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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Diary

Delight in Dingwall

It was far from convincing at times, but it can’t be denied that Rangers securing three points on Sunday in Dingwall against Ross County was very welcome.

Rangers, and Pedro Caixinha in particularly, had been under a bit of pressure after dropping five points in two consecutive home games against Hibs and then Hearts. So victory against the Highlanders came at the right time.

There were definitely some positives to take from Sunday. The goal-scoring form of Alfredo Morelos is a definitely something to take heart from. The Columbian’s two goals took his total to five in seven games for Rangers – a very decent foundation for better things, we hope.

It was also good to see Eduardo Herrera get off the mark. The big Mexican has looked laboured at times since arriving at Ibrox. Netting his first goal will hopefully give him some confidence and the springboard to go and get some more.

Causes for concern are still there though and we are definitely still a work in progress.

The fleeting appearances of Carlos Peña continue to raise more questions than answers. It is early days, but as things stand there is little evidence to suggest he is worth the £2.7m we forked out for the Mexican internationalist. Hopefully as the games tot up and his fitness improves he’ll become the player we all want him to be.

I also have concerns about Fabio Cardoso who has still to really convince at the heart of the defence, and I would also like to see more of the Graham Dorrans we saw on the opening game of the season at Motherwell.  But these are kinks that can hopefully be ironed out.

It’s undoubtedly been a stuttering start to the campaign, but September provides a great opportunity for Rangers to gain a good few points. With Dundee at home and Thistle and Hamilton away in the league, there is an opportunity to get maximum points from these games. Win our other home game in September against our cherished neighbours from across the city and all of a sudden it’s been a real good month and Pedro has gone some way to convincing the doubters.

 

Pedro bites back

We all know that Chris Sutton is a buffoon. He acted like one as player – particularly when he claimed on live TV that Dunfermline had chucked in the towel deliberately against Rangers in the last game of the 2002/03 campaign to hand Alex McLeish’s men the title – and he continues to act like one in his punditry role.

His style of being deliberately and needlessly controversial is tedious and his patter with his partner in crime Terry Butcher is truly awful. BT Sports could do a lot worse than to review the pundits covering their Scottish coverage.

But regardless of how crass Sutton can be, even I was taken aback by his questioning of Pedro Caixinha on Sunday at Dingwall. At times during his aggressive and obnoxious grilling of Pedro you had to remind yourself that Rangers had indeed won the game – and not only that, closed the gap on Celtic by two points.

Compare and contrast Sutton and BT’s attack on Pedro, whose team had won, compared with Sky’s line of questioning of Arsène Wenger, whose team had been thumped again, produced a woeful performance and had lost their second game in a row. Wenger was asked some difficult questions – but they were relevant to the game and were asked respectfully.

Sutton’s line of questioning focused on Pedro’s squad compared to Celtic’s – a team that weren’t even playing on the day. That tells you all you need to know about his motivation. What made it worse was that two former Rangers players – one a so called legend – stood there and said nothing to back Pedro up.

Admittedly Pedro doesn’t help himself at times. His needless and crass comments on Michael O’Halloran are testament to that. But that is no excuse for the bankrupt pig farmer to blatantly attempt to undermine and humiliate him live on TV.

As stated earlier, BT Sports would do well to review what it is they want from their pundits, because in this world of free streams of almost any game you want to watch being plentiful, the gutter standard of Sutton and Butcher will drive many BT subscribers elsewhere.

The best there is, was and ever will be

Last week saw the draw for this season’s Champions League. Unfortunately we are still some way off participating in this tournament, however it is worth noting that this year sees the 25th anniversary of Rangers momentous and unbeaten European campaign of 92/93 when they became the first British club to compete the in the revamped Champions League.

The run would see Rangers go on a ten game unbeaten run and come within a GOAL of reaching the final where they would have taken on the mighty but ailing AC Milan.

The campaign would also see Rangers defeat the champions of England Leeds Utd – home and away – and go two games undefeated against eventual winners and European footballs biggest spenders at the time, Marseille. And remember, all this with a three foreigner rule forbidding you from buying in foreign exports. Now that’s what I call ‘invincible’.

The season will forever be my favourite as Rangers supporter, and it gave me most memorable evening at Ibrox in the game against Leeds Utd. I know Ibrox can noisy on most big European nights, but this was another level. A truly marvellous occasion that I take great pride in being part of.

Those famous European nights will not go without comment on this site over the next few months – so keep your eye out for some great Champions League memories!

Davie Cooper: He Played For The Club I Love

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Davie Cooper looking resplendent in THAT classic away kit.

Today is my birthday. I am 42. I sometimes wonder where the time has gone. My life now seems to be a repeating cycle of work, school runs and ferrying my kids to various activities. It was all so different 20 years ago when I was still young, relatively responsibility free and with my full life in front of me – not to mention having a lot more hair and a loss less girth around my waist.

But 20 years ago today any thoughts of being in a celebratory frame of mind were put firmly on the shelf by the news that Davie Cooper, my boyhood Rangers hero, had died suddenly at the age of 39. To add an extra eeriness to proceedings, Cooper had not only died on my birthday, but he had died in the hospital I was born in – Glasgow’s Southern General.

What made Cooper’s passing so symbolic for me, and thousands of other Rangers supporters of a similar age, was that for a long period through my childhood in the 80s he was all I had in the bragging rights category. He was the only thing I could bring up in the playground from a Rangers perspective that I KNEW my detractors would have no come back from. He was also the only thing I really looked forward to on a visit to Ibrox on match-day.

If truth be known, he wasn’t really my first Rangers idol. When my dad had started taking me to the games John Greig was the manager and Cooper was a peripheral figure, frequently stuck on the side-lines looking sulky and more than a tad overweight. So the honour of my first Rangers player infatuation went to Andrew Kennedy. I saw him score once against Dundee United on Football Focus and he was young and trendy enough looking to be considered – in my eyes anyway – Rangers’ version of Charlie Nicholas. So whilst Celtic fans at school played out scenarios where they were Charlie Nicholas – I countered that by pretending to be Andy Kennedy. If anyone asked who he was, I just retorted stubbornly: “He scored against Dundee Utd!”

What became of Kennedy I am not quite sure, but what became of Cooper was largely down to the disastrous start to the 1983/84 campaign that let to John Greig being relieved of his duties as Rangers manager and being replaced by Jock Wallace. Wallace reinstalled Cooper as an integral part of his side and my childhood would never be the same again. From that point in late 1983 until he left Rangers in 1989, he represented everything I felt a Ranger should be.

Wallace’s return initially reinvigorated Rangers, but unfortunately the success Big Jock enjoyed in his first-term as manager would not return. However, there were moments of joy to savour from Cooper and it became an accepted notion that he was the only player at Ibrox at the time worthy of the jersey.

In this period, Saturday nights watching Sportscene when Rangers were on was basically a 30 minute Cooper-watch for me and anytime my dad managed to get me to Ibrox it was the same. I would actually spend long periods looking at Cooper when the action was elsewhere. Every game you waited to see a wee glimpse of magic from him – and he would more often than not provide you with something.

In one game against Dundee Utd in January 1985, I was sat in the Govan front, frozen and bored out my nut as a drab 0-0 draw unfolded. The only thing that got my bum off my seat that day was Cooper’s performance. He ran riot. In one piece of outrageous skill on the touchline right in front of me, he approached Eamonn Bannon and Maurice Malpas. At one point Bannon looked to Malpas as if to say “we have him”, then out of nothing Cooper popped the ball through one of their legs with the outside of his left foot, ran between the smallest of gaps between the two of them and ran on to put a cross onto the box. It is a moment that I will remember if I live to see another 42 years and the kind of moment that childhood heroes are built upon. He made me remember the day despite it being an instantly forgettable game.

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Now you see me, now you don’t: Cooper makes a mockery of Malpas and Bannon’s efforts at defending – and makes my day of sitting in a cold Govan stand watching a 0-0 draw memorable.

One of my all-time favourite moments from Cooper, despite not being at the game, was when Rangers managed to come away from Celtic Park with a more than credible 1-1 draw in December 1984. As was the custom for games we weren’t attending, my dad and I listened to it on the radio. Rangers, huge underdogs at the time, performed magnificently but trailed for most of the game through an 11th minute Brian McClair goal. A perfectly good goal by John MacDonald was disallowed, Cammy Fraser managed to miss a penalty that Cooper had won and, yet again, it seemed that Rangers were set to lose to their Old Firm rivals. Then Cooper stepped up.

With four minutes left, Ted McMinn floated in a cross. Pat Bonner came off his line when he shouldn’t have and his weak punch landed at Cooper who chested it, set himself and then struck it past Bonner and two despairing defenders on the line. My dad and I jumped about the kitchen as if we’d won the lottery. Yet again, Cooper had contributed to my Rangers supporting life. Watching the highlights on the telly that night was a joy. As Cooper ran away to celebrate, he was hoisted up by a teenage Derek Ferguson as Archie Macpherson hollered: “Davie Cooper gets the goal for Rangers, which they so thoroughly deserve at this stage!” Archie’s words resonated with me. Not only had we not been turned over, but we had outperformed them on their own midden. And it was one of our own who had saved the day.

When Jock Wallace was eventually removed as Rangers manager in the spring of 1986 and replaced by Graeme Souness, it invigorated Cooper further still, to the extent of him giving arguably his best year in a Rangers jersey. The arrival of Terry Butcher and the likes gave Cooper the breathing space he had not enjoyed in previous years, as the responsibility and burden was shared more evenly throughout the squad. He revelled in it and was a pivotal part of the first championship winning side in nine years. Whether it was setting up Ian Durrant with a sublime reverse pass in a famous Old Firm victory, scoring an outrageous goal at Tynecastle, scoring the winner in the Skol Cup Final against Celtic or running amok against Boavista – Davie Cooper demonstrated again in that 1986/87 season just how great a player he was. He rose to the occasion and accepted the challenge set down by Souness’ arrival. Souness still refers to him today as one of the most skilful players he has come across – high praise indeed.

The following season gave the first signs that age was catching up with him. Rangers signed Trevor Francis and Mark Walters, and Cooper gradually found himself sitting on the bench more and more. But even then he still produced a moment that will be in the memory forever with his free-kick in the Skol Cup Final in 1987.

That was the first final I attended. I was stood in the traditional Rangers end when he let fly with a shot of such power that it had hit the net and come back out before Jim Leighton reacted. It was another moment of pure Cooper magic, but it was his last real significant act as a Rangers player. He struggled to get in the team was moved on to Motherwell in 1989 – ending a 12 year association with the club.

The arrival of Souness and his expensive players meant that Cooper went with little fuss or publicity. If he’d left four or five years earlier there would have been wakes held in every Rangers supporting house in the land. As it was, he left quietly, almost unnoticed. I was guilty of shrugging my shoulders when he left. I was disappointed, but not gutted. When I look back, it was not how it should have been. I should have at least been more mindful to what he had offered to Rangers in the dark days of the early to mid-eighties.

Those dark days are back again and my own son, who is nine, seems to “enjoying” something similar to my childhood experience of supporting Rangers. We both sat on the couch to watch the victory against Hibs on Sunday, dancing about the living-room on going 2-0 up in a way very similar to the way my dad and I danced about the kitchen that day Cooper saved us at Celtic Park.

But I look at my boy’s experience of supporting his club and feel he is so unlucky compared to me. We were both served dismal Rangers sides as kids, but he doesn’t have a Cooper to turn to for moments of sheer joy when the rest are serving up the usual mediocrity. He doesn’t really have a hero who’ll provide him with moments he’ll remember well into adult life.

I did – and I will always be thankful to Davie Cooper for that

 

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON THE RANGERS STANDARD WEBSITE IN 2015

The Diary

Impressive Start for Pedro

Pedro takes to the stage before his managerial debut against Hamilton.

Although a certain amount of context needs to be applied given the run that the opposition are currently enduring, it is hard to come to any other conclusion other than Pedro Caixinha had what could be considered a very productive debut at Ibrox on Saturday.

Granted, Hamilton are in wretched form at the moment, and fighting for their lives in the top tier, but there were enough signs to suggest that even in the few days that Caixinha had access to his players he has managed to get his message across.

Right from the off Rangers looked in the mood and played with a far higher tempo and purpose compared to what the team was playing like under Warburton. Caixinha’s influence was such that I would argue that Tavernier and Waghorn had their best games in a Rangers jersey for a long time, and Toral also looked something like a player who was once on the books at Barcelona – something I cannot say he has convinced me of to date.

Martyn Waghorn, who enjoyed his best game in a Rangers jersey for a long time, scores the third from the penalty spot.

There is obviously a long way to go, and far bigger tests to come, but if Saturday is an example of what have to look forward to under Caixinha then you would have to argue that the race for second place may yet still have some life in it, and the semi-final against Celtic could provide an opportunity to really derail their attempt to win the treble.

After a wretched few months, the season finale suddenly looks like it might contain a little bit of hope.

Stewart Moves to Pastures New

Jim Stewart in his playing days at Ibrox.

There is always a possibility of casualties in the coaching staff when a new manager arrives, even still I have to admit I was saddened to hear that Jim Stewart had been relieved of his duties as goalkeeping coach by the new manager Pedro Caixinha.

Stewart, who of course played for Rangers in the early 80s, has, in my opinion, been a success in the role he has occupied since returning to the club in 2007. Indeed I would argue that all the keepers that Stewart looked after in his time improved under him with the exception of Cammy Bell and Steve Simonsen, who both had indifferent times between the sticks for the club.

Stewart was the first goalkeeper of my Rangers supporting life. I was only young but my memories of Stewart are that he was a very decent goalkeeper in a struggling side at the time.

Bad day at the office: Stewart lets in that goal v Celtic in 1983.

He had a few great saves in his time at Ibrox, most notably a point-blank save against Gordon Strachan in the Scottish Cup final in 1981, but, unfortunately for Stewart, he is probably best remembered for letting a Charlie Nicholas effort somehow go through his arms and into the net, allowing Celtic a 2-1 victory in the traditional Ner’day fixture of 1983. Not long after that he was displaced from the No 1 jersey by an ageing Peter McCloy and never really made a serious stake for the jersey again, moving on in 1984 after the arrival of Nicky Walker.

Despite the Nicholas howler he remained a popular figure amongst the fans and I’m sure there aren’t many who don’t wish the big man well as he moves on to pastures new.

He Played for the Club He Loved

Incredibly this week will mark the 22nd anniversary of the sudden death of the late, great Davie Cooper. For all of us who were lucky enough to see him, Cooper represents everything that a Ranger should be and for him to be taken from us at the tragically young age of 39, and whilst still plying his trade as a professional footballer, is still hard to take today.

Like many others, on hearing the news I made the trek to Ibrox to lay a scarf down as a sign of respect. On arriving at the ground I couldn’t believe the vast amount of scarves, flowers and shirts etc that were left in his honour. Indeed, such was the vastness of the tributes left outside the stadium it actually provided the club with a headache in terms of what to do with them once the mourning period had passed. If memory serves me correct, they were passed on to charity.

I also travelled to Hamilton for Cooper’s funeral, lining the streets with thousands of others to get a glimpse of his final journey. It was an incredibly sad day. Arriving at the town you would have thought there was a game on such was throng of people roaming the streets, many wearing their Rangers colours. The feeling of sadness on the day was only surpassed by how stunned everyone was at turn of events that had just unfolded.

Cooper was a one-off who gave all who seen him memories that we will remember for the rest of their lives. But more importantly, Cooper showed that you could have great ability without the need to be arrogant or flashy. Cooper was a humble and modest character who didn’t seek the limelight or fame, and was at his happiest when he was in the company of his friends and family.

In an age where even the most mediocre of talent inflates the bank balances and egos of very average players, Cooper is a reminder of a time when that wasn’t the case. He had the opportunity to play in England but only had eyes for the “the club he loved”.

The modern game is sadder without characters like him, both in terms of ability and humility.

Oh Barry, Barry…

At the time of writing it appears that Barry Ferguson is favourite to become Pedro Caixinha’s assistant. The word appears to suggest that Ferguson performed well at the interview and that the position is “his to lose”.

This has resulted in some dismay amongst the Rangers Twitter-atti, with many being quite vociferous in their protestations at the prospect of Ferguson being fitted out for his club issued brown brogues.

Le Guen and Ferguson: One was a great servant to Rangers, the other not so much. I know whose side I’m on.

Quite why anyone wouldn’t want the winner of 15 major honours, the last captain to lead us to the treble and the last captain to lead us out in a European final to return to the club is beyond me, but apparently Ferguson’s behaviour during the Paul le Guen era is one reason being cited for Ferguson not being allowed to return.

My view on this is simple: where is the visionary genius le Guen now? The criticism would be valid if le Guen had gone on to show he was a top drawer manager elsewhere, but the fact remains that he vanished off the face of the earth. Have these people who question Ferguson’s behaviour through this period considered the possibility that Ferguson was right about le Guen? Given le Guen’s failure to make it as a top coach, it is surely a possibility that at least has to be considered?

Kris Boyd lets his feelings known during the le Guen/Ferguson spat.

Either way, if Ferguson is appointed, as seems will be the case, then I will welcome him with open arms. He remains the best player this country has produced in a generation and one that the club should be using in some capacity on the coaching front.

 

 

The Diary

Up the Hill Backwards

With a combined age of 76, the Jack and Victor of Rangers show that they are very much Still Game.

It is undeniable that there has been very little to be happy about this season, so the last gasp goal by Clint Hill on Sunday provided a glint of joy in what has been a bitterly disappointing league campaign.

I have not been shy in criticising the shortfalls of many of the players this season, so it is only fair to dish out the credit when it is due – and it is due after that performance at the home of our greatest rivals.

Without anyone having what I would consider an outstanding game, it is hard to deny that there was a purpose and togetherness about the performance against Celtic – and you would have to heap praise on Graeme Murty for that.

Unlike our last visit to Celtic Park where we looked dishevelled and unorganised to the point of a humping, on Sunday we looked solid, organised and focused, and you would have to argue that Murty’s change in formation to a 4-4-2 paid off.

Indeed, were not for us passing up some golden goal scoring opportunities then it may well be that we could have come away with all three points. There were periods in the game, specifically just before and after half-time – when Celtic looked like they were about to turn the screw and push on. But we held on and come the 65-70 minute mark, you started to feel that the players were growing in confidence and returning to the standard they had displayed in the earlier stages of the game.

The “controversy” over the penalty is as manufactured as it gets. It was certainly no “stonewaller”, and Hill definitely made contact with the ball. The claim by Michael Stewart on Sportscene that Hill had “gone through the man” to get the ball was nonsense. He made contact with Griffiths – but was it enough for a penalty? I’m not convinced.

But the reaction from Rodgers, Griffiths and the rest is typical of Celtic Football Club. Their mentality on these issues is disturbing and slightly sinister at times. Thirty odd points clear, on for a sixth successive title, Rangers in their first season back in the top tier for four years after being flushed to the lower leagues and yet despite this outrageously dominant position they still harbour a “victim” mentality. Not only is this double stance a walking contradiction, it is an insult to every team that takes points off them. Because these protests of “institutional bias” are guaranteed every time Celtic drop points or get put out of a cup competition. As I said earlier, it is slightly sinister and more tedious than Uncle Albert’s “during the war” yarns.

But enough about them. We deserved at least a point on Sunday and the way it was achieved made it all the more sweeter. Hopefully the team can build on it and still put a challenge in for second spot.

A Feeling of Déjà vu

I have to say that a few weeks ago I was fearful of the fixture coming up against Celtic on Sunday. The defeat and shambolic performance at Dens Park was a particularly bad day that made me shiver at the prospect of facing Brendan Rodgers’ side. However, as the days and weeks went past the mood started to change.

The 3-2 victory against St Johnstone provided me with a little bit of hope. Yes there were issues in our game management that night after squandering a two goal lead, but overall the performance was very impressive. By the time the sixth goal had gone against Hamilton a week before we travelled to Celtic Park then the majority of the fear had abated. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think we were going to go over the other side of the city and romp to victory. But I definitely saw signs of hope that made me think a good performance and coming away undefeated was not beyond the realms of impossibility.

This got me thinking back to previous occasions we travelled to their midden expecting to take a hiding and coming away with a decent result, and one game stood out from the 1984-85 campaign.

Derek Johnstone (right), Alan McInally and Stuart Munro battle for the ball as Rangers defy the odds and earn a draw with nine men at Celtic Park. (Picture courtesy of Old Rangers Pics)

Rangers travelled to Celtic Park on 1 May, 1985 with their season lying in tatters and, much like the scenario on Sunday, playing mostly for pride. Celtic on the other hand were in a title battle with Aberdeen and need to win to keep the heat on the leaders.

The game would be one of the most bad tempered matches between he two clubs in years with Rangers finishing the game with nine men after Davie Cooper and Ally Dawson were sent off.

The game started with a bang, with Celtic being awarded a penalty inside of two minutes for a foul on Maurice Johnston by Dave McPherson. As Roy Aitken ran up to take the spot kick the ball blew off the spot and he had to replace it. On his second attempt he blasted the ball past Peter McCloy – however referee Bob Valentine ruled that the ball had moved again and ordered a re-take. Aitken drilled his second kick off the legs of McCloy and Rangers escaped going a goal down very early in the match.

The teams went in at half-time goalless, but it would be the second-half when things would really kick off. Firstly, Peter Grant was booked for a foul on Davie Cooper five minutes after the restart. A minute later Cooper retaliated with a tackle that saw him receive his second booking of the night and sent off – it was his first red card for three years, when he was sent off in a reserve game against St Mirren.

In the 60th minute Celtic took the lead through Alan “Rambo” McInally after Peter McCloy had failed to hold a Johnston shot.

One down and up against it, Rangers problems escalated even further when Ally Dawson joined Cooper in the dressing room after clashing with Maurice Johnston. Johnston was booked for his part in the clash – but Dawson saw red and Rangers were down to nine.

Against all odds, McCoist gets Rangers equaliser from the spot and all but kills off Celtic’s title hopes.

But like the game Sunday, Rangers dug deep and with 13 minutes to go were handed route back into the game after Roy Aitken handled in the box. Ally McCoist stepped up to take the resultant penalty and Rangers, incredibly, were staring at the possibility of taking something from the game with nine men.

Davie Provan hit the post in the closing stages, but despite facing a two man disadvantage Rangers held on and all but killed off Celtic’s hopes of winning the title that season.

Unfortunately Clint Hill’s goal on Sunday will have nowhere near as big an impact on Celtic’s title challenge this year as McCoist’s did that night – but it still felt good and validated my feelings that we might just get something against our nearest and dearest.

 

Welcome to Ibrox, Pedro.

 

After what seemed like an age the club finally unveiled Pedro Caixinha as the new manager last week. I can’t claim to know too much about his career outside of the mandatory Google search once he was raised as a possible appointment, and I also can’t claim he was anywhere near my wish-list of potential applicants for the vacant post.

But he is here now and he deserves our full support as he tries to take club on the next stage of its footballing recovery from the hell that as been the last four years or so.

Caixinha seems to represent this board’s determination to move away from the traditional route of selecting managers. This is their second “leftfield” appointment, with the first Warburton having what can only be described as mixed success.

Pedro Caixinha takes his first look at Ibrox stadium as manager.

Appointments such as Caixinha’s have the potential to an outrageous success, where you are hailed for having unearthed a gem – or disastrously wrong, where you will be vilified for making such a risky appointment. Only time will tell what category Caixinha falls in to.

The other outstanding issue is, of course, the Director of Football role which was turned down by Ross Wilson, who decided to stay in his current role at Southampton. Paul Mitchell has also been suggested as a possible candidate and the clubs managing director, Stewart Robinson, went on record on Monday to say that the club was in no rush to fill the position now that Caixinha is in place.

Without trying to be too critical of the club, the current situation is not what I would call ideal. The board suffer very public knockback from Wilson and then suddenly there is no rush to fill the post? I can’t say that I’m convinced by that narrative.

However, the main issue is not the process – but that the appointment they do make is the right one.

Robertson was keen to suggest that the appointment doesn’t necessarily have to be a former player. I have to say that at the start of this process I was quite keen to see someone who had the club in their heart take one of the two posts. Now one is filled, I would like to see someone who knows and understands the club take the other one. Some would point to Davie Weir as an argument to suggest that having a “club man” in there can be largely irrelevant to performances and results. But I would point to countless other examples where a Rangers man guided someone who didn’t know Rangers or Scottish football so well, and most pointedly to Walter Smith when he was Graeme Souness’s assistant.

Walter Smith proved a vital source of information for Graeme Souness – should Pedro Caixinha be provided with a similar figure at the club?

Souness, by his own admission, knew little about Scottish football having exclusively played all of his professional football outside the country of his birth. Smith proved invaluable to Souness during his time at the club, particularly in the early days when Souness, who was not only new to Scottish football but new to management, needed an experienced hand to guide him through the many challenges he faced.

I think Caixinha would benefit hugely if he had someone there who knew Rangers inside out. I hope the club come to the same conclusion.

Showing His True Colours

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As most Rangers fans will know, Graham Spiers is not a person that we would consider a friend of the club. But even by his own, gutter-like standards, the above tweet defies reason.

Quite why Spiers, who is prone to serious bouts of being overly offended if a Rangers fan so much as breaks wind at Ibrox, felt it was appropriate to publically engage with a man who sees no issue with mocking the disabled is anyone’s guess. But if that wasn’t bad enough, when Stewart Franklin from Gersnet called him out on his twitter buds tasteless moniker, Spiers suggested that it was merely ‘dark humour’ and that anyone taking an issue with it should calm down.

Now if a Rangers supporter with a twitter handle that mocked, say, Billy McNeill’s condition, does anyone think for a minute that Spiers would put such a tasteless act down to “dark humour”? No, me neither. And nor should he. That’s what makes his  defence of this reptile and his sense of humour a disgrace.

But then should we expect anything else? Spiers is the worst kind of journalist – one who seeks to appeal to the populist agenda. It has been obvious for some time now that he himself feels he got too close to David Murray when he as chairman of Rangers, and in trying to redress the balance he is obviously prepared to go some distance.

The Herald was right to sack him for his nonsense last year when he ran a story about a Rangers director he couldn’t substantiate. And the current ban on his press privileges at Ibrox should be increased to a life ban with immediate effect.

Separated at Birth?

I can’t have been the only one to notice the extremely bitter ball-girl and her reaction to Clint Hill’s equaliser on Sunday. The look of pure hatred on her face as Kenny Miller and Hill celebrated in the goal was truly something to behold. I honestly don’t think I’ve laughed so much since Paul Lambert lost several teeth whilst conceding a penalty against us a few years back.

Ball-girl: Celtic fan prone to public outbursts and displays of hatred towards Rangers.

I also can’t have been the only one who noticed the likeness between the said ball-girl and well-known Rangers hater Angela Haggerty. Can anyone corroborate the whereabouts of Ms Hagerty at the time of Hill sticking the ball in the onion bag? Are the Sunday Herald aware that their star columnist is potentially moonlighting with another employer? Do we even care? Probably not.

Haggerty: “Respected” journalist and broadcaster.

Either way, take a look and decide for yourselves.

 

 

 

The Diary

Greig and McNeill: Scottish Football’s Ali and Frazier.

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John Greig and Billy McNeill lead Rangers and Celtic out to do battle once again.

The weekend brought about the sad news that former Celtic captain and manager Billy McNeill was seriously ill with dementia. Rumours have been circulating for a good while now about the McNeil’s health, so although the news was not totally unexpected it was no less sad to hear.

McNeill is of course a legend within the Celtic support. The first captain from a British club side to lift the European Cup, captain through all of Stein’s nine successive championships – he is probably the very embodiment of Celtic to many of their supporters.

McNeill, however, is also part of a double act that was arguably a symbol of the greatest peak in the rivalry between Rangers and Celtic. As whilst McNeill was doing his thing with Celtic, we had John Greig doing his thing for us.

Both would compete many times against each other, and despite being on the opposite sides of the Old Firm rivalry they have so much in common. Their impact on each of their clubs is so huge that it is hard to imagine both clubs ever having figures of such stature leading them in to battle against one another again. Time will undoubtedly look back on the Greig and McNeill eras at Rangers and Celtic as the peak of both clubs statures and arguably peaks they will never again scale.

Greig was part of what is largely considered to be the greatest Rangers side of all time; Scot Symon’s all-conquering side of the early 60s.  The treble winning side of 1963-64 is particularly revered and it is not unreasonable to argue that the famous team of Ritchie; Shearer, Caldow; Greig, McKinnon, Baxter; Henderson, McMillan, Millar, Brand & Wilson could have been the first British team to win the European Cup were it not for fate intervening during a eventful game in Vienna against Rapid.

A goal up from the first-leg, Rangers were in inspired form in the return leg leading 2-0 and on their way to the quarter-finals when Rapid’s full-back Walter Skocik’s frustrations at Jim Baxter’s masterful performance on the night led to him breaking Slim Jim’s leg with a shocking tackle. Rangers were through – but at a heavy cost. Stripped of their influential midfielder for the quarter-final ties against Inter Milan, Rangers would narrowly lose out and the chance to conquer Europe was gone. Baxter would never be the same player again and with the arrival of Stein at Celtic the balance in power was about to shift towards the east end of Glasgow.

Stein would create what was considered the greatest Celtic side of all time – and Billy McNeill was its captain and leader. From 1966 to 1975 the club and McNeill would enjoy huge success domestically. There would also be the small matter of Lisbon in 1967, and a narrow miss in a second European Cup final against Feyenoord in 1970.

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Greig and McNeill get ready to do battle for yet another trophy.

A week after McNeill was winning in Lisbon, Greig would feel the pain of defeat in a European final against Bayern Munich in the European Cup Winners’ Cup in Nuremburg. But five years later he would match McNeill’s feat of leading his club to European success against Moscow Dynamo on that famous night in Barcelona.

McNeill played for Celtic between 1957 and 1975, amassing 486 appearances and scoring 22 goals. Greig arrived at Rangers at Rangers four years later in 1961 and hung about three years later until 1978, totalling 498 appearances and scoring 87 goals for the club.

McNeill won nine league titles, seven Scottish Cups, six League Cups and a European Cup. Greig’s haul included five league titles, six Scottish Cups, five league cups and that European Cup Winners’ Cup success.

Greig would represent Rangers in two European Cup Winners’ Cup finals and the first ever European Super Cup final, McNeill would take Celtic to two European Cup finals. Both men would also go on to manage their respective clubs.

The two men became icons for the supporters of each club, and statues for both men can be found at their respective clubs stadiums. They are, and maybe always will be, the Ali–Frazier heavyweights of Scottish football. Shining beacons of when both clubs were so big and successful that over 200,000 people attended European semi-finals at Ibrox and Celtic Park on the same night back in 1972.

Greig’s Rangers would progress on that night to the European Cup Winners’ Cup final with victory against Bayern Munich – arguably the clubs greatest result, and one achieved without Greig who missed the game through injury. McNeill’s Celtic exited the European Cup that night on penalties against Inter Milan and it is arguably the night that Celtic’s claim to being a “European power” started to wane. One thing, however, is certain about that night – Glasgow will probably never see another night like it.

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40 years after the Ibrox disaster – McNeill and Greig walk onto the pitch at Ibrox to remember the 66 victims.

Despite the obvious rivalry between Greig and McNeill, there always appears to have been a healthy respect, if not an outright friendship, between the pair. The most recent public appearance from the two was at the 40th anniversary of the Ibrox disaster where both men, who captained their respective clubs that day in 1971, came out side-by-side holding a wreath in memory of the 66 fans who lost their lives.

Greig and McNeill are a reminder of all that was positive about the Old Firm rivalry. I use the past tense deliberately as, despite the religious nature of the rivalry being diluted in recent years, it seems to me that it is currently in a period when it has never been so bitter.

Greig and McNeill loved their clubs and were totally committed to winning as many honours as possible for them. Yet they have an image of two guys who would shake hands at the end of the heavy battle and get on with life again. They led their clubs to many domestic successes and also enjoyed many great adventures and successes in Europe. As I said earlier, I can’t imagine either club getting back to the level of consistency in Europe that both these players led their clubs through.

They truly are legends of the Scottish game and arguably the most symbolic icons of their respective clubs.

So to hear that one of them isn’t keeping too well is very sad. And I’m sure everyone connected to Rangers wishes Billy and his family well in his fight.

 

Another low in the Highlands

It was yet more pain on Friday night as Rangers reached a new low in the Highlands by contriving to lose to bottom club Inverness Caley Thistle.

He may now have left the building, but the issues that dogged us for long periods during Mark Warburton’s reign appear to have decided to hang around for a bit longer.

Long periods of possession and ball retention (at one stage we had an 80% possession rate) coupled with an inability to get behind teams and break them down is bad enough. But when you add our inability to defend then you have serious problems. And so it turned out to be.

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Billy McKay takes advantage of some more atrocious Rangers defending to give Inverness Caley Thistle a late goal and all three points on Friday.

Despite Martyn Waghorn scoring his fourth league goal of the season, and the first against a club that wasn’t Hamilton Accies, we contrived lose two goals that would be an embarrassment for my lads U12s side and yet another three points were squandered, making second place look highly unlikely.

It seems at the moment that the club is willing to take short-term pain in order to achieve long-term gain. The search for our new manager has not yet proved fruitful, although at the time of writing it appears that Ross Wilson is close to being announced as the new Director of Football.

That would be a positive announcement but regardless It kinda feels that we want the season over with already. The Scottish Cup is still there to play for but the season already feels like it’s now about consolidating and focussing on next year.

The Board have a duty now to make sure that the next appointment and the direction they decide to take on the footballing side is it the right one. We simply can’t afford another season that sees us 30 plus points off the top of the table and scrapping for third place.

The next few weeks should be very interesting.

 

Fergie #1

The weekend saw former Rangers captain Barry Ferguson depart from his role as manager of Clyde. The timing of it was enough to set the rumour mill off on turbo speed max. Ex-Ranger vacates his post, Rangers job currently vacant – there was only going to be one outcome and that was huge amounts of speculation.

Now I have to admit that I am unconvinced that Ferguson is the man that Rangers need right now, but I have to say that the level of vitriol aimed at our former captain when this possibility was aired left me shocked an disappointed. But then for some reason Ferguson has always been able to drag the worst out of a lot of Rangers supporters.

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Wee Barry provides evidence that he offered more to Rangers than a sideways pass.

Ever since he was 20/21 I seem to have met far too many Rangers fans eager to dump over Ferguson and what he offered. With the usual complaint being “all he does is pass it sideways”.

My own view is this. If you didn’t get what Barry Ferguson offered to Rangers as a player then I doubt you really understand football. In my opinion, he is by far the best player this country has produced in the last twenty years or so. Granted, he wasn’t the brightest at times with his conduct – particularly the V sign nonsense with Scotland – but I have seen some players commit far worse sins and yet retain the support of the fans.

As it stands, Ferguson was the last captain to lift the treble for the club and the last to lead us out in a European final. He is, in my mind anyway, a Rangers legend. And although I don’t think he is the man to manage Rangers out of their current crisis – I would have back at the club in a coaching capacity in a heartbeat.

In fact, when watching Kenny Miller and what he can still do at 38 – I sometimes think that bringing him back in a playing capacity wouldn’t be the worst thing we could do!

Fergie #2

This weekend sees Rangers take on Hamilton Accies in the Scottish Cup, a fixture that sends shivers down the spines of those Rangers supporters who are old enough to remember when Hamilton provided a shock of Berwick Rangers proportions back in January 1987.

That day saw Adrian Sprott score the winner moments after Chris Woods had broken the record for the amount of minutes without conceding a goal. The game set the tone for the clubs record in the tournament under Souness – it was a trophy that he would never win with the club. Hopefully we can avoid a repeat of the scoreline this weekend and get back to winning ways.

But Hamilton at Ibrox is a fixture that provides different kind of memories for me. I wasn’t at Ibrox that fateful day when we crashed out of the Scottish Cup, but I was at a game v Hamilton a few years later – around the 88/89 era.

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Adrian Sprott celebrates his winning goal that produced a Scottish Cup shock in 1987 – infamous Hamilton fan “Fergie” is on the far right.

After the game I stood outside the front door waiting for the players to come out and get their autographs. It was whist I was stood there on Edmiston Drive that I came across the infamous Hamilton supporter “Fergie”.

For those of you who are too young to remember him, Fergie was so infamous that he was actually banned by his own club for a small period of time. The main issue was the sheer abuse – most of it littered with profanities – that he aimed at anyone who he felt deserved it. He was basically an 80s version of that daft Kilmarnock fan who goes onto to YouTube now to curse and swear at anyone at the club who he feels is deserving of a rollicking.

On this day, Fergie was in a particularly foul mood as Rangers had won convincingly and Fergie was letting anyone who came out of the main stand know he was not in the best of moods.

For ten minutes of so the scenario was one akin to:

Ian Durrant walks out of the main door.

Fergie: “See you Durrant ya prick ye!”

Stuart Munro walks out of the main door.

Fergie: “See you Munro ya prick ye!”

And so it continued, every time a Rangers player walked out the front door the abuse from Fergie followed. It actually got to the point that nobody was paying any attention to him anymore.

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Bampot Kilmarnock realises that his act old hat!

Then the man that every non-Rangers fan hated more than any other, Graeme Souness, swaggered out the front door. Tanned, moustachioed, oozing class and arrogance in equal measure and reeking of expensive aftershave. This was a combination that was too much for Fergie to cope with and he went off the scale in abuse terms, so much so that a nearby policeman had to intervene and restrain him with the words “Furfuxsakes Fergie, calm doon!”.

A stern talking to later, and Fergie was on his way. Still muttering abuse as he walked away down Edmiston Drive.

Fergie’s real name was Ian Russell – I am unsure as to where the Fergie nickname came from – and he passed away in 2009, so the modern breed of expensive aftershave wearing players can rest easy for Saturday.

But the next time you see that Killie fan going tonto on YouTube – just remember that Fergie was doing it 30 years ago!

The Diary

The end finally comes for Warburton

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The Warburton Era has ended – but we’ll always have THAT day at Hampden.

It has felt for a while that it was coming, and sure enough it did. Although Friday nights events could best be descried as muddled – and at worst shambolic – the result was that Mark Warburton and his staff have now vacated their posts at Ibrox.

As I said, it feels like his reign had gone past the point of no return a while ago, but the heavy defeat to Hearts seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for many supporters and apparently the Board also.

This has created a debate around how much support Warburton received to make a fist of it this season. That, for me though, misses the point entirely. Given the gulf in terms of finances it was always going to be a tough call to put in a serious challenge to Celtic this season. It seems the Boards view was that this would be a season of consolidation, with second place and qualification for Europe the main priority.

In this respect Warburton has been supported enough in terms of the other clubs challenging for second place. Yet despite this, the season has been an unmitigated disaster.

We have dropped fourteen points in total to clubs like Hamilton, Kilmarnock, Ross County (three times) and St Johnstone (twice). We have also suffered defeat at every away fixture to top four clubs – with two heavy defeats in there to Celtic and Hearts.

To make matters worse we have only scored six more goals than we have conceded, and have only scored more than two goals in a league game once this season, against Kilmarnock at Ibrox in October.

Such statistics are, frankly, not good enough.

But it could be argued that the signs were there in the latter part of last season in the Championship that Warburton was not all that we had hoped for.

Warburton won 11 out of his first 11 league games in Scotland – scoring 24 goals in the process and conceding a mere six.

However, the wheels came off in dramatic style from November to December with the club playing seven games, winning three, losing two and drawing two. There was a steadying of the ship from January to March, where we won ten out eleven fixtures. But crucially the swashbuckling style of the first eleven games had been suffocated and teams, who has sussed out Rangers style of play, were proving harder to break down. In six of these eleven fixtures up to March, we won games by 2-0 on two occasions and 1-0 on four. A far cry from the free-scoring early season form.

From March until May we won only two of our remaining eight fixtures, whilst losing three and drawing three. We also conceded more goals (16) than we scored (15).

There will be those who will argue that the season was already over by March and that players weren’t motivated as much as they had been at the seasons start, but I genuinely felt at the time that Rangers under Warburton had been sussed. Another statistic to back this argument up would be that our best performances and results in the latter part of last season came against Premiership opposition in Dundee and Celtic – two clubs that had not been exposed to Rangers style of play at that time.

But there can be little argument that, after the first eleven games in Warburton’s Rangers career, it has been a slow and steady decline both in terms of results and performances.

Add to that his poor dealings in the transfer market, then it was only a matter of time before a parting of the ways.

Sitting watching the game on Sunday against Morton it struck me that our best two players are Kenny Miller and Barrie McKay – two players who were already at the club when he arrived. That, in my opinion, is a pretty damming statistic.

But we should not forget the good stuff that Warburton brought. The football in those first eleven games was a joy to watch – even if it was in second tier. And he gave us that memorable semi-final victory against Celtic in April. A day I shall always treasure as it was my boys first game against Celtic.

But it felt like what happened on Friday had been coming for a while. So we thank Warburton for his efforts and move forward to the next stage in our history with a new manager.

Who that’ll be is down to the Board. But you get the feeling that this is a crucial appointment and one they can’t afford to get wrong.

Over to you, Mr King.

 

Morton memories

After the announcement of Friday night of Warburton’s departure it immediately became just about getting a result against Morton on Sunday. This was achieved, thankfully, even if it wasn’t the easiest on the eye. But cup games are all about getting a result – so you have to hand it to Graeme Murty for getting us through the fixture after being thrown in at the deep end so unceremoniously on Friday night.

Rangers against Morton at Ibrox has always had a special place in my heart as they were the opposition when I took in my first game back in early 80s.

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The imposing figure of Colin Jackson – the first image I recall from my first visit to Ibrox.

Rangers won 3-1 and my only real memory of the game is seeing Colin Jackson stride up the park from my seat in the Copland front – which seemed so new at the time that you could positively smell the paint in the place!

Games against Morton also remind me of one famous occasion at Cappielow in 1985 in the Scottish Cup.

The game ended 3-3 and would go to a replay, one which would see Rangers cruise through relatively comfortably with a 3-1 win.

But the game at Cappielow is the easily the more interesting of the two fixtures due to the conditions in which it was played. If you’re on the youngish side, you simply won’t believe that the game was allowed to go ahead. But if you’re of a similar vintage to me, it will bring back memories of players ditching their boots for trainers and the then traditional white ball being binned for an orange one in order to defy the weather conditions and get the fixture played.

It evokes memories of when football seemed, well, simpler. Back in the days before metatarsal injuries, under-armour, ticket prices that would make your eyes water and when you could get change from a tenner for two pies and Bovril!

I wouldn’t happen today

There can be little doubt that the advent of social media has made a huge impact on football supporters.

Nowadays we all seemed to perennially hooked into to various forums discussing the big topics. Long gone are the days when you woke up to any surprises on the back page of the paper.

I have to say I have not always found the direction the new media has taken us to be a positive one. Views that were maybe kept under wraps previously are now aired without fear of repercussion by many an anonymous poster on Twitter or Facebook etc. It has undoubtedly changed the landscape, and not always for the better.

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John Grieg and Davie Provan lead a host of famous stars from the past up Broomloan Rd. The old high flats and many a crane in the background at the shipyards are, of course, no more.

That said, however, it does occasionally provide the odd gem – and such a scenario occurred last week when I saw a photo emerge on social media showing the Rangers squad from the late 70s/early 80s pound the streets of Govan.

The photo shows John Grieg and Davie Provan lead a host of names up Broomloan Rd, with the old high flats and Albion training ground in the background. It is also interesting to note how many cranes are view from the shipyards in Govan – sadly many of these cranes have long since disappeared.

Given the direction the players are heading it is possible they are heading to Bellahouston Park, where it was not uncommon for Rangers to train at  – especially during pre-season training.

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The classic top which was left at Bellahouston Park after training session there in the early 80s.

Indeed another fan recently posted a photo of an old Rangers away top (pictured above) which he owns, claiming that it was left behind at Bellahouston Park by the players after a training session. The fan saw his opportunity to own a wee piece of Rangers memorabilia – and took it.

Of course, such a scenario is almost impossible today. The players are all tucked up and safe from prying eyes at the training facility at Auchenhowie, so the chances of seeing the squad pounding past you on Paisley Rd West are non-existent – as are the chances of taking the dog for a walk and finding some of Kenny Miller’s training kit!

Changed days!

The Diary

Hearts defeat raises more questions about Warburton

It was a night to forget at Tynecastle on Wednesday night as Rangers turned out yet another turgid performance against Hearts.

For the second successive visit to the stadium, Rangers put in a performance that was woeful, gutless and lacked leadership both on and off the park to such an extent that questions now must be asked about Mark Warburton’s ability to lead the club in the right direction.

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Mark Warburton looks on as Rangers slump to an embarrassing defeat at Tynecastle on Wednesday.

What makes the mauling all the more worrying is the fact that we again appear to be incapable of learning from previous mistakes. It’s the same issues, week-in and week-out with little sign that the problems that are directly developing from our style of play are being recognised as a problem.

The first goal was yet another moment of embarrassing defending from Rob Kiernan who was caught in front of his man and under the ball as it was put into the box. What Andy Halliday was thinking for the second goal only he will know. The third and fourth goals were not much better and every one of them could be described as cheap and goals that the Hearts didn’t have to work exceptionally hard or be overly creative for.

The result has surely put Mark Warburton’s future in doubt – if it wasn’t already.

The result has also split opinion on who is to blame, with many pointing to Warburton and others pointing to Dave King and the board.

For me, however, there is an element of blame in both camps. It is not hard to argue that Warburton faces a near impossible task to match Celtic on the park given their current spending power. The board, it could be argued, have gotten exactly what they paid for – a team that will probably be the best of the rest.

That said, however, Warburton’s recent dips into the transfer market have been nothing short of a calamity, his summer signings in particular.

Barton and Krancjar for varying reasons are already distant memories, Crooks and Windass don’t look up to the job – the former already shipped out on loan – and Rossiter appears to be perennially “two weeks away” from fitness. The only summer buy you could reasonably argue that has been a success is Clint Hill.

Tommy Burns famously commented that when he got the Celtic job that Rangers were like a “runaway train” which was almost impossible to stop. The roles are now reversed and it is Warburton who faces the unenviable task of halting a Celtic side that is head and shoulder above the rest in terms of spending power.

However, Warburton does not come out of the situation free of blame and you would have to ask the question that is Rangers were the benefactors of serious investment tomorrow, would you trust Warburton to spend that money wisely?

I have to say, my own view is that I would take some convincing to let him loose on the transfer market with serious money.

However, whatever your views are on Warburton, Wednesday felt like the beginning of the end of the Warburton era. I might be wrong, but I’ve been down this road before and when you start to get that feeling you tend to be right. Time will tell.

The Hampden (Up)Roar

I must say, I had a mighty chuckle to myself when I came across the tweet below from Henry Winter of The Times.

I was totally unaware that the SFA were planning another bid to hold a European final at Hampden on the back of the Champions’ League final in 2002 and the Uefa Cup final in 2007. If they are successful in the bid it will mean that Scotland has held three European finals at that particular stadium in the last 15 years.

Now lets go back in time to the 20 year preceding that night at Hampden when Zinedine Zidane scored THAT goal. For the majority of that time there was only one ground fit enough to hold a European final in Scotland – and for a long period between the early 80s and the mid 90s it was the best stadium in the UK, let along Scotland.

Yet, bizarrely, there was never a European final held at Ibrox. That in itself is bad enough, but when you consider that there was never a bid from the SFA to hold a European final at Ibrox, then it really does make you wonder. If you think I’m being a tad oversensitive, you should take a look at some of the stadiums which were awarded European finals in that period.

Since Hampden was redeveloped into the overrated sub-cauldron it is today, it has been regularly touted by the SFA for finals of this stature. Now it is 30 plus years since Ibrox was redeveloped. There have been modifications in that time, such as the Club Deck and the filling of the corners at either end of the Govan stand, but overall it is hard to argue with the notion that it is an ageing stadium. But regardless of age, I’d still easily rank Ibrox miles ahead of Hampden. Yet here we are: Ibrox no European finals; Hampden two, going on three.

I suppose it represents another example of that pro-Rangers – now pro-Sevco – bias from this country’s football governing bodies that we keep hearing about!

The joy of six.

My Friday evenings are usually much of a muchness. Home in the early evening just in time to allow the missus to head out for her nightshift, get the kids to bed and then relax with a beer, some music and some web based Rangers action.

It was on one of these Friday nights fairly recently that I discovered the a clip on YouTube of the Rangers in action at Coasters area in Falkirk in the first ever Tennent’s Sixes tournament in 1984.

Those of you who are too young to remember, Scottish football in the 80s and 90s went through a period of obsession with indoor football. The idea was originally based on the fact that January – when the Tennent’s Sixes was annual held – was a period of high inactivity for footballers and fans due to the weather. So we all headed indoors to various arenas around the country to watch some six-a-side action.

 

The first one at Coasters in Falkirk, however, always sticks out for me for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the final against Dundee was a genuinely great game to watch. I implore you to watch it. Rangers are 4-2 down with a few minutes left and go on to win 6-4.

Secondly, the game is also good to see a very young Derek Ferguson and Billy Davies turning out for Rangers. It is also a reminder of just how good a player Davie Cooper was. He is involved in most things that are good for Rangers in this footage.

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The victories Rangers squad with the first ever Tennent’s Sixes trophy – Man2Man’s “Male Stripper” bellows in the background!

Finally, the venue would become one that was very familiar to me. I lived in Cumbernauld at the time of the tournament in January of ’84 – but by that September the family had moved to Falkirk and Coasters would be an arena I would both play many game of football on and spend many a teenage Saturday night skating around in my Bauer Turbo’s whilst such 80’s classics as Man2Mans “Male Stripper” and New Order’s “Blue Monday” boomed out from the sound system.

The arena is till there today, but nowadays instead of one “big” park it has been carved up into four “wee” ones. Another example of capitalism killing something good about football!

But my own rush of nostalgia aside, you should indulge in the clip. Even if it is just for the white away top, white shorts and red socks combo that Rangers wear in the final, it’s definitely worth watching.

 

The Diary

Out of jail…again!

Results are everything in football, so from that respect it is hard to say that the win over Motherwell on Saturday in the Scottish Cup was anything other than a good thing.

However, the performance was again littered with the same issues that have plagued us for all of this season and a hefty part of last season: dominating the ball and possession, inability to open up the opposition, lacking defensively.

Not for the first time this season it took a late, late turnaround in fortunes to get us out of jail. Indeed, you would have to wonder where we would be were it not for the constant heroics of Kenny Miller.

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It was the late, late show again at Ibrox on Saturday. Still it was worth it to see Mark McGee’s face.

There is no doubt that what Mark Warburton is trying to achieve in terms of playing style should be applauded. When it comes off, we are a joy to watch. However there are more and more indicators that the style choses by Warburton often causes us more problems, especially when trying to play it out from the back, than it does solutions. And Saturday’s goals came from a) a more direct cross into the box and b) a mistake from Stephen McManus that let in Kenny Miller for the winner and were arguably unconnected to Warburton’s favoured style of play or system.

As I said, what Warburton is trying to achieve should be applauded but his apparent unwillingness to vary his system or at least recognise when it isn’t working is providing threads for supporters and others within the media to pull at.

I hope he recognises and amends that before he passes the point of no return in the eyes of those supporters and critics alike.

Future’s so bright…

I wasn’t at Ibrox on Saturday. Early kick-offs are always an issue for me. What with taking my daughter to her dancing and my boy to his football, a lunchtime KO is an almost impossibility for me on most Saturday’s.

Instead I took the game in at one of my locals with a mate who is back from Australia for a few days to visit family. Before he emigrated there about 12 years ago, Allan and I took in many a Rangers game together in the 90s and 00s. Probably the best occasion we had in all those times was when Rangers beat Celtic 3-2 in the 2003 Scottish Cup Final.

Now when Allan and I went to cup finals we done it proper. No colours, no jeans and trainers. We would get dappered up Saturday night style and make a proper day of it – win or lose.

On this day Allan was particularly well scrubbed up, down to a rather natty pair of sunglasses which cost him around £150.

“Is that wise?”, I asked him, pointing to his expensive shades. He assured me it would be fine.

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Peter Lovenkrands wins the cup for Rangers…and dispossess Allan of a pair of expensive sunglasses!

Roll on to the 90th minute. It has been a hectic game, one that has went one way and then the other, and one that Rangers have slowly gotten a hold of the longer it has gone on. We look the more likely team now and have done since Barry smashed in a free kick to make it 2-2.

In the last move of the match Neil McCann sends in a great cross. Peter Lovenkrands, who has already scored in the match, pops up at the back post. He heads it downwards and away from Oldco Rab Douglas and Rangers have won the cup. Cue bedlam in the North Stand where we are situated – bodies are flying everywhere. As the celebrations are dying down, I look down on the floor and see there is smashed glass at our feet.

“Allan”, I shout, “yer shades”. Allan looks down and, sure enough, his £150 shades have bought it and are currently lying in pieces at our feet in an unsalvageable and tangled heap.

“Fuck it!” he bellows. “We’ve won!”.

We left Hampden after the presentation and enjoyed a night of celebration in the city at the Wee Rangers Club before heading homewards.

The Monday after the game I popped into see Allan at the pub he managed. I had taken a half-day off to partially continue the celebrations. The Allan I found was a tad more mournful about his expensive eyewear than the one I dealt with during the celebrations. In fact he had the look of a man who had just enjoyed a braw cup of tea, only to realise that someone had taken a dump in his kettle.

But that’s the thing with euphoria – it’s a very intense buzz, but very short lived. And Allan was very much coming down from his post-euphoric high to the realisation that his expensive shades were gone.

There was no such dramas on Saturday when Miller scored the last minute winner. Just a warm embrace and chink of our respective pint glasses. But we both learned a valuable lesson that day in 2003, and one I have heeded ever since: if you own an expensive pair of sunglasses, don’t wear them at the fitba!

It’s Miller’s Time

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Kenny Miller scores another dramatic winner on Saturday.

Yet again on Saturday we were given another example of just how valuable a player Kenny Miller is to Rangers. At the age of 37 he is showing players ten and more years younger than him how it should be done.

In his long career there have been many who have been prepared to write him off – including me. For some reason people have always focussed on the flaws in Miller’s game. His touch at times would make Gordon Durie blush, he has in the past been pretty erratic when it came to finishing and all-in-all there was a certain amount of a “headless chicken” feel about Miller for long periods of his career.

But Miller is greater than the sum of his parts. His professionalism, preparation and attitude have made him a greater player than the attributes he has been blessed with. Now there is an element of luck in Miller still looking great at 37 in terms of injuries he’s sustained, or lack of them, throughout his career. He has been fortunate in that department. But Miller can’t control that. No player can. Some are lucky with injuries, some aren’t.

But in what Miller can control he is nothing short of exemplary. His attitude to training, to preparation, to diet and to games has made him what he is at this late stage of his career, and I would advise any kid to look at Kenny Miller as an example of what it takes to have a chance in the game.

There was some talk after his latest heroics on Saturday about him being inducted in the Rangers Hall of Fame. I for one would be more than happy with him being in there. I have heard some say that he shouldn’t be there because he played for our rivals across the city, but I feel players should be judged on how they served Rangers and besides, Alfie Conn is already in there.

The fact of the matter is that Kenny Miller has served Rangers well on three separate occasions, and with distinction on two of them.

Get him in there.

 

 

The Diary

Remembering a Scottish Cup classic.

Today sees Rangers take on Motherwell in the Fourth Round of the Scottish Cup and the beginning of a campaign to win a trophy that has not made its way to Govan since 2009, when a fantastic Nacho Novo goal took the wind out of what had been a spirited Falkirk side. We had a great chance to end our Scottish Cup drought last season, but the less said about that the better.

Our travails in the lower leagues aside, where we seemed to asked to start our Scottish Cup campaigns the minute the previous seasons final had ended, January has traditionally been the starting point for us in this competition and every season when it comes around I reminded of my first visit to Ibrox to watch a Scottish Cup tie – against Dundee in March 1984 in a quarter-final replay.

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

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

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

Dave McPherson rises majestically to beat Colin Kelly and set up some “scenes” in the Copland front!

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

Hopefully today we can get some similar drama to what I experienced that day at Ibrox in 1984, but with a better result that takes us on the first step to reclaiming a trophy that has been away from Ibrox for far too long.

Last tango in Paris

Rangers were of course in Germany last week for a glamour friendly against Bundesliga surprise package RB Leipzig. I didn’t see the game, I was out on the bike I received from my missus for Xmas, putting 14 miles on the legs and whole lot of pain in my arse, but I am reliably informed that the old issues raised their head during the 4-0 defeat.

But regardless of the result it was good to see Rangers back on the continent again. Reading the tweets of some of the estimated 8000 Bears who made the trip over to Germany took me back to my own singular European away trip to Paris in 2001 to see Rangers take on PSG in the Uefa Cup.

I went over with a mate from work at the time under the collective title of “The Honda Loyal”. The name derived from our initial plans to travel to Paris, which involved travelling there in my Honda Civic! We even had a flag made up with our title on it.

Those plans were binned though and we headed for the French capital via the supporters bus that left from The District Bar on Paisley Rd West. We left on the Wednesday, arrived on the Thursday – the day of the game – and made our way back immediately after the game arriving back in Glasgow at teatime on the Friday.

It was an eventful trip, and I vividly remember we hadn’t even passed Hamilton services before the alcohol consumption proved too much for one poor soul who was sick on the floor of the bus. The sound of the collective groans of everyone else on the bus still haunts my dreams. The choice of words from the boy organising the bus at this point are not repeatable!

Despite such challenges, I have nothing but fond memories of the trip, especially the result. With the tie balanced at 0-0 from the first-leg at Ibrox Rangers went out for the crucial away goal, which made the game on the night very dramatic and entertaining. The longer the game went on without any scoring it became apparent we were in with a real chance of progressing – that prospect became even more exciting when we found out that Celtic had gone out to Valencia at Celtic Park.

In the dying seconds of the match Rangers won a penalty and it looked like we were going to go through at the last gasp. However, Ronald de Boer would balloon his penalty over the bar and we would have to endure the mental torture that is a penalty shoot-out.

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PSG v Rangers in 2001: Ronald de Boer doesn’t know it yet, but he is about to temporarily ruin my night!

The penalty shoot-out was as dramatic as you could get, with it swinging from one way to the other. But Stefan Klos pulled off a crucial save and Rangers were through, where they would meet Feyenoord.

The scenes of celebration in the stands afterwards were outstanding, and I visibly remember the considerable pockets of Bears I could see in the home end of the ground as the PSG fans left in their droves – it honestly felt like we were the home side that night. A feeling that was added to by ending up in a seat next to the same guy I sat next to in the Copland Rear at the time!

All the comments and photos from Bears making their way to Germany last week certainly took me back to that great trip, and I hope everyone who took the time to go over and support the team had as great a trip as I had all those years ago.

Alan Johnstone

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Alan Johnstone: lover of life and wine.

I end my first diary column on a sad note. The game against Celtic at Ibrox on Hogmanay was the first game I had been at Ibrox for a number of weeks. The reason for this was that my friend, neighbour and unofficial family member, and the man I have attended games with for the last ten years, suddenly died on Saturday, 3 December.

Those who were lucky enough to know Alan Johnstone were lucky indeed. Those, like me, who were lucky enough to get close to him were truly blessed.

To be blunt about Alan, he is easily the most generous person I ever met. I have sat for most home games at Ibrox in the rear of the Govan stand for the best part of a decade on the generosity of Alan Johnstone.

No matter how many times I offered to pay for my ticket, or for the petrol costs of our journey, he always refused. All he asked was that I bought him a pie and Bovril – and on the odd occasion a Double Decker.

Our respective families became close enough to spend many a happy night together, specifically on Xmas Eve where Alan and his wife Mary would dote on me, the missus and our two kids.

The relationship was so close that I genuinely believed that what I had with him was special, unique even.

As it turns out, I was one of many.

At his funeral I heard so many stories of his generosity that I became aware that I was merely just one of many who had been lucky enough to have experienced his extreme generosity.

Going back to Ibrox that day against Celtic was hard, and I’m not scared to admit there were tears as I took my seat – but the empathy and compassion shown by those around me, some of whom attended Alan’s funeral, reminded me of how lucky I was to have been so close to Alan – and how lucky I was to have met the people around me that day. If only we could have got a result for him…

As a Borders man he was more into his rugby than his football, but he had his seats in the Govan for over 20 years. He enjoyed his wine and most of all to have a laugh. I’ve lost count how many times the tears ran down my cheeks in our car journeys to and from the games. I’m thankful for the times, many laughs and experiences I had with Alan Johnstone. My visits to Ibrox from hereon in will be sadder without him.