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.

 

 

 

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.

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