Why I’m a fan of Rangers

Received wisdom will have you believe that Rangers fans follow a fairly narrow kirk – we’re all Protestants, unionists, loyalists, and leaning slightly more towards right than left on the political spectrum. These stereotypes are held by both the population at large, and by denizens of many of our own online supporters’ sites. The trouble is, as with all received wisdom, it’s not entirely true. There are fans of Rangers to be found in all demographics of society, with a wide array of political viewpoints, contrary to any notional ‘ideal’ of what a ‘Bear’ should believe in. I should know – I’m one of them.

Many football supporters inherit their allegiances from their immediate family. However, most of my immediate relatives have, and had, no real interest in football, with my paternal grandfather being the exception – even in his 80s he could be found assiduously filling in the international tournament wall planner that had come with his copy of the Radio Times. But he never alluded to an affiliation with any particular club, other than expressing an admiration for the Hibernian and Dundee teams of the 1950s he watched while working and living on the East coast. Neither of my parents like football – nor are they particularly political (excepting my mother’s belief in Scottish independence.) They’re certainly not theists either. As such, growing up on the outskirts of Glasgow in the 80s, I hadn’t the exposure to the same socio-political pressures that many of my peers seem to have had. I was also a shy and awkward child with limited social skills, and it didn’t help that we lived in an area of town where there were very few other children of a similar age to me. That didn’t bother me much as I had developed a love of reading, but I still found it difficult to bond with my classmates.

And then two things happened. Despite my father having no interest in football, his job as a press photographer meant he would often spend Saturday afternoons photographing matches in the B&Q Scottish Premier Division. One weekend he brought home a programme from a match he’d been covering. It was from a Rangers game, and had a poster of Ray Wilkins in the centrefold. I took it to school for some reason, and found that the other boys’ indifference to me disappeared, and they seemed to want to engage with me. I think back then my brain noted the power this glossy A5 booklet had. (I asked my friend Tony, a collector of Rangers programmes, if he could confirm which programme it actually was, and it seems likely that it was from the match against Dundee United on the 2nd May 1989.)

Shortly afterwards I started playing football in the playground at school. My memory of why I made this volte-face after years of not being interested doesn’t really make a lot of sense now, but it was something to do with somebody kicking the class ball into an adjacent quarry, and the teacher holding us to collective responsibility.

And then on the 15th November 1989 Ally McCoist scored that goal for Scotland against Norway, and I fell in love a little bit, and the deal was sealed that Rangers would be the team I’d follow. You often hear supporters of smaller teams decrying supporters of larger teams for being ‘glory-hunters’, without appreciating that many are supporting the club their forefathers are, just like they do. This is no less true for fans of Rangers and Celtic, although I suppose if I’m being honest with myself, I suppose I was a bit of a glory hunter. I ended up supporting the light blues because of their stature in the late 80s, because people at my school supported them, because they supplied players to the Scottish international team. If my father had been working at a Celtic game that weekend in 1989, could I be celebrating a treble this weekend? It doesn’t really bear thinking about.

My father took me to my first game, a 5-0 Scottish Cup win against Cowdenbeath in February 1991, a surprise present for my 11th birthday. I’d wanted to go ten pin bowling, I seem to recall, before I opened the card with the ticket inside. My parents had divorced by then, and we didn’t have a lot of money, so I never got into the habit of attending a lot of games. I did make it to a handful per season though. My mother developed something of an interest in the game, and together we entered and won a Daily Express competition for executive box tickets for the Champions League match against Bruges. She also managed to get tickets for the crucial final group stage match against CSKA Moscow at Ibrox, so I experienced heartbreak at an early age.

While I was 18 before Rangers failed to win the league championship, as the song goes, the straits be broad and narrow. It hasn’t all been champagne and roses supporting the club these last three decades – much of the last five years has been as grim as it could possibly have been for a club of Rangers’ size. There were a couple of times where I almost drifted away from football in general, but I realised I liked the sport too much for that. I still think I have a different outlook to many other Rangers fans, because my love for the club comes from a slightly different place. I am a Rangers fan, but I’m an atheist and a republican and I’m quite open to the idea of Scottish independence, and I’m not alone in that regard. I know that makes me less of a fan in some people’s eyes, but I support Rangers because they’re my team.

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Where Jordan

“He can’t be any worse.” It’s the battle cry of the frustrated football fan, after seeing his side labour to a draw against a collection of far less gifted players for the dozenth time that season. They’re a load of over-paid narcissists that don’t know what it means to play for his great club. “We should play that young lad from the reserves. He’s untested and untried, but he can’t be any worse than the halfwit currently playing that position.”

It’s a logical fallacy of course, that things can’t get worse. My experience of supporting Rangers these last seven years (and life in general) is that they can get worse, and in ways you can’t possibly imagine. Surprisingly, quite often an inexperienced 18 year old, playing in a high stakes football match, will get overcome with nerves and not play very well. Or do something incredibly rash that costs his side the game. Because that’s what 18 year olds do. You only have to look at Rangers’ Myles Beerman; starting only his fourth game for the club, in an Old Firm game, he inadvisably dived into a tackle in his own box a few minutes into the game, conceding a penalty, and ruining his team’s gameplan. Now, granted, there’s no guarantee a more senior player wouldn’t have done the same thing, but it does seem to back up the received wisdom that young players make mistakes in such situations. It’s a risk managers have to live with.

After two years’ sojourn from demanding that youth be played as they can’t be any worse, Rangers fans have once again become curious about the young prospects playing for the development team. The club’s new manager, Pedro Caixinha, has shown he’s not afraid to pitch kids into action, with David Bates and Beerman starting most of the last half-a-dozen matches, Jamie Barjonas coming off the bench against Partick, and Aidan Wilson, Andy Dallas, and Serge Atakayi also making the matchday 18 in recent weeks. However, aside from maybe Liam Burt, none of the current crop of young guns has quite managed ‘Next Jordan McMillan’ status yet.

If you don’t know who Jordan McMillan is, he’s a right-back that came through the Rangers Academy in the 2000s, famously featuring in the Blue Heaven documentary. He played a couple of cup games during Walter Smith’s second period in charge, but it wasn’t until Ally McCoist’s first season as manager in 2011-12 that he became the Great White Hype. First choice right-back Steven Whittaker was injured ahead of a game against Motherwell, so McCoist pitched McMillan in at right-back. The 23 year old (I know. 23! Not that young…) had a good game, but was immediately dropped for the next game. And so began The Legend. Fans wondered why he was dropped, and blamed McCoist’s fear of playing young players, an accusation that would be heard time and time again over the next few seasons. The longer McMillan went without getting another game, and the longer Whittaker’s performances weren’t stellar, the greater the younger man’s reputation became. It’s a strange sort of mass hysteria I call Jordan McMillan Syndrome – a condition where large groups of football fans become completely convinced that a decent young player is a hot prospect for the future, to coin some classic Championship Manager terminology. This isn’t unusual; players are over-hyped all the time, but for a player to truly spark an epidemic of the syndrome, he must a) barely ever play for the first team, b) be released by the club, or sold for a paltry sum, and c) go on to have an utterly underwhelming career in the game.

As for McMillan himself, he would leave Ibrox a few months later to sign for Dunfermline Athletic. He’d acquired a reputation among some sections of the Rangers support for being, at least, a very handy young player, but his subsequent career hasn’t borne that out. He was made redundant by the Pars, then signed for Partick Thistle, where he ultimately failed a drugs test and was sacked. Two years on, he’s been playing for Clyde in the Scottish fourth tier. I can’t deny that McMillan did look good in that game against Motherwell six years ago, but events since prove that one swallow doesn’t make a summer, and that’s particularly true of young footballers. I get bored saying the same thing, but the attrition rate of football academies is startling, and that’s partly by design – in order to win the lottery, clubs will buy as many tickets as they can afford. Still, Jordan McMillan wasn’t the first academy graduate to fill the heads of his club’s supporters with promise, and he won’t be the last – fans like to buy into the romance of the Roy Race bootboy to legend story. It also implies that a club is self-sustainable, bringing through young talent and selling it on. That’s great, but it still doesn’t mean that every young player that has a couple of good games as a teenager is necessarily capable of sustaining a career in the game, let along at a club with fans as demanding as Rangers’.

There followed a few more Great White Hypes at Rangers after Jordan McMillan. I thought, to test my theory, it would be illuminating to find out where they are now…

Kane Hemmings – born 8th April 1992 – English (2008-2013)

A regular scorer in the reserves, when the club found itself in the Scottish fourth tier, many thought that Hemmings should and would soon become a fixture in the first team. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury in July 2012, ruling him out for five months. Upon his recovery, he had a productive spell with Cowdenbeath two levels up, scoring four goals in seven appearances. He returned to the Rangers line up in March 2013, but his form was erratic, scoring only 1 goal in five games.

He left the club at the end of the season, returning to Cowdenbeath, where he rediscovered his goalscoring form, battering in 24 strikes across all competitions. Rangers fans crossed their arms and harrumphed at McCoist for letting the striker go. His career since has been a bit patchy – poor spell at Barnsley, good spell at Dundee, decent spell at Oxford.

Some fans will tell you that McCoist signed Kevin Kyle, rather than give Hemmings a run in the team. This isn’t strictly true – Hemmings was injured in July 2012, and Kyle joined in August.

Andrew Mitchell – born 6th April 1992 – Northern Irish (2010-2014)

Signed from Manchester City in the spring of 2010, Mitchell made his debut for Rangers in March 2012 against Dundee United at Tannadice. His mistake led to Utd’s second goal, and he was substituted soon after. A year later, he started Rangers’ last four games of the Division 3 season, winning plaudits from fans and two sponsor’s man-of-the-match awards. He didn’t feature at all the next season, causing consternation among the Gers’ support, particularly when Ally McCoist signed the unpopular Richard Foster for the right back position instead. Mitchell headed out on loan to Annan, eventually permanently joining the borders side. Eventually returning home to Ulster, he’s recently signed for Linfield.

Kyle McAusland – born 19th January 1993 – Scottish (2006-2015)

Kyle McAusland. The true spiritual successor to Jordan McMillan. After the administration/newco business of 2012, Rangers were hit with a transfer embargo, that covered the 2012-13 winter and 2013-14 summer windows. However, the club could still sign out-of-contract players, they just couldn’t register them until September. Thus, for the first four league games of the season, some young players were drafted in to plug the gaps until the new signings were available. One of them was Kyle McAusland. Like McMillan, he played a few games and looked tidy. Like McMillan, he subsequently disappeared from the team and became Carlos Alberto. Taking things to extremes, he even left Rangers for Dunfermline. And just to show his commitment to character, as of 2017 he’s playing junior football, for Glenafton.

Charlie Telfer – born 4th July 1995 – Scottish (2003-2014)

A star of the Rangers academy team, Telfer became the Next Big Thing during the 2013-14 Second Division campaign. Rangers were strolling to the title, and the fans wanted to see more young players blooded, Telfer being one of them. Manager McCoist seemed reluctant, giving the youngster 20 minutes in a game against Stenhousemuir towards the end of the season. The club offered Telfer a new contract, but he opted to join Dundee United instead. He started well at Tannadice, starting 21 Premier League games and winning the Young Player of the Month in November 2014. Since then however, he’s had a loan spell at Livingston, and this season has only started 17 games for United in the Championship.

Calum Gallagher – born 13th September 1994 – Scottish (2010-2015)

Able to play wide or up front, and blessed with a bit of pace, Gallagher broke into the team as a 19 year old during a slump towards the end of the 2013-14 season, scoring on his debut as a sub against Dunfermline. Two days later, he set up Fraser Aird’s goal against Albion Rovers in the Scottish Cup. McCoist’s signings of Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller pushed the youngster further down the pecking order however, and he went out on loan to Cowdenbeath where he scored 5 goals in 10 starts. The appointment of Mark Warburton, a manager who advocates using young players, suggested Gallagher might enjoy a revival of Ibrox, but instead he found himself travelling down the M8 to sign for St. Mirren. He left the Buddies in January 2017 to join Dumbarton until the end of the season.

Andy Murdoch – born 30th January 1995 – Scottish (2007-2016)

A slight anomaly here, as Murdoch played more first team games for Rangers than all of the above put together, recording 14 league starts in 14-15. Again, he might have expected to kick on in the first team under Warburton, but the Englishman promptly loaned the young midfielder out to Cowdenbeath and Queen of the South, before giving him a free transfer in the summer of 2016. He’s since become a first team regular at Championship side Morton.

Tom Walsh – born 11th July 1996 – Scottish (2007-2017)

A preternaturally two-footed winger with a decent cross on him, Walsh made his debut for the club in the fourth tier as a 16 year old, becoming Rangers’ second-youngest ever first team player. Two years later, he enlivened the gloomy denizens of Ibrox with some promsing displays as the club chased a Championship Play-Off spot. Again, Mark Warburton decided he wasn’t of the desired quality, and gave Walsh his jotters. He’s currently at Limerick, in the Irish League.