Bringing us sunshine at Christmas time

Morecambe and Wise with long-term target of their humour, Des O’ Connor.

It is Christmas time again and, as is the norm at this time of year, there will be many a yuletide tradition being re-enacted: exchanging of gifts, the eating of turkey with all the trimmings, much consumption of alcohol and many inappropriate liaisons between co-workers at the office Christmas party!

For me, however, Christmas always says one thing: Morecambe and Wise.

1974 aside, the classic comedy act made Christmas their own through their annual Christmas specials between 1969 to 1980, and they’re yuletide show reached a peak in 1977 when it attracted 28 million viewers, cementing them as the biggest act in the country at that time.

However the road to this level of success was not an easy one, and it was one that had more than its fair share of highs and lows along the way.

The journey to dominating Christmas in the 70s for John Eric Bartholomew and Ernest Wiseman began in 1940 when the then teenagers were booked separately to appear at the Nottingham Empire Theatre. At the suggestion of Eric’s mother the two became one and were initially named Bartholomew and Wiseman. Unsurprisingly this name was viewed as not catchy enough, so Ernie shortened his name to Wise, Eric changed his to that of his hometown and Morecambe and Wise were born. They performed as a double-act for the first time at the Liverpool Empire in 1941 and in the audience that night was a man who would feature heavily in their future, the comedy writer Eddie Braben – and he wasn’t impressed.

“I saw them at the Liverpool Empire”, he said. “It was a packed, enormous Liverpool Empire theatre and they had all gone to see the top of the bill, Lena Hall. Before we got to Lena Hall, these two boys came on the stage and nobody knew them or heard of them, and they were painful. They were awful.”

This inauspicious start did not deter Morecambe and Wise and they continued to tour the country playing in the clubs and theatres of the variety circuit of the time. They even played the infamous Glasgow Empire, a theatre which Ken Dodd had nicknamed the House of Terror. The theatre had a fearsome reputation amongst artists due to the audience’s knack of giving acts – particularly English comedy acts – a hard time if they were struggling to get laughs. Des O’Connor famously fainted mid-routine at the Glasgow Empire due to the hostile nature of the audience. On their first outing there, Eric and Ernie walked off stage to a deafening silence. “They’re beginning to like you,” the stage manager growled at them.

Such baptisms of fire were intimidating, however they helped Eric and Ernie in learning their trade and honing their act. After a bit of radio work for the BBC helped build their reputation further, the pair were offered their first TV series in 1954 – the infamous Running Wild.

Running Wild would prove to be disastrous for Morecambe and Wise. The reviews were so stinging that both Eric and Ernie suggested to Ronnie Waldman, the head of light entertainment for the BBC at the time, to cancel the show after only three episodes. However Waldman was steadfast in his commitment and belief in the pair and insisted that they continue and see out the whole six episodes. Despite this vote of confidence from Waldman the final three shows failed to improve the image of Running Wild and it was cancelled after one series. The damage to Morecambe and Wise’s reputation was seen as potentially fatal in terms of their TV careers, and one particular review from Kenneth Bailey in The People – where he described TV as the box they buried Morecambe and Wise in – was so hurtful that Eric Morecambe carried a cutting of it in his wallet until the day he died. With their reputation battered and pride bruised, Morecambe and Wise returned to variety circuit and would not return to television for another seven years.

The return to the stage and the variety circuit hurt the pair but it helped them in solidifying their act. Slowly but surely they recovered from the damage inflicted by Running Wild and started to make guest slots on TV again. By 1961 they had recovered their reputation to such a degree that Lew Grade felt confident enough to offer the duo another crack at a TV series at ATV with the show Two of a Kind. Unlike Running Wild, Two of a Kind would prove to be a success for the pair – one which was helped by the writing of Sid Green and Dick Hills.

The show would run between 1961 and 1968 and was a huge success, although one that relied upon a twist of fate accidentally introducing a new format to the show. A strike by the actors union Equity meant that Morecambe and Wise had no actors to appear in their comedy sketches on Two of a Kind. As members of the Variety Artists’ Federation Union Eric and Ernie were free to work – as were their writers Green and Hills. The decision was made to include the writers in the show and the format was a huge success – cementing the show’s popularity. But just as Morecambe and Wise seemed to be on the crest of a wave the floor caved in to such an extent there was a doubt the pair would ever perform again.

In a diary entry from 17 August 1967, Morecambe complained of a pain around the “left side of his heart”. As a heavy smoker and drinker Eric Morecambe did not enjoy the best of health, and this came to a head on the night of 8 November 1968 after a performance at the Variety Club in Bately. Whilst driving home Morecambe started to experience chest pains that became so severe that he was unable to drive. He lay stricken in his car until a passer-by, a young local lad by the name of Walter Butterworth, found him and drove him at high speed in Morecambe’s Jensen Interceptor car to Leeds Infirmary where it was established that the performer had suffered a major heart-attack at the tender age of 42. He would not perform again for six months.

The doubts about Morecambe’s health prompted Sid Green and Dick Hills to split from Morecambe and Wise – a move that left a sour taste in the mouth of Eric Morecambe as the pair didn’t inform him or Ernie Wise in person that they intended to leave. The departure further complicated matters as Morecambe and Wise had left ATV earlier in the year to join the BBC and the first series of the now titled Morecambe and Wise Show had just finished a month before Morecambe’s near-fatal heart attack. With one half of the act recuperating from a serious health condition, and with no writers to speak of, there were big doubts about the future of Morecambe and Wise. Whilst Morecambe revovered Wise kept working the club’s and theatre’s and sent half of the royalties he received to his partner and friend. Meanwhile Bill Cotton, who was head of light entertainment at the BBC, dealt with the writing issue by hiring the Liverpudlian Eddie Braben, who had recently stopped writing for fellow Scouser Ken Dodd, to take over from Sid Green and Dick Hills. Morecambe recovered and returned to record the next series of The Morecambe and Wise Show in May 1969 and they returned to our screens on 27 July of the same year when the first episode of the second BBC series was broadcast to the nation.  Yet again Morecambe and Wise had come back from the dead – this time almost literally – and they were about to embark on the glory years of their careers.

Braben would be a vital factor in that. On first meeting the pair he observed that Eric and Ernie were closer than any brothers he had ever met, and he felt that was an opportunity to be exploited: “I was there with these two men in Bill Cotton’s office”, said Braben, “and I saw what was missing; it was warmth. What was missing was the genuine and honest affection that they had for one another, but we never saw this on television. I wanted to bring that out.”

And bring it out he did, with hugely successful results. Wise’s “straight man” routine was altered also with him becoming the pompous writer with his “plays what he wrote” which the guests, who were becoming more and more glamourous with each passing series, would star in.

From 1968 to 1978 Morecambe and Wise were the biggest name in show business as they soared from one success to another. High profile guests and awards came raining down on them, and the many years the pair had put in on the variety circuit were now paying off with an act that was perfected through attention to detail, endless rehearsing and the unshakeable confidence they had in each other. However the success came at a price.

Ernie Wise, Eddie Braben and Eric Morecambe.

Firstly Eddie Braben suffered a mental breakdown. The endless travelling from Liverpool to London coupled with the constant tinkering and requested rewrites of scripts, from Eric Morecambe in particular, became too much and he succumbed in 1972 – ironically the same year he was awarded with a Bafta for his outstanding contribution to television. Then in 1979 Eric Morecambe would suffer another heart attack that would on this occasion require heart bypass surgery. The price of the success of The Morecambe and Wise Show was taking its toll, and Braben complained that the pressure around the Christmas shows in particular was unfair and unrealistic. With more than half the country watching, Braben felt that Christmas in Britain was almost dependent on the success of Morecambe and Wise’s Christmas special.

But despite the pressures the show rumbled on and huge names like Glenda Jackson, Elton John, John Thaw, Edward Woodward, Peter Cushing, Dusty Springfield, Vanesa Redgrave, Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey queued up to appear on the hottest show on television. In 1976 the newsreader Angela Rippon appeared on the Christmas special, in doing so she revealed her shapely legs for the first time – which until that point had remain firmly hidden behind her newsdesk – and an impressive ability to dance. After the success of Rippon’s appearance, the following year saw a host of current affairs correspondents like Richard Baker, Frank Bough, Barry Norman and Michael Aspel appear on the Christmas special to perform ‘Nothing Like a Dame’ from the musical South Pacific. In the sketch, these middle-aged and slightly rotund men performed ever increasingly difficult flips and jumps. It is only after a few minutes of watching that the audience realises they’ve been conned, and even then there were some who belived that Barry Norman could do a somersault five feet in the air.  Like Rippon’s appearance the previous year the sketch was a huge success. However there is little doubt that the Morecambe and Wise sketch most people remember is the infamous Andre Previn sketch in 1971, where Morecambe attempts to play Grieg’s Piano Concerto which results in arguably the best line Eddie Braben ever produced. When Previn informs Eric that he is playing “all the wrong notes”, a frustrated and insulted Morecambe tells the famous conductor and composer that he is  “playing all the right notes – but not necessarily in the right order”.

In 1978, a mere 12 months after the Christmas sho had attracted its record breaking 28 million viewers, Morecambe and Wise stunned the showbiz world when they left the BBC and returned to ITV with Thames Television. Bill Cotton described their move away from the BBC as “feeling like a divorce”. Contractual obligations with the BBC meant that Braben would not join the pair at Thames until 1980, but even when Braben did finally arrive the shine was starting to wear off the show and Morecambe’s second heart attack in 1979 had again put question marks over his ability to perform.

By the 80s there was a feeling that Morecambe and Wise were on the slide and Morecambe’s son Gary recalls watching the final Christmas special Morecambe and Wise ever made in 1983. “We watched it together, as usual,” he said, “but my father’s mood was far less buoyant. Now made by Thames TV, rather than the BBC, the programme looked tired. Whenever a Thames show transmitted, he’d look to us for reassurance. ‘It was good, though, don’t you think?’ he often asked.

“It was a difficult question to answer. With a lack of decent new material, Eric and Ernie had resorted to rehashing old routines. They looked older, and there was a spark missing. That day, my father was slightly defensive about the show, which was very weak by their own high standards, and I found it very sad.”

Eric Morecambe with Stan Stennet on the night he died.

From his first heart attack in 1968 Eric Morecambe had always promised to make alterations to his lifestyle, particularly his workload. He stopped smoking a reputed 60 cigarettes a day in favour of a pipe, and took up fishing and birdwatching, but his widow Joan said recently that fear of failure always drove him back towards work. “He was always worried the next show would be the last, always worried they wouldn’t survive”, she said.

This inability to switch off would ultimately cost Morecambe his life at the relatively young age of 58. On 27 May 1984, Morecambe was due to appear at the Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury for a charity show hosted by his close friend Stan Stennett. Morecambe had been feeling unwell on the run-up to the performance and had considered cancelling. But that inability to switch off coupled with a desire to not let an audience down meant that Morecambe fulfilled his commitment. Morecambe would put in a tremendous final performance, making six encores. As he stepped into the wings for the final time he collapsed with his third heart-attack in 16 years and died early the following morning at Cheltenham General Hospital.

His death brought an end to the one of the most iconic double acts of all time. And 34 years after his passing, Eric Morecambe is still to be found on the television at Christmas time with the seemingly endless line of repeats of classic episodes and documentaries about their career.

After Morecambe’s death Ernie Wise continued to work up until his 70th birthday in November 1995, by which time he had his own health issues. Four years later in January 1999 Wise also underwent heart by-pass surgery in Florida after suffering two heart attacks within a week of each other. In March of the same year he was flown back to the UK and died on 21 March at the age of 73.

Eddie Braben admitted that after Morecambe’s death he still had lines for the duo “running round in my head, but there was nowhere for them to go”. His tribute play to Morecambe and Wise entitled The Play What I Wrote, which ran at London’s Wyndham’s Theatre in 2001, provided closure on that. Braben died in 2013, aged 82.

Ernie Wise’s widow Doreen died in April of this year and so out of all the people involved in the most loved comedy double-act this country has ever seen only Eric’s widow, Joan, remains. Now aged 91, she is still proud of what the “one with glasses and the one with short, fat hairy legs” achieved.

“Now there’s no Eric, no Ernie, Ernie’s wife Doreen has gone, there’s only me left”, she told the Radio Times recently. “I’m sad because he’s not here and doesn’t know how successful they still are. But how marvellous for him that they’re still so loved.”

And loved they are. Eric Morecambe has a statue honouring him in the town he was born and took his name from. Ernie Wise has a similar statue in his home town of Leeds. And the pair are immortalised in bronze together at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool – a town they very much made their own during their variety circuit days.

So if you get the chance this Christmas why don’t you revisit them? I can promise you one thing, and that is that is they’ll bring sunshine to your Christmas.

 

Monarch of the Glenn comes to the four in routine win

Glenn Middleton celebrates his first goal for Rangers in the 4-0 victory against Dundee

After what seemed like an endless – and pointless – international break, it was back to the day job on Saturday and back to my favourite spot on the Southside of Glasgow.

My Saturday began in the normal fashion; ferrying my son to his football and my daughter to her dancing with one eye on the game and an eternal feeling in my head that my Saturday mornings have become an extension of my working week. Still, what better way to spend my “half-day off” than watching the Teddy Bears? So with footballing and dancing commitments completed, it was “off to the match” for the boy and myself.

Dundee at Ibrox has always been a fixture that has evoked strong memories for me, as one of my first visits to Ibrox to support Rangers was in March 1984 to see Rangers take on the Dens Park side in a Scottish Cup replay.

After seeing off Dunfermline and the Inverness Caledonian – before they merged with Inverness Thistle – the quarter-final draw initially saw Rangers head to Dens Park for a tricky away tie. A 2-2 draw was secured thanks to an own goal by George Mcgeachie and a peach of a goal from Bobby Russell.

So the replay was set up nicely, however it would largely be a day to forget. Dundee, then managed by a certain Archie Knox, would go 1-0 up through Jim Smith and then double that advantage through future Rangers striker Iain Ferguson.

Mid-way through the second-half, Ian Redford was sent off for an off-the-ball incident with Albert Kidd and Rangers were truly up against it. But a late fightback saw us claw a goal back through Ulsterman John McClelland and then a few minutes later big Dave McPherson rose majestically to put a header past Dundee keeper Colin Kelly. The delirium during the celebrations was heightened by the fact that McPherson came running directly to where my dad and I were sitting in the Copland Rd front to celebrate. It appeared we had gotten out of jail and saved the day. The memory of the joy on McPherson’s face is still a vivid one to this day.

But we were crucially still a man down, and Dundee exposed that one man advantage with a few minutes remaining when Iain Ferguson scored again and put the tie to bed. In the dying seconds Rangers were reduced to nine men as Robert Prytz saw red for dissent and Rangers exited the tournament. All came good again the following weekend, however, as Rangers famously beat Celtic 3-2 in the League Cup final thanks to an Ally McCoist hatrick.

Dave McPherson makes it 2-2 in the Scottish Cup quarter-final replay at Ibrox in 1984. Dundee would win 3-2.

Thankfully there were no such dramas on Saturday. Rangers were looking to get back on the winning trail after the disappointment of the defeat to Celtic just before the international break, and in the early stages they look fired up for the game and it only takes four minutes for Lassana Coulibaly to give Rangers the lead.

To emphasise the urgency that Rangers appear to have to do their business early, Alfredo Morelos puts Rangers two up a few minutes later – only for an incredible offside decision from the linesman to deny Morelos yet another goal after a shocking decision denied the Columbian a goal at Killie a few weeks back.

But the reprieve that Dundee benefit from with that officiating error is only temporary and Ryan Kent, who arguably has his best game in a Rangers jersey to date, makes it 2-0 on the fourteenth minute with his first goal for the club. Oddly, Rangers lose their way a little after the second goal, become sloppy in possession and give Dundee a little bit of joy in the middle of the park – without being so careless as to actually allow them back into the game. A James Tavernier penalty right on half-time ensures that it will take a minor miracle for Rangers to drop points and not take advantage of Celtic slipping up at St Mirren the previous night.

The only talking points from the second-half are the sending off of former Rangers striker Kenny Miller – which from my view seemed a harsh straight red – and the first goal of his Rangers career for Glenn Middleton.  It is always pleasing to see young Scottish boys, particularly if they are Glaswegian, come through the ranks and do well at the club. Steven Gerrard has obviously seen something in the teenager and handed him his opportunity, and when he has gotten game time this season he has looked impressive and a real prospect. Attackers who can get behind their markers and turn them are a rare commodity these days, so when one comes along they are an exciting prospect. Ironically this is one of Middleton’s quieter games. But any youngster getting off the mark at the club is always a bonus and we can only hope he fulfills his obvious potential.

By the time Dundee restart the game after Middleton’s goal my mind is already looking towards the chips and curry sauce the boy and I routinely share after every home game – and also to Thursday night when, for the first time since 2010, Rangers will appear in the group stages of a European competition.

Peter Lovenkrands celebrates putting Rangers ahead in the last 16 Champions League tie of 2006.

There was a time when appearing in the Europa League would have been considered a disappointment. But given not that long ago we were being handed our arse by Raith Rovers in the Petrofac Cup Final, then the game on Thursday feels like we have arrived in the land of milk and honey. In terms of the recovery of our club, the importance of Gerrard’s achievement in getting us there cannot be understated.

Our opponents on the night will be Villarreal, and the fixture brings back memories of our last game against them in the last 16 of the Champions League in 2006. On that occasion we were very unlucky to go out on away goals. Villarreal would go on an reach the semi-final before losing to Arsenal.

Like us, Villarreal have had a rough time of it since those heddy days of the knock-out stages of the Champions League, being relegated from La Liga in 2012 and struggling since they returned. Four games into their domestic season, Villarreal have managed only one win.

That does not mean that we will have an easy time of it on Thursday. The reality is that they will probably be the strongest team we faced this season and it will be a difficult challenge – but one we should relish. We’ve not had a sustained European run for too long, and despite the obvious pressures on the squad Europa League participation will bring, the pros far outwiegh the cons.

On the domestic front we have a decent run of fixtures coming up. If Rangers have serious ambitions for challenging for the title this season then routine wins like Saturday’s relative stroll against Dundee have to become the norm.

A day at the Juniors

Saturday, 8 September: Carmuirs Park. Camelon Juniors 2 Linlithgow Rose 0

My first experience of watching the juniors came in 1984. I was 11 years old and living in Cumbernauld at the time. Like most boys of my age I was football daft and I felt like I’d won a watch when my dad informed me that there was a live game on the telly on this particular Sunday – the Junior Cup Final!

Live football on the telly in 1984 was far removed from what it is today. In any given year the most you could hope for was the Scottish Cup final, the League Cup final and the European Cup final. Anything else above those staples were a bonus, so to find that the Scottish Junior Cup final was also broadcast live every year was a pleasant surprise.

The final in those days tended to be held at Ibrox – which added to the desire to watch it. The ’84 final would be played between Bo’ness Utd and Baillieston, and the game will forever be remembered for two stunning individual goals from Bo’ness winger Lex Shields. For both goals he went on mazy runs that would have blessed a World Cup, let alone a junior cup final. Bo’ness would win the game 2-0 and Shields and his mullet are still revered in the town to this day.

My next exposure to the Juniors was attending Camelon Juniors’ cup final victory against Whitburn in 1995. By this time the final had moved on from Ibrox and this game was played at Motherwell’s Fir Park. Camelon would win the game with the same scoreline that secured Bo’ness their victory eleven years previously. Again, the victory is one that the club and town still take pride in.

For years after that day at Motherwell I never bothered with the juniors at all, focussing all my footballing attention on following Rangers.

All that changed about a year ago, however, when my mate Paul Dimeo and I saw an opportunity to get out of the house and away from the wife and weans for a couple of hours.

I first met Paul in the mid 90s when we both played for the same Sunday amateur side. The club was formed out of what was essentially a work’s team and we initially just played friendlies. However as it became obvious that we were improving to a decent standard, we decided to join a league and become a competitive outfit. I was there from the start, seeing the club at its embryonic stages – no organisation, no kits, no money and struggling to get 11 players – to its birth into a competitive side with a committee, kits and a sponsor. Paul joined the club when we were a few weeks into our first season in the local league. His surname hinting at an Italian heritage and his impressive Gaz Coombes sideburns convincing the club that he was worth a punt.

Despite obvious differences – he was a Hibs supporter attending university in Edinburgh, I was a Rangers fan who went straight into work aged 16 – we hit it off almost immediately and have remained friends ever since, making the journey from svelte Britpop twenty-somethings to girthy middle-aged da’s simultaneously – listening to each other’s moans and groans on the journey with a sympathetic and understanding ear.

The vehicle as to how we have done this down the years has largely been gigs. We both have similar tastes in music and this is had provided an fruitful avenue for many a catch-up and night of relative debauchery – particularly if it was a Specials gig we were attending.

But ever looking for other ways to catch up, the opportunity of attending junior games was too good to pass up. Our respective footballing loyalties mean we were unlikely to ever attend a top flight game together. The juniors offered an afternoons football that was very reasonably priced, local and didn’t compromise our football leanings.

By a twist of footballing fate, the first game we attended was a Bo’ness game. Sadly there was no sign of Lex Shields or his mullet! Anyone who has ever been to Newton Park in Bo’ness will tell you it is like a footballing ground of yesteryear, and for two forty-somethings that was a bonus. It cost £6 to get in and it was £2.50 for a pie and Bovril – result!

It felt right straight away and we’ve continued the habit from thereon in whenever our respective schedules have allowed. Since that first foray we have returned to Bo’ness on a good number of occasions, as well as attending games at Bathgate, Blackburn, Cumbernauld and Camelon, forming opinions on everything about each occasion including the ground, the pies, the Bovril’s, the banter and the punter-to-dug ratio (there is always at least one guy with his dug at any self-respecting junior game).

It would be hard to say there has been a game or ground we have attended that we didn’t enjoy. The main reason for this is largely down to the fact that if the game is poor then it provides the opportunity to grumble about work, family stresses and that Radcliffe and Maconie have been moved to the weekend breakfast slot – all important topics for your average grumpy middle-aged man.

Such was our enthusiasm to this new found pastime we decided to attend the Junior Cup final at Rugby Park in May, between Auchinleck Talbot and Hurlford United. It was a cracking game with a dramatic ending which included two stoppage time goals which ensured Hurlford grabbed a 3-2 defeat from the jaws of a 2-1 victory. It was the icing on the cake and we both agreed we’d seen enough in the 17-18 season to convince us to keep the ritual going.

And kept it going we have. We have attended more games this season. Last week at Camelon we took advantage of an offer which allowed you to upgrade to a half-time pie and pint for £4. The joy this brought us is actually indescribable!

On Saturday Paul had family commitments and couldn’t attend, so I headed to Camelon v Linlithgow Rose alone. It was again a decent game, and one that saw Camelon win 2-0 – a landmark victory given both clubs are in their debut seasons in the East of Scotland League.

The lounge at Camelon’s Carmuirs Park at half-time during their game against Linlithgow Rose. The 1995 cup winning jersey takes pride of place on the wall.

At half-time I again headed into the lounge for a pie, a pint and a chat with locals. Taking pride of place in the lounge is a signed jersey from the 1995 cup final win over Whitburn. You can see and feel that many take a huge amount of pride in club’s like Camelon and see them as a huge asset for the local community.

The next few weeks sees Rangers at Ibrox and so I will return to my traditional footballing surroundings. The next opportunity I’ll have to get to one of these games with Paul will be the last Saturday in September and I am already looking forward to it.

If you have one of these club’s locally then I would recommend getting out and watching them. In an age where La Liga games are now played in the States and David Beckham owns an MLS club called Inter Miami, getting out and watching a small local club might just remind you why you fell in love with football in the first place.

Rangers down but not out

I remember a yarn from years ago about Graeme Souness and his team talk for Rangers’ game against Celtic in August 1988 – a game that Rangers would go on to win 5-1.

Souness had arrived two years previously and had instantly tried to distance Rangers from the religious aspect of the Glasgow’s great footballing divide. It is rumoured that one of the first things he done was remove the portraits of the Queen which hung on the wall of the Ibrox changing room, and he famously said that you get the same amount of points for a win over Celtic as you do against Hamilton. He was mathematically correct, but his comments reeked of someone who was aware of the rivalry between Rangers and Celtic but didn’t yet understand it.

His theory worked well in his first year as Souness won two of the three available domestic trophies and won the club its first league title in nine years. But the following season brought about a sharp bump back to earth as Celtic, galvanised under Billy McNeil, went on to win the double in their centenary season. Souness learned the hard way what the rivalry was really all about, and he would learn from his mistake.

On the third game of the domestic season of 88/89, Celtic rolled up to Ibrox. The story I have been told about Souness and his team talk that day is that he simply walked into the dressing room just before the team were about to head out for the game, replaced the portrait of Her Majesty to its previous home on the dressing room wall and turned to his players told them to “go out there and hate them as much as they hate you”.

Rangers went out and hammered Celtic that day and Souness would leave Ibrox three years later having never lost another league title to his city rivals.

Steven Gerrard is well aware of the Old Firm rivalry. He attended games at both Ibrox and Celtic Park and was a regular visitor to the city before he was appointed as Rangers manager in May. He is also aware of the religious aspect that underwrites the rivalry. His own city, Liverpool, is not one which has been devoid of sectarian tensions. But given the Merseyside rivalry between Liverpool and Everton does not act as a lightning rod for the religious divide, it could be argued that he does not yet truly understand the rivalry in Glasgow. But Gerrard has shown already that he is a quick learner, and the defeat he sustained here should not be an indicator of where his Rangers side currently sits.

If Gerrard had any doubts about the hatred that exits in this fixture then they would have been removed seconds after arriving at Celtic Park. Video footage which has appeared online sees Gerrard and his team take the now customary abuse when decanting from the team bus. The accusation from one Celtic fan that Gerrard was a “Judas” was particularly striking and odd.

Such nonsense is expected from supporters – even if they are grown men who should know better – but Gerrard would also experience Celtic’s attitude as a club towards their biggest rivals. Yet again the announcer at Celtic Park refused to call Rangers by name, choosing instead refer to us as “the visitors today”. He also refused to mention Rangers players first names – or the first name of referee Willie Collum.

This level of pettiness is staggering, and it is amazing that they have gotten away with such behaviour for so long without facing so much as a squeak from our informed media colleagues. It also contradicts Celtic’s stance when commenting on Rangers’ decision to cut their ticket allocation at Ibrox for these fixtures. On that occasion Celtic commented that “The previous arrangements worked well for both sets of supporters as well as contributing to the status of the fixture as a sporting occasion.”

To suggest that Celtic’s narrative on this is muddled on this issue is an understatement.  You cannot bleat about the “status of the fixture” in one context whilst actively going out your way to totally belittle the status of the fixture in another. It is safe to assume that Celtic’s attitude and aggressive demeanour towards Rangers in recent years has had a bearing on the decision to severely cut their allocation. If there is no Old Firm, as Celtic and their supporters like to tell everyone is the case, then don’t expect to get a higher allocation than any other club that visits Ibrox. And if there is no Old Firm, then don’t indulge in a lap of honour for winning three points in a non-specific fixture in September.

Rangers took to the Celtic Park pitch on the back of an impressive result in Russia on Thursday which secured them a place in the Europa League group stages. The result was impressive given that, yet again, we had to play the majority of the match with ten men, and a good chunk of it with nine.

On more than one occasion this Rangers side has had to play a backs to the wall type of performance just see games out and get the job done. For long spells on Sunday it felt like Rangers had put in this type of performance so often now that it had become a default setting. Sitting too deep and allowing Celtic time and space to play between the lines, Rangers invited pressure as if they didn’t realise they actually had eleven men on the park. There is no denying Rangers are a more robust outfit under Gerrard and are better prepared to meet periods of sustained pressure, it is also common sense that if a heavyweight boxer allows his opponent a certain amount of free swings then there is a chance he will connect with one of them eventually. Midway through the second-half that’s what happened and Rangers, after defending so well for so long, were caught on the counter.

There were valid claims for a foul on Ryan Jack in the build-up to the goal, and Gerrard can feel vindicated in his grievances that refereeing decisions have already cost his side points this season. But it was hard to feel that Rangers deserved anything from Sunday’s game.

But this defeat should not be seen as a barometer of where this Rangers side is on its journey to being a force in Scotland again. The excellent achievement of getting to the Europa League group stages is a far more telling sign. Gerrard started with six debutants to this fixture on Sunday, and overall it had a feeling of a manager who was preparing his players for the marathon ahead rather than a sprint he faced on the day. Three away fixtures in the first four games was always likely to mean we wouldn’t come out the period intact, but the frustrating last minute lapses at Pittodrie and Fir Park now feel more damaging.

Rangers now have a decent run of fixtures for the remainder of September that they simply have to win. Dundee and St Johnstone at home and Livingston away are games that Rangers should be getting maximum points from if they wish to be considered title contenders. The next big test comes in the form of Hearts at Ibrox on 7 October.

As disappointing as a defeat to Celtic always is, better Rangers sides than this have gone to Celtic Park and came away battered and bruised. Indeed Dick Advocaat’s side took a 5-1 hammering there in November ’98. By the time they revisited the ground in May ‘99, Neil McCann was starring in a 3-0 thumping which secured the title.

This Rangers side may not have superstars that Advocaat was able to sign, but it has character and enough quality to ensure we are heading in the right direction.

Nothing artificial about Rangers’ recovery under Gerrard

Alfredo Morelos celebrates scoring the fourth goal of his “hatrick”

The tests have come thick and fast for Steven Gerrard’s Rangers side and Sunday was no different.

Kilmarnock proved to be a very tricky opponents for Rangers last season, with the men from Ayrshire inflicting two defeats upon the Glasgow club – one at Ibrox and one at Rugby Park – and with Killie still benefitting from the Steve Clarke effect, Gerrard and Rangers had every reason to believe they would face a stiff test.

But in a what has already been a season of familiar trends, there would yet again be a sense of déjà vu on an entertaining afternoon.

The first of the familiar trends would be yet another shocking decision from our inadequate officials when Alfredo Morelos bundled the ball a good yard or more over the line, only for the officials to somehow rule that the Kilmarnock defender had cleared it in time.

This was only the third domestic game of the season and already Rangers have suffered disproportionately on several occasions to poor refereeing decisions.

The opening game of the season provided three shockers in their own right when Morelos was red carded, Dominic Ball wasn’t and Stevie May was allowed to slam Ryan Jack into concussion without fear of reprisal from the referee.

Sunday’s latest shocker gives more evidence to support the argument that our officials ain’t up to it, and would make Steven Gerrard wonder why he was accused of being paranoid when he claimed that Rangers were treated differently when it came to refereeing decisions.

But unlike the opening game at Pittodrie, the decision would not cost Rangers the victory as they rallied and put in yet another impressive shift and performance. Rangers have now played nine competitive games under Steven Gerrard and have yet to taste defeat. Nobody, aside of the BBC Scotland of course, could argue that Rangers’ form makes for impressive reading.

The day was all about two things: Alfredo Morelos and the artificial pitch.

Morelos would have an outstanding day and manage a perfect hatrick – right foot, left foot, header – as well as being denied a perfectly good goal by our sloppy officials. Morelos has split opinion in his time at Rangers, and has attracted criticism – some of it justifiably – but under Gerrard the Colombian seems to serving up his A Game on a more consistent basis. If he continues this form, then you would fancy him to damage a lot of defences this season.

The debate around artificial pitches reared its head again after Jamie Murphy was carried off after what appeared an innocuous challenge by Kirk Broadfoot. Murphy now faces an extended period on the side-lines and the debate about artificial surfaces in the top tier in Scotland has reopened.

Jamie Murphy lies injured on the artificial turf – it has been confirmed that his season is over.

It is hard to deny that there is a trend when it comes to injuries and these surfaces but the reality is that they are probably here to stay. Indeed, I suspect that if the technology on these surfaces improves significantly enough then bigger clubs in most leagues will consider installing them. We already have hybrid pitches which are part grass and part synthetic, so the journey to full synthetic has, it could be argued, already begun. The shocking pitch at Livingstone provides a stellar argument against these surfaces at this level of the professional game, but I suspect they are not only here to stay – but will in time be more common, even within the top flight.

The result secured Rangers a place in the quarter-final of the Betfred Cup, where a home tie with Aye Utd stands between them and yet another semi-final placing.

It’s been an impressive start and Gerrard values the momentum his players have built up since the campaign began.

“Momentum is key,” he told Rangers.co.uk, “and we want to keep building on that. The lads are really enjoying winning and getting good results at the minute. We need to keep building on it and keep growing together, but, so far, so good and we are really pleased with the boys at the minute. Every challenge that they have had to face, they have been committed and their application has been superb.”

Next up it is Ufa of Russia in the play-off match for the Europa League group stages. If successfully navigated Rangers will be guaranteed European football until at least Christmas, something that only the extremely positive or naïve could have foreseen at this stage last season when our European “run” had already come to an end.

Qualification will not come without its trials. It will add several fixtures to our campaign, putting extra strain on the squad.  It will mean extensive travelling, which will hinder perpetrations for and recovery from our domestic games, and it will mean a hefty amount of Sunday games. But the fact of the matter is qualification will not only bring much needed extra revenue, but it will be another huge step in recovery of the club from the catastrophic events of 2012.

There are still many out there who would have you believe that Steven Gerrard is running scared and doesn’t really know what he’s doing. But the evidence to date suggests otherwise. It might be a bit early to proclaim that Rangers are back, but under Steven Gerrard they are certainly heading the right direction.

Two Easy for Ten Men Gers

Connor Goldson celebrates putting Rangers 2-0 up.

It was back to Ibrox for the first time this season for me on Sunday. Kids being off school, missus working nights and a variety of other commitments meant that I had not made the European games. So my first exposure to the Stevie G Express would be against the Buddies of Paisley – St Mirren – who would also have a Scouser in the dugout managing them, although one who is significantly less glamorous than our own footballing legend!

So the boy and I headed through with a sense of excitement, which was thoroughly justified going on the obvious improvements that Stevie G has brought with him to Ibrox. Us Rangers fans can be hugely optimistic going into any season, but it has to be said there is a sense of justification this time around.

When we arrive at Queen St I have to find a cash point. The first two I go to are out of cash, so we end up having to go further away from Buchanan St subway station than initially planned. This results in us getting caught on the wrong side of the road when the European Championships cyclists come through the city centre, and for a few brief moments I fear we are going to be stuck for so long that we’ll miss the kick-off. But thankfully the doped up athletes go past fairly quickly and we get on the underground in plenty of time.

The incident brings on my now natural middle-aged grumpiness – which my boy finds hilarious. As I mumble to myself in a manner akin to Victor Meldrew, he quietly chuckles to himself. He’s entitled to laugh at me, but it should be pointed out that he is totally unaware that this now natural middle-aged harrumph was spiked to new levels through the previous week with the news that 6 Music were removing Radcliffe and Maconie from their weekday afternoon slot and moving them to backwaters of weekend breakfast.

Such matters may seem trivial, but those who listen to Radcliffe and Maconie will understand my anguish completely. Indeed the last time I felt such emotional strife at the ending of a show was when Noel Edmonds announced in March 1982 that next week’s episode of Swap Shop would be the last one ever.

Back then I couldn’t imagine my Saturday mornings without Noel Edmonds, Keith Chegwin, John Craven and Maggie Philbin – now I wonder how I will get through my afternoon at work without The Chain, which, for those of you who aren’t in the know, is officially the longest listener-generated thematically linked sequence of musically based items on the radio.

And to make matters worse, I have never had a nomination on The Chain – and now I have until December to succeed in this mission. This is a pressure I could do without.

Radcliffe and Maconie: responsible for what is officially the longest listener-generated thematically linked sequence of musically based items on the radio. My weekdays won’t be the same without it.

But back to Sunday, and it is always good when you get back to Ibrox. You see the faces that you haven’t seen through the summer. I am lucky and sit in an area with some very decent guys. It’s smiles and handshakes all round as, one-by-one, the usual faces filter into their seats. People often talk about the Rangers “family”, and I usually smart a bit at that title as it seems a bit far fetched. But there is no doubt that it is a community. And it’s always a good one to be in.

The excitement for the game is intensified slightly with the announcement that latest signing Borna Barisic will be making his debut. He will impress and have a successful day – sealed with an assist for Connor Goldson.

As the teams come out there is a huge display that states that this is “Our Club” and that Glasgow is “Our City”. As impressive as the display is it is slightly frustrating that they have used a sort of plastic bag type material for fans to hold up rather than the usual card. Frustrating because it is frankly impossible to make a paper aeroplane out of the this bin bag-esque material. For years, any time there has been one of these displays it has provoked a competition amongst the regulars in our area to make paper planes and attempt to get one to fly far enough that it makes it on to the pitch from our position in the Govan Rear. Nobody has succeeded as of yet, and the reality is that I strongly suspect that the change in material used is largely down to punters in the Govan Front complaining about the amount of paper planes jettisoned from the tier above, falling short of their intended target and bouncing of their nappers. So the quest to reach the pitch may go unfulfilled if this material change is a permanent one.

Rangers start well and always look in control. Morelos scores to make it 1-0. Connor Goldson makes it 2-0 not long after and a comfortable afternoon seems inevitable but, alas, Rangers’ apparent inability to keep 11 men on the park rears its head again and Ross McCrorie was ordered off for bringing down Nicolai Brock-Madsen and denying him an obvious goal scoring opportunity. At the time I felt it was harsh. Having seen it again since I would suggest the ref got this one correct.

But there was nothing to worry about, I mean we beat this mob in a cup final when we were down to nine men, so ten men should be more than enough – and so it proved.

Alfredo Morelos in his now customary celebration mode.

Prior to the game I had suffered a little bit of concern about history repeating itself. I was at Ibrox in 1989 when St Mirren were the first club to visit Ibrox on league duty. We lost 1-0 that day and Ian Ferguson ended up in goals after Kenny McDowall viciously assaulted Chris Woods to score the only goal of the game. But thankfully history wouldn’t be recycled on this occasion and the three points were secured – three points that put us above Celtic in the league table for the first time in a long time. Which is nice.

With the job done the boy and I headed home. On the train I enjoyed a beer and he enjoyed a Coke as we done the half-time quiz in the matchday programme. He won! Once home it was dinner and then settle down for Match of the Day 2.

All in all we had a good day, and one that confirmed the football is properly back on and Stevie G’s Rangers look like they mean business!

A Sense of Déjà vu

Steven Gerrard applauds the travelling support.

It has been said that Steven Gerrard’s arrival at Rangers in many ways mirrors the arrival of Graeme Souness as player-manager in 1986. Both are Liverpool legends, both were fierce competitors and leaders as players, and both captained Liverpool to the summit of European football.

Souness arrived in a blaze of glory, brought the likes of Chris Woods and Terry Butcher up the M6 with him and led Rangers to Easter Rd on the opening day to begin his campaign in restoring Rangers to the former glories of the past. Within minutes of his debut, however, Souness was heading up the tunnel after being red carded for a malicious “tackle” on former Celtic player George McCluskey, and Rangers would go on to lose the opening game against Hibs 2-1 in what was an inauspicious start to the “Souness Revolution” and a moment when David Holmes, the then Rangers Chairman, wondered if he had made the right appointment in Souness. Holmes would be proved correct in his appointment, however, and Rangers ended their nine year wait for a title in Souness’ debut season.

Gerrard may not have access to the riches that Souness did, but ten minutes into a fraught encounter at Pittodrie on Sunday, it was hard to not think that history was repeating itself as Rangers yet again were reduced to ten men on the day a former Liverpool legend took the helm for his first domestic game in charge.

Of course there have been the European excursions where we could monitor how Rangers were looking under Gerrard, and solid and professional performances against Shkupi and Osijek made for good viewing. Granted, we aren’t talking Barcelona or Real Madrid in terms of the level of competition, but given the horrific Euro campaign of last season it is understandable that many Rangers supporters were nervous going into these encounters. We are a club feeling our way back into European football, and it feels like there still lurks the possibility of a black eye coming from a relative European unknown. Gerrard, though, had his side set up to the job in a professional manner and now Maribor await in the next round, with the home leg at Ibrox this Thursday.

But back to Pittodrie and Rangers seemed to have carried forward their impressive European form to their first league game of the campaign and were on the front-foot until the floor caved in beneath their feet within ten minutes, as Morelos was sent off for a petulant kick out at Scott McKenna. Despite what most football commentators have quoted on this incident – that “by the letter of the law” it was a deserved red – anyone saying that Morelos’s crime was deserving of a red are deluding themselves. Even Andy Walker, not noted for his favourable stance on Rangers, initially described it as not deserving of a red card, and then slowly changed his position as the game went on and laid the blame for the incident solely on Morelos.

Those who are going down the road of claiming the act by Morelos was worthy of an early bath miss two key points. Firstly, the “kick” was not that bad. And previous incidents of a similar nature have been dealt with by a talking to or a yellow. Secondly they choose to ignore Scott McKenna’s involvement in the incident. Given he took not one, but two nibbles at Morelos, the second one being particularly robust and arguably more physical in nature than Morelos’s retaliation, then they should be arguing that both were deserving of punishment. Instead McKenna’s involvement appears to be deemed as part of the game – whereas Morelos has apparently overstepped the mark. Frankly, there is the usual nonsense getting spouted from the usual suspects on this, which makes Gerrard’s position on this all the better.

Off: Morelos is shown the red for deliberately getting the in the way of Steven McKenna’s shoulder.

Having gone down to ten so early on, Rangers could have been forgiven for fearing the worst. Instead we matched Aberdeen in every aspect, and as Gerrard has pointed out we looked a class above them. The penalty despatched by Tavernier to put Rangers 1-0 up was reward for their efforts in the face of such an early set back, that referee Kevin Clancy didn’t reduce Aberdeen to ten men for the tackle that led to the penalty felt like further punishment.

But Rangers continued in face of further disappointment and controlled proceedings in a comfortable manner, with Ryan Jack in particular putting in a performance that stretched way beyond impressive. Indeed I would go on record and say that it has been some time since I have seen such a performance from a player in a Rangers jersey. The only way Aberdeen could halt him was with a thuggish challenge by Stevie May, which Clancy yet again deemed as acceptable.

It looked for long periods that Rangers would see this out. Jack’s enforced substitution gave Rangers a more fragile demeanour in the closing stages but such was rank rottenness of Aberdeen it was hard to see Rangers letting the lead slip. But alas, it was not to be and in the closing minutes of injury time, and with their first effort on target, Aberdeen scored the goal which would give them parity in points – but not in performance.

The nature of the draw meant that it felt like a defeat. But it should not detract from a great performance, and we would have all been happy with a draw ten minutes into proceedings when Morelos was ordered off.

As sore as it was to take there can be detracting from the fact that Rangers are improving under Gerrard. He has bought wisely, shored up a leaky defence and with some tweaking in middle-to-front areas we will not be far off when the prizes are handed out.

Despite the nature of the dropped points on Sunday, there is a lot to be positive about at Rangers right now.

The Promised Land: The Story of Darkness on the Edge of Town

Bruce Springsteen in 1978.

It has often been commented on that it is hugely ironic that the man who best represents blue-collared, working-class America in the arts is a man who has never had a proper job in his life. It is an irony that is not lost on Bruce Springsteen. He is also very aware that his nickname, The Boss, also carries a certain amount of irony given he’s never had one in the traditional sense.

Bruce Springsteen’s life changed immeasurably and permanently in 1975 with the release of Born to Run, an album which saved and arguably still defines his career to this day. After years of trying and falling short, he had finally hit on the formula – on what was arguably his last throw of the dice – which brought him the success and critical acclaim he had craved. Nothing, it seemed, could blot his apparently permanently sun kissed horizon. He was up and running and nothing could stop him, or so he thought. However, by the time Springsteen came to record Born to Run’s follow-up, Darkness on the Edge of Town, he had found out the hard way, and to his own financial cost, that fame and success can sometimes be a double-edged sword.

Within a year of Born to Run being released Springsteen was in a heavy legal dispute with his manager Mike Appel to regain the rights to his own songs, which he had unknowingly and naively signed away on a contract he didn’t even take the time to read. As Springsteen became increasingly suspicious about his deal with Mike Appel he sought counsel in John Landau, a music critic whom Springsteen had befriended and was beginning to trust above anyone else.

Landau agreed to help and arranged for his attorney to review the contracts which Springsteen had signed, and as suspected they were heavily weighted against Springsteen and in favour of Appel.

To suggest that Springsteen was being taken for a ride is an understatement. In fact such was the poor nature of practically every clause in Springsteen’s contracts that top entertainment lawyer David Benjamin – who Landau had brought in and who would later take on Springsteen’s legal work – audibly gasped in disbelief when he read them. Benjamin suspected that the contracts were so loaded with ‘every trick in the book’ that it was highly unlikely that a relative novice to management like Appel could be responsible and suggested that Appel’s lawyer, Jules Kruz, was more likely to be the man behind them. However, regardless of who the culprit was, Springsteen’s sense of injustice and paranoia had been pricked by the revelations and he wanted out. Landau took over responsibility for looking after Springsteen’s affairs – starting a working relationship that is still running to this very day – and the legal battle to release Springsteen from the cash draining deals with Appel began.

The process was long (10 months of courtroom exchanges) and arduous, and it meant that Springsteen and the E Street Band – which included the likes of Roy Bittan, Clarence Clemons and long-term collaborator Steve Van Zandt – didn’t enter the studio until June 1977 to begin work on Darkness on the Edge of Town.

The sessions started in Atlantic Studios in midtown Manhattan and latterly moved to the Record Plant. Landau and Van Zandt oversaw production duties. The sessions were long and blighted by technical issues, the first being a faulty rigging in the studio which impacted on the sound of Max Weinberg’s drums – an issue that was never really fixed.

Springsteen was aware of the pressure he was under to deliver an album of similar magnitude to Born to Run and confided in Elvis Costello that he was feeling the heat stating: “In the end my music was always about identity, identity, identity. Who am I? Where do I belong? What is the code I am trying to live by?” The fact was that by this point Springsteen was unsure of himself and couldn’t answer any of these questions.

The switch in mindset on Darkness…. is obvious. On Born to Run Springsteen promised us that we’d “get to that place” and “walk in the sun” and told his sweetheart Mary in ‘Thunder Road’ that they were in a town ‘full of losers’ and needed to get away in order to attain their hopes and dreams. On Darkness… Springsteen seems to be offering hints that he had chased his dreams successfully and came out of the experience bruised and questioning the point of it all.

In ‘Adam Raised a Cain’, a song that charts Springsteen’s troubled relationship with his father, he tells us: “Daddy worked his whole life for nothing but the pain. Now he walks these empty rooms looking for something to blame. But you inherit the sins, you inherit the flames.”

In ‘Factory’ Springsteen sounds even bleaker: “Through the mansions of fear, through the mansions of pain, I see my daddy walking through them factory gates in the rain. Factory takes his hearing, factory gives him life, The working, the working, just the working life.”

The overriding sense on Darkness… is one that Springsteen – the boy who has never had a job in his life – has discovered a sense of what it is like to face the daily toil of the steel mill, the factory or the kitchen. To put the effort in and get very little back. He has discovered what it is really like to be powerless in the land of the free. For the first time his optimism has been pierced, and he is shaken as a result.

Although he has never had a job, Springsteen’s childhood meant he was well versed in how working class communities operated, stating in his autobiography: “My sisters and I grew up in blue-collar neighbourhoods, somewhat integrated, filled with factory workers, cops, firemen, long-distance truck drivers. I never saw a man leave the house in a jacket and tie unless it was a Sunday or he was in trouble. If you came knocking at our door with a suit on, you were immediately under suspicion. You wanted something.”  The experience with Appel appears to have reawakened Springsteen’s inbred working class suspicion of authority. The result being that the hopes and dreams of Born to Run are replaced on Darkness… with a more sinister realisation of what working world can do to you. There is anger and hurt on this album – something that wasn’t prevalent on Born to Run. However, despite the overriding bleak mood of Darkness…  , it does provide one glimpse of optimism on ‘The Promised Land’ – a song borne out of a road trip with Van Zandt and photographer Eric Meola.

All three flew to Salt Lake City, jumped in a red 1965 Ford Galaxie 500XL convertible and headed for the deserts of Utah, driving fully 30 hours and investigating every nook and cranny of the seemingly endless desert. When they stopped at a small gas station, Meola took the opportunity to take out the camera and take some shots. One showed Springsteen leaning on the car, the enormous emptiness of the desert sprawling behind him with a huge and extremely dark storm cloud hanging in the horizon.

Meola’s iconic image of Springsteen in the Utah desert. The inspiration for the song ‘The Promised Land’ brews in the distance.

All three of them watched the storm from a safe distance, Meola claimed he had never seen anything like it. They then drove further up the dusty road before sleeping in the car overnight. All through that hot and humid night there were dogs howling in one of the streets of the small town where they had settled. In the morning they headed back to Salt Lake City for the flight home.

Meola returned with several iconic images, but Springsteen also came back with inspiration and used the events of that night as the foundation for ‘The Promised Land’.

Lyrics like “On a rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert”, “The dogs on Main Street howl ‘Cause they understand” and “There’s a dark cloud rising from the desert floor, I packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm” are directly derived from the road trip with Van Zandt and Meola, and despite ‘The Promised Land’ encapsulating a lot of the overall bleakness of Darkness… – “ I’ve done my best to live the right way, I get up every morning and go to work each day, But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold, Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode” – the song’s overall mood is one of defiance and belief that there is something better out there.

By the time the recording session for Darkness… finished, Springsteen and his band had amassed 70 songs – although only ten would make the final cut.  Most were discarded, some were handed to other artists (most famously with ‘Because the Night’ going to Patti Smith) and some appeared in Springsteen’s next album, The River.

Darkness… was released on 2 June 1978 to lukewarm reviews. Jon Tobler stated in his review for ZigZag that: “I refuse to allow any sentiment to colour my feeling that this album is pretty ordinary”. Peter Silverton commented in Sounds that Springsteen “sounds a frightened man”. Such reviews, however, did not prevent the NME naming it as its album of the year ahead The Jam’s All Mod Cons, Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model and Talking Heads’ More Songs About Buildings & Food.

Darkness on the Edge of Town is a pivotal album in the Springsteen roster. Despite appreciation for it being slow on its release, it was a strong enough album to convince the wider public that Born to Run wasn’t a fluke. It also displayed a level of anger and sense of injustice surrounding class inequality that Springsteen wouldn’t revisit to the same degree until 2012 and Wrecking Ball.

But the main thing about Darkness… is Springsteen’s own realisation that, despite being the boy from the blue-collared neighbourhood who avoided having to do a proper job, he was not immune to the feeling of despair and vulnerability that was par for the course for working class America.

As Pete Silverton said: “He sounds a frightened man”.

 

Dortmund follow in the footsteps of Munich and Monchengladbach in Ibrox vanquishing

Derek Johnstone and John McClelland prepare for a corner in the famous victory over Dortmund (Picture Courtesy of Old Rangers Pics)

 

It is fair to say that Rangers have a decent record against German sides in European competition. Of all the stronger footballing nations we have travelled to, Germany is arguably where Rangers have fared best.

Our first encounter against a German side came in season 59/60 when we met Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-final of the European Cup.  We were dealt a harsh footballing lesson by the Germans on this occasion – beat 12-4 on aggregate – and denied the opportunity to take on the mighty Real Madrid at Hampden in the final as a result.

We got some payback the following season when we defeated Borussia Mönchengladbach 11-0 over two legs in the quarter-final of European Cup Winners’ Cup – with the bulk of the goals coming in an impressive 8-0 home victory. This campaign would see Rangers go on to become the first British club to reach a European final, losing over two legs to ACF Fiorentina.

We would meet German opposition twice in 1966/67 European Cup Winners’ Cup campaign where we would reach our second European final. We famously lost to Bayern Munich in the finale in Nuremberg, but we had overcome Dortmund again earlier in the competition.

Rangers would gain revenge for the ’67 defeat by Bayern five years later in the semi-final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup, in what is arguably the greatest result in the club’s history when we defeated the Bavarians, who included the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller, 2-0 to reach the European Cup Winners’ Cup final in Barcelona. Obviously the result over Moscow Dynamo in the final carries the achievement and the glory of actually winning the tournament, but the victory over a Munich side that would go on to dominate European football for years, winning three consecutive European Cups between 1974 and 1976, not to mention provide the bulk of the German international side that would win the 1974 World Cup, sits as arguably the best result secured by any Scottish club in Europe.

There has also been the notable defeats of Bayer Leverkusen by Dick Advocaat’s side in the Uefa Cup in 1998 and the defeat of Werder Bremen on our way to the Uefa Cup Final in 2008.

We seem to be attracted to German sides in European competition and so it would be the case again in 1982 when Rangers were drawn against Borussia Dortmund in the first round of the Uefa Cup. Over the two legs Rangers would yet again overcome their more glamorous Bundesliga rivals.

Rangers earned a good result in the away leg in Germany, where they secured a 0-0 draw and gave themselves a great opportunity of finishing the job off in Glasgow and progressing to the next round.

That is how things would play out in the second-leg at Ibrox, but not without a few scares during another great European night in Govan.

Borussia started well and very nearly scored in the first minute of the match after Heinz Eggeling hit a shot straight at Jim Stewart in the Rangers goal. A few minutes later Stewart had to save Rangers again when he ran off his line to stop Turkish internationalist Erdel Keser from running straight through on goal.

After the early scares, however, Rangers settled and slowly started to build momentum – but even then they had to be wary of Dortmund’s ability to hit on the counter-attack.

Towards the end of the first-half Robert Prytz brought out a tremendous save from Eike Immel in the Dortmund goal. From the save, however, Rangers found themselves exposed to yet another counter-attack and Jim Stewart was called into action again, diving at the feet of Keser to prevent the Germans from scoring the crucial away goal they so desperately wanted.

The nerves which surrounded the occasion for Rangers were settled somewhat when they took the lead on the night and in the tie just before the break, thanks to a goal from Davie Cooper.

Davie Cooper opened the scoring and provided the assist for the crucial second goal.

 

Robert Prytz was involved in some good work on the left-hand side and sent over a cross into the box which was nodded down by Derek Johnstone to Bobby Russell. Russell took aim and his shot was deflected across the face of the goal to Davie Cooper who poked the ball into the empty net against a backdrop of claims of offside from the Dortmund defence.

The second-half was more of the same, with Rangers mostly dictating but very aware of the fact that one goal would be enough to see the Germans go through. That made for a tense second 45 minutes and more than one scary moment.

Early on in the second-half Jim Stewart would be called into action again, denying Siegrief Bonighausen the goal that would offer the Germans parity on the night and a route to the next round via the away goals rule.

Then Derek Johnstone came close with a great header which pulled out a fantastic save from Dortmund keeper Immel. The game and tie was as finely balanced as could be and things would not be settled until the 87th minute thanks to Derek Johnstone.

Davie Cooper was again involved in some good work on the right wing, dummying his opponent and going past him to the byline before sending in a fantastic cross with his right foot, which was usually reserved for the prime purpose of standing on. The cross was met by Derek Johnstone at the back post and slammed into the net past the helpless Immel to give Rangers the breathing room in the tie they had so craved.

Dave McKinnon was one of Rangers star performers on the night.

With a two goal lead and only a few minutes to play, there was no way back for the Germans and Rangers would progress to the next round, much to the delight of the sell-out 44,500 crowd crammed into Ibrox.

It had been a fantastic performance and result on the night, with Dave McKinnon, Robert Prytz and Jim Bett worthy of special mentions for their outstanding contributions.

After getting past a German side in the first round Rangers deserved a break in the second-round draw. But fate was to send them to Germany again, this time to face Cologne, a side which included the infamous Harald Schumacher within its ranks, who is best remembered for his shocking challenge on Patrick Battiston in the 1982 World Cup semi-final in Seville between France and Germany.

Rangers would win the first-leg of the tie against Cologne 2-1, thanks to goals from Johnstone again and Ulsterman John McClelland. The Ibrox crowd made their feelings regarding Schumacher well known, booing the keeper loudly on the night.

However Rangers would suffer a crushing 5-0 defeat in the second-leg in Germany and exit the competition at the second-round stage 6-2 on aggregate.

The Dairy: Rangers cast as also-rans again in Old Firm

There was a strong and horrible feeling of déjà vu when leaving Ibrox on Saturday afternoon after another miserable showing against our greatest rivals. There can be little doubt that we Rangers supporters have had more of our fair share of black eyes in recent years. Saturday felt like yet another to add to what feels like an endless line of them at the moment.

The scoreline said 2-0, but in all honesty this could have been another mauling akin to the one Celtic dished out to us in April, particularly in the second-half where Rangers were woefully exposed all over the park. Granted Rangers were dealt a couple of injury blows beforehand, but even still the manner of the defeat was hard to take.

The result leaves Rangers in fifth place and already eight points behind Celtic, six behind Aberdeen and moored in a place that raises more questions over Pedro Caixinha. After the woeful performances in his previous two Old Firm games the form continued on Saturday. The first-half suggested that Rangers could make a fight of it, and were it not for a baffling decision by Craig Thomson not to award a penalty for a tackle on Morelos 13 minutes into the first-half then the game may have taken a different turn.

However the second-half performance was weak and Celtic could have easily added to their tally as they made what seemed a continual progression towards Wes Foderingham’s goal.

But the fact of the matter is that this game alone has not brought questions on Caixinha’s ability to lead Rangers. Nobody really expects Rangers to match Celtic over a season in the current climate. However there must be a concern that Rangers went into this game already five points behind their city rivals after only six games. The main worry for Caixinha is that his side has struggled against the rest, particularly at home where we have won only one of our four games, and that was against a woeful Dundee side.

Take that victory against Neil McCann’s side, and the 6-0 drubbing of Dunfermline in the Betfred Cup, out of the equation and you are left with scrappy and unconvincing performances and results.

Rangers went to Firhill last Friday night with the chance to go top of the league – if only for a short period. But yet again Caixinha’s men choked, dropped points against a very average Thistle side and went into the game on Saturday against Celtic on the back-foot.

Against Celtic Caixinha was let down by more than one of his summer signings, with Graham Dorrans in particular proving to be a big disappointment in his first Old Firm game. But Carlos Pena must also come under the spotlight. The man signed for £2.7m has yet to show anything since arriving in the summer. Too easily brushed off the ball and hesitant and wasteful with possession, he looked way off representing any kind of value for the big money spent on him. I keep hearing the argument that he needs to get fit. Well he has been here for three months now with little sign of that improving.

Pedro has now entered the phase where he has to start winning consistently very soon or he will be up against it. The Betfred Cup semi-final draw provides him with a big opportunity to reach a final. If he can do that and win the next few league games he will ease some of the pressure which is building on him.

The manner of defeat was pretty emphatic but that does not mean that there were not reasons to question some of Craig Thomson’s refereeing of the game. The decision not to award a penalty was, as mentioned earlier, baffling. More so when you consider the same referee awarded Celtic a penalty in an almost identical position a few years back for a tackle by Steven Davis on Anthony Stokes. Famously McGregor saved the spot-kick, but it does point to a worrying lack of consistency in Thomson’s refereeing, other than his ability to make the wrong call. How Thomson saw Morelos’s tackle on Boyata as worthy of the games first booking was equally as puzzling.

You also have to wonder how Scott Brown and Leigh Griffiths escaped any kind of censure for their conduct on the park – especially when it came to gesturing to the home support.

Brown in particular has taken advantage of Rangers’ recent woes. A man who used to be anonymous in these games at Ibrox now roams around unchallenged as if he owns the place. If Rangers are going to start having an impact in these games, someone is going to have to meet Brown head-on and put him back in his box. That nobody done that on Saturday is hard to take.

Another issue on Saturday was the behaviour of the Celtic support housed in the Broomloan Rd stand. A support that is continually offended by chants by their oldest rivals seemed quite happy to belt out some ditty about Rangers’ kit man Jimmy Bell being an “orange bastard” etc. In indulging in such behaviour they expose their hypocrisy and that the foundations of the moral high ground they perpetually populate are built on sand.

There was also the issue of a flare being aimed at Wes Foderingham after they scored the first goal, and the continual refusal to return the ball whenever it went into their end – only for it to be thrown back on the park when the replacement ball arrived.

The flare incident is one worthy of watching in terms of any ramifications for Celtic. Rangers volunteered to pay for the damage to Falkirk’s pitch after a flare landed on their new playing surface in Scottish Cup match between the clubs in 2013. The incident caused quite a stir in the media at the time with Mark Guidi in the Daily Record describing the Rangers supporters involved in the incident as “hooligans”.  Given the amount of Uefa fines the Celtic support has attracted recently, it will be interesting to see how the likes of the Record and others view this latest pyro incident. You would imagine there would be a healthy amount of criticism due. I won’t hold my breath though.

However such incidents detract from the real issue. Rangers simply weren’t good enough on Saturday and, young Ross McCrorie aside, who was excellent and arguably the only positive to come out of the game for Rangers, most of the players in that team need to take a long hard look at themselves in terms of how they performed on Saturday – and indeed since the season started.

Saturday was yet another sore one to take. And Rangers yet again have the look of a club that is drifting aimlessly towards mediocrity and uncertainty. Already out of Europe, trailing significantly in the league and facing a tricky semi-final tie in the Betfred Cup, we have the very real prospect of heading into the new year with only one trophy available to us in terms of winning. I don’t care how far behind them we are in financial terms, that is simply unacceptable.