Alex Anderson bites the bullet and describes Rangers' worst recent season
I know Rangers fans who feel blase and almost bored by the thought of winning yet another league title. You tend to find their football memory only begins around May 1987.
Timing is everything with sick jokes as much as it is with the humorous version. If we’d known what was going to happen in the next decade and a half then we could have laughed all the way through the worst season in living, or dead, memory. Graeme Souness arrived on the last day of 1985-86. If he’s now regarded as the messiah, it’s only because our suffering through that campaign was of biblical proportions.
In 1985-86, Glasgow Rangers were knocked out of the UEFA Cup in the first round by Osasuna, lost their first match in the Scottish Cup (3-2 at Hearts) and reached the dizzy heights of the semi-final before being dumped out of the League Cup by Hibernian. Most impressive of all, though, is that for the only time in Rangers’ 128-year existence, they lost more league matches than they won. That season is officially, actually, spiritually, physically, metaphysically and undoubtedly the worst season in Rangers’ history.
Perversely, we found ourselves top in September, having won five of our first six games. Suddenly everyone remembered our manager, Jock Wallace, was the legend who had once won two trebles in three years. Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen, chasing a third successive title, came to Ibrox on the last Saturday of the month. These were the guys to beat and, for the first time in my short Rangers supporting experience, I genuinely felt we could. A crowd of 37,000 in a 45,000 capacity ground showed that those with longer memories, who’d seen real Rangers teams, were not so sure.
The atmosphere, nevertheless, acknowledged the pivotal nature of the match. So early in the season we had a chance to look like champions. By the end of the match we looked like relegation material. It wasn’t just the stats which made this a season of hell, it was the twisted manner in which we’d been given a sniff of success before being dragged further away from it than at any time in our history. Our captain Craig Paterson and Shuggie Burns were sent off, coins were aimed at the officials, police tried to intervene and the East Enclosure ended up on the pitch. Aberdeen won 3-0 and, frankly, eased up to avoid “inciting” more trouble.
By the turn of the year we’d won three league games in 15 and the only things which reminded us we were a great club were the stadium and Davie Cooper. Ibrox was renowned for its three all-seated stands but, as we struggled to average 13,000, it was becoming equally renowned for its emptiness – highlighted by embarrassingly bright yellow, red and orange bucket seats, all crying “Look at me – I’m vacant!”. Coop was just embarrassingly brilliant in an embarrassingly bad team.
In November we hammered Celtic 3-0. I mean destroyed them. The week before we’d been held at home by bottom club Clydebank. The week after we lost 3-0 at Hearts. It wasn’t enough just to be bad, Rangers had to pretend to be brilliant every now and then, just to twist the knife.
Oh well, at least Celtic wouldn’t win the league. That would have been too cruel. Yet on the last day of the season, as Graeme Souness waved “hello” from the Ibrox centre circle, Hearts were busy losing 1-0 at Dundee to throw away a title which had been theirs since Christmas. Ibrox erupted when news came through of Walter Kidd’s late equaliser – a point would be enough to stop Celtic stealing the championship. It was a few minutes before we discovered it was, in fact, Albert Kidd who had scored – for Dundee.
What was I saying about sick jokes and timing?
From WSC 171 May 2001. What was happening this month