The Road to Rangers – Graeme Souness – Part 3

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Welcome back to the road to Rangers series where we enter the final part of our special three part series looking at the career of the magnificent one, who I’m sure we’re all looking forward to seeing make his Rangers TV debut in the coming months. If its half as explosive as his Rangers debut on the park, we’re in for a right treat!

Souness is unveiled at Rangers, 1986

Alas, that debut seemed the product of a Rangers fans dizziest daydreams as Souness touched down in Genoa on the 1st July 1984 to sign for Sampdoria – greeted by 3,000 fans all jostling to get the best glimpse of the clubs new £650,000 man.

The path from the UK to Sampdoria was a well-trodden one at this point, with Ranger-to-be Trevor Francis and Liam Brady having already made the switch. After initially looking at Bryan Robson, the Blucrechiati turned their attention to Souness, who for financial reasons was looking to leave the UK at this point. Sampdoria proved an enticing option, they were a club looking to take the next step from a solid Serie A side (they finished 7th in their previous two seasons) to challenging for silverware with Italy’s elite with an exciting crop of young talents which included the likes of Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli.

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The Football times graphic detailing Souness’ move to Sampdoria

Souness took to Serie A like a duck to water, scoring the winning goal just 37 minutes into his debut in a 1-0 victory against Cremonese. Souness discussed the transition from English to Italian football on The Big Interview Podcast where he said:

“I found the football easy. It was a bit slower because there wasn’t so much pressing – the pressing was for the English game. There [Italy], for a midfield player, you could get on the ball a lot easier because they would retreat and back off to their own half and let you have the ball”

That goal on his debut was to prove to be one of a few big goals Souness would score that season for Sampdoria, as he would net the winner in a 2-1 over Milan (more on them later), equalisers in 1-1 draws at home to Juventus and away to Roma and Sampdoria’s first goal in a 2-2 draw at home to Torino. Overall, Souness was Sampdoria’s second top goal scorer in the league that season, scoring 5 goals (Trevor Francis and Fausto Salsano both had 6), with his goals directly winning Sampdoria 9 points in total leading to the team finishing the season 4th in Serie A, their joint ever highest finish.

With improvement in the league secured, Souness turned his attention to silverware as Sampdoria had reached the final of the Coppa Italia. At this point, the tournament began with a group stage (like the format for the Betfred Cup) with every side entering at this stage. Sampdoria were drawn in a group with Bari, Cantanzaro, Udinese, Lecce and Cavese and sailed through the group finishing top with 3 wins and 2 draws, progressing to the knockout stages. In two-legged affairs, Sampdoria saw off Pisa (4-1 on aggregate), Torino (4-2 on aggregate) and Fiorentina in the semi-final (3-1 on aggregate) to set up a final against Milan who had overcome Napoli, Juventus and arch rivals Inter on their own route to the final with the help of future Rangers players Ray Wilkins and Mark Hatley.

Souness was to continue his habit of scoring big goals in big moments for Sampdoria as the teams took to the field in Milan for the first leg of the final.

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The Rangers Connection: Souness with Ray Wilkins and Trevor Francis, 1984

With 24 minutes gone at the San Siro, Souness arrived at the back post to finish off a mouth-watering Sampdoria move with a thunderous volley beating Giuliano Terraneo despite the Milan keeper getting a hand to the ball. Sampdoria managed to hold on to the lead and take the goal advantage back to Genoa for the second leg of the final just three days later. Souness played the entire 90 minutes in this game as well and helped Sampdoria secure a 2-1 victory on the day and win the first trophy in the clubs history.  

In his first season, Souness had played a key role in helping Sampdoria achieve their highest ever Serie A finish and Coppa Italia winners. As they say in Italy – eccezionale.

Souness’ second season was quieter than the first, but that is a reflection on the entire Sampdoria side. Sampdoria couldn’t repeat their remarkable 4th place finish from the previous season as they slumped to 12th place and just five points above the relegation zone. Souness’ goals once again proved vital, scoring the first in wins against Pisa, Lecce and Udinese, contributing to nine points in the process of Sampdoria’s survival. Sampdoria almost repeated their cup success from the previous year by reaching the final of the Coppa Italia against Roma. Having won the first leg of the final 2-1 in Genoa, Souness and Sampdoria would fall to a 2-0 defeat in Rome and ultimately lost the final 3-2 on aggregate.

It was from here, in the summer of 1986, that Souness would complete his road to Rangers. But before we get to that, it would be remiss not to highlight his achievements at international level with Scotland until this point.

Scotland national Team: 1974-1986

Souness earned his first Scotland cap while still playing for Middlesbrough on the 30th October 1974 as Scotland defeated West Germany 3-0 at Hampden Park, playing the entire 90 minutes, following it up with his second appearance for his country less than a month later in a 2-1 home defeat to Spain. He was to go on to make 4 further appearances for Scotland before he was selected by Ally McLeod to represent Scotland at Argentina ’78, with his move to Liverpool in January of that year and ensuring success helping to get him on the plane that was paraded into the Glasgow skies by a nation overcome with hysteria. Remember, McLeod was so confident of Scotland’s forthcoming success that he had announced the date of the World Cup final would be named after him.

Souness played no part in the initial omnishambles that was those fateful games against Peru and Iran and was only thrown in to face the Netherlands after the damage had been done – incidentally, the only game at the tournament Scotland won – and the country was eliminated on goal difference. Souness said in an interview with the Leicester telegraph:

“We had gone into 1978 with all the ballyhoo with Ally McLeod saying we were going to win the World Cup and that tournament was a real eye opener for me. There was the drugs situation with Willie Johnston [who failed a drugs test after the Peru game] and a lot of other things going on. There were more news journalists there than sports journalists and you knew they weren’t there for football.

Souness was once again called up to the Scotland squad that qualified for Spain ’82 and this time played in all three matches in the sweltering heat. Scotland opened their campaign with an exhilarating 5-2 win over New Zealand in Malaga setting them up for facing Brazil in their next game.

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Souness jostling with Brazilian captain Socrates, 1982

In this game Souness would face some of the biggest names to ever don the yellow and blue with the likes of Socrates and Zico both playing. Scotland were ultimately undone by Samba boys and fell to a 4-1 defeat.

Souness scored the first of his 4 goals for his country in Scotland’s 2-2 draw with the USSR in Scotland’s final group match, in which a draw saw the USSR progress on goal difference at Scotland’s expense. Glorious failure once again for the Tartan Army.

Souness’ final world cup came in the Summer of 1986 in Mexico, just before he officially arrived at Rangers (although he had already accepted the role of player/manager). Scotland had qualified for the tournament under a cloud, as Jock Stein had collapsed and died after a match against Wales which secured Scotland a world cup play-off place. Sir Alex Ferguson, only months prior from making the switch from Aberdeen to Manchester United, agreed to lead Scotland into the tournament for which Souness captained his country. However, Souness himself admitted to not being in the best shape going into the tournament:

“I went into the tournament and I wasn’t well. I was normally 13st but I was 11st 2lbs and I had no power. I struggled with the altitude because it was 7,000 feet”.

Illness lead to Souness putting in sub-par performances in both of Scotland’s opening games in a 1-0 defeat to Denmark and a 2-1 defeat to West Germany. Going into the final game against Uruguay, Souness was just 90 minutes away from having never been dropped in his career, a feet no player has managed. However, Fergie made the call to leave Souness out of starting XI for the match. Souness however holds no resentment towards Ferguson:

“I was never dropped in my entire career and that was the last game I could have been dropped for. It was disappointing but I never blamed Fergie for it. The last game against Uruguay was a game for experienced men but I wasn’t well. I couldn’t blame Fergie for leaving me out”.

In his career, Souness amassed 54 caps and 4 goals for his country. He announced his retirement from International football at the end of Mexico ’86 to focus on a new job he had accepted in Glasgow.

But before we get to that… Nah I’m joking let’s get to it!

Rangers: 1986

The Context

To recap on the context detailed in Part 1 of this series:

The late 1970s to mid-1980s were a desperate time to be a Ranger. John Greig replaced Jock Wallace in 1978 on the back of the sides second treble in three seasons but failed to replicate his playing successes as Rangers failed to win the league championship during his tenure. Greig was sacked in 1983 and with Sir Alex Ferguson and then Dundee Utd manager Jim Mclean rejecting Rangers advances, Jock Wallace was asked to return which he duly did. When Wallace returned, ill health meant he too failed to live up to his former glories, winning less than 50% of his matches in charge resulting in a 5th place finish in the 1985/86 season, the clubs second lowest ever top-flight finish. Attendances had fallen into the 12,000’s and player wages were negligible. The club was threatening to spiral out of control into the footballing abyss. At boardroom level, the club had been purchased by Lawrence Malborough, a Nevada-based businessman, who appointed David Holmes as the clubs Managing Director who worked with direct orders from Malborough to change the culture at Ibrox.

In 1986, Rangers needed revolution.

Sunday 6th April 1986

This game was to prove Wallace’s last in the Ibrox hotseat as only 12,655 fans came out to watch Rangers lose 2-0 in a friendly to Tottenham. Wallace phoned his lawyer Jock Brown that evening and told him he was getting sacked and Rangers wanted him there to help sort a compensation package sorted first thing on Monday morning.

Monday 7th April 1986

It was Jim White who initially broke the story of Souness’ arrival. Having flew out to Genoa previously in the year for an interview with Souness. Whilst there, he developed contacts at Sampdoria and in the local press who contacted him with the story which he intended to break on STV. Holmes was made aware of this and decided to call a press conference In order to maintain control of the story.

Meanwhile, Rangers were thrashing out Jock Wallace’s compensation package with Jock Brown to ensure that Souness could be announced that day before STV broke the story. A deal was agreed at the 11th hour and Rangers scheduled a press conference for 5pm that evening saying Wallace was being releaved of his duties and Souness would be unveiled at 10am the next morning.

The press’ reaction? “oh f*** off”.

Tuesday 8th April 1986

For this part, I believe the only people who can do can properly describe one of the most significant moments in our clubs history, are those who were actually there.

Souness is unveiled at Rangers, 1986

Alan Ferguson, media advisor for Rangers, said:

“We got him [Souness] in the backdoor at Ibrox for the press conference everyone now remembers. David Holmes told him ‘that’s the last time you will ever enter this stadium through the back door’”.

Stephen Halliday details in his book Rangers, The Official Illustrated History:

“When Graeme Souness walked through the door from the managers office into a packed press conference on Tuesday 8th April 1986, it was the most stunning and significant moment in Scottish football for decades. The hard-bitten football journalists gasped. There was a discernible pause before the uniform click of the photographer’s cameras were heard”.

Souness’ comments to the press are of legendary status:

“Its all a bit strange. It is no secret that I wanted to manage a club but I thought I would need to start down the ladder, maybe in the English second division or with an English second division club. I couldn’t have gone to the likes of Crewe or Rochdale, but I never dreamed I would get a chance like this. Rangers are as big as Manchester United, certainly bigger than Liverpool or Everton, Arsenal or Tottenham”.

Rangers had paid a fee to Sampdoria of £350,000 for Souness’ services and his Road to Rangers was complete. It remains to this day one of the biggest and most dramatic signings in Scottish, and British, footballing history – only to be eclipsed three years later. Decades on, the magnitude of Souness’ arrival was still felt by those involved in the process.  As Alan Ferguson said:

“I was in a newsagent the other day and the guy behind the counter said to me ‘I’ve seen your face before. Did you used to work at Rangers?’. I said I did. He said ‘Aye, you’re the guy who held the door open for Souness’”.

Can I just say a very big thank you to everyone for your support. As the first attempt at a Road to Rangers series, your support across all three parts has been immense and its greatly appreciated. The next Road to Rangers will look at the career of a player that is perhaps of a more contemporary interest…

Until then, thank you.

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