The 50 Greatest Rangers Games

What makes a Rangers game truly ‘great’? A well-matched cup final? An Old Firm demolition or a European glory night? Or is it always the prize that determines greatness? In 2019 the listeners of Heart and Hand provided the answer when they voted in their droves to establish the 50 greatest matches in the long history of the club. Would Pittodrie 1987 outrank Parkhead 1999? Would any match outdo Barcelona 1972?

Martyn Ramsay draws out the fans experiences of these games, analyses the action, places them in historical context and seeks to understand why Rangers fans have voted in the way that they have, why some games resonate more than others and why some haven’t resonated at all and what does it all say about how we cultivate the history of the most successful club in the world.

Preview Sample 1

20

Rangers 2 Marseille 2

UEFA Champions League Group Stage Wednesday 25 November 1992

‘We can reach the final again. Our only problem is the Glasgow team.’

Bernard Tapie, pre-match

‘The European Cup has become a historical anachronism … it is not modern thinking,’ remarked Silvio Berlusconi when Diego Maradona’s Napoli were pitted against six- time European champions Real Madrid in the very first round of the competition in 1987/88. ‘It is economic nonsense,’ he said, ‘that a club such as Milan might be eliminated in the first round.’ The AC Milan president’s primary motivations were no doubt for his club and, by proxy, his media company Mediaset which owned Italy’s first private TV station Canale 5; however, there was a wider point too about how European football was structured. It wasn’t that he wanted to eliminate the chances of a David v Goliath story as is often said, it’s that he wanted to prevent a Goliath v Goliath happening before the competition had time to even gather pace.

A league format amongst Europe’s champions was nothing new; in fact, it was the initial plan of the original creator of the tournament, Gabriel Hanot, in 1955 but the quality of travel and communication at the time was the biggest logistical obstacle. Liverpool raised it again soon after being knocked out at the first go by Nottingham Forest in 1978 but these ideas had never caught fire. The time for change was now more pressing and Berlusconi approached the leading name in advertising, Saatchi and Saatchi, to draw up a proposal. As it happened they had an executive by the name of Alex Fynn who had, just that year, given a speech at the launch of the Rothman’s Football Yearbook, advocating a European Super League that made better commercial sense for the champions of the continent. ‘The key,’ according to Fynn was, ‘more event games between the big clubs in the big television markets.’ He proposed an 18-team league comprising of two or three clubs from Europe’s four big leagues and representation from Scotland, France, Portugal, Holland and Belgium.

It was a step too far for UEFA and they didn’t entertain it. The pressure for a better structure couldn’t be ignored forever though, and a suitable compromise came from inside Ibrox Stadium. Rangers were at the time the most influential club in British football and changing the landscape had been on the club secretary Campbell Ogilvie’s mind for some time. ‘Domestically, there was a ceiling,’ Ogilvie said to The Daily Telegraph in 2018. ‘In Europe, you could be out after one round. I remember we played Osasuna in 1985/86 and went out. That spurred on discussion for all clubs of our size – how do we take this forward? Can we get European football into some sort of structure where we could at least be guaranteed six games, three of them at home? That was where it started from.’ At the third attempt, Ogilvie’s plan was accepted and a group stage replacing the quarter-finals was introduced first in the 1991/92 competition and then at an earlier stage in 1992/93 where it would be re-branded in its own right. Berlusconi’s charge, it was thought, had been headed off a pass; however, the media magnate was happy. The original plan was a stalking horse, never imagined to be accepted so soon. This gave him, and the other owners of Europe’s biggest clubs, something that they could work with.

‘It felt like the European Cup with a group stage, a shiny new badge and a theme tune. Instead of being knocked out in November or February, we knew that we would now still be there by April at least,’ said Ian Hogg. We weren’t to understand just how big this would be as we turned up to Ibrox on that soaking wet night, but it did feel important that we had this amount of European football guaranteed, with no away goals causing instant elimination. Rangers would make nearly £5m from these six fixtures, which was a significant windfall at the time. The eight stars logo, symbolising the eight teams to make it to the two groups, were everywhere around the stadium, including the match ball itself, and music inspired by Handel’s Zadok The Priest thundered out for the first time to those in the ground and watching at home on television. This was an instant marketing drive that hasn’t stopped at the time of writing. The whole structure of European football was changing and Rangers were at the heart of it.

The unseeded group draw in Geneva could have been a lot worse. Berlusconi’s AC Milan, the best side in Europe, were on the other half along with PSV Eindhoven, who still had the dynamite of Romário up front, and also FC Porto. It was clear, that Marseille were the favourites to qualify for the final in Munich from Group A. This was their second trip to Ibrox in four months after visiting for a pre-season friendly in July where they were exceptional in a comfortable 2-1 win. By November, however, all was not quite plain sailing in the south of France.

The week before this game, Marseille had sacked their coach Jean Fernandez due to indifferent form and replaced him with their technical director Raymond Goethals, a wily 70-year-old Belgian in a Columbo trench coat who was tactically gifted but no stranger to the darker arts, as evidenced by his conviction for match-fixing whilst manager of Standard Liege in 1982. One would assume that is the kind of business that would normally end a managerial career, but these were not normal times. It was the era when club owners started to become as famous as the managers and star players, whose mouths they stuffed with gold. Bernard Tapie had much in common with Berlusconi in that he had charisma, wealth and a burning desire for footballing and political glory that wouldn’t be curbed by the mere triviality of ethics. He had also given his club the same charismatic injection in 1986 that Rangers had received from Souness, and the two clubs’ fortunes were eerily similar in that both had won four domestic titles in a row and were well in contention for the fifth by the time they met here. Red Star Belgrade had defeated both clubs on their way to winning the big prize in 1991; however, their win over Marseille in the final was infamous for its boredom. Tapie was now obsessed with this over everything else, but realised that because of their physical and mental strength Rangers were a serious obstacle.

It was also a Rangers side in good form. A run of 18 wins in all competitions had come to an end at Tynecastle on the Saturday but a 1-1 draw still kept Rangers in a comfortable position at the top of the pile in Scotland. Walter Smith had his headaches, however, as fitness and the requirement to play a maximum of three non-Scottish players left him threadbare. The biggest blow was the loss of Ally McCoist, who had already scored 32 goals by this stage in November, whereas captain Richard Gough declared himself fit despite being nothing of the sort. ‘It was the kind of situation that littered that first Champions League campaign,’ remembers Ian Hogg. ‘We played a strict 4-4-2 with not a great deal of flexibility so it needed both Hateley and McCoist. It was a devastating blow to lose either (they’d play together in fewer than half of the matches) and it changed how we would have to play significantly.’

Smith appreciated the significance of the fixture but seemed to suggest that this season was viewed as a stepping stone towards future success. ‘My ambitions for Rangers must lead there. The experiences gained this time will help next time around.’ Like the majority of us he was excited, but aware that we probably weren’t yet ready. His defensive unit was a familiar one to anyone following Rangers that season, with Goram behind a back four of McPherson, Gough, Brown and Robertson. The midfield would comprise some experience in the form of Trevor Steven, Alexei Mikhailichenko and Stuart McCall but also saw 19-year-old Neil Murray making his first appearance since an outing against Stranraer in the League Cup back in August. Ian Durrant was pushed further up the field to support Hateley. The Rangers bench for the inaugural Champions League fixture included three youngsters – Steven Pressley, Gary McSwegan and David Hagen – goalkeeper Ally Maxwell and the 34-year-old reserve-team coach Davie Dodds, who had to come out of retirement to be registered. Marseille could afford to leave the likes of Dragan Stojković at home and fielded a standard 3-5-2 with a young Fabien Barthez in goal, Basile Boli and Marcel Desailly being marshalled by the sweeper Bernard Casoni with Éric Di Meco and Jocelyn Angloma on either side. The midfield that night was a three of Franck Sauzée, Didier Deschamps and the highly rated Ghanian Abedi Pele, leaving just Alen Bokšić and Rudi Völler up front.

The common telling of this story is that Rangers were pulverised for 75 minutes before coming off the ropes to snatch point and the continent’s hearts. It’s generally accurate, although the first half an hour was fairly balanced. Marseille had more of the ball, dominated midfield with that extra man in there, but it was Rangers who had the best early chances. Durrant and McCall were involved in a clever bit of work around the box and Mark Hateley was a nuisance to both Barthez and Basile Boli, who had boasted during the week that he would keep him out of the game. The 21-year-old goalkeeper, whom Ray Wilkins had described in the Scotsport studio before the game as ‘a bit iffy at crosses’, flapped when under pressure from the Rangers target man and a fantastic opportunity to put Rangers in the lead was spurned by ‘Miko’ as he dragged his shot wide when most of the goal was gaping open.

If Rangers were happy to pass up gifts, Marseille were not, and on 31 minutes they were in front. Richard Gough came to clear an aerial ball but went too soon and found himself quickly underneath it. Völler, waiting behind him, controlled the ball immediately and took it into the corner, where he was followed by both Brown and the recovering Gough, keen to make up for his error. This left Bokšić unmarked in the box if his partner could find him, which he duly did. The Croatian could have controlled and steadied himself, such was the space afforded him, but instead he drilled it low past Goram first time. Ibrox, as it had been for much of the Leeds United game, was relatively flat, a mixture of nerves and awe at what the fans were watching. This goal didn’t help and nor did the French pressure before the break, when both Deschamps and Pele could have added more goals.

The Rangers captain was nowhere near fit enough to continue, and the 19-year- old Steven Pressley would replace him at half-time, moving out to right-back with Dave McPherson tucking back into central-defence. The difference in the teams, as the second half got underway, was the ability to keep possession, even on a filthy night and a dreadful pitch. Rangers never tried to build from the back, using Goram’s artillery fire for Hateley as often as possible. Ten minutes after the restart John Brown lost the ball in the Rangers half to audible groans, attesting to the tension and frustration from the stands. Marseille kept the ball for a bit before Sauzée attempted a cute but speculative lob over the backline. Pressley took the bait and stretched out a leg to knock the ball past the outrushing Goram when, perhaps on a non-monsoon night, it may have rolled out for a corner. On this night it stuck in the mud and Völler wouldn’t score a simpler goal in his long and illustrious career.

The initial thoughts of many in the packed Ibrox was that it might have been better to be knocked out before Christmas after all if we had to watch six drubbings, which is what we all feared. ‘You were genuinely thinking that this might be a cricket score,’ said Ian Hogg. ‘We have both experienced players and kids all making mistakes against a side littered with world class talent.’ Rangers tried to respond, this team always did, but Casoni had the offside trap set perfectly so playing through wasn’t working; however, there was still some hope when we could get in some wide deliveries. Free kicks led to a penalty shout when Desailly stopped the ball with his arm and a John Brown effort that was blocked off the line by the same player. The French champions had plenty of opportunities for a third themselves as Goram saved once from Bokšić and twice from Angloma, whilst Völler had two more chances which he wasted.

With 15 minutes to go, Rangers didn’t have a pulse. Smith made a change by replacing the very ineffectual Trevor Steven (playing in a fixture that was always going to either inspire or inhibit following his one disappointing season at Marseille) for another young player, the striker Gary McSwegan. This allowed Durrant to fall into a deeper position and it changed the game. Picking the ball up just inside the Rangers half on a counter attack, his vision and speed of thought released Mikhailichenko on the left-hand side in some space. His first-time cross didn’t go into the mixer, as so many had done, but to the back of the defensive line where McSwegan was waiting. With no time to realise the stage he was on, his header was instinctive and brilliant, looping over Barthez and into the top corner. Ibrox Stadium was no longer flat. Nerves had disappeared, hope was replenished. As a young 11-year-old, just starting to get a taste of these nights, I had never heard a noise like it as people went mad around me in the stand. ‘If you were at the back of the enclosures in those days, in moments like that, you’d be ok, but if you were in the middle, you’d end up at the front pretty quickly,’ said Ian, who was in the West Enclosure that evening. ‘I was beside my mate and there was a massive surge in front of us, leaving this empty space for us to dance about in. Ibrox was rocking and there was a real sense around the ground that we should be losing about 3 or 4 nil but it’s now 2-1. We had a chance.’

For the next three minutes it was all Rangers, and the goal that we seemed to feel was inevitable was scored. Such was the rush of adrenaline from McSwegan’s goal, the move started from Mikhailichenko tracking back and robbing Pele of the ball on the left-hand side. Durrant then pushed from midfield, linking up brilliantly with McSwegan on the edge of the box as he evaded Di Meco’s lunge before returning the ball with the outside of his foot. Durrant’s cross was low and it deflected off Casoni into the six-yard box, where Hateley was waiting and Barthez was not. The noise was sensational. Rangers had been out of this, dead and buried, and now there was parity.

The natural reaction for Marseille would have been to dig in and survive the continual aerial onslaught; however, that would have just invited trouble and a side this good went back to what it did best: attack. They created a flurry of late chances with free kicks being blocked and corners punched away. There was a particular moment that could have led to cardiac arrest when the ball stuck in the penalty-box mud the wrong side of Pele before he had a free shot on goal. Both sides simply ran out of time, however, and the very first Champions League match at Ibrox ended all square.

For those Rangers fans pouring out of the ground, the season expectations had just dramatically increased. ‘The second goal changed everything,’ recalls Ian. ‘Before then we were playing for second place. Now there was a feeling that this was going to become a shoot-out. It was now about who could deal best with Club Brugge and CSKA Moscow. Domestic football already felt under control so now Europe had a real focus. It felt on.’ The game typified that team and that season. The example was set, perhaps foolhardily by their captain, when the odds were stacked against them they simply had to keep fighting until there was nothing left. Rangers may have felt like a modern European football club, at the heart of reforming the game to realise its market potential, however we were still fighting continental prestige with an old- fashioned gritty desire.

No one inside the ground that night had any idea of the monster that had just been unleashed as European football would change beyond all recognition by the end of the decade. Rangers and Marseille felt that this progress would be beneficial for upwardly mobile and ambitious champions like themselves but didn’t see that it was where the television markets were that would dictate the shape of things to come. ‘Mine was a football model,’ argued Ogilvie. ‘I was of the view it was a champions’ competition. I never for one moment thought four teams from the same country would be playing in it. Things evolve and it became obvious that to get the higher TV revenues it was going to need more teams from the big countries that command the TV rights. But we have created super-clubs. There are a limited number of teams that are going to win the Champions League.’

The day after Rangers scrapped their way to a result that fans still feel so proud of to this day, Manchester United bought Eric Cantona for just over £1m. The money wasn’t newsworthy, Rangers had matched that more than once before, but it was a move that would turn the Premier League into a marketable narrative that would soon dwarf our game and has yet to slow down at the time of writing.

That night, however, Rangers were the dominant force in Scottish and British football and that horizon seemed endless. We were now playing on a whole new stage. As the new UEFA anthem proclaimed, ‘Ce sont les meilleures équipes, Es sind die allerbesten Mannschaften, The main event’. For the next five months it felt that we could genuinely be kings of this new European game. Die meister. Die besten. Les grandes èquipes.

The champions.

Preview Sample 2

40

Celtic 1 Rangers 2

Skol League Cup Final Sunday 26 October 1986

Well done is better than well said.’

Benjamin Franklin

At the time of writing we would have to go back to Scot Symon in 1954/55 in order to find the last successful Rangers manager who didn’t win a trophy by the end of their first full season in charge. The pressures associated with managing modern-day Rangers are immense and few are afforded a sluggish start. By the time you are reading this, one hopes that Steven Gerrard has already bucked that trend by adding silverware following a barren, if still positive, first season. His arrival in the summer of 2018 attracted many comparisons, almost all of them unfair, with the spring of 1986 when Graeme Souness swept into Scottish football. Souness’s natural swagger and ambition were consistent with a financial backing that was hitherto unheard of in this country, in addition to the British footballing market place being far more accessible than anything Gerrard could imagine whilst sitting in the same chair.

It was imperative then that the hype was backed up with tangible success and quickly. The new player–manager had brought an arrogance and assurance that the support both desperately needed and craved; however, it was an image that could look very much like insecure bravado if it wasn’t backed up with the accumulation of shiny objects. Thankfully, the first opportunity to gather forward momentum arrived just as the clocks went back, in the shape of the Skol League Cup Final. Souness had already notched his first league win against Celtic, an Ian Durrant goal making the difference at Ibrox in the August, and it would be our most bitter rivals who lay in wait in this first opportunity for success. The start to the season had been less than smooth; however, Rangers approached this final still in the UEFA Cup and only three points off the top of the table. With such a massive transition from hopeless also-rans to a modern professional outfit, keeping the pace in the first quarter of the season was to be commended.

It was clear as he walked off the Ibrox pitch with a calf injury the previous Thursday night, a 2-1 UEFA Cup win over Boavista, that if Souness was to be successful at Hampden, it would be all manager and no player. Rangers kept the pretence of a possible starting berth going right up to the day itself (Souness said after that he saw ‘no point in giving our opponents an advantage by saying so’) but the players knew the he’d be missing and could prepare accordingly. When Souness envisaged being involved in his first trophy-winning match he must surely have assumed that he would be on the park and the frustration at missing out was clear as 3pm approached and he made his way to his main stand viewpoint. ‘I can remember after saying “all the best” in the dressing room, coming up the stairs, it had just kicked off and I was late in getting up there. I actually paused for a moment to go through the doors. And I didn’t want to go through those doors, I wanted to get back on the line because it’s so hard watching the game. There was pressure on that one.’

He still exuded confidence, whether up in the stand or down on the bench in the latter stages of the game. His suit was so sharp it looked as if it was tailor-made for him in Italy before he departed Genoa. In contrast, his opposite number that day, Davie Hay, was sporting a green blazer over a mustard v-neck sweater, and, although the blazer and knitwear combination has been pulled off immaculately by Mourinho and Guardiola in recent years, Hay spent the entire afternoon looking like a coach driver who was worried that his party of pensioners were spending too much time at Southwaite services.

Celtic too had been in European action in advance of the final. A first leg 1-1 draw at home to Dynamo Kiev was generally considered to be the end of that tie; however, Hay remained defiant. ‘You may think I’m a crank or a crackpot,’ he said, ‘but going there with a 1-1 draw might suit us better than had we been travelling having won the match 1-0.’ Celtic would lose 3-1 but Hay needn’t have worried about people’s reaction to that particular quote. Despite being described by Archie McPherson before the game started as ‘one of the most unflappable characters in the business’, he’d outdo himself by the end of the weekend.

Cammy Fraser would start in the absence of Souness, although he too wasn’t 100 per cent fit. Rangers packed the midfield with him, Ian Durrant and Derek Ferguson in the centre of the park and Davie Cooper and Ted McMinn operating further wide. McCoist would be up front on his own and, with Dave McPherson missing from the usual four-man defence, it would be Jimmy Nicholl, Ally Dawson, Terry Butcher and Stuart Munro lining up in front of Chris Woods. Celtic’s only injury concern was Tommy Burns, who had been on the end of a terrible tackle against Kiev, and he was replaced by Tony Shepherd in midfield, but they still had a formidable front three of Alan McInally, Brian McClair and Maurice Johnston for Rangers to contend with.

The atmosphere was electric from the start, especially in the jam-packed Rangers end of the ground. In amongst it behind the goal was a young Scot Van Den Akker, on his first trip to Hampden to see Rangers. ‘We sold the tickets out for that game in a day or two. Celtic had tickets on sale on the day of the game. They were league champions, they were top of the league, but they knew the possibilities of the Souness Revolution.’ The two sides had met at this stage of the competition in March 1984 and there were large parts of the Celtic terraces empty on that day; however, this probably had less to do with a fear of a bumbling Rangers side and more to do with the fact that both team’s seasons were fizzling out. This situation was different and it was indeed odd that there was such a struggle to fill their allocation.

The first half was characterised by half chances and full tackles. Celtic captain Roy Aitken was allowed two bad ones before a third, all of which inside the first ten minutes, finally warranted a booking. McInally was also booked before committing an even worse foul on Jimmy Nicholl at the corner flag, whilst Murdo McLeod was fortunate to escape a card following a common assault on Stuart Munro. The chances came from the scattering of inevitable free kicks, with McClair and Butcher going close from cross balls early on and Cammy Fraser hitting the post from a dead ball just outside the box. There was some fluency too. McMinn went inches wide, Durrant blazed over after some nice work with McCoist and Celtic had the best chance of the opening 45 minutes when Johnston hit the post after being sent through by Aitken, and Woods saved from the Mark McGhee rebound. It was evident early that, although Rangers had the bodies in midfield, they either weren’t fully fit or tactically disciplined to maintain the shape as they had done in August. Derek Ferguson, who was succeeding in his attempts to model his play on his manager, was becoming increasingly isolated.

The same pattern continued into the second half, with Celtic always looking like they had options when in attack and Durrant and Cooper looking especially frustrated and tightly marked. Johnston and Nicholl went into the book and yet again Aitken was allowed to commit atrocities in the name of football without a second yellow card, this time on Cooper on the edge of the box.

With just over an hour gone, Cooper was fouled again, this time by Peter Grant near the corner on the Rangers right side. The free kick was swung in by Cammy Fraser, missing its intended target Butcher, but also Roy Aitken. Instead it came through to Ian Durrant, with Tony Shepherd in close attention. Controlling the ball instantly with his left thigh, Shepherd was taken out of the game, and Durrant drilled it low past Bonner into the net. For the second time in eight weeks the 19-year-old showed a level of composure amidst the madness that was well beyond his years. As was tradition, the bears in the Rangers end showed far less. ‘He had the silky touch that others lacked,’ recalled Scot. ‘I’m so glad that it fell to him. The usual bedlam followed. You ended up 25 yards away, probably missing a shoe.’

Celtic responded strongly. Owen Archdeacon missed from a free header, McClair then hit the bar with a free kick before deservedly getting his side level with a superb goal that gave Woods absolutely no chance. Aitken was allowed to run freely through the middle of the park before giving to Johnston who laid it off to McClair on the edge of the box, where he unleashed a rocket into the top-right corner. With just 20 minutes left, the dreaded momentum swing was only going in one direction. ‘Cammy Fraser wasn’t fit. Derek Ferguson was our midfield. We simply weren’t tracking runners. They were more connected. McCoist hadn’t had a sniff and McMinn and Cooper were playing their own game,’ said Scot. ‘Strangely we all wanted the final whistle. Everyone was exhausted. Penalties would be a good result.’

Souness replaced the tired Fraser with Dave MacFarlane in an attempt to provide some much-needed solidity. The game was naturally becoming more and more stretched but the pattern remained the same: Rangers had good delivery from set pieces that caused concern and confusion in the Celtic box and Celtic were dangerous and numerous on the break, but the Rangers defence was becoming more adept at dealing with them. If Celtic had stopped conceding so many needless fouls in dangerous areas, they may well have won the cup.

With seven minutes to go Murdo McLeod’s only answer to Cooper’s skilful run was to take his legs away, and Rangers were handed yet another opportunity to cause chaos. The move started with some brilliant play by man-of-the-match Ferguson, and it was apt that he should then deliver the resulting free kick. Not for the first time that afternoon, it went to the back post, where Aitken and Butcher had been fighting for supremacy. In this instance Aitken lost his man and had to grab him back. Butcher offered little resistance to the pull and fell to the floor, whilst referee David Syme considered it briefly before giving the penalty. The Rangers captain may have been happy to fall, but it was unquestionably a foul, Jim McLean was in no doubt on co-commentary, and yet another from Aitken who had been on a booking since the tenth minute of the match.

The cracks in Celtic’s discipline that had been visible all afternoon were now a gaping chasm as two further bookings (for Bonner and Archdeacon) were administered following a large delegation sent to contest the decision. Davie Cooper, meanwhile, was ice cool as he waited to take the penalty. ‘Of course Cooper would score it,’ said Scot. ‘I believed he could colonise Mars.’ He sent Bonner the wrong way, stood still as McCoist lifted him into the air and two iconic images were born. Firstly, the two of them, Rangers men who had waited a long time for the club to take off, locked in a celebratory embrace, and the second when Cooper was left to take his own ovation, the back of the number 11 waving at the raucous, wild crowd in front of him.

From the touchline, where Souness was now decamped, the instructions were to breathe deeply and see the remaining six minutes out. No one took any heed. McCoist was booked for a scything tackle on Whyte on the halfway line, which he made great efforts to make look like a 50–50 collision. During this period of stoppage time, matters got out of hand further down the pitch. Munro and Johnston had an altercation, involving a coming together of heads, that was spotted by the stand-side linesman and it resulted in a booking for both, meaning Johnston had to walk. He did so whilst making the sign of the cross, despite all players being warned beforehand about making religious gestures.

Confusion ruled Hampden at that moment, but Scot Van Den Akker wasn’t in any doubt. ‘I was miles away so couldn’t see what happened. But I absolutely hated Mo Johnston at this time so I was very sure that he had deserved it.’ Syme got that decision correct, however he lost control soon after. A Celtic fan had hit him with a coin from the nearby stand and he mistakenly thought that it was Tony Shepherd so duly sent him off too. It wasn’t until his linesman gave him the correct information that he rescinded the card and Shepherd remained on the field of play. The retraction didn’t alter the fact that the match had ended in a shambolic farce that could have been avoided.

It was too much for Hay as he went on the pitch and seemed to suggest that he would take the ball and just go home. Later that day he would tell the press that, ‘if it had anything to do with me I would apply for Celtic to join the English league tomorrow.’ This feeling of robbery was backed by the club’s official newspaper later in the week but it lacked any substance. Hay had an issue with the penalty, which came from a clear pull in the box, and felt that Munro should have been sent off as well as Johnston, ignoring the concept of multiple yellow cards. The truth of the matter was that Celtic’s own indiscipline, made clear in those early stages of the game, cost them dear. Spooked perhaps by the changes at Ibrox and that early defeat, they had lost their head and Syme’s, corrected, error gave them room in the press to deflect from those deficiencies. As Alan Davidson put it in The Evening Times the following day, ‘To the victors the spoils. To the losers a sense of injustice that has hovered around them, like some maiden aunt, for the best part of a century.’

And how the victors enjoyed those spoils. Celtic had been the better side, although they could have been down to ten inside the first half, but Rangers had kept their cool when it counted. For the fans it was simply the confirmation of every assumption that they had made since 8 April 1986. Scot Van Den Akker feels that it cannot be understated. ‘When someone comes in and says that they have a vision and then they deliver their first trophy, one out of one, you had better believe that it mattered to us. When Souness arrived and you had to queue around the block to get tickets, there was a feeling like you had been trapped in a very large box and someone had finally tipped open the box and you could now see the world beyond. That’s what this game was to me. For all the fans there that day, for the first time since his arrival, there was a feeling that we could actually harness the huge support that we had. The stadium had been built for far better teams than we had been watching on the pitch. The trophy room was built for far better teams than we had seen recently. You could see what could happen. It was all possible. Everything was waiting for us. I would have bet on us winning the European Cup in the next five years right there. We hadn’t even won the league yet. We weren’t even top of the table! But we knew what was coming. It was exhilarating leaving that stadium that day.’

It wasn’t that the League Cup itself was the springboard required for further success. Rangers had won it on three occasions in the last five years, but those were seen as brief intermissions from the grim atmosphere that had engulfed the club. It wasn’t that this match was the immediate catalyst for a league-winning run of form either, as Rangers drew two and lost the other of their next three league games. The reason that this match is still loved to this day isn’t just because it was an Old Firm cup final win where Celtic lost the plot entirely whilst our heroes looked supercool. It’s because it was a confirmation that the support’s trust was, finally, well-placed. It is because there is a childlike need deep within all football fans for a father figure at the head of their club that never disappears, no matter how old we get. Rangers was in good hands at last.

One of those hands was clenched in a fist of triumph as Souness looked up from the track to Chairman David Holmes in the main stand seconds after the final whistle blew. Not a thread out of place in the suit. A man in complete control amongst the bedlam. Everything was going to be alright.

Preview Sample 3

9

Rangers 2 Parma 0

Champions League Third Qualifying Round First Leg Wednesday 11 August 1999

‘He’s a reliable player, Vidmar. Maybe doesn’t have the subtlety when he finishes off his moves and runs.’

(Archie McPherson, commentary, 28th minute)

For those Rangers fans slowly making their way from Ibrox Stadium on the night of 21 April 1993, most, if not all, would have felt an acute mixture of abject dejection and searing pride. The door to the inaugural Champions League Final in Munich had been left ajar but, despite giving their all, sans Mark Hateley in the final two games, that Rangers side couldn’t quite force it open. As spring turned to summer, the disappointment dissipated with the glory of the first domestic treble in a generation and fans were left feeling very secure with our place in the game. European football was changing and we were at the forefront of it. We’d surely go one better next season. Or the next again. Or the next …

Five summers later and that security had been shredded. Dick Advocaat was tasked with restoring pride following continuous humiliation on the continent. With a fresh injection of money and new ideas he set about the job immediately in that season’s UEFA Cup. With one turn in Leverkusen, it was his young Scottish protégé Barry Ferguson who sparked a famous win against the highly rated German outfit and arguably the first modern football performance by a Rangers team. Advocaat’s new side would succumb to the eventual winners Parma, but without disgrace. After a 1-1 draw at Ibrox and a first-half lead at the Stadio Ennio Tardini, Rangers controlled the tie until Sergio Porrini saw both a red mist and a red card. All thoughts in the summer of 1999, following another treble, were of further restoration work. This time back in the Champions League. Much would depend, as ever, on the draw.

It was Parma again. Of the remaining 30 teams left in the hat for the final qualifying round, there were arguably only three ties that would have been on a par with facing the UEFA Cup holders: Chelsea, Valencia and fellow Serie A side Fiorentina. Other potential opponents such as Dynamo Kiev, PSV Eindhoven, Real Mallorca, Galatasaray and Borussia Dortmund would have fallen into the ‘tough but beatable’ bracket. The rest, given how much this Rangers side were purring at the time, would have been considered a ticket to group stage. It wasn’t just this Parma side and the recent defeat that was to be feared, it was what Italian football represented in that decade. Of the 30 European club finals in the 1990s, Italy was represented 21 times. The tone was set from the very start. At the end of season 1989/90 AC Milan won the European Cup, Sampdoria won the European Cup Winners’ Cup, Juventus won the UEFA Cup, beating Fiorentina in the final, Maradona’s Napoli won the league title and the Inter side of Lothar Matthäus and Jürgen Klinsmann finished third. What Rangers were to Scottish football in the 90s, Serie A was to European football: completely and utterly dominant.

Reservations about the task at hand weren’t the only cause of gloom in Glasgow on the day of the match. Britain’s first visible solar eclipse since 1927 meant that visibility in the city was only 82 per cent around 1pm. By early evening the clouds had parted and fans could travel to Ibrox with genuine reasons for growing optimism. Firstly, although Advocaat would dismiss this a ‘cheap excuse’, the Serie A season hadn’t yet started and this was Parma’s first competitive game of the season, having not been involved in the earlier qualifying rounds. Secondly, as Sergio Porrini had pointed out in the build-up that week, this was not the draw that Parma had wanted either. We had given them both a fright and a fight the previous season and the Italian media certainly viewed it as a bad pairing. This was a world away from the reputational ruins of Gothenburg and Strasbourg just two years before. Finally and most importantly, we were red hot. At the weekend we had travelled to Tynecastle and defeated Hearts 4-0, the biggest margin of victory Rangers had inflicted there in 36 years. Other than the scoreline and the performance of most players, especially the versatile Claudio Reyna who scored two, it was also evident on that day why the manager viewed his new number nine Michael Mols as the final piece of his jigsaw.

In addition to their rustiness, it could also be argued that Parma were under strength in terms of the available personnel compared to the previous tie. Gone, to Lazio, was their main man in midfield Juan Sebastián Verón, whilst fellow Argentinian Hernán Crespo was injured along with his £21m strike partner Amoruso. Parma would have to ‘make do’ up front with their new £7m forward Marco Di Vaio playing off their new £12m creator Ariel Ortega, the latest holder of the ‘new Maradona’ tag which was placed on Argentinian enganches until Lionel Messi arrived and it suddenly became less relevant. All of this was built upon one of the strongest defensive units you could find at the time. Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro and Lilian Thuram would all have claims to be in World XIs for the era and the experience of Dino Baggio and World Cup winner Alain Boghossian in the midfield cannot be under-rated. This was a football team from the very top level and many felt that it would need Rangers to be at their strongest to match them.

We weren’t. Arthur Numan and Andrei Kanchelskis were definitely ruled out through injury and there were doubts about Neil McCann, Claudio Reyna and Giovanni van Bronkhorst, although all three would eventually start. Rangers would line up with Stefan Klos in goal, a back four of Sergio Porrini, Craig Moore, Lorenzo Amoruso and Tony Vidmar coming in for Numan with Reyna, Barry Ferguson, van Bronkhorst, McCann, Rod Wallace and Mols making up the rest. Newspaper reports had the side down as a 4-4-2; however, it is arguably far more of a 4-3-3, with the latter three names displaying a fluid and intelligent interchanging movement.

Ibrox was very loud. Even in the great 92/93 season there was often a tension and awe at the beginning of a European night and the crowd grew into their role as the game developed. As the decade wore on the support would often project their frustration onto a Rangers side in Europe and, as a result, it was not necessarily an atmosphere conducive to achieving great results. This was a new era, however, as David Edgar explains: ‘I can’t remember an Ibrox on a midweek game with so many kits on view. There’s such a difference between an Ibrox that thinks “we can do this” as opposed to an Ibrox that is thinking “oh shit man, I hope we don’t fuck this up!” There is a symbiosis between the fans and the players. As we grow in belief, so do they. People talk about Dynamo Kiev in 1987 and this was up there with that.’

That belief from the outset was matched on the pitch as Rangers should have been 1-0 up inside the first minute when Rod Wallace’s effort was saved by Buffon after being sent through by van Bronkhorst. It was an opportunity where it was perhaps better to gamble and take the shot first time, but it was an early reminder that if there was a moment of hesitation, this defence would quickly shut the chance down. The opening 25 minutes were relatively even, with some nice stuff from both sides and an intriguing battle brewing between Ortega and Amoruso. The Argentine tried to arrest the pattern of the game by immediately pressing the Rangers defence following the Wallace chance and then later getting a good cross in for Di Vaio.

Whether or not Parma were trying to combat the perceived, stereotypical physicality of a Scottish team with some kind of pre-emptive strike is unclear; however, Fabio Cannavaro was fortunate not be booked for an early tackle on McCann. He eventually found the book in 15 minutes for an even worse challenge on Wallace and then, incredibly, was shown a second yellow in the 26th minute for a needless foul on the Englishman when Thuram appeared to have total control of the situation. For a team and a support looking for further reasons to believe, this was literally a game-changer.

The pace didn’t let up and Rangers had another effort for Buffon to deal with, the first since the opening minute, as Reyna finished a lovely passing move involving van Bronkhorst, McCann, Mols and Wallace, with a decent strike. It would need more than that to beat the world’s number one. A moment of sheer magic, or, indeed, fortune. It would come from perhaps the most unlikely of sources. Frustrated at being seen simply as the deputy for the ‘trainer’s son’, Tony Vidmar did all he could to etch his name into Rangers folklore. On 33 minutes, after a nice period of possession, McCann sent a great ball out wide to the Rangers left-back. Minutes after Archie McPherson had criticised the Australian on commentary for being too obvious in his choices, Vidmar tried his luck by cutting inside Luigi Sartor and having a shot on goal. The strike was on target and Buffon would have had a job to keep it out, but the spin off Thuram’s lunge gave him no chance whatsoever. Ibrox erupted.

‘Tony Vidmar’s face is a joy to watch,’ remarked David. ‘A mixture of delight and “did I just do that?” The place shook. You can see the camera moving because the stadium is moving!’ Given the memory of the previous encounter and the fact that no Scottish club had won in Italy at that point in time (Paul Le Guen’s Rangers would be the first to do so in a UEFA Cup group game at Livorno in 2006) there was a keen sense around the ground that a second was required and, more importantly, was there for the taking. A Parma side this strong, however, were very unlikely to collapse, and in the 37th minute Alberto Malesani sacrificed his main attacking threat in Ortega and replaced him with a defender, Stefano Torrisi, thus changing to a back four and sending a message that he’d accept the 1-0 defeat and take their chances at home in a fortnight. There were few bigger signs of the new-found respect that Advocaat had managed to resurrect.

Rangers had control of the remainder of the first half but were playing in front of tight lines. The space that the movement of the front three had exploited in Parma’s three-man defence had disappeared. Reyna again popped up with a strike from just outside the box right before the whistle, but Buffon was once more equal to it.

The second half started with less composure and fluidity than the first. Very little was created in terms of clear cut opportunities, and after ten minutes Advocaat made an attacking move by removing the goalscorer Vidmar for Jörg Albertz. There was no real need for an extra defender and van Bronkhorst was given the role of a very liberal left-back as Rangers tried to force the issue. It succeeded in opening the game up as van Bronkhorst caused problems from a free kick, which Thuram scrambled to clear. and Paulo Vanoli, later to be a Rangers player, caused problems in behind Porrini, whilst Marco Di Vaio forced a corner. Vanoli and Albertz were both booked, the Italian for a terrible tackle on Ferguson and the German for simulation in the penalty area.

Rangers were in the awkward position, as time ticked by, of wanting a second but knowing that conceding an equaliser would likely be fatal. Despite the jeopardy of the situation, the home crowd, unlike on previous European nights, didn’t project anxiety but re-fuelled the players with hope and energy. This continued during a period where it looked more likely that ten-man Parma would get the next goal. Klos, carrying a knock, stood up well to Di Vaio and then Boghossian in the 72nd minute who had a fantastic shot drilled into the ground which then bounced awkwardly towards goal. It was an excellent save, following a terrible Amoruso header and slack marking by Ferguson, which proved to be crucial. Under the cosh, Advocaat looked to his bench once more. Perhaps Gabriel Amato for Mols and Scott Wilson for Moore, who looked like he might have picked up a knock.

They weren’t used. Albertz attempted a tired clearance but managed to win the ball back and then Rangers broke free. Wallace ran the ball into the right-hand channel from the halfway line before clipping a cute ball over to McCann. Surrounded by yellow and blue shirts, he laid it back into the path of the on-rushing Reyna, who met it perfectly through the legs of the luckless Thuram and into the net. Buffon looked devastated, lying back on his post. Reyna, meanwhile, looked like Marco Tardelli.

As the Ibrox noise was turned up to 11, chances to kill the tie came thick and fast. Mols, now enjoying a breath of space for the first time that night, started to twist and turn and cause problems. Ferguson and Wallace too had opportunities to put the shaken and depleted rearguard under severe pressure. In injury time Rangers had three huge chances to book their place in the Champions League. Albertz sent Mols clear in the 90th minute but his first touch was uncharacteristically poor. Albertz then created the best opportunity for Wallace by way of a stinging shot that Buffon did well to keep out. Although the Italian narrowed the angle well, Wallace should have scored from the rebound. Van Bronkhorst had the last chance to provide real comfort, but he blasted his shot well over. Perhaps the passion that had driven the team on from the first whistle had overwhelmed the side when they needed cooler heads.

Advocaat will have surely relished such an illustrious scalp, but publicly he maintained the image of the tough, taciturn taskmaster. ‘Tonight we played an excellent game but still we had some players who did not bring the performance they can bring to the team.’ Buffon, however, who had for some reason worn a Rangers goalkeeper top with the badges swapped, was not for playing poker. ‘It will now be impossible for us to reach the Champions League group games,’ he said immediately afterwards. ‘This Rangers team is so much better than the one we faced last season in the UEFA Cup. To score three goals against them on our own ground will be very, very difficult. That is why I say victory may be beyond our reach.’

It is not difficult to see why this match features so high on the list. Given the context, the pressure to qualify and the standard of opposition, this match is arguably the greatest European result for Rangers post 1986. It wasn’t a smash-and-grab display of grit and spirit. There was fortune, of course, but there was quality too. A Rangers team went toe-to-toe with Europe’s best and came out on top. There was a belief that we were back in the big time and that enveloped the entire stadium. ‘It was an incredible night,’ remarked Claudio Reyna later that night. ‘The noise level is something I will never forget, from the moment we came out for the warm up to the end of the game.’

Rangers would face a far fitter and sharper Parma side in northern Italy a fortnight later. Their 1-0 victory was not enough, however, as Advocaat’s men held on grimly to such a hard-fought advantage. A sizeable continental obstacle had been overcome, the fans now had their team back in the Champions League and with a genuine belief of making an impact for the first time since 1992/93.

Much would depend, as ever, on the draw …

Preview Sample 4

12

Rangers 3 Aberdeen 1

Scottish Premier Division Sunday 28 April 1996

‘Those who become famous are up there for our use. The most they can hope for is to be used well, but used they always are. They are our dreams come true, not theirs.’

(Clive James, ‘Fame In The 20th Century’)

‘I’ve had 14 operations and I deserve it more than anyone. I’ve knocked back the critics. I knew how good I was,’ so bellowed Paul Gascoigne in the post-match interview down the Ibrox tunnel, a reflective breather between a brilliant demonstration of individual brilliance five minutes before and picking up the Scottish Player of the Year award a few hours later. A career that seemed to be forever intertwined with genius and tragedy appeared to finally have some stability and consistency. The joyful revelation that was his international introduction juxtaposed with those tears in Turin. Tottenham’s FA Cup campaign of 1991 was propelled in the semi-final by his free kick against Arsenal, that started in a different postcode of Wembley, but was then shaken by his reckless wild challenge on Gary Charles in the final against Nottingham Forest, an incident that delayed his transfer to Lazio. His header in the Rome derby that endeared him to the Irriducibili proved to be a false dawn in a spell littered with serious injury and clownish idiocy. Finally now, under the reliable hand of Walter Smith, there appeared to be genuine happiness in the world of Gazza as those gifts were harnessed to drive Rangers towards a double. Never was that more in evidence than on that bright April afternoon at Ibrox when his talent sometimes simply transcended a hitherto team sport. The problem with such unbridled natural ability, however, is the adulation that comes with it and, especially when embodied in such a vulnerable soul, it can be almost impossible to control.

The league title race of season 1995/96 was a lot closer than is often remembered. Only the famous final-day decider in 1991 were Rangers under greater pressure during the nine-in-a-row era. Tommy Burns’s Celtic would famously lose only one league game, to Rangers and Paul Gascoigne in the opening Old Firm clash back in the September. It was the 11 draws that were fatal to their challenge and two of those, home and away to Kilmarnock, came on the same weekends when Rangers lost to Hearts. Any slip by the champions could never be fully exploited and, despite the tiresome poetry written about that side’s ‘cavalier football’, they scored 11 goals fewer than a more balanced and clinical Rangers. With a single point advantage by the penultimate game of the season, Walter Smith knew that a win at home to Aberdeen would seal the title and anything less would roll it onto the final day of the season, at Rugby Park, and a situation that he had managed to avoid for five years.

It was the following night that saw the famous Kevin Keegan outburst live on Sky, the week after Alex Ferguson had suggested that Leeds United had raised their game against his side and perhaps wouldn’t when Newcastle United visited. With that in mind, Richard Gough attempted to play the same kind of mind games with Aberdeen by saying that they were the ‘Leeds United of Scotland’. This prompted a degree of rage from captain Stewart McKimmie and manager Roy Aitken, who claimed that ‘there’s been nothing much between us this season.’ If we ignore the 30-point gap then Aitken had a point. Rangers had won 1-0 on their two visits to the North East but had lost 2-1 on a very disappointing night at Hampden in the Coca-Cola League cup semi-final. The other remaining encounter was a torrid 1-1 draw at Ibrox when Paul Gascoigne should have been sent off by John Rowbotham when he head-butted John Inglis, and Billy Dodds and John Brown were involved in another altercation. Eoin Jess and Oleg Salenko threatened to bring the game into repute with a couple of fine goals, but it was a long-standing bitterness that endured.

For such a decisive fixture, Smith decided on a very attacking line-up. A familiar rearguard of Goram, Brown, McLaren and Gough was in place, with the reliable David Robertson, who had told Craig Brown not to bother with him at Euro ’96 if he wasn’t first choice ahead of Tosh McKinley, at left wing-back and the ageing Trevor Steven on the other side. It was only Stuart McCall who provided any defensive cover in midfield, with Gascoigne, Laudrup, Durie and Erik Bo Andersen providing the attacking threat. The latter, with six goals in four games, was picked ahead of Ally McCoist, who had to make do with a place on the bench amidst intense speculation that this would be his final season at Ibrox. (He would sign a new two-year deal within the fortnight.) Aberdeen matched the 3-5-2 shape, with Michael Watt taking his place in goal, Gary Smith, John Inglis and Brian Irvine in defence, Stewart McKimmie and the highly rated Stephen Glass on the flanks, David Rowson, Paul Bernard and Dean Windass in midfield with Billy Dodds and Scott Booth in attack.

The visitors were comfortable in their defensive shape, cutting out the threat of David Robertson on the few early occasions that he was able to break free. They had a threat themselves from Billy Dodds, booed by the home support, who had a good effort from distance in the first ten minutes. Just before the 20-minute mark, Aberdeen were ahead. A Stephen Glass corner was missed by Richard Gough, bandaged already after a head clash with Brian Irvine, and it was his opponent who was well-placed to opportunistically bundle the ball past Goram and Trevor Steven on the line. If an Ibrox party atmosphere had ever pierced through the tension then it was dampened quickly with a quite dreadful goal to concede. ‘The prevailing mood around the stadium was, “Ok we’re going to make it hard for ourselves,”’ remembers David Edgar. ‘We are going to do this in the proper Rangers way by putting everyone through the mill.’

The lull didn’t have time to take root and create a permanent state of anxiety. Rangers forced a corner two minutes later and Laudrup played the ball to Gascoigne on the front edge of the box. The rest was purely on him. He glided past Dodds and then Windass before managing to get it onto his right foot to rifle it past Watt and up into the roof of the net. ‘They’re aware of what he is going to do. They’re set for him. They know what’s coming,’ said David. ‘But to do it, to adjust his body, to generate the power with no back lift and get it past Watt who, for his other faults, was a good shot-stopper, was incredible. He could do it in big games. A game where we needed our special players to do something special.’

The narrative of the rest of the first half was one of Rangers trying everything to get through a solid defensive set-up with just the odd moment of concern at the other end. Laudrup and Gascoigne buzzed around the Aberdeen half, taking up different positions to try and carve out another opening, Alan McLaren’s looping header onto the post the closest Rangers got. It was Aberdeen, however, who created the best chance of the half. On 34 minutes a Billy Dodds knock-on released Scott Booth one-on-one with Andy Goram. The Rangers legend simply stood up, whereas the striker fell to pieces and could only manage a tame effort. A sense of building frustration then, was very much the half-time mood. ‘We didn’t want to be going into the last day looking for a point at Rugby Park. We wanted it done. We were at home. We were all there. We all had plans for afterwards. Carry-outs had been bought. Days off had been arranged for the next day.’

The match of the 3-5-2s resulted in the game getting bogged down at times, but when there was freedom Rangers were very wasteful, especially Bo Andersen who squandered four chances before being replaced by McCoist just after the hour mark. McCoist was one of a few players who went closer with headers, Durie and Gough being the others and even Laudrup lost his composure when he made the wrong decision with just over 20 minutes to go. When Aberdeen attacked, it was down the Rangers right with Trevor Steven being badly exposed by Glass, but Goram as always provided a reliable last line of defence, the best example coming from a Windass header that he tipped over the bar. Steven was replaced soon after by Gordan Petric, who had only made the squad after recovering from the most Petric of all injuries: a poisoned arm.

It was after 70 minutes that Gascoigne started to warm up for the big finale. Two of his corners found McLaren, who went close both times and he also created some openings for McCoist and Durie, but simply nothing was breaking down the stubborn resistance. With only ten minutes remaining and nerves frayed, it happened. Billy Dodds received the ball from a throw-in in the Rangers half but was dispossessed by McLaren, who gave a vocal instruction to Gascoigne as he won the ball from Windass: go and do something with it. From his own half, on he went. Easing past Bernard, he would be tracked all the way to the Aberdeen penalty area, but his strength and conviction held off all challengers. Laudrup’s intelligent run dragged Inglis away with him and for the first time the other two defenders seemed strangely frozen in the beating sun. It was the first bit of freedom he had seen in an hour of football and it was all he needed to seal the title. Voted the greatest Rangers goal of all time by the listeners of Heart and Hand, it was as if, for three or four seconds, none of the other 21 players mattered. It wasn’t their game. For a brief moment it was suspended in Gascoigne’s spell. ‘There is something absolutely intoxicating, still, about watching a player with the complete conviction that the ball is their property,’ said the writer and Rangers fan Alasdair McKillop in a piece about Gascoigne for Nutmeg. ‘As he surged through the melting Aberdeen defence in the hot sunshine, his arms threshing, Gascoigne had that conviction: he powered towards the goal with a sort of gallus brutality.’

‘There was relief of course but also that feeling that I had witnessed something very special,’ recalled David. ‘Sometimes great goals are amplified by the occasion. If he scored that goal in a 5-1 win over Falkirk, we’d remember it fondly, but it wouldn’t become the legendary goal that every Rangers fan can play in their mind without the need to search it out online. Then we all said one of the stupidest phrases known to man but one that makes perfect sense in that kind of moment. “Did you see that?!” As if you’re seeking confirmation from others around you that the extraordinary event that you think you’ve witnessed actually took place. But of course there were over 40,000 roars confirming that it did. It was a world-class goal and it will live forever.’

It was very much a Gazza goal. Anyone who saw him in Italia 90 wouldn’t be surprised by that. There’s bustle. There’s strength, like a street fighter. Laudrup scored goals that looked like he had a shield around him, such was his effortless grace. This was a kind of beautiful chaos, running straight into danger but with a heart of a lion. The coolest man in the eye of the storm. Everyone else seemed paralysed by his wizardry. Only he was in control of proceedings. The debate would rage amongst Rangers fans of the time about which of the two superstars was better. A question of taste, of course, but there is some similarity between them and the likes of Messi and Suarez at Barcelona ten years later. Laudrup and Messi looked as if they were stars of the Royal Ballet. Gazza and Suarez looked as if they had never left the streets. There was an undoubted appeal there, an everyman genius that Laudrup’s regality could never have, with which supporters felt a different bond.

There was time yet for another Alan McLaren assault on goal, but it flashed wide before the stage was set for the encore. From a Goram punch at an Aberdeen corner, the break was on and Durie was eventually felled by Bernard in the box. After pleading with McCoist, Gascoigne had the chance to crown his season and he duly did with ease to make it 3-1. Walter Smith had matched Bill Struth’s record of winning five successive championships as manager for the duration of a season, but there was only one man being carried shoulder high around Ibrox stadium. A man who needed to be loved and adored would struggle to find more of that during his time at Ibrox.

Not so throughout the rest of Scotland, however. For those who questioned the signing as an injury liability, a player whose best days were long behind him, any praise of his match-deciding abilities was through gritted teeth and packed full of caveats. Any criticism of his dark and daft sides was more fulsome. The ‘man-child’ schtick was a regular trope of the Sunday columns and Gerry McNee, who was able to describe the action at Ibrox for STV that day so well, could barely use Gascoigne’s name when writing for the News Of The World, instead opting for the ‘Number Eight’ moniker. In doing so McNee was effectively dehumanising a man, not without obvious mental health issues. A superhuman footballer but a very real fragile human, for whom reading the Sunday papers was often a very difficult experience.

‘Most soccer fans have a need to get hooked on the fortunes of a single player, to build a team around him so to speak,’ wrote the poet and critic Ian Hamilton in his biography of Gascoigne, Gazza Agonistes. A Tottenham fan with Rangers blood in his ancestry, Hamilton didn’t take too long to fall for him, and neither did I. For me, no player provided more quality in a Rangers shirt, a catalyst of intelligence and individual character who sparked Rangers out of a relative slump and powered them on to fabled glories. I bought into it from the very start, waiting for hours outside the main door in the boiling July heat to see him finally paraded in a Rangers jersey and to shake his hand. I was too young to fully appreciate the signing of Souness. I was perfectly placed to understand this.

And yet my adulation, and that of thousands of others, was ultimately counter- productive as we projected onto him an ultimately unrealistic concept of perfection. Hamilton’s attraction to the genius of Gascoigne was that of the poet and how out of this chaos and unlikely frame came such beauty. There was also the acute understanding that a failure to bottle the brilliance can easily lead to self-destruction. ‘What’s at issue is the idea of a life given over to creativity; and the belief that because a person believes himself to be possessed of some profound and special gift, he has certain rights to live his life in a certain way.’ McKillop extended this further by correctly identifying that, ‘it was others who invested most in the idea that Gascoigne possessed something special so he was offered a certain leeway that wouldn’t have been offered to less talented players.’ Our need for heroes, our need to distil team sports down to the individual often creates a mania that would be hard enough for the more well-adjusted to cope with.

Any hope Paul Gascoigne had of a well-adjusted life was up against it from the start. His troubles can probably be traced back to the childhood trauma of seeing the younger brother of a friend killed in a car accident at the age of seven. Gascoigne had persuaded his mother to let him come with the boys to the sweet shop and that he would look after him. It was whilst he was ‘mucking around’ in the shop that the accident happened. ‘It was the first dead body I’d ever seen – and I felt Steven’s death was my fault,’ wrote Gascoigne in his autobiography. ‘I had said I would look after him and I didn’t. I couldn’t understand why he had died when he was so young and hadn’t harmed anybody. It didn’t make sense.’ Even before that, when he too was only seven, he had demonstrated considerable anxiety when he started to ponder his own existence and death. ‘Suddenly I was scared, and I ran all the way home, screaming and crying. I got into bed with me mam and dad, squeezed in beside them, cuddled close. I didn’t tell them why I’d been screaming, I just sort of hid it in my head.’

There was no proper treatment of these demons during his professional career and their outward manifestations were indulged, not managed. Hamilton summed it up well when he said, ‘some feared … that he so little understood the nature of his own genius that he would be unable to protect it from the excesses to which his personality was irreversibly inclined.’ Some of those excesses, the loveable larrikin sort, were ignored despite the fact that he was supposed to be a professional athlete. Because he was doing enough on the pitch, however, the excuses were excusable.

There were, of course, much darker excesses, such as that awful week in the October of 1996 when his lack of discipline in the Champions League clash with Ajax in Amsterdam, where he saw red in a desperate 4-1 defeat, was put into context when it soon emerged that his lack of control on the football field extended into his home life. Domestic abuse can’t be excused by footballing prowess, but yet that is exactly what happened. Vice-Chairman Donald Finlay QC said, ‘None of us here are going to get involved in somebody’s private life. If Paul Gascoigne, or anybody else connected with the club, asks for help or advice we will give it. We are not going to interfere. It is entirely a private matter. We will stand by anybody who works for the club who gives us 100 per cent loyalty. They will get the same back.’ Walter Smith fined him and hinted that there was a limit to the club’s patience but that it hadn’t been reached yet. The club officially washed their hands of it and so did the fans. Generally speaking, the Rangers support went into deep compartmentalisation and did all of the mental gymnastics possible so as to avert the cognitive dissonance that wasn’t far from the surface. There were the odd brave voices of condemnation, none more so than the editor of the Follow Follow fanzine, Mark Dingwall, but they went very much against the grain. Myself included. Albeit I was only 15 years of age, but any deep unease was quashed by what he could potentially win for us that season: the nine. It really was a kind of mania. It was Aberdeen again who visited Ibrox for the first game following those revelations. Gascoigne sent a free kick into the top corner from 30 yards. All seemed instantly well again.

It wasn’t, of course, and although future success would come, it would eventually unravel for Gascoigne at Ibrox and then, with his dramatic exclusion from Glenn Hoddle’s squad for France ’98, sadly for the rest of his career and his life. His story was never black and white. The horrendous behaviour was seized upon by those who seemed to revel in tragedy because it provided the opportunity to attack Gascoigne, and by association the club, with no interest in discussing any deeper psychological explanation. In much the same way as his best moments on the field were sometimes distorted by his worshippers as evidence of the norm, despite it being a career that never got close to meeting its potential. ‘There was something in his personality that ran counter to the fantasies his soccer gifts induced,’ observed Hamilton. ‘Wasn’t the whole drift of Gazza’s story a drift towards some calamitous comeuppance, some terrible bringing-down-to-earth?’

Ultimately this was really the familiar tale of fame. Otherwise rational observers getting close to believing in supernatural power. Devotees willing to ignore the worst human behaviour, lest it reduce the aura of the gods. John Lennon committed the same offences and yet few of us enjoy The Beatles with any such caveats. More importantly it is the human being who gets lost when the fame takes over. Gascoigne was the loveable, footballing hero for his fans and the thuggish, overrated oaf for his detractors, but he was the troubled human being for far too few of us.

At the very end of his excellent documentary series, Fame in the 20th Century, Clive James summed it up perfectly: ‘If fame comes from achievement, it’s worth having and worthy of admiration. But achievement without fame can be a good life and fame without achievement is no life at all. Finally, what separates human beings is less important than what joins them and the famous people we like most seem to tell us that by their way of staying human. As if there was a frail, fallible human being behind the glory. Which there always is.’

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