Joining the vinyl revolution.

There is a scene in T2: Trainspotting, the extremely enjoyable sequel to Danny Boyle’s 1996 film adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s original classic novel, where Renton, Sick Boy and Spud revisit the spot in the highlands where Renton famously declared that it is “shite being Scottish”.

The journey has been retraced to pay respect and homage to Tommy, their departed friend from the first movie who made the original journey with them 20 years previously.

Bored and unmoved by the experience, Sick Boy takes the opportunity to have a pop at Renton and accuses him of being “a tourist in your own youth”.

The comment is a salient one and it highlights the films main theme: obsession with the past.

The theme reoccurs constantly throughout the film and this is heightened by a sense that all the main protagonists from the original have a deep sense of unfulfillment with middle-age and all that it has brought them; loss, insecurity, health issues and a realisation of their own mortality. This is what makes the film connect with its audience, particularly with the forty-somethings of today who were the twenty-somethings of two decades ago when the original swept on to our cinema screens.

It is certainly what resonated most with me when I watched it for the first time, and it is a theme I had thought about long before T2 hit the cinemas in January.  At the age of 44, I am discovering the hard way that there are more and more things that I used to do, or at least take for granted, that have now started to feel uncomfortable because of my age.

Clubbing, for example, is completely off the agenda these days – and has been for some time. On the very rare occasions over the last five/ten years that I have found myself in a club I have felt old, out of sorts and very uncomfortable. If there is any hope of me being a “tourist in my own youth”, it’s not going to be at some trendy city nightspot.

Playing football has also started to feel very different in recent years – especially since I hit 40. At my weekly five-a-side game, for example, I now feel a bit-part player where once I had an impact. Also, I move very differently these days – and not in a way that I can claim to enjoy. I am obviously slower, that’s a given, but there is also the fact that when I run now I literally look like my dad – all his mannerisms are there. Mannerisms, I should add, I used to mock.

I also now have to deal with young players who can’t kick their own arses getting the better of me because they’re quicker and fitter. This is arguably the most frustrating of all the things that middle-age has brought me – that and the three days of aching limbs after a game.

Also, whenever I put a football top on for the fives these days, I look like a fat old man in a football top – again, the type of fat old man in a football top I used mock.

Even the humble trainer is not guaranteed to survive middle-age. Noel Gallagher commented a year-or-two back that any man over the age of fifty shouldn’t be wearing trainers. I have to say that I agree with him on this, and even although I’m six years off that number I am already starting feel uncomfortable in a training shoe – unless, of course, it’s my Adidas Samba’s at the aforementioned fives, which is the mandatory trainer for any man over 40 still kicking a ball.

All-in-all it is fair to say that middle-age has felt pretty bleak so far, and that the mood in T2 is certainly one I can relate to. To paraphrase Renton – “It’s shite being middle aged!”

The realisation of middle-age hits Sick Boy, Renton and Spud in T2: Trainspotting.

Thankfully, however, I have recently discovered – or rediscovered – a salvation which will allow me to be a tourist in my own youth without the indignity having to run like ma da at the fives, wear clothes that are twenty years too young for me or hang around a city nightspot like some sad, seedy devotee of Peter Stringfellow – and that salvation is vinyl.

As many of you will be aware, vinyl has enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent years. A format that was once considered dead and only for the use of luddites and hipsters, is apparently now cooler than a June afternoon in Glasgow.

My journey back to the past started when the missus bought me a record player earlier this year for my birthday. Middle-age has brought me an ability to be unimaginably unmoved by presents I receive at birthdays and Xmas, but I must say that opening this genuinely put a smile on my face – both in terms of the surprise and, most importantly, the opportunity it presented.

My first foray into vinyl occurred 37 years ago in 1980 when Adam Ant released the single ‘Dog Eat Dog’. I was very young at the time – seven – but it opened a new world to me. Initially I was probably more struck by the look of Adam Ant than I was by the sound; the Hussar jacket, the stripe across the nose, the cane…it all called out to me in a way nothing else had at that point in my life.

But gradually the music also got to me, particularly the multiple waves of drumbeats and the Native American screams and yelps. The seeds for my love of music were sown.

Where it all began: Adam Ant

The King of the Wild Frontier album – from which the ‘Dog Eat Dog’ single was taken – was duly procured, although initially on cassette, and I was off and running in terms of a music collection.

The next stage was acquiring a record player, which my dad got for me, as well as a rake of old 45” singles from a work colleague who no longer wanted them, which included some gems like Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ELO’s ‘Livin’ Thing’ on blue vinyl.

For the next two or three years I collected vinyl – mostly singles – ferociously. Adam Ant was the fuel that powered my interest but I also bought several other notable releases including ‘A Town Called Malice’ by The Jam, ‘Senses Working Overtime’ by XTC, ‘I Could be Happy’ by Altered Images and ‘The Model’ by Kraftwerk. I may not yet have been in double figures in terms of age, but I was already displaying an admirable taste in music.

But by 1983 I had lost a bit of interest. Adam and the Ants had crashed and burned, his solo career turned out to be very disappointing and I satisfied myself with getting my music fix every Thursday night on Top of the Pops rather than physically adding to my collection.

The bug to buy again never really returned until the late 80s. In August ’89, at the tender age of 16, I started my first full-time job and took out a hire purchase agreement on a Sony stereo system. By then, however, vinyl was on the way out – replaced by the CD. As if to prove this the vinyl section in Sleeves, my local record shop, was vastly reduced to allow room for the new, superior format.

See that is good thing to about joining the current vinyl revolution, not only does it allow me to be a ‘tourist in my own youth’ without suffering any indignity, but it also allows me the opportunity to recapture what was arguably denied, or at the very least cut short, back in the day due to the assent of the compact disc.

Since I received the record player I have made a weekly jaunt to Record Fayre in Glasgow’s Trongate and slowly but surely started to rebuild a vinyl collection. I have also frequented Fopp and HMV to pick up re-issues, but they tend to be more costly than the second-hand market – and they don’t provide the same sense of nostalgia.

I also recently popped along to a record fair in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Sports Centre. If you’re considering getting back into vinyl I would advise caution at such events. These are the equivalent of an opium field to a junky to those newly reacquainted with vinyl. Within five minutes of entering the place I could have re-mortgaged the house – twice!

My new Wednesday lunchtime hangout: Record Fayre in Glasgow’s Trongate.

I have only been to one so far but my overall advice would be have a budget, stick to it and try and shop about. The urge to buy the first decent thing you find is overwhelming, but given the overall environment is one of being quite over-priced, you might just save a few bob if you apply some patience and look about before making a purchase. I came away with second-hand copies of Bowie’s Low and The Beatles’ Rubber Soul for not too outrageous a price. So they can provide a good hunting ground, but common sense needs to be applied or you could spend a fortune on overpriced goods.

Even on a recent family holiday to north Wales I succumbed to the call of vinyl. With the family enjoying the sun on the beach in Rhyl, I sneaked off to visit to record shop I had Googled prior to the visit. Again I done not too badly, coming away with Springsteen’s Born in the USA, The Stranglers’ Rattus Norvegicus and Let it Be by The Beatles – not to mention a few original 45” singles by the Fab Four.

The delve back into the format of the past has also provided me with the opportunity to have more shared experiences with my daughter. Despite only being nine she has taken an interest in music, with Little Mix being to her what Adam Ant was to me – not to mention her taking a wee shine to The Beatles. So we have had a couple of days out in the record shops of Glasgow having a shared experience that might not have been were it not for vinyl.

A recent article in the NME suggested that the current increase in vinyl sales was a bit of a con. The article claimed the format remains inferior in terms of sound quality, still has the age old issues of jumping etc, is over-priced and all-in-all is a bit of a scam.

Are these accusations true? Maybe. There is certainly merit in more than one of the accusations. However it feels that my current interest in vinyl – which could legitimately be called a mid-life-crisis – will go on for some time yet.

Is that foolish of me? Maybe.

Do I care? Not one bit.

Am I writing this on returning from HMV with a vinyl copy of The Ramones’ self-titled debut album? You can bet your life on it!

Wallace returns to haunt Rangers again

Rangers keeper Jim Stewart thwarts Motherwell’s Bruce Cleland. (Picture courtesy of @oldrangerspics)

Football has always enjoyed a habit of allowing fate to hand out head-to-head scenarios that have that wee bit extra spice. Where a game looks like it will initially be just a routine fixture, the footballing gods have frequently found a way of adding an edge to proceedings. This was definitely the case on 4 September 1982, when Rangers travelled to Fir Park for their opening league fixture of the 1982/83 campaign.

For John Greig and his troops the trip to Fir Park wouldn’t just represent a game against the newly promoted Lanarkshire side – it would represent a game against a Motherwell side now managed by former Gers manager Jock Wallace in his first game in Scotland since returning from Leicester.

Rangers were trying to improve on the relatively poor season of 81/82 where the club had finished third, won the League Cup and lost the Scottish Cup Final to Aberdeen in a 4-1 extra-time drubbing.

Rangers had been busy in the close-season, securing Craig Patterson from Hibs, Robert Prytz from Malmo and Dave MacKinnon from Partick Thistle in an attempt to invigorate what had been considered an ageing squad. Sandy Clark would also arrive from West Ham.

Despite the new arrivals all the focus was on a face from the past in Wallace on the opening day, the man who had dramatically walked out on Rangers four years previously after securing a famous treble. John Greig, Wallace’s captain throughout his time in charge at Ibrox, had been handed the job of managing Rangers after Wallace’s sudden exit and was still in charge at Ibrox, which added that little bit extra to what was an already interesting fixture. Wallace and Greig shook hands warmly before proceedings – although there was undeniably an awkwardness between the pair.

In the build-up to game Big Jock said: “I’ve been away from Ibrox for four years and it’s difficult to say how I feel about facing them. But the last time I managed a team against them was at Berwick – don’t forget that”.

The clash between Wallace and Grieg added to the occasion and that was reflected in the crowd, which was a healthy 19,159. In fact such was the size of the crowd that there was an overspill at one end of the ground, with many supporters spilling over the barriers and onto the park. The game itself was a cracker, producing four goals and a late comeback by the newly promoted side.

Wallace and Greig in happier times during their time together at Ibrox.

Rangers started well and had a very early chance when a Cooper corner was met by Colin McAdam, only for Motherwell goalkeeper Hugh Sproat to make a point-blank save. However Rangers wouldn’t wait too long before they took the lead.

Seven minutes in, John MacDonald was put clean through on goal and was fouled by Alex Forsyth. New signing Prytz stuck the penalty away and Rangers were off to a flyer.

Rangers continued to push and could have gone 2-0 up when Sproat came out of his box to head a clearance which landed at the feet of Robert Prytz about 35 yards from goal. The Swede reacted quickly, but his long-distance lob into an empty net went slightly over the bar. With no other goals scored the sides went in at half-time with only the one goal between them.

Robert Prytz puts Rangers 1-0 up and scores his first league goal for Rangers. (Picture courtesy of @oldrangerspics)

Rangers continued to push for the killer second goal in the second-half and after 65 minutes it seemed like the points would be heading to Ibrox.

Davie Cooper picked up the ball on the left-hand side and ran at two defenders, going past one and nutmegging the other before laying it off to Ian Redford who fired home and put Rangers into an apparently unassailable lead.

Rangers had other chances to put the game to bed. John MacDonald was creative down the left-hand side, beating two defenders before cutting in and lofting ball over Sproat, only for his effort to be headed off the line. The headed clearance didn’t go far and eventually found its way to Cooper who also attempted to loft the ball beyond Sproat, only to see his effort come off the bar. Rangers would rue missing these guilt-edged chances.

With 15 minutes to go the game would be turned on its head as Motherwell struck back and set up a very interesting end to the game. A long-ball into the box seemed harmless enough, but the Rangers defence switched off and Cleland, who had started the game on the bench and had not long entered proceedings, beat Jim Stewart to the ball and made the score 2-1.

From a seemingly untouchable position, Rangers suddenly found themselves in a game – and all those earlier missed opportunities now looked like they could be costly. And so it would be.

With 11 minutes remaining, Rangers conceded again. A free-kick thrown in from the right-hand side was met by Joe Carson, whose header went in off the post. Rangers had blown their lead and now faced the real prospect of dropping points on the opening day of the season.

Despite all their efforts, Rangers couldn’t find a winner. Even when Motherwell were reduced to ten men in the closing minutes, after goalscorer Joe Carson was dismissed for kicking John MacDonald, Rangers failed to muster the goal which would have secured the victory.

After the game John Greig was obviously frustrated at the result and commented: “We produced a lot of good things and the team did well, and I thought we had done enough to win. We dominated the match and should have had it well a truly sewn up.

“Somehow though, we allowed Motherwell to get two goals, and they were only in our penalty box area on a few occasions”.

An obviously emotional Wallace said: “I was pleased with the way we fought back after losing two daft goals”.

Wallace’s stay at Motherwell would last just over a year. Rangers under Greig would struggle again throughout 82/83 and would finish the season trophy-less. A difficult start to the following year’s campaign would see Greig relieved of his duties and Wallace reinstated as the manager of the club he loved.

 

 

 

When the Galactico’s came to Glasgow

Zidane scores THAT goal. Hampden Stadium, Glasgow, 15 May, 2002.

The Union Canal, which runs from Edinburgh to Falkirk, would seem an odd place to start a piece which is focused on the most glamorous game in football – the Champions League Final – but if you run with me on this then I can assure it’s relevant to the story.

The canal was first conceived in 1793 as a direct route for people in Edinburgh to access cheap coal from the west. Its construction was approved in parliament in 1817 and it officially opened five years later in 1822.

The canal was an essential lifeblood for nearly 100 years, transporting goods from east-to-west and back again.

The rise of the railways saw the canal’s importance fade and by 1921 the first part of the canal – the eastern terminus – was closed. By 1965 the entire canal was consigned to history as I was formally closed to navigation. By the mid-80s – and by the time I had moved to Falkirk – the canal was a dumping ground for supermarket trollies and cars and was not a pretty sight at all.

However the canal was reopened in 2001 thanks to the Millennium Link project, £83.5m of funding and the greatest canal restoration anywhere in Britain. Then the opening of the Falkirk Wheel in 2002 reconnected the canal to the Forth and Clyde canal for the first time in 70 years and its rebirth as a community asset was confirmed.

It was in 2002, during the substantial activity to regenerate it, that the canal became a symbolic part of my route to the Champions League Final, because it was whilst out running along the canal with my best mate Allan that I realised I had a ticket to the glamour game which was being played in Glasgow at Hampden Stadium.

Allan had secured tickets through Alex Smith, who is his step-dad and was Dundee Utd manager at the time. He informed me as we ran along the canal that we were on our way to see the mighty Real Madrid take on Bayer Leverkusen.

I have to say it was a huge surprise – and a very pleasant one. I had already decided to head into Glasgow for the final and find a decent pub somewhere to take in the game and the atmosphere of the big occasion. But now I had secured a ringside seat to see the Galactico’s of Madrid make their much anticipated return to Hampden – a stadium that already had a serious significance in their history.

That was the thing about the Real coming to Glasgow in 2002 – there was already a serious amount of history between Madrid and Glasgow. So much so, in fact, that it almost felt like a homecoming.

Alfredo Di Stefano scores in the famous 7-3 win against Eintracht Frankfurt in Glasgow in 1960.

 

Real famously won the trophy at Hampden in 1960 in what is widely regarded as the greatest final of all time. The might of Madrid was too much for Eintracht Frankfurt – who had demolished Rangers 12-4 on aggregate in the semi-final – and they romped home to a 7-3 victory with four goals from Ferenc Puskas and three from Alfredo Di Stefano in front of 120,000 enthralled supporters – mostly locals.

Real also travelled to Glasgow in 1963 to take on Rangers in the European Cup, winning 1-0 at Ibrox. The visit of Madrid on this occasion was probably most famously remembered for Jim Baxter taking Puskas to a party in Drumchapel where, it is alleged, that Puskas continued his penchant for scoring – this time with a local lass in the scullery of a tenement flat!

The Rangers v Real Madrid

It was undeniable that Glasgow and Madrid went together like Glasgow and deep fried Mars bars. This would be an occasion to remember.

On the day of the game, I finished my work in Cumbernauld early and headed to Glasgow for about 3pm. There was already a real feel of anticipation – the place was buzzing.

I sank a couple of beers at Bonapartes in Queen St Station, sitting at one of the chairs outside savouring the atmosphere awaiting Allan’s arrival. Loads of Madrid fans were filtering off trains as they arrived in the city and their chants of “Madreed! Madreed!” echoed around the age old station giving their shouts of support an air of intimidation.

Once Allan arrived we headed around a few pubs and then to the bookies where I stuck a fiver on Raul to score first and Real to win 3-1 at 33/1. Then it was off to Hampden for the big game.

Our seats were in the East Stand – or the traditional “Celtic end” – and as we arrived you could have been mistaken for thinking we has turned up on the day of a cup final that Celtic were actually playing in, given the amount of hooped jerseys doing the rounds. This led to a tense exchange of words between Allan and one of the hooped brethren. Allan suggested that – just for one day – would it not have been a good idea to leave traditional rivalries aside and enjoy the big occasion without the usual Glasgow window dressing. The response he got was not what I would describe as pleasant, and tempers had to be calmed as we headed in through the turnstile to avoid things escalating to a more physical plane.

Once in, my anticipation levels rose. The main reason for this is that I knew I was about to witness in the flesh the man who I considered then – and now – to be the best player of all time: Zinedine Zidane.

Zidane had been pivotal in France winning the World Cup in 1998, but it was his performances in Euro 2000 that had left me in awe at what the man was capable of with a football. I had never seen a player create or find space the way Zidane had in that tournament. He was a joy to watch. And now I was going to see him in the flesh.

The game kicked off and very quickly Real took the lead through Raul. My bet was officially on. The goal was Raul’s 34th in the competition – and it made him the top goal-scorer in the history of the Champions League at the time. Of course he now lies third in that particular race behind Ronaldo and Messi.

Leverkusen struck back, however, through Lucio after he met a Bernd Schneider free-kick. My bet was now even more officially on and the game was shaping up nicely.

And then it happened. That moment. That goal.

It is probably the most iconic goal in Champions League history – and I nearly missed it.

The beer had weakened my bladder and I made my way to the toilet just before half-time. On the way up I heard a guy refer to Zidane as a “donkey”. I protested at the outrageousness of this statement – but he insisted “he’s a donkey mate” in a rather obnoxious tone. Stunned, I continued on my mission to relieve my bladder.

It was on the way back it happened. If I’d timed my visit to the toilet just thirty seconds later then I would have missed one of the greatest goals ever scored. And not only did the footballing gods decree that I wouldn’t miss the goal, the decreed that I would be walking past the man who referred to Zidane as a “donkey” when it went in.

Santiago Solari sent a pass down the left-hand channel, Roberto Carlos put in a high looping cross, Zidane set himself, awaited the ball’s arrival from the sky and then unleashed a thunderous left-footed shot into the top corner of the net.

It was thing of beauty, an act of outrageousness even for a man as skilled as Zizou. The stadium, the nation, the continent united in sheer awe at the mastery of it. Well, all except for Mr Donkey. As Zidane turned to celebrate his wonder strike, I turned to Zidane’s constructive critique and bellowed “there’s yer donkey mate”. He didn’t reply.

Half–time arrived with Madrid 2-1 up and my 33/1 bet still on. Allan and I were sat next to Maurice Malpas and Paul Heggarty – a consequence of our tickets coming through the Dundee Utd manager. I showed Heggarty my bookie slip and he raised an eyebrow and commented that I was in with a chance.

The second-half was a bit of a non-event. Leverkusen tried to break down Madrid, Madrid tried to hit them on the counter. As the minutes ticked away I started to shout on Madrid as if they were my own team. After all, I was on for £165 – but it was not to be. Despite seven minutes of injury time Madrid couldn’t find a third. In fact, were it not for Iker Casillas, who had come on for the injured Cesar, then Leverkusen would have equalised in injury time. The final whistle went, Madrid had conquered Glasgow and Europe again and it was all about watching “Los Blancos” celebrate in the very substantial Glasgow rain.

Zidane celebrates his strike and Real’s win in the Glasgow rain.

The following day it was all about rubbing my workmates’ noses in it as they had watched the game on TV. To aid in this I walked in with my match ticket stuck to the lapel of my jacket. It had been a historic occasion with a very historic moment and I had been there. I had witnessed it.

Just like those 120,000 punters in 1960 who had spent the rest of their lives telling anyone who had been prepared to listen that they “were there” the day Puskas, Di Stefano and Genko had rolled into Glasgow – I could now say the same for the time Raul, Figo and, most importantly, Zidane had retraced the steps of their peers from 42 years previously.

Hala Madrid!

Hala Glasgow!

Ticket to Ride: Following in the Footsteps of Giants

Kenneth Mathieson Dalglish, boyhood Rangers fan, runs through to score the winning goal in the 1978 European Cup Final – a cast member from Boys from the Blackstuff looks on in the background.

It is fair to say that, despite a previous incarnation as a baker, I am not a morning person. So it would be fair to admit that dragging my more than ample arse out of my pit at half-five on a Sunday morning left me feeling distinctly un-enamoured.

But there was a special reason for this early Sunday morning rise as, for his birthday treat, I was taking the boy to Anfield to watch Liverpool take on Southampton. With a 1:30pm kick-off, we had to set off at around half-six to make sure we were down the M6 in plenty of time for the kick-off.

Taking the journey from Scotland down to Merseyside meant we were following in the footsteps of many a Liverpool legend. Indeed it was only a few days prior to our visit that Liverpool announced they were naming their stonking new stand – and it is stonking – after Kenny Dalglish, arguably the clubs greatest ever player.

But Dalglish is not the only Scot to have served the club with distinction. In my childhood years, as well as Dalglish, there were the likes of Alan Hansen, Graeme Souness, John Wark and Stevie Nicol at Liverpool. It is worth noting that all bar Hansen grew up as Rangers supporters – including Dalglish until he turned to the dark side.

It was this contingent of Scots that made adopting Liverpool as your “English side” was almost mandatory in the 80s – and I was no different. It seemed everyone at school had a preference for Liverpool in this period and it felt that most adults at the time did too.

Not only was there a contingent of Scots in the side but Liverpool as a city seemed to connect politically with Scotland also – with both displaying a large resentment towards Thatcher and the Tory government of the time.

Even culturally there was a lot to like about Liverpool. The Beatles were an obvious one in my house due to my dad being daft on them, but TV programmes like ‘Boys from the Blackstuff’, ‘Scully’ and even ‘Brookside’ – particularly young football scally Damon Grant – all made Liverpool as a club, and city, resonate with many of us north of the border at the time.

Yosser Hughes and Souness continue the friendship between Scots and Scousers.

However around the late 80s/early 90s I started to drift away from Liverpool – put off by the seemingly increased link between them an Celtic. It had not always seemed that way. In my school in the mid-80s those of us who were Rangers fans wore the Rangers/Liverpool ski hats, with Celtic fans wearing a similar tea cosy-esque bunnet sporting Celtic and Man U on them. But a few years later it seemed our separated brethren from across the city were claiming the Scousers as their own too. And so I slowly became disinterested in Liverpool as a club.

That all changed about five or six years ago around the time my boy’s interest in football was starting to increase. Luis Suarez was starting to hit his peak at Liverpool and so we started a ritual known as “Suarez Sunday” anytime Liverpool were on Super Sunday. A Coke for him, a beer for me, a shared family bag of Monster Munch and we were away. He made a connection with Liverpool and adopted them as his preferred English team, and I reconnected with them. Since then, whenever they’re on the telly, we usually sit down to watch them and cheer them on.

That reconnection led to arranging for tickets for the weekends game for my boy’s 12th birthday with John Gibbons from the Anfield Wrap. John kindly agreed to help and I had arranged to meet him in the Glenbuck Hotel prior to the game to pick up the tickets. With arrangements confirmed, the boy and I headed off in the early morning sun for our first visit to Anfield to take in a game.

I must admit I went a bit overboard and tried to make the day all about Liverpool – including the soundtrack for our journey. So the CD collection was raided for albums by The Beatles, The La’s, Cast, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Coral. Part of this ploy coincided with my continuing vain attempts to get the boy into music – so far without any success – and I have to admit there was little sign that my plan paid any dividend on Sunday either. Still it did feel good to have “There She Goes” blaring out of the car stereo as we pulled out of our street on the start of our journey.

The La’s: best played very loudly, in the car and at 6:30am.

Four hours later – with a swift stop at Southwaite services included – we were heading into Liverpool city centre, where the plan was to park the car at Albert Docks and take a bus to Anfield.

However at this point I took a wrong turn and suddenly I realised I was at Stanley Park – which separates Anfield and Goodison – and before you know it I was pulling into car park right next to the stadium. Stroke of luck number one!

The second stroke of luck came as I went to pay for the parking. As I went into my wallet I was asked how many times I had visited Anfield by the steward. “First time for a game”, I informed him.

At this point another steward introduced himself as Chris and informed me that he wanted to create “good memories” of our trip to Anfield and that I would not need to pay for parking today – and indeed that I would be upgraded to VIP parking. He then directed me to drive to the top of the car park right next to the stadium. I did wonder at this point why I was picked out by Chris for preferential treatment, but not so much that I felt I needed to protest at his decision.

With the car safely parked in its VIP mooring, we made our way to the Glenbuck Hotel to meet John and pick up the tickets. John was there with a few mates and his dad, and he introduced us all and made us feel very welcome. They were all really friendly and there is some good banter doing the rounds. During the chat John’s dad asked me why Scotland doesn’t produce players good enough to play for Liverpool anymore – I was unable to provide him with an answer.

With the tickets secured we headed to the game. John had arranged for us to sit in his and dads seats in the top tier of the Centenary Stand. As we take our seats I get talking to the guy next to me, who is also really friendly. I inform him about the VIP parking stroke of luck, and my observation that there are a great deal of tourists doing the rounds. He informs me that there is an increasing amount of Chinese, Malaysian and Americans attending games at Anfield – and that they, as well as other nationalities, get preferential treatment compared to the locals. He cites my experience at the car park and informs me that a Scouser would never had been given that kind of treatment and that he has to park over a mile from the ground.

James Milner’s spot kicks secures the 0-0 draw.

I can’t help but feel guilty. Here is a guy who pays his money every week to the club he loves, and yet he is treated shabbily compared to me – a first timer. I say to him that it feels like a lot of Premiership clubs are going the same way as the energy suppliers and Sky etc: don’t care if you’re a loyal and current “customer” of ex amount of years; more interested in throwing all the love at attracting “new customers”. He agrees.

The matchday experience compared to Ibrox is undoubtedly superior. There is a fan zone, a bar and toilets all located outside the ground for fans to use prior to entering the stadium. The concourse in the Centenary stand is similar to the rear of the Govan stand, but the toilets are much cleaner compared to the disgrace the toilets there have become in recent years. They also have big screen TVs in the concourses showing Sky Sports with updates from the other games being played. At half-time many fans mingle down there to do exactly that – and they can do so whilst enjoying a beer!

The game itself is a disappointment. Liverpool look a million miles away from the entertaining and dynamic team of the early part of the season and now resemble Rangers under Mark Warburton: loads of possession and passing almost exclusively in front of the opposition, no real cutting edge whilst looking nervy at the back. Early in the second-half it looks like they have caught a break when they are awarded a penalty, but James Milner decides that today will be the day he will miss his first penalty since 2009 and the game ends in a goalless stalemate.

The boy meets Head & Shoulders legend Jason McAteer

 

After the game we head back to the Glenbuck to meet John and pass back his tickets to him before heading for some food and back to the car. As we arrive back at our VIP space Jason McAteer, who used to advertise Head & Shoulders, is chewing the fat with some guy at the car next to us and so the boy gets his photo with him.

And then, just like that, it is time to head home. Our stay at Anfield feels almost as fleeting as Danny Wilson’s, but it was still very enjoyable. If you get the chance to do it, I strongly recommend it.

Just remember to tell Chris in a non-Scouse accent it’s your first visit!

The End of the Nine Year Wait

Terry Butcher celebrates scoring the crucial goal which brought the title back to Ibrox.

It had been a long wait for Rangers to be in this situation. In fact you would have to go back to April 1978 – when John Grieg was still playing for Rangers – for an example of the last time Rangers were facing the situation they faced on 2 May 1987: knowing that one more win would see them crowned as league champions.

It had been a long nine years since that league win, which would make up part of a famous treble. Rangers had been in the footballing doldrums since. Swept aside by Celtic and the so called “New Firm” of Aberdeen and Dundee Utd.

In those nine years Rangers would regularly finish fourth. Indeed the thought of Rangers being league winners had seemed ludicrous as early as the previous season of 85/86 were Rangers had finished fifth, a massive 15 points behind champions Celtic – whilst also lagging behind Hearts, Aberdeen and Dundee Utd.

European football for the following season was only confirmed on the last day of the campaign, with a 2-0 victory over Motherwell ensuring that we finished above six placed Dundee on goal difference.

To give an idea of how disastrous the campaign had been the gap between Rangers and bottom placed Clydebank was the same (15) as the point difference between Celtic. Rangers would manage only 13 wins in the whole season – a meare seven more than the Bankies. It was grim stuff and the thought of Rangers going from that position to champions seemed impossible. But Graeme Souness arrived in April ’86 – followed by Terry Butcher, Colin West and Chris Woods and all of a sudden there was a sense of optimism around Rangers again.

But even then things did not go entirely to plan initially. Rangers would lose their opening two games of the campaign and by Christmas they lay nine points behind Celtic, the equivalent of a thirteen point gap in today’s terms as it was two points for a win back then.

Then Souness signed Graham Roberts in December and Rangers’ form improved dramatically. Having lost five games in the first 24 matches, Rangers would go on a run of losing just one in the following 20. Celtic were not only caught, but surpassed and when Rangers  travelled to Pittodrie on 2 May 1987 all they needed was a win to secure their first league title in nine years.

The game itself was not a classic in terms of flair and skill. As these encounters so often are it was a blood and guts affair that was more about mettle than skill. Such an environment was perfect for the Rangers player-manager, but the season would end as it had begun for Graeme Souness – with a red card after 31 minutes.

Booked after only four minutes after a heavy tackle on Brian Irvine, Souness would take the long walk 25 minutes later after another stupid lunge earned him a second yellow. With the game tied at 0-0 it could have been a catastrophic act – but Rangers rallied and met the challenge.

Celtic were at home to Falkirk on the same day knowing that a win for Rangers would see them resigned to also-rans. But news from the north-east that Rangers were down to ten could have given them hope, despite them going a goal down to Falkirk after only 40 seconds. Celtic went into the game against Falkirk three points behind. If Rangers slipped up at Pittodrie, Celtic could have closed the gap to a point going into the last game of the season. But the battling spirit now injected into this Rangers squad would see them get the job done – with a little help from Falkirk.

For the second time in the season Souness is sent off.

The big moment came on the 40th minute when Rangers won a free-kick just outside the box on the touchline. Cooper sent over an inviting cross and Terry Butcher rose to head the ball into the net, with Jim Leighton a stranded spectator. The scenes of celebration were exuberant as Rangers put one hand on the league title trophy.

The lead would only last four minutes, however, as Brian Irvine levelled for the Dons. As Rangers went in at half-time they knew there 45 minutes away from the title as things stood. They were level with Aberdeen and Celtic were a goal down to Falkirk.

The second-half was a bit of a non-event, with Aberdeen coming closest with an effort that hit the post. Celtic had equalised against Falkirk through a Brian McClair penalty but that did not change the dynamics – Rangers were still on course to be champions as long as they matched Celtic’s result.

With three minutes to go the news came through from Celtic Park that Jimmy Gilmour – nephew of Celtic legend Jimmy Johnstone – had put Falkirk 2-1 up. Barring a minor miracle Rangers had secured their 39th league title.

When the final whistle went, the fans came on to the park in scenes of celebration that mirrored the images from Wembley in 1977 when Scotland had beat the Auld Enemy.

The fans celebrate on the Pittodrie pitch Picture courtesy of @OldRangersPics

Souness was emphatic in his summary, although apologetic about his sending off: “From a personal point of view it was not ideal”, he said. “At the end of the day I have let myself, my players and my family down. I am not proud of that. Watching the second-half from the stand was pure agony, but at the end of the day I was delighted for the fans who have waited so long for this moment. The league will always be my number one priority and once Graham Roberts joined Terry Butcher and Chris Woods at the club, we got the response from the other players.”

Terry Butcher, who has just became the first man to captain Rangers to a league title since John Greig, was equally as delighted: “It’s been a tremendous year. The signing of Graham Roberts was the turning point. He took a lot of pressure off me. And now I have doubles my medal tally in one year”.

Graham Roberts, the man who had proved to be the final piece of the jigsaw in what was a memorable campaign said: “I knew as soon as we caught Celtic we could do it. We knew then we were good enough. Although the nerves showed at times, it was a great finish to the season”

The following week at Ibrox Rangers would be presented with the league championship trophy in front a capacity crowd. They were scenes that had not been seen down Govan way for the best part of a decade. But under Souness, and then Walter Smith, they would almost become an annual event as Rangers would win ten of the next twelve league campaigns.

Do You Remember the First Time?

For non-football fans the irrational behaviour that affects many football supporters can be a puzzler. They simply don’t get why we invest so much energy into a game that involves 22 men running around a grass park chasing a leather ball.

I have had many discussions trying to explain it without ever really successfully convincing the non-believer that my reasons are valid. Who knows, maybe they’re right. But either way there is no denying I am infected when it comes to football, I’m a carrier of the most severe strain of the football virus – someone who can be completely irrational when it comes to football and specifically Rangers FC.

I have followed the club for over thirty years and have enjoyed many highs and many lows. My knowledge on certain aspects can border on encyclopaedic. Games, scorelines, players…etc. There is a fair amount of knowledge tucked away after many years of love for Rangers.

It now looks as if my son has also picked up the strongest possible strain of this virus. Initially non-fussed for football, his interest picked up a year or two back both in terms of playing and watching. Now our weekends are basically made of watching football together.

His interest in Rangers has increased too, quite dramatically at that. He has become quite adept in terms of knowing facts and stats also. This had been on the increase anyway but there is little doubt that the Scottish Cup semi-final clash against Celtic at Hampden last year – his first game against Celtic – had an huge impact in firing his thirst for all things Rangers.

The opportunity for him take in the game arose out of a bit of luck. My usual partner in crime for these games was in his 70s. We had attended the 2011 League Cup final and he had been disgruntled at the fact that the fans stood during the game. He had found it physically demanding to stand for 90 minutes plus extra time. When Rangers came out of the hat against Celtic for this game he was never going to attend – and when the tickets came through the post he handed both of them to me.

The next conundrum was whether, at the age of ten, I should be taking him at all. There is of course an unsavoury element to these games and I feared for the possibilities that may lie ahead. After all, a young Rangers supporter the same age as my boy had been bottled at the last game at Hampden between the sides.

I was 13 when I took in my first Old Firm game – the 4-4 draw in March ’86 –-although my dad had tried to take to a game previously. We had made our way to Ibrox in May ’83 to see Ranger play host to their most bitter rivals. We had queued outside for tickets that were being sold literally from a caravan. The process took longer than anticipated and by 40 minutes in to the first-half we were still there. We had heard the cheers go up for Rangers two goals that had put them into a commanding 2-0 lead. My dad, unwilling to pay full price for 45 minutes of football, chucked in the towel and we headed home. We entered the living room of our house in Cumbernauld just in time to see the full-time score of 4-2 to Celtic come in on Grandstand. Rangers had capitulated in the second-half and Celtic had secured a famous win, although still lost the title to Dundee Utd. Bullet dodged in terms of a first Old Firm game!

Back to 2016 and I thought about the pros and cons of taking my son, and eventually decided that I would take him. Firstly, he knew I had a spare ticked and the thought of telling he couldn’t go was going to prove beyond my capabilities as a dad. Secondly, I have been to countless of these games and never encountered any issues. Why, I asked myself, should this be any different?

On the morning of the game we set off to support our club in its biggest match of the season so far. Both nervous, although with the elder statesman of the party feeling quietly confident. I just had a feeling that this was going to be our day. We had been to the national stadium the week before for the Petrofact Cup Final – which was his first cup final – and we had enjoyed it hugely. This, however, was going to be a different experience entirely.

The nerves look like they’re taking hold on the train journey to Glasgow.

 

At periods on the train journey to Glasgow he was very subdued. Obviously nervous and obviously unsure of what to expect. We walked from the city centre to Hampden savouring the atmosphere as we went. Just as we went to enter the stadium I gave him a hug and said: “Good luck, son. I hope they get a result for you” – and then we were in.

The game kicked off and Rangers settled quicker, playing some very stylish football into the bargain. It wouldn’t take long for my boy to experience his first Old Firm goal.

On sixteen minutes, Halliday sent in a weak cross, “Broony” stuck out a lazy leg in an attempt to block it and directed it straight to Kenny Miller who slotted it home. Bedlam! The boy experienced first-hand what it was like to score against them. Embracing me, having total strangers hug him – it was chaos as usual. As the celebrations died down he turned to me and asked: “It’s like that every time we score against them?” I just nodded and a smile wider than the Clyde crept across his face.

King Kenny puts Rangers 1-0 up.

It was game on now. The lower league side were skelping the champions of Scotland. There had to be a reaction and there was. Celtic crept a little more into it and should have equalised when Patrick Roberts missed an open goal of Van Vossen proportions. But despite Celtic’s efforts there was definitely a feeling that Rangers were the superior side. We got to half-time with our lead intact and we were 45 minutes away from reaching our first Scottish Cup Final since 2009.

But these games are rarely routine and sure enough Celtic came back. Five minutes after the re-start, and a after a series of corners, Celtic equalised through a Sviatchenko header.

It was now anyone’s game and the action swayed from one end to the other in what was an enthralling encounter. In terms of entertainment, the boy had landed on his feet for his first experience of the Old Firm – now all he needed was a result.

Roberts reacts after missing an open goal. No laughing at the back!

The 90 minutes ended with the teams still level and extra time would be required. Some of the punters around us asked the wee fella how he was coping and if he was enjoying it – without looking entirely convinced that they were coping with proceedings or enjoying it themselves!

The first-period of extra time kicked off and within minutes we had the defining moment of the game – Barrie McKay’s screamer into the top corner of Craig Gordon’s net. The ball went out for a throw-in, which should have gone Celtic’s way. Craig Thompson pointed the other way and from the quick throw Rangers worked the ball out, got it to McKay, who skipped past “Broony” and fired an unstoppable shot to put us 2-1 up and looking at a final place once again.

Wee Barrie celebrates after his screamer puts Rangers 2-1 up.

The scenes of joy at this screamer maybe actually surpassed the scenes for Miller’s goal, probably because of the nature and the quality of the strike. We we’re right behind McKay when he hit and you could see almost immediately that it was away – so much so that someone shouted “That’s in!” as the ball was still travelling. .

But Celtic came back again in similar circumstances to earlier in the game. Five minutes after the re-start of the second-period of extra time Rogic fired home and Celtic were level again. The sides couldn’t be separated in the remaining ten minutes and so it was penalties.

As all fans know these are nerve shredding, but I have a relatively good record in these situations – and it would continue. But not before we were put through the ringer again.

Rangers were the first to blink in the spot-kicks with Tavernier sending his effort wildely over the bar – only for Calum McGregor to instantly miss Celtic’s next effort to even things up again.

Each time someone stepped up the nerves jangled and the tension increased. On the fourth kick Nicky Clark produced Rangers’ second miss of the kick-out – only for Scott Brown, who hilariously had a dismal day – to also miss his and preserve parity. With no further misses it was onto sudden death.

Zelalem and then Nicky Law ensured that when Tom Rogic stepped up he had to score to keep Celtic in it. He ran up, swung his left foot at it and as it rose over the bar the stands at the Rangers end erupted with joy. I grabbed the boy and hugged him with all my might, He had done it – he had gotten a win in his first Old Firm game. Others sitting around us also embraced him and congratulated him, it was a few minutes of pure joy – and I will remember the celebrations until my last breath. The players came to our end to celebrate and so he ran down to see some of them. With too many fans there, however, he couldn’t get near any of them. But it didn’t matter. We had won – and won well. All the pain of the last four years could, for now anyway, be put in storage and replaced with a level of happiness that hadn’t visited for some time.

Dad and son celebrate a famous win!

We wandered back into the city centre with a feeling of gleeful contentment, raising our fists in the air at the celebrating Rangers supporters busses as they passed us along Victoria Rd.

It was obvious that this was a big moment in my boys Rangers supporting life. He looked as if he was on the trip of a lifetime – unable to keep the smile off his face, asking questions about previous Old Firm games and just generally displaying a mood that could only be described as hyper.

I can’t lie, it was truly magic to have this experience with him. I’ve enjoyed victories against Celtic so many times before with friends and family members, but this was different. It mean so much more to me because it meant so much to him. And even now a year on, he is regularly seen watching it on his i-Pad with his headphones on and that wider than the Clyde grin on his face.

I’ll never forget the look on his face during the Miller celebrations – his first proper experience of celebrating a big goal in a big game. He couldn’t believe it, couldn’t take in the level of ecstasy on display. But once he had experienced it he was hungry for more – he was hooked, and I suspect that he has now been infected with the same strain of the irrational football supporting virus as I have.

But you know what, he may have a lifetime in front of him of letting the results of a football team having too much of an impact on his mood, but all of us who have had similar days to this know that it’s worth it. Both of us will remember this day for the rest of our lives – and is that not what shared experiences are all about?

15 April 1989

Picture courtesy of @OldRangersPics

There are few dates that are more entrenched on the British footballing psyche than 15 April, 1989. The events of that horrible day would have an impact on all football supporters. It was a definitive date that would have a lasting impact on the game as a whole, not to mention the city of Liverpool and 96 families.

Like so many that day I headed out to support my team, who were playing in a Scottish Cup semi-final – a competition they had not won in eight years. I was sixteen, was about to leave school and, for the first time in a long time, benefiting from a period of relative financial prosperity after a few years of hardship under the Thatcher’s brutal leadership.

By 1989 both my parents had found work. This had not always been the case during the 80s, and there had been long periods of financial hardship. The first sign that a corner had been turned was the fact that we managed holiday to Blackpool in 1988 – although even that was part-subsidised by my dad getting a fairly decent win on the Rangers Pools. So even if it wasn’t quite champagne and skittles, things had definitely started to look a bit brighter.

By the age of 15/16 my parents had agreed that I should receive a tenner a week from each of them in pocket money. Not bad going. This money would see me attend more and more Rangers games. Having reached a certain age where I no longer relied on my dad to take me to games, and having a decent disposable income for a boy my age meant I was in a position to follow my team more. So I joined the supporter’s bus in Camelon and made my way to most games home and away. My increased disposable income would also go on clothes, trainers and music – but football was my first love.

So I woke up on the morning of 15 April, 1989 in a jovial mood. As mentioned earlier Rangers had struggled badly in the Scottish Cup since winning it in 1981, and even the arrival of Graeme Souness and his expensive signings had not improved things, with embarrassing defeats to Hamilton and Dunfermline representing his efforts in the tournament to date

This season had been different, however, and getting past Dundee Utd at the quarter-final stage – at the second attempt – and being handed a semi-final draw against St Johnstone, who were at that time in the old First Division, had led to many feeling that a final berth was inevitable and that once there we would do the business and bring the cup back to Ibrox.

The morning of 15 April was a gorgeous one and I made my way to the Mariner Bar in Camelon from my home – a three mile trek – by foot, only stopping at a shop on the way to pick up a can of juice, some carbohydrate (most probably a packet of Monster Munch) and a paper for the journey. Once at the Mariner Bar, and with my ticket secured, I boarded the bus and set off for my first Scottish Cup semi-final – ironically being played at Celtic Park.

The journey to Glasgow was more interesting than usual, as we took a different route in order to come in at the east-end of the city – a part of the city I had little knowledge of at that time. This being the case, little things like passing Glasgow Zoo provided the odd “ooh” moment on the road in to Celtic Park. Apart from that it was a case of the usual stuff; the banter, the songs, Radio Clyde blaring in the background and cans of lager etc being passed about. All good natured, all as you would expect.

On arrival at Celtic Park I made my way to the old West Terracing – the opposite end from where the Rangers support would usually be located. But given we had almost all of the ground that day it made little odds. This felt like it was going to be a good day – our day. It was all set for up for us; virtually a home tie, lower league opposition, a feeling of underachievement in the competition in the last few years…we couldn’t fail

As this was my first game at Celtic Park – and I was in the traditional Celtic end – I had decided to take along a thick permanent marker in order to scribe “Rangers 5 Celtic 1” on as many of the crush barriers on the terracing as possible. I thought I was being quite daring until I went to the toilet and saw the serious guys in there with their cans of spray paint giving it a bit more than reminding the usual patrons of this privy of the 5-1 game!

The sunshine was splitting the sky as both teams took to the park just before 3pm, with Rangers looking extra resplendent in their Monaco style away top. The game kicked off and we were away.

Football in the 80s had a breed of fan that you don’t see so much of nowadays; the guy standing with their tranny radio listening to results coming in from around the country. I suppose the advent of smart phones etc has rendered this type of fan redundant. Nobody needs to look to these guys for updates now, so they have been cruelly consigned to the annals of footballing history. But on this day it was one of these guys who very early on in proceedings informed all who were prepared to listen that there was an issue at the Liverpool game.

But that was it. Nothing more was said and we continued to watch the game – a game that Rangers were making severe heavy weather of.

By about the 30 minute mark murmurs started amongst the crowd that what had happened at the Liverpool was serious. The first reports around us suggested Liverpool fans had caused bother similar to what had happened at Heysel and the game had been called off. By half-time, the first mutterings were being raised that people had died.

As the teams came out for the second-half the mood in the crowd had obviously changed. Yes, we were all supporting our team as normal – but more and more there were conversations about events in Sheffield. The sun was shining, but there was definitely a feeling of a cloud hanging over proceedings.

The second-half came and went; Rangers were abysmal, St Johnstone fans celebrated – quite rightly – their team’s achievement in securing a replay and we left the ground and headed back to the bus despondent, but with the feeling that there were bigger issues going on elsewhere.

On arriving back at the bus it became obvious that events in Sheffield were extremely serious. Stern faces, little, if any conversation about the game, the radio playing louder than usual bringing live updates on proceedings and a feeling that the guy who organised the bus just wanted everyone on it ASAP and get it on its return journey.

As we travelled back along the road the confirmed number of deaths at Hillsborough went up about three or four times – every time drawing groans and an exasperated “for fuck sake” from more than one. The usual laughter, banter, songs…all that stuff you associate with travelling on a supporter’s bus was gone. Instead it was silence, despondency and feeling of wanting to get home to loved ones.

18 April 1989 – Both sets of players and fans stand in a minutes silence for the victims of the Hillsborough disaster prior to the replay.

When the bus dropped us off I walked the three miles home, getting the occasional nod from people who, noticing my shirt and scarf, realised I had attended a football match on the most horrible of days.

When I got home I found my mum sitting in the living-room in tears, having watched events unfold live on Grandstand. She had returned from work just after 3pm to hear a reporter on the radio announce there had been a major incident at “footballing stadium in Britain”. Knowing where I was she had got into a panic.

But even on realising that Celtic Park was free of a major incident, the pictures and images coming out from Hillsborough were enough to remind her of the events of 2 January, 1971 – when 66 Rangers fans had died on stairway 13 after the traditional Ner’day Old Firm derby.

She had three brothers – and a brother-in-law – at Ibrox that day, and they had been caught up in the crush. Managing to get out of it relatively unscathed, and not realising that people were dying in the crush, they had followed their usual post-match ritual and had gone for a pint. In an age prior to 24 hour news and mobile phones, many left Ibrox that night unaware that there was any issue – and therefore many families watching and listening to updates at home had a long wait to find out if their loved ones were ok.

The events of Hillsborough had brought all those memories back and I was welcomed back home as if I returned from a tour of duty in some god-awful warzone.

Over the following days the events at Hillsborough would dominate the papers. I would make my way to the replay against St Johnstone on the following Tuesday night where Rangers would ease past their opponents 4-0 and reach the final. But there was an eerie feeling to proceedings, the events in Sheffield the previous Saturday hung heavy in the air. Rangers supporters chanted Liverpool’s name in a show of solidarity with a club that was facing something similar to what our own club had faced 18 years previously, and all-in-all it felt particularly low-key for a Scottish Cup semi-final – and one that we had won. Even Gary Steven’s peach of a goal that put Rangers 2-0 up couldn’t raise spirits to the levels you would expect of such an occasion.

All in all it was a strange and uncomfortable time to be a football supporter attending games that week. All those things I done on the day of the game; walked the three miles to get my bus, stopped at the shop for refreshment and a paper to read the latest football news, bantered away on the bus – things that football fans do up and down the country whilst following their team. Well 96 Liverpool fans done similar things to me on that day but never made it home, and I think the overall feeling at the time from most of us standing on the terraces that week was one of “there but for the grace of God”.

That disaster happened at Hillsborough but it could have been any ground in the country. It could have been any one of us. Indeed there was an incident at the first game that involved overcrowding – with fans spilling on to the trackside and paramedics attending the scene in scenes not too dissimilar to what happened at Hillsborough. But taking that aside, all of us at that time had been in situations on the terraces where we had felt the swaying was getting out of hand, that there were too many in the part of the ground we were standing. I even remember leaving Hampden after the Skol Cup Final in 1987 and for a short period literally being carried along with crowd – to the extent of my feet not touching the ground. I’m sure all fans who stood on the terraces have had similar moments – moments where they didn’t feel in control of the situation. That they were at the mercy of a greater power.

Luckily, I never had to face what the supporters in the Leppings Lane end that day had to face. But there is every chance it could have been me. That’s what made that day scary and that’s why I will always remember where I was on 15 April, 1989.

 

Graeme Souness and the Transformation of Rangers

6 April 1986: Graeme Souness is unveiled as Rangers’ first player-manager at Ibrox Stadium.

It started with five simple words:

“Welcome to the club, Graeme”.

It is hard to believe that five simple words could have such a seismic effect on a grand Scottish institution, the wider sporting environment or indeed Scottish society. But the context of these five words is important. They weren’t just the mumblings of some random guy. They were uttered by the then Rangers Chairman, David Holmes, to the new player-manager Graeme Souness on the day that Rangers announced to the world that they were a sleeping giant no longer.

Graeme Souness’s arrival at Rangers as the club’s first player-manager sparked a period that would be dubbed “The Souness Revolution”. Such a title seems dramatic, but it is a worthy one when you consider his impact on Rangers and the Scottish game in general.

With the benefit of hindsight, and with thirty years having passed from that momentous day, there is an argument to say – with some justification – that Souness’s arrival sparked an attitude and business model that Scottish clubs could ill afford, with Rangers the ultimate casualty. But there is no denying that his time at Rangers is one of the most interesting periods in the history of Scottish football.

The fault lines of the catastrophic summer of 2012 lead back to Souness’s arrival. No Souness; no David Murray. No David Murray; no Craig Whyte. No Craig Whyte… you get the picture.

But to lay the blame for Rangers’ recent ills at the door of Souness is unfair. His arrival invigorated a club that had been in such a slumber it had won as many league titles in the preceding 22 years as Aberdeen had won in the previous seven.

Souness’s arrival would sweep out the lethargy that had consumed the club for the majority of the previous two decades and reverse the slump. That in itself is not an overly unique feat. The key to Souness and his ‘Revolution’ was how he did it.

Mindful of the plight of English clubs and their ban from European competition after the death of 39 fans in the Heysel disaster, Souness saw an opportunity to reverse the age-old trend of Scottish players heading south. He cleverly used the carrot of European football to attract the best that England had to offer – including the captain of the national team at the time – to head north to ply their trade.

The excitement this generated made the weeks and months after Souness’s arrived more exciting than any other period I can remember. Such a scenario developing today is unimaginable and that in itself makes his achievement in attracting these players unique.

Souness had all the qualities that Rangers needed at the time. He was headstrong, he was arrogant, he was determined. He was also, however, naïve and the passage of time would ensure that these character traits would create insurmountable problems that would lead to his exit. His ability to create enemies made it near impossible for him to continue. Initially, however, all his attributes and imperfections served Rangers well.

With Terry Butcher, Chris Woods and Graham Roberts in tow – alongside a healthy contingent of the Scottish lads already at the club – Souness secured Rangers’ first title in nine years at the end of his first season, alongside the Skol League Cup.

The second season saw Souness’s naivety kick-in. His constant tinkering with personnel and some poor player recruitment, mixed with a resurgent Celtic determined to win the title in their centenary year, saw the season end with only the Skol League Cup secured.

Souness, in typical fashion, went away, licked his wounds and came back stronger for the experience.

After Celtic’s title win in ’88, Souness would regain it the following season and never see it leave Ibrox for the rest of his time at the top of the marble staircase with Rangers winning the league title in four out the five years he was in charge. The only domestic trophy he failed to find success in during his reign was the Scottish Cup.

But the trophies only tell half the story of the success of Souness. As mentioned earlier, it was the way he went about things that set him apart. Nothing exemplified this more than when he shook the footballing world its very foundations on the 10th July 1989 – the day Rangers signed Maurice Johnston.

The signing of Johnston was a master stroke from Souness and arguably his greatest act as Rangers manager.

First, and most importantly, it ended a practice that had become an embarrassment for the club.

Second, it knocked Celtic back by a good number of years. It wasn’t until Fergus McCann and Tommy Burns arrived at Celtic Park that the club would again claim silverware. Johnston had inspired Celtic to win the Scottish Cup final in ’89 just by sitting in the stand, having allegedly re-signed for his former club. Souness, who had so often incapacitated opponents through more physical means, took Celtic out the equation for a six-year, trophy-less period by persuading Johnston to reverse that decision and sign on at Ibrox. The pen apparently proved to be mightier than the thighs on this occasion.

10 July 1989: Souness and Mo Johnston stun Scottish football.

Johnston went on to be a very successful Rangers player who was popular among supporters. He opened the door for the likes of Neil McCann and Chris Burke and countless other Catholic players to sign for the club – all of whom have been made very welcome.

Towards the end of his time at Rangers there were signs that things were not well with Souness. He seemed to be constantly clashing with officials, his own players (Roberts, Jan Bartram and McCoist being obvious examples) and even, on one famous occasion, Aggie Moffat, the tea lady at St Johnstone.

But it should be remembered that Souness was incredibly young at the time, his marriage to his first wife was unravelling and he was also, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, seriously ill with a heart condition.

When his time at Ibrox did come to an end in April 1991, not everyone was sad to see him go.

But with the passing of time, and with some mellowing and contrition from the man himself, there is a renewed vigour about Souness among Rangers supporters. Where he once divided opinion, he now appears to have the majority of the supporters at Ibrox back onside. Which is pleasing.

Watching Souness in his role as a pundit on Sky Sports, he cuts the cloth of man who is more relaxed and open-minded about things, which I have to say it suits him. He still has the ability to show some tenacity and I defy anyone to shake his hand and not come away grimacing, but overall he seems to have found a level of contentment on the fringes of the game away from the cut and thrust of things. It is rewarding to see this content and calmer side to him. It enriches his character which was already a fascinating one.

I will always look back fondly at his time in charge. It was a rollercoaster of a ride under him but it was a fantastic time to support Rangers. Big name stars, controversies and famous victories replaced the mediocrity that consumed the club in the early-to-mid-80s, and he made my Rangers-supporting life a far richer and more enjoyable experience.

And anyone who does that is alright by me.

 

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON THE RANGERS STANDARD WEBSITE IN 2016

The Future is Unwritten: 40 Years of the Clash

Paul Simonon, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones adorn the front cover of The Clash’s classic debut album – released 40 years ago today

 

Since the financial crash of 2008 and the age of austerity, and all that came with that, my friends and I have often sat down to chew the fat and commented on the lack of a reaction from the youth of today.

Youth unemployment is at an all-time high,  millions of those young people who have gained employment are having to get by on minimum wage – and those are the lucky ones who have avoided the dreaded zero hour contract scenario – and yet the charts on a Sunday display nothing in terms of discontent. It seems that in a time where there is much to protest about there is nothing coming from the very demographic that has traditionally been the most vocal on such matters.

Instead of protest, the youth culture of today seems to be presenting an image of contentment in its art and music, with Ed Sheeran as its alpha-voice. The less said about that, though, the better.

It was all so different 40 years ago.  If 1976 was considered “year zero” for punk then 1977 can undeniably be declared as its peak. By 1978 it was all gone, the movement having become a parody of itself with Sid Vicious being months away from killing himself, his girlfriend and any notion that punk remained a positive thing.

But in 1977 there were many good things – and one debut album would stand out above many in a year of outstanding music.

The punk movement was a reaction to the grandiose nature of the music scene in the mid-70s. The likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and their extravagant and intricate arrangements had disillusioned many teenagers who could not replicate the complicated chord structures of many bands at the time. Punk’s “three chord” solution appealed to many.

One hippy who was prepared to jump ship to this new movement was one John Graham Mellor. Mellor, born in Turkey, was the son of a British Foreign Office diplomat who attended boarding school and could count Cairo, Mexico and Bonn as places he could consider childhood homes. He was the very embodiment of privilege.

However, his exposure to the boarding school system would also expose him to a power structure and a level of authority that he would resent for the rest of his life, and it would influence his movements and decisions from thereon in. When Mellor became a musician the experience of boarding school would shape him to such an extent that he and his band would be seen as a pivotal “anti-establishment” band, key players in punk’s peak year of 1977 – and arguably the band of that year – and the only band who successfully navigated themselves past ’77 and beyond. For John Graham Mellor was Joe Strummer, and his band, the Clash, whose debut album was released 40 years ago today, would become the voice of a disenchanted youth in 1977.

Strummer’s journey to becoming a punk icon started as a hippy. His band in the early 70s, the 101’ers, had a medium amount of success. But after the seeing the Sex Pistols live Strummer realised his musical journey lay on a different path. After being approached by Bernie Rhodes in May ’76, Strummer joined what would become one of the best bands of all time.

Their early live gigs created a lot of buzz within the punk scene and the Clash, although not quite seen as anything like the stars of punk, the Sex Pistols , were deemed as solid performers. Their impact would not go unnoticed – which would create problems for the Clash before they’d really got started.

On 23 January, the Clash signed to CBS records – a major label. Such a step by a punk band was deemed as sacrilege – and affront to the spirit of the movement. Indeed the main fanzine at the time, sniffin’ glue, described their signing to CBS as “the day punk died”.  Unabated, however, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon entered CBS’s Studio 3 on Whitfield St, London on 10 February 1977.

The album would be recorded over three weekends and produced by Micky Foote. Guy Stevens had been tipped as producer for the album but his work on early Clash demos had been viewed as “lack lustre” and so Foote moved in.

The first problem to deal with in the recording was the lack of a drummer, as the previous incumbent Terry Chimes has already officially left the band. He was persuaded to fill in on the recording sessions but does not appear on the cover shot of the album. To add insult to injury he is credited in the sleeve notes as “Tory Crimes”.

Other issues included the dilapidated state of the band’s equipment. Indeed Strummer’s battered Telecaster guitar was deemed “unrecordable”. He was offered a replacement by CBS but refused. The result was that Strummer’s efforts on rhythm guitar were largely removed from the final version of the album.

The other key component in the Clash is Mick Jones. Hugely influenced in ’77 by The Ramones, New York Dolls, Mick Ronson and The Kinks, his contribution to the Clash’s debut would be key.

He and Strummer would initially write songs individually but they would slowly become a writing team, encouraged by manager Bernie Rhodes. Strummer commented on Rhodes’ involvement by saying: “He didn’t suggest anything specific, just to leave the songs alone and to write about what was important”.

Strummer and Jones met both requirements with vigor – particularly the latter one.

To listen to The Clash is to listen to the anger, angst and concerns of young people of Britain in 1977. From “Career Opportunities” to “I’m So Bored with the USA” to “White Riot”, the major issues affecting the youth at that time are covered.

“White Riot” caused a particular storm. The call to arms was deemed a step too far by the conservative press and drew heavy criticism. The song, which was the album’s lead single, was borne out of the riot which occurred at the Notting Hill Carnival in the August of 1976.

That day had ended with pitch battles between young blacks and the Metropolitan Police. Strummer, Paul Simonon and Bernie Rhodes had been caught up in events – even trying and failing to set fire to an overturned car. This apparent siding with lawlessness drew predicable scorn from the mainstream media. Strummer insisted the song was a reflection of his admiration on how the black community was prepared to stand up for itself in the face of severe provocation. Muddying the waters even further for “White Riot”, however, was the National Front’s claim that the song represented a call to the white youth of the UK to rise and fight. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

The critical response to The Clash was mixed but with an overall air of positivity and it sold well in the UK. America took some time to be convinced, however, with CBS’s American wing only deciding to release it in the U.S after it had sold 100,00 copies on import. The American version would have an updated track listing and include “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” – arguably the Clash’s finest song.

As the album hits its 40th it could be argued that it is more relevant now than ever, with many of the issues it raises still being pertinent today.

When you see America bombing Syria and Theresa May walking uncomfortably close to a bampot President, think of “I’m So Bored of the USA”.

When you see some young guy working in Sports Direct earning minimum wage on a zero hours contract, think of “Career Opportunities”.

When you think of the inequality in the UK and the power being in the hands of the “people rich enough to buy it”, think of “White Riot”.

The Clash” is an undeniable classic album and one that captured the mood of youth culture in the UK in 1977, and many of issues on it are as relevant today as they were 40 years ago. Whether that is a sign of the Clash’s brilliance or society’s inability to solve the same recurring issues from 40 years ago is another issue.

However, the next time you feel our youth are being compromised by our elected politicians then remember Strummer and the Clash and their efforts to speak up for a disaffected youth 40 years ago. And the next time you realise that nobody in today’s music industry is commenting on the horrendous political landscape for the youth of today, think of Ed Sheeran.

They Played At Ibrox

Johan Cruyff

A year ago today football lost one of its finest sons – if not the finest. The death of Johan Cruyff, after a short battle with cancer, deprived the world of arguably one the greatest sporting icons in history, with perhaps only Muhammad Ali eclipsing him.

Cruyff was part of a legendary Ajax team that lit up the game in late 60s and, particularly, in the early 70s. Their “Total Football” style would be the template used by the Dutch international side in the 1974 World Cup in Germany, and it should have been one that won it for them.

Famously a goal up in the final against West Germany before any west German had touched the ball, Holland would somehow contrive to lose the final 2-1 to the hosts and go down with the famous Brazil ’82 side as the greatest sides never to win the competition.

Cruyff would also famously move to Barcelona and secure the Catalan club their first La Liga title for 16 years, but it is the golden era with Ajax between 1971 and 1973, when the Amsterdam club won three consecutive European Cup’s and became world club champions by beating Independiente of Argentina 1-0 in the Intercontinental Cup, that Cruyff is most remembered for.

Picture courtesy of @oldrangerspics

 

And it was during this glorious era when Cruyff and Ajax rocked up Edmiston Drive to the famous old ground on 16 January, 1973 to take part in what would become the European Super Cup. The game was officially organised as part of Rangers’ centenary celebrations, and also to offset the lack of European football that season after Uefa’s ridiculous decision to deny the club the opportunity to defend their European Cup Winners’ Cup title after the trouble in Barcelona, which was largely started by the Spanish police’s overreaction to celebrating fans invading the field after the 3-2 victory against Moscow Dynamo.

When the fixture against Ajax was confirmed, the notion was raised that it could represent a challenge game between the winners of the top two European trophies, and so the game became a two-legged affair to decide the winner.

Ajax were officially the best club side in the world at the time and Rangers would learn the hard way just how good they were.

Over 60,000 supporters crammed into see Rangers take on the Dutch masters and they would not be disappointed – even in the face of defeat.

Ajax took the lead on 34 minutes thanks to a goal by Johnny Rep. But even when he wasn’t scoring them Cruyff was usually involved – and so it was on this occasion as he sent the ball through that allowed rep to put the Amsterdam side 1-0 up.

Rangers were up against it and largely chasing shadows for long periods of the first-half, but incredibly they found a way back into the game through Alex MacDonald on the 40th minute. Alfie Conn the supplier who allowed wee “Doddie” the opportunity to shoot low and hard past the Ajax keeper Heinz Stuy and in off the post.

Rangers it seemed were back in the game, but such was the mastery of this Ajax side, and it’s talismanic leader, parity was held for a mere four minutes before Cruyff struck what could be considered the goal of the night and one that would have graced any occasion.

Cruyff scores at Ibrox in January 1973. Big Derek Johnstone, having being sold a dummy by Cruyff, is out of the shot.

 

Put through on goal but heading wide, Cruyff was set to shoot with his right foot. Sensing the danger, Derek Johnston went in to block him. In a moment of Cruyff mastery, he dragged the ball back away from Johnstone and onto his left-foot, then shot past the now exposed and helpless Peter McCloy.

Rangers made a change for the second-half, with Alfie Conn departing to make way for Tommy McLean and it was a moved that paid dividend for Rangers as they enjoyed their best period in the match and dominated the European and world club champions.

Indeed Derek Johnstone, John Greig, Quinton Young and Derek Parlane all had great chances to score and bring Rangers back into the game and tie, but Ajax weathered the considerable Rangers storm and put the game and tie to bed on 71 minutes when Arie Haan made it 3-1 after running onto a through ball from Barrie Hulshoff.

Despite the result the home support stayed on after the final whistle to cheer their heroes and the firework display that had been arranged as part of the centenary celebrations.

Cruyff heaped praise on Rangers after the game stating: “Our first 45 minutes were the best we’ve played all season. We were well on top then, but in the second-half Rangers really came at us.

“They are a young side. When they get more international experiences they can really go places. I like the full-back Jardine. Greig is good, too. Forsyth impressed me and the substitute McLean is obviously a good player”.

Manager Jock Wallace was blunt in his assessment of the game: “The difference between the two sides was that Ajax took their chances and we didn’t. If we can take them in Amsterdam, I still think we can win. The Dutch team are definitely world class and I was pleased at the way our lads went at them”.

The second-leg would prove no easier on Rangers who would perform well on the night but go down again 3-2 meaning Ajax were crowned as winners of the inaugural European Super Cup – their supremacy in European and world football undeniable and unchallenged. At forefront of that side was the genius that was Johan Cruyff. Iconic, gifted and strongly opinionated to the point of stubbornness in his belief in how the game should be played.

He was a true giant of the game, and the Bears who were lucky enough to witness him display his talent on that cold January night in Govan 44 years ago, witnessed a true giant of the game in action.

 

Centenary/Super Cup Challenge Match 

Ibrox Park, 16 January, 1973

Rangers 1 Ajax 3

Scorers

Rangers – MacDonald (40)

Ajax – Rep (34), Cruyff (44), Haan (71)

Rangers

McCloy, Jardine, Mathieson, Greig, Johnstone, Smith, Conn, Forsyth, Parlane, MacDonald, Young.

Ajax

Stuy, Suurbier, Hulshoff, Blankenberg, Krol, G. Muhren, Haan, A. Murhen, Rep, Cruyff, Keizer.

Referee

McKenzie – Larbert