 74 minutes as Wallace looked for control in the final stages of the match. His plan worked; Robert brought fresh legs and control to the midfield to hold on to the ball and frustrate their opponents. Rangers were League Cup winners again, and Robert had his first medal as he punched the air in delight at the final whistle.

He was back in the starting line-up for the return leg against Internazionale and Wallace changed his system to a 4-3-3 formation due to a combination of injuries and to accommodate former captain McClelland in attack. McClelland had been a first-choice central defender and skipper until his contract dispute. The improved deal never materialised for him and he was stripped of the captaincy in September – the outcome became inevitable. This was his final appearance for Rangers in an unorthodox role designed to unnerve the Italian defence. There appeared to be a real confidence within the club that they could overturn the 3-0 deficit and the game provided one of Robert’s finest performances in front of a roaring and packed Ibrox Park as Davie Mitchell gave Rangers an early lead. Internazionale equalised on the counterattack after only 15 minutes through Altobelli, as everyone inside Ibrox feared, but the home side’s heads did not lower and instead they responded immediately through Iain Ferguson.

Within the midfield three, Robert was finding time and space on the ball and continued to press forward. When he found himself driving into space on the left early in the second half, his pinpoint cross was met by the diving Ferguson, who crashed his header home. Rangers required two more goals and threw everything at the Italian defence, resulting in a series of near misses. Robert was the chief architect to control a mature and intelligent team performance as the match finished 3-1. Rangers may have been out of Europe but Robert left the field to a standing ovation after a display that became the benchmark for the season.

Robert told The Times, ‘I remember that night. We played really well and I think we gave Inter a shock, I really thought we were going to do it. For me, it was probably one of my best games for Rangers, and so I come back to this again: how come I could play so well against a team as good as Inter, but not be thought good enough to play in the Premier Division in Scotland at times? Inter played a European type of game, which suited me. That is probably the reason.

The dream was short-lived. Rangers won only one of the next five league games and fell nine points behind leaders Aberdeen. The early season consistency had been replaced by injuries, continued personnel changes and a mental fragility that meant Rangers only won seven games from mid-December to the end of the season. Robert started 15 of the remaining 22 matches but Rangers, generally, were awful. While he was a key member of Wallace’s first-team squad, it was clear that, like the latter days of John Greig, if a game was perceived to be a battle then Robert was used as a substitute.

Despite this, Robert remains in awe of Big Jock. He added in The Times, ‘He was a great man, very hard but fair. Jock didn’t always pick me but he seemed to like me. I had huge respect for him. I was still very young when I went to Rangers. I learned later in my career that, as you get older, you get more intelligent in the way you play football. But I didn’t have that wisdom with me when I was at Rangers. I found the football in Scotland to be 100mph, it wasn’t my style. I played more of a European style of game, which is maybe why I went on to have quite a good career in Italy. Scottish football, at that stage of my career, was quite difficult for me, because of the way it was played. Too fast, too hard.

Rangers and Saddam Hussein

This dark period also included Dundee going to Ibrox and defeating Rangers in the Scottish Cup for the second year in a row in February 1985 – the infamous game where Ally McCoist spurned many chances and the Copland Road stand chanted their displeasure at him in no uncertain terms. The defeat effectively ended Rangers’ season and raised huge question marks over the squad and what Alan Davidson of the Evening Times70 called ‘a disturbing dearth of talent for manager Jock Wallace to work with’. He also highlighted the obvious implications of reduced crowds on the club’s cashflow.

The defeat meant Rangers had a free weekend on 9 March and to help fill the resultant unplanned gap in finances, they hastily accepted an opportunistic invitation from an Iraqi delegation to tour Baghdad and Jordan. This was despite the Iran–Iraq War being almost five years old after the Iraqi forces, under the command of President Saddam Hussein, launched a full-scale invasion of neighbouring Iran fuelled by territorial, religious and political disputes. The war raged on until 1988 and claimed the lives of more than half a million people, ending in an effective stalemate and ceasefire.

Rangers were paid £25,000 to make the trip to a war zone, which suggests the desperation of the board of the time, who were all about status and deflecting bad news, but also clearly in need of funding.

Robert and the rest of the travelling 18-man squad were not informed of the trip until a couple of days before they left for Baghdad on Wednesday, 6 March and endured a lengthy and delayed journey. Former Rangers full-back Dave McKinnon told The Scotsman, ‘I think my team-mates thought they would meet Ali Baba. They didn’t know there was a war going on. We were going to Jordan to play Kuwait but first there was a double-header against the Iraqi national team. Our hotel was right in the middle of Baghdad. On the bus transfer Ally McCoist spotted soldiers on rooftops and said, “Look, they’ve got Johnny Sevens.”72 But these weren’t toys; they were anti-aircraft guns. At night Basra was being bombed 100 miles away but we could hear the explosions.

Indeed, the week after Rangers had visited saw four huge explosions in central Baghdad from Iranian surface-to-surface missiles capable of accurate hits from more than 100 miles away. Iraq’s response was to threaten to shoot down any aircraft in Iranian airspace.

The Iraqi national team had beaten Nottingham Forest a few weeks earlier and a 22,000 crowd gathered at the Al-Shaab Stadium on Friday, 8 March hoping for the same outcome. Rangers chose a relatively strong side including Robert and six other first-team regulars for what ended up as a 1-1 draw. Two days later Rangers fielded a relative reserve and youth side and they were well beaten 4-1 by the Iraqis. Robert scored the consolation goal and Wallace was disappointed with the performance, while suggesting the wind from the desert made the conditions alien to his side. Rangers travelled on to Amman in Jordan for the final tour game on 12 March, defeating Kuwait 2-1 with a last-minute goal from John MacDonald.

In the modern day, a ‘tour’ to a war-torn region sounds dangerous and weird enough. However, after the first match, which was broadcast live on Iraqi state television, the Rangers players and staff were treated to an audience with Saddam Hussein. McKinnon told The Scotsman, ‘Hugh Burns heavily tackled an Iraqi winger and he was immediately substituted by Jock Wallace who told him, “Do you want to start World War Three? Saddam’s at the game!” I remember when he came up and was very unassuming. Half the players didn’t know who he was. We were sitting in cinema-style seats and he came to the podium. You’ve got young footballers in a foreign city, to be honest it was very boring because all the guys wanted to do was get out of the room and into the sunshine. We had to line up to shake his hand. He gave each of us a gold pen and said, “Go back to Scotland and tell your people that Iraqis are peace-loving and Iran are the aggressors.” It was sweltering hot in the room and everyone wanted to get back in the pool. It was a total irrelevance to us, we didn’t understand the significance of it.

Commentators at home understandably questioned the reasons behind the trip, mostly for safety purposes. However, perhaps now amusingly, serial Rangers antagonist Ian Archer wrote in the Evening Times, ‘I can’t believe such jaunts benefit the club in the long or even the short run. To take players out of a fresh Scottish spring to compete in temperatures in the 80s, to put themselves at risk with the local food and even at potential danger in a war zone is a funny course of action’.

One might have thought the ‘potential war zone’ would be at the top of the list of concerns, but not to Archer. Instead, ‘we’re Scottish, it’s too hot and where are the pies and beans?’ trumped death and destruction in a war-torn environment.

More of Chapter 6 to follow in the book – all quotes fully acknowledged.

Extract from Chapter 7 - The Great Little Dane and the Danish Resistance

At the height of Rangers’ extravagant spending under David Murray, star signings from abroad

would often be whisked into Glasgow on board his private jet. Back in 1921, Carl Hansen sailed into Scotland on board a cargo ship carrying a shipment of butter.’ (Iain Duff)

LET US rewind to 1921 and examine the life and times of another first in the history of Rangers. This time, the first professional footballer from Denmark, our very own ‘Great Little Dane’.

Having played in the amateur-only Danish championship from 1915 to 1921 and being a Danish international, he shone in a friendly against Rangers and was bought for the princely sum of £20. However, injury cut his time at Ibrox and his playing career short, despite a magnificent start for the club. He would soon discover that he had a much greater fight on his hands as a member of the Danish Resistance against the Nazis during the Second World War, when he was captured, held hostage in a German concentration camp and tortured. He would, of course, have the last laugh.

This is the Danish international forward and our Rangers hero, Carl Vilhelm ‘Skoma’r’ Hansen.

From Sweden to Denmark and Early Life

Carl Hansen was born on 7 May 1898 in his country’s capital, Copenhagen, the eldest of 11 children to his Swedish parents, Anders Hansson and Anna Jönsson. After meeting, both had moved from their native Sweden to Copenhagen and converted the Swedish family name ‘Hansson’ to the Danish version ‘Hansen’ to ensure they fitted into Danish society.

As a teenager and with a large family in need of financial income, young Carl found employment with a local tobacco firm as an office clerk and his noted duties in his role were tasks such as ‘emptying wastebaskets and sharpening pencils’. Everyone has to start somewhere! He combined his day job with his first love – football – and after an initial spell as a youth player at Østerbros Boldklub (known as ØB), he signed amateur terms for Boldklubben 1903 (known as B 1903) in the summer of 1915, football at the time in Denmark being wholly amateur.

Hansen started very strongly as a bustling yet intelligent centre-forward and quickly became one of B 1903’s key men despite his tender years. Although his list of competitive league appearances stands at only 22 and 14 goals for the Copenhagen side, the Danish league only commenced in 1915 with six teams and ten games to the league season, increasing to seven teams and 12 games from 1918. The rest of his appearances were in local cup competitions and many friendlies against both Danish and international sides.

His goalscoring was being noticed locally and he became better known in Denmark in June 1918 when he scored twice on his international debut against Sweden, the first of seven Danish appearances at the age of 20. The goals were headline news in Denmark and immediately made him one of the most popular players in the country. Hansen’s newfound celebrity status spawned his first nickname, based on his father’s profession. He became known as ‘Carl Skomager’ (shortened to Skoma’r), meaning ‘The Shoemaker’.

He had been in line for a place in the 1920 Danish Olympic squad until a breach in discipline occurred. Hansen was punished for sleeping in and ordering breakfast in his room rather than with his team-mates in the dining room; it cost him his place in the squad. However, it never slowed his momentum as by the end of the 1919/20 season, Hansen was one of the integral parts of his club side as B 1903 were the Danish champions for the first time.

Bill Struth

On Sunday, 5 June 1921, Hansen played in a match that changed the course of his life forever. At the end of a long and hard 53-game Scottish season, champions Rangers travelled to Denmark for a three-game tour. Bill Struth’s side had won the championship by ten points from Celtic, but had faced disappointment in the Scottish Cup, losing 1-0 to Partick Thistle in the final to make it 18 years without a cup triumph as the Scottish Cup hoodoo was in full swing. This was further compounded by defeat in the Glasgow Merchants Charity Cup Final to Celtic. So they were looking forward to escaping for a few days; that was until they left Leith by boat.

As soon as their ship left the docks, a small party began to celebrate the season, league win and Rangers’ record points total at that time. With the celebrations continuing the captain informed passengers that the ship was in trouble. The journey was taking longer than expected due to reduced speed and a coal shortage caused by strike action, but the coal requirements had been miscalculated and the reduction in speed was not enough. Anything that could be burned was used to create steam, including deckchairs. This drama, alongside the alcohol, adverse weather and sea conditions, left many of the Rangers party rather worse for wear and ended the celebrations quickly.

Struth described the player’s health, ‘Sandy Archibald, Tommy Cairns and myself borrowed candles from a steward and went to visit Andy Cunningham, Morton and Bucky McCandless. We held a wake over all three as they looked more dead than alive. I must admit that even the tough lads did not last much longer. One by one they slipped out to the side of the ship. Andy Cunningham was ill for days afterwards.

The troubles on the high seas did not stop Rangers from competing against their Danish counterparts. Their opening game saw a 2-0 victory over Akademisk Boldklub (shortened to AB) on 1 June. Next up was a trip to the Københavns Idrætspark in Copenhagen to face B 1903 on 3 June and while Rangers ran out 2-1 winners, Struth was particularly taken with skilful and tricky forward Carl Hansen.

In the final game of the tour, two days later, he was selected for the Copenhagen Select side to face Rangers. Struth was looking forward to seeing the young Dane again and, to see if he could withstand more targeted treatment, instructed his trusted and decorated centre-half Arthur Dixon to test him with everything he had. Rangers won 2-1 and Dixon told Struth to sign the Dane after a torrid battle.

Hansen was asked to sign for the champions and return with the squad to Scotland the very next day. He politely declined as he was due to be married in the coming weeks. Struth told him that he wanted him in his squad and told him to expect a contract offer in the coming weeks by post, so he agreed to follow once a work permit was secured for him and his new wife.

A few weeks later a contract arrived in the post and while Hansen could not speak English, he was able to work out that he was being offered £10 per month and the young office clerk and unpaid amateur footballer knew this was an offer he could not refuse. Although he had agreed to join the greatest club in the world, this must have been a bittersweet decision because at the same time this disqualified him from playing for Denmark, given the strictly amateur nature of the national team, which remained in place until 1978.

After four years and seven international appearances Hansen’s Denmark career came to an abrupt end, but a new and professional adventure beckoned. In early November, he waved goodbye to the well-wishers on the dockside and travelled alone with his thoughts on the three-day North Sea crossing to Scotland on the cargo ship SS Coblenz, alongside a sizeable shipment of butter. As my good friend Iain Duff suggested, it is a far cry from David Murray and hired jet planes.

As they docked at Leith three days later, a rather queasy Hansen took to the deck for some fresh air, his stomach still churning from the crossing. There was a call from the dock, ‘Good morning Carl!’ It was Bill Struth, who had taken it upon himself to collect his new signing in person.

Hansen’s work permit was student-based to study modern languages, and of course he was going to learn English pretty much from scratch. He knew a few English words including ‘yes’ and ‘no’, so the conversation between the pair during the train journey from Edinburgh to Glasgow was somewhat limited. David Mason and Ian Stewart outlined how Hansen knew his manager wanted to make him feel at ease, ‘It can be imagined what an interesting conversation Mr Struth and I carried on the train back to Glasgow. He talked and talked, probably in an attempt to put me at ease, he used sign language and descriptive gestures, while I nodded or shook my head according to what I hoped was the right answer. We could probably have made a fortune from that conversation had we put it on the stage.

Rangers 1921/22

After an initial settling-in period, Hansen trained hard and made his debut quickly in a friendly post-Great War tournament, the Lord Provost’s Unemployed Rent Relief Fund Cup, on 22 November 1921. The new forward was only 23 and faced Queen’s Park at Hampden. His impact was immediate, scoring after only five minutes and going on to complete a hat-trick before half-time. His excellent debut was noticed by the press, ‘After seeing this cleancut Danish product in yesterday’s match, my notion is that the league champions need not be afraid to risk him in any game. Yesterday, he was as nimble as a kitten; he caught up passes like a veteran; his side slips off a “wee toe” so to speak, were masterpieces; he got balls with his head which a man six inches taller might not have attempted. He scored all three Rangers goals and in addition, he was as brave as a lion.’ The headline of ‘Little Dane’s Great Debut’ became the nickname ‘Great Little Dane’ – and it stuck.

In the semi-final on 6 December, Hansen scored in the 2-0 victory over Partick Thistle at Ibrox and was then on target again a week later in the final at Hampden Park against Celtic, another 2-0 win in front of 25,000 fans. He became the first foreign player to score in an Old Firm match and the friendly tournament made over £2,100 for the Unemployed Rent Relief Fund.

His first league goal came on his competitive debut on Boxing Day 1921 in a 2-1 win against Dundee. The Evening Telegraph described the day, ‘Santa Claus was not kind to Dundee at Ibrox Park, Glasgow, yesterday, where Rangers inflicted a 2-1 defeat upon them. The stocking was filled with bitterness, and they only had themselves to blame for it … Rangers were too eager to be thwarted for much longer, and it was ten minutes after Troup’s goal that the equaliser came. Hansen, the “little great Dane”, got the ball about the penalty area, and sent in an oblique shot. Fotheringham was at one end of the goal, and the ball struck the inside of the far-away post.

Hansen was at it again during the Tommy Singleton benefit match on 4 January 1922 as he scored against Clyde in a 2-2 draw. Rangers and Struth were excited about their new Danish import, but injury struck in a league match against Motherwell in early February, ruling him out until 1 April in

what was his first of many such absences. However, he was eager to get back on to the pitch and he returned with typical goalscoring ease against Ayr United and featured regularly as the season came to an end. This included a remarkable run of six goals in only eight days with a double against Queen’s Park, another hat-trick over Airdrie and the first goal in a 2-1 win at Rugby Park.

He finished the season, having only arrived in Scotland in November 1921, with eight goals in 11 league appearances and a further eight goals in five friendly matches. Sixteen goals in 16 games for a young former amateur, who barely understood a word of English, was a remarkable return.

Summer Tour 1922

Struth took Rangers back to Denmark that summer for another tour of Copenhagen, given the friendly reception Rangers always received in Scandinavia. Fortunately, this time the sailing was a lot less eventful. Rangers took on a Copenhagen Select twice in three days at the start of June, winning both games. Hansen played and scored twice in the second match but did not feature in the final game on 5 June against the Danish national side in front of 20,000 people. It ended 2-2, but the tour turned sour.

The game descended into an aggressive, on-field battle, both sides giving as good as they got – both tackling and in hand-to-hand combat. That included several spectators who invaded the pitch to trade punches with some of the Rangers players. Indeed, the Danes thought they could storm the Rangers changing room to lay down a marker and as David Mason and Ian Stewart reflected, it went against the nature of the amateur game in Denmark, ‘It is interesting that the Danes thought they could simply march into the Rangers dressing room at half-time. For all Struth’s concern to maintain high standards at the club, there was a line that could not be crossed and it seems that if he did not unleash his players, he did not exactly haul them back to the dressing room. There can be little doubt that these Rangers players could look after themselves and displayed the team spirit and togetherness that Struth fostered. He may have been dismayed at the press coverage, but he would have had a deep sense of satisfaction with the unity of his charges.

David and Ian wrote that The Post was disparaging of Danish press reports suggesting Rangers were to blame, ‘The chief Copenhagen newspaper considered that a complaint should be made to the Scottish Football Association about the ungentlemanly conduct and rough play of the Rangers players. Dear me!’ Struth was at the end of only his second season as manager and it is clear that he was intent on building a team that was not only a unit, but that would travel to the ends of the Earth for each other.

More of Chapter 7 to follow in the book – all quotes fully acknowledged.

Two Separate Extracts from Chapter 12 - The Ukrainian Son of Oleksandr

Chenks was a terrific player but he wasn’t the most active. When we warmed up with little games in the dressing room, he’d just sit in his seat and not even move. One day I encouraged him to warm up and he said, “I’m OK, thanks.” I repeated my encouragement so he stood up, walked over to the hair dryer and blew hot air up and down his body. He said, “There, I’m warmed up now Archie.”’ (Archie Knox)

HE WAS born in 1963 in Kyiv, within the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic state of the Soviet Union and grew up in Dynamo Kyiv’s academy, to become the Soviet Union’s poster boy and Olympic gold medal-winning captain. This led to Italy following Mikhail Gorbachev’s partial embracement of openness and revolution, at the age of 27. A rare Serie A title was secured, then he became a key signing in the Walter Smith reshaping of Rangers in 1991.

Five injury-hit years were spent at Ibrox Stadium, eight winners’ medals were secured, and he gained a reputation in Scotland for being ‘economical with his movement’ as predominantly a traditional British number 11 left-winger. The trouble was twofold. Firstly, he had played central midfield all of his days to the extent that Scottish journalists likened him to Bryan Robson during 1991 signing talks. Secondly, the injuries (and perhaps, the treatment) from his time spent playing in the Soviet Union meant his movement was heavily restricted. Therefore, replacing Mark Walters on Rangers’ left wing was an impossible task. He has since managed Dynamo Kyiv and Ukraine and became the sporting director for Dynamo Kyiv, only for Russia to invade Ukraine in 2022 and within nine days, 25 days short of his 59th birthday, he joined the Ukrainian army to defend his homeland. This is the life and times of Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko.

The Early Years

Oleksiy Oleksandrovych Mykhaylychenko was born on 30 March 1963 in Kyiv. You may ask, ‘Why isn’t his name Alexei Mikhailichenko?’ This was common in the Soviet era, to romanise the name into Russian spelling to provide commonality across all of the Soviet Union. Therefore the spelling is changed and the tradition of using the patronymic (‘the son of’) is dropped, in this case ‘Oleksandrovych’ (son of Oleksandr). However, I am a numbers guy and often the English language is way beyond my capability. So for this chapter, I will simply, both respectfully and lovingly, refer to Oleksiy as we did in the 1990s: Miko.

Miko entered the Dynamo Kyiv academy in the summer of 1973, aged only ten, under the guidance of former USSR striker Anatoliy Byshovets, and quickly rose through the ranks. He signed professional terms in January 1981 just before his 18th birthday and as with most of the Sovietera sports clubs, youngsters earned their way through the various levels of reserve football meaning Miko did not play for the first team until April 1983, making his debut at the age of 20 in the Soviet Top League against CSKA Moscow. Dynamo had suffered a poor start to the season, but Miko scored 24 minutes into his debut to secure a 1-0 win, moving Kyiv up to 13th, followed by appearances against Zalgiris and Dinamo Minsk. Dynamo were in a slump, but Miko enjoyed the early game time and matchday routine against the top sides in the Soviet Union. It meant embarking on long bus journeys and rarely by aeroplane, with the distances of hundreds of miles being travelled across the vastness of the Soviet Union. Round bus trips of over 2,000 miles to Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia were commonplace. However, I doubt the Dynamo players looked forward to visiting Tashkent in Uzbekistan, only 2,350 miles away.

That summer, the football tournament of the VIII Summer Spartakiad of the Peoples of the USSR was held – Spartakiad was a multi-sports event for Soviets only, with the intention from its outset in 1928 of being an alternative to the ‘bourgeois’ Olympic Games (held in Amsterdam around the same time). The 1983 version was held with the maximum age of 21 for competitors and this regionally split tournament was watched with great enthusiasm in the USSR to showcase sporting growth, achievement and to enable the best players from far-reaching parts of the Soviet Union to be cherry picked. Miko was an integral part of the Ukrainian squad that reached the semi-final stage.

While Miko was at Spartakiad, another youngster made his debut for Dynamo Kyiv. Oleh Kuznetsov had been signed from Desna Chernihiv and began a career path almost tracking Miko for the next 11 years, both of them being used sparingly in 1983.

Having taken one year out to manage the Soviet Union, Valeriy Lobanovskyi returned to Kyiv in 1984 and was tasked with regaining the Soviet Top League title. In order to do this, he needed to freshen up the squad and that meant exposing young players like Miko and Oleh in the 1984 season. After eight games, Dynamo were top of the table and Miko was scoring and creating goals. However, a frustrating run of injuries and painkilling injections to enable him to play in the bigger games meant he was in and out of the side, eventually missing three months to recuperate properly. The injections were almost playfully, yet consistently described in the local media as ‘special enhancing injections’. The only thing missing was a nod and a wink.

Once Miko did recuperate, he was back in the side to see out the season with more goals and assists to secure a mid-table finish. After 18 games and four goals he felt ready to make his mark properly.

Soviet Union and the Treatment of Injuries

Prior to 1936, football in the first 14 years of the Soviet Union’s existence was played at republic level, in a similar vein to life following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. However, by 1936, Joseph Stalin had been in power for 12 years and drove ‘socialism in one country’ as a central tenet of the Communist Party dogma. In 1936, the football authorities used this view and took the top clubs from the various republics to create the Soviet Top League. From the outset until the league was dissolved, the clash of major clubs from opposing republic states, many of whom hated each other, led to brutal derby matches pitting ethnic culture against ethnic culture.

This was especially true when now recognised larger Russian sides like Spartak Moscow played against clubs from other states within the Soviet Union – such as the Ukrainians, particularly Dynamo Kyiv. Long-term injuries were commonplace, perhaps more so than in any other league, as Simon Kuper wrote in Football Against the Enemy, ‘Treatment of injuries takes up a lot of time in Soviet football, way more than most other countries, simply due to the nature of so many derbies.

As the 1970s gave way to 1980, doping within Soviet sport was commonplace to enhance performance of athletes in the run-up to the 1980 Moscow Olympics. The International Olympic Committee had accredited the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory to manage the analysis of samples for the Games. Post-Olympics, the laboratory remained to oversee chemical administration for sport in the Soviet Union and was managed by the ‘Eleventh Department’ of the KGB.

More common in football was the over-reliance on anabolic and cortico-steroids to aid abnormally quick recovery from injury, especially when the schedule was clear of European and international fixtures. The correctly prescribed dosage can aid certain injuries, especially muscle contusions, but the key phrase there is ‘correct dosage’. It is widely thought, although never truly proven, that this was the case in football. The common themes were that the players did exactly as they were told; they suffered recurring similar injuries with gradually longer periods unable to play, but key players almost always recovered in time for the key derby matches. Miko’s playing career follows this exact pattern. Remember the phrase used in the press? ‘Special enhancing injections’.


Miko Kick-starts Celts for Change

If 1992/93 is rightly regarded as one of the finest seasons in the club’s history, in terms of quality 1993/94 is regarded as one of the poorest of the nine in a row years.

Miko, perhaps for the first time in years, managed a solid pre-season including being a part of the Italian training camp in Il Ciocco and a majority of the friendlies, almost scoring against Sunderland at Roker Park from inside his own half. This was in stark contrast to the mounting injury list that included Goram, McCoist, Gary Stevens, Trevor Steven and Dave McPherson, with Nisbet forced into retirement due to a pelvic injury. The sheer amount of injuries was perhaps due to the volume of fixtures the previous season and a lack of fresh faces in the squad.

Despite a positive pre-season, Miko started the competitive games poorly and was eventually dropped following newly promoted Kilmarnock’s win at Ibrox in late August. His overall play and movement was heavily laboured and Walter Smith, even with his injury list, took action and dropped Miko for six games as fans vented their frustration through the new age of tabloid hotlines. His replacement, Huistra, did not fare much better and was sent off in a League Cup win over Celtic at the end of September for a petulant kick at Tom Boyd, meaning Miko was recalled for the visit of Hibernian and shone in the second half. However, the tabloids set the tone as Alex Cameron highlighted in the Daily Record, ‘There’s only one Alexei and Walter Smith may thank the Lord for that. Soccer’s great enigma can be a match-winner or a luxury. He’s the cleverest, most entertaining ball-worker in Scotland, but he’s not a battler like Mark Hateley.

Miko found himself in and out of the side across October and November and was an unused substitute in late October’s League Cup Final where McCoist proved once again to be a fairy-tale character as, having suffered a broken leg only six months earlier, he came off the bench to score the winning goal with an acrobatic, late overhead kick. Of course he did.

After more dropped points to Partick Thistle, Miko dropped out of the line-up again and missed Rangers’ embarrassing 3-0 home loss to Dundee United on 11 December. By this time Rangers had won only ten of their opening 22 league matches, yet such was the inconsistency of everyone else that they topped the table by one point. Miko came back into the side the following Saturday and only missed three games across the rest of the season. It was a remarkable turnaround given how poor his form had been in the first half of the campaign and there was no doubt as to the catalyst for this.

The Old Firm derby of New Year’s Day in 1994 will live long in the memory. The expectations and mood of the Celtic support had sunk so low from 1989 to 1993 that apathy was deeply embedded. Attendances were falling and Aberdeen and Motherwell were Rangers’ nearest challengers. The Celts for Change group had been formed in October 1993 and wanted change in leadership from the family dynasties that had controlled the club since its foundation, and were slowly carrying Celtic towards financial collapse. Their mismanagement resulted in the Bank of Scotland calling in the receivers on 3 March 1994 as a result of the club exceeding a £5m overdraft. Businessman Fergus McCann eventually won control of Celtic, but the battle was ugly and was certainly supported by the tabloid press (in contrast to the reporting of Rangers in the years around 2012).

Celtic played a wide-open 4-4-2 and Rangers narrowed the midfield four, meaning that either Miko or Trevor Steven could step into a central midfield three, depending on where the ball was, to allow a free man with space for every attack. Rangers battered Celtic and perhaps Miko played his part in energising their fans’ campaign, dictating the play and drifting effortlessly into space to score twice in his finest day in a Rangers jersey.

Rangers took the lead after only 64 seconds when McCall released Hateley one-on-one with Pat Bonner, the striker finishing by curling the ball into the corner. Two minutes later, a great passing move saw Gordon Durie send Neil Murray clear on goal. His shot was saved by Bonner, but Miko had anticipated and was in the right place to slot home to make it 2-0, racing towards the Celtic fans, fists aloft and a beaming smile on his face. I recall watching the recorded highlights with my father the following day. Sportscene commentator Jock Brown suggested, ‘You could have driven a bus through the Celtic defence,’ and my father retorted, ‘Try a fleet of bloody buses!’

The Rangers fans were ecstatic, while the Celtic faithful were agitated, and the third goal was not long in coming. Rangers had passed up several chances but on 28 minutes, Gary Stevens floated in a cross for Hateley. He nodded down to Durie who should have scored, yet as he fluffed his chance, Miko had coasted into the penalty area and was in the right place once more to prod home. There was not even half an hour on the clock and the game was over as a contest; this result sparked the beginning of the end for the Celtic board.

Miko once again ran again towards the Celtic supporters, this time in the Main Stand, arms aloft and beaming in excitement. It was all too much for the fans. Fighting broke out in the Main Stand near to the directors’ box as Scotch pies, Mars bars and coins rained down on the directors. One Celtic fan, apparently injured and on a stretcher, leapt off to run on to the park to attack Rangers goalkeeper Ally Maxwell only to be confronted and restrained by John Brown. Let’s just say that Bomber won.

Rangers vice-chairman Donald Findlay QC was struck by a missile and the nation’s press went into meltdown. Alex Cameron wrote, ‘The aggro between the Celtic board and the supporters can’t be allowed to go on. The simmering volcano of hatred is an unacceptable safety hazard. It’s reasonable to ask if Rangers would now feel safe in the current internal warfare should they be drawn at Parkhead in the cup. And especially after the thuggish attack on Ally Maxwell.’ Meanwhile, Celtic manager Lou Macari, when asked about the missiles and attacks, commented, ‘Well, at least they were mutton pies and not beer bottles.

Rangers very visibly took their foot off the gas and ran out comfortable 4-2 winners, the fourth goal scored by Miko’s fellow Ukrainian Oleh Kuznetsov with a 25-yard drive. Miko and his team-mates had unwittingly fuelled Celts for Change. One would hope their supporters are suitably grateful.

More of Chapter 12 to follow in the book – all quotes fully acknowledged.

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