It was a Sunday morning, 29th July 2012 to be exact. Me, my wife Sarah and four month old son Mason had went over to my wife’s friends house for a play date for the kids but my mind was elsewhere. Rangers first game of the new season was kicking off later that day and I was eager to get home to watch it on BBC Alba. It wasn’t any other game either, it was the first game of the journey back.
After a long horrible summer when story after story emerged about all sorts of behind the scenes goings on it was just a relief to get back to some actual football.
Soon after arriving the phone rang and it was my Dad, somehow he had managed to secure two very late tickets, it wasn’t a question of “Do you want to come?” It was more “Be at my house in ten minutes we are leaving soon”. To the bemusement of my wife and her friends I made my excuses and left moments after arriving.
I didn’t care, I was off to see The Rangers and after such a traumatic few months for all the fans, I couldn’t wait.
I remember how, on the drive to Brechin that day from our home town of Perth, Dad and I discussed the next few seasons and how we thought they would look, perhaps naively I envisioned back-to-back promotions until we were back in the top flight with a few cup wins along the way before an assault on the title in what I predicted would be Season 2015/16.
Yet here we are in March 2021 and we haven’t seen any major silverware since that trip to Brechin, thankfully this season Rangers will finally reclaim their place at the top of Scottish Football, but it’s been a long often painful journey back.
When the 55th title arrives the celebrations will be wild (albeit perhaps somewhat curtailed due to Covid) the job Steven Gerrard and his team have done deserves huge praise, but I thought I would use this time to reflect on some of the personal highs and lows of the last decade.
After the Brechin game, Rangers faced East Fife at Ibrox in the League Cup in what was one of the most emotional football games I can remember, the late truly great Sandy Jardine addressed the fans from the centre circle before the game to thank them for all the support during those dark days. For many of us at Ibrox that night we were just delighted to be there again as it had looked dubious throughout the summer whether we would still have a club to support.
Despite the off field troubles continuing there were some great and strange moments following Rangers that season. One particularly peculiar memory was watching Rangers lose 1-0 to Stirling Albion in 2012 at a packed Ibrox Bar in Benidorm. The place was absolutely rammed that day and outside there seemed to be an endless stream of bemused tourists walking past who couldn’t believe the crowd was there to watch a Scottish Third Division game.
Towards the end of that season I was fortunate enough to be in hospitality at Montrose as they held us to a 0-0 draw, thankfully results elsewhere confirmed Rangers as the Third Division champions and an enjoyable pub crawl around Montrose ensued to celebrate.
The following season the off field problems continued, but we also continued to make some great memories as fans, one such memory was Rangers defeating Stenhousemuir 8-0 at Ibrox. My Dad and his good friend being the only people in the stadium devastated when the eighth goal went in – they had put decent money on a 7-0 win for Rangers and were in line for a sizeable pay day until Bilel Moshni’s overhead kick in injury time sent them into despair.
In 2014 our second son Jaxon was born and at only six weeks of age he needed emergency heart surgery bringing incredible fear and anxiety along with it. Life is strange though, and I remember waking up the next morning after sleeping in a side room in the hospital. I looked out the window and the beautiful sight of Ibrox Stadium in all her glory met me from across the city. It was a vivid image that I can still see and I remember knowing there and then that Jaxon would be ok and after a successful six hour surgery and plenty of follow up appointments that has proved true so far. A few years later we took Jaxon to his first game, a friendly against Wigan Athletic and though he hasn’t caught the bug yet, there is still plenty of time.
A milestone for me was always going to be the first European game back after our demotion and it came in June 29th 2017 against Progres Niederkorn of Luxembourg. I was excited about this one for a few reasons – I’ve always been a massive fan of European football and haven’t missed a Home European game since 2002; and it was also the first game in my new seat in the Govan East corner as I had changed my season ticket seat from the Enclosure during the off season. Unfortunately on the Monday before the game my Mum passed away after a short illness. It was with a heavy heart that I decided to get the train through to Ibrox three days later and watch Rangers stumble to a unconvincing 1-0 victory against the minnows.
That night was a very emotional one for me but confirmed in my head the connection you have with this club goes a lot further than just the game, I couldn’t think of a better place to be as I looked at the family bricks that evening and remembered games years before which my Mum would attend with us.
The return leg was the night before the funeral and we all as a family went for a meal at a local restaurant, we managed to get the game on the TV and watched in disbelief as we were eliminated after a 2-0 defeat. European football would need to wait a little bit longer.
On that drive to Brechin, one thing my Dad and I agreed on was that we would go to a European away game together once Rangers returned to Europe. Thankfully Steven Gerrard’s arrival has heralded an upturn in our European form and we managed to go to Vienna (via half of Europe) in 2018. What a great trip that was and we hope to get another one in next season once restrictions have been lifted.
After moving seats and with my old man playing a bit more golf than he used to I found myself getting the train through to Ibrox from Perth by myself most weeks, this wasn’t the most enjoyable experience, particularly as it coincided with Pedro’s disastrous reign. It was beginning to get a little frustrating, the guys I went with years before had either lost interest, lost touch or just didn’t go to as many games as years gone by. I still had my Dad and his mates for the odd game but for the most part of that first season back in the SPL I travelled myself.
Rather fortunately in 2018 I started taking driving lessons, I must explain, driving is something that has never appealed or even remotely interested me but I took up the notion and booked lessons, it was tricky to get them as everyone I contacted was fully booked. After months of waiting I remember the horror I felt standing in the underground queue after Rangers beat Osijek to qualify for the next round of the Europa League when I realised that the next game was the following Thursday against NK Maribor – the same night as my first driving lesson.
The next morning I phoned the driving instructor and explained how I couldn’t have my first lesson – fully expecting the instructor to cancel and meaning another few months of waiting – when all I heard was Jamie the instructor breath a huge sigh of relief, he too was a season ticket holder and was hoping to cancel but understandably didn’t want to cancel a first lesson with a new student. We agreed that he would drive me through to Ibrox instead of having a lesson, they could wait for now. He continued driving the rest of that season so it all worked out in the end!
While this season is perhaps not the way we all seen 55th title coming, in empty stadiums during a global pandemic, it will not take away from the magnitude of it.
I always said when I stood with tears in my eyes at the City of Manchester stadium in 2008 that it would always be my proudest Rangers moment, but on reflection sitting next to my Dad in the car on the way to Brechin dreaming about title number 55 and the party that would follow comes close.
And now that the dream has been realised, although it may not be what we planned, sitting in my Dad’s house watching James Tavernier lift the title may eclipse it all as the greatest Rangers moment of my life.