Ger-seys: A short history of Rangers’ kits from 1987 onwards – Part Two: The Nike years

In the second part of my blog looking at Rangers kit miscellany, I’m going to focus on the period 1997 to 2002, a time when the club had a lucrative 5 year kit partnership with the American firm, Nike.

1997-98

Manager –Walter Smith. Kit Manufacturer – Nike. Shirt Sponsor – McEwan’s Lager

Home – Blue shirts, white shorts, black socks with red tops.

Away – White shirts with black trim, black shorts, white socks with blue tops.

While the remuneration the club received from its existing kit contract with Adidas could barely be described as paltry, David Murray had closed a deal with Nike to produce Rangers’ kit and leisurewear in 1995, and was quick to publicise the benefits it would bring to the club at the AGM in October of that year. He wasn’t wrong (for once.) Looking to expand their share of the burgeoning European soccer replica market, and achingly fashionable, Nike offered bumper amounts of cash and cachet that the slightly rudderless mid 90s Adidas perhaps couldn’t. Despite having grown into one of the largest sportswear manufacturers in the world in the early 80s, Nike hadn’t fully diversified into football playing kit. Like their German arch rivals, they’d started off producing running shoes before realising there was capital to be made in kitting teams out from the ankles upwards as well. While their logo appeared on the sleeve of the 1979 Portland Timbers home shirt, this was simply advertising – Barbalan made the kit. Nike did however produce the club’s away kit that season; fitting, as the Timbers are their local team.

Examples of European Nike football kits are few and far between in the 80s. They made their continental debut with Sunderland’s 1983-86 outfit which was again a case of them supporting their nearest team, as they’d opened a UK head office in the Wearside town in 1982. A smattering of deals with unusual teams followed (Kuopion Palloseura, AIK Solna, Cambridge United, Beveren,) before they landed their first big contracts in 1989 with the French pair of Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain. A famous ten-year tryst with Borussia Dortmund followed in 1990, but by 1996 the brand still had only a handful of kit supply contracts Europe-wide. Of the 98 teams in the big five leagues, they were the technical partners of 4 teams (by 2017, that number had reached 20.) In the mid-90s Rangers were still featuring regularly at Champions League level, so it was a good deal for both Nike and the Scottish champions.

Months of hype followed the announcement before the kits were finally revealed in the summer of 1997. And a neat set they were too. The technical term used in sewing to describe the plan that informs how a piece of clothing is assembled is the ‘pattern’, distinct from any graphical devices. Clothing is constructed by cutting cloth to match a paper or cardboard template, known as a pattern, which is then sewn together to create the garment. Both new kits were identical in terms of pattern, with only use of colour serving to differentiate. Each had a collar that was more or less identical to the previous year’s home shirt – a contrasting wing collar that was joined at the front centre of the neckline by a body-coloured triangular piece of material. Matching cuffs also appeared.

The home shirt was a slightly darker shade of royal blue than the 96-97 jersey, and Nike introduced a wide chest band in even deeper blue, topped with a narrower red line. This chest band housed the shirt sponsor (McEwan’s once more) and continued onto the underside of the sleeves and the back of the jersey, but it didn’t form a complete hoop (thankfully.) Instead a gap was left for shirt numbers. While the FA Premiership had switched that summer to a regulated font for all its clubs, the Scottish top flight teams would carry on with their own typesets for another two seasons. Rangers used the same number font that Arsenal had carried on their Nike shirts for the previous three seasons, being a standard variation of the 80s block numeral with an inset border. The home numbers were white with a red border while black with a white border featured on the away. Neither number set featured the Nike swoosh as the Arsenal kits had however. While the club wore shirt numbers and squad names in the 6 European matches, domestically they would stick to 1-11, the last time they’d do so in the Scottish top flight.

The club crest appeared on a shield as per the last couple of away kits, although this escutcheon was more elaborately shaped. Nike showed a bit of consistency here as well: a white monogram on a blue shield with a narrow red border was how the badge appeared on all shirts and shorts, regardless of colourway.

Completing the shirt were a label at the bottom left, indicating the individual shirt’s size and that it was an official replica, and a small tag on the right side seam with the monogram. This is more commonly known as a tax tab, grimly humorous in retrospect.

 

Figure 1 Rangers’ 97-99 home kit

Rangers’ kit colour palette is often described as ‘red, white, and blue’. But black has historically been a fourth colour, albeit limited to the home socks and occasionally the away kit. Here, Nike integrated all four colours into both kits in a way that hadn’t been done before. Black appeared on the home shirt in the form of two solid and speckled black bands on the edge of the collar and cuffs. The white shorts featured two full-length contiguous red and black pinstripes on each side, and the socks were black and red, of course. But you had to look at the away kit to see what Nike were trying to do.

Rangers’ recent away kits had tended to be white, red and white, or red and black. For the first time, white and black became the main colours on an RFC away jersey. The shirt was predominantly white, with a black wing collar and cuffs, all trimmed with red and white bands. From the bottom hem, interspersed broad black and narrow grey stripes reached up towards the top of the shirt. Only the greys made it, as the black stripes faded out halfway up, just below the blue McEwan’s Lager logotype; this graphic was repeated on the back. Unlike the club and sponsor’s logos, the manufacturer’s swoosh was picked out in black with a red border.

The change shorts and socks were identical to their first choice counterparts, simply with the colours rotated. Thus, the shorts were black with a red and white pinstripe, and the socks were white with blue tops. As with the home kit, the SFL shield competition patches appeared on each sleeve.

With black prominent on both kits, unusually for a fourth colour, it meant that Nike could provide the club with a fresh new home and away kit, entirely unlike the previous seasons’, and yet still retain a degree of interchangeability should it be required. The fact Rangers would only once mix and match any elements of the two kits is neither here nor there, and bloody typical of the club.

Figure 2 Rangers’ 97-98 away kit

The home kit made its debut in the exotic surroundings of the Faroe Islands, as Rangers travelled to Torshavn for a Champions League 1st qualifying round match against GI Gotu. Like France, the advertising of alcohol is banned in the Faroes, so the Gers once again turned out in kits that bore the branding of Center Parcs rather than McEwan’s Lager. This was also the first season that players were required to have their names on the backs of their shirts in Europe. The font the club used was a blocky, bold serif, quite unlike the more elegant Nike lettering that had previously adorned Arsenal’s shirts.

The 2nd qualifying round saw Rangers drawn against the blue and white striped shirts of IFK Gothenburg. For the second season in a row, a red third kit was hastily commissioned, and for the second season in a row, said red kit was worn in a hopeless European 3-0 capitulation (once more, each club wore their away kit in the home leg.) At least the Ibrox club didn’t need to worry about wearing a third kit away to Kilmarnock, as Killie had reverted to wearing white shirts. Paired with the away shorts and home socks, the red shirt (in a slightly darker shade than most of its spiritual predecessors) didn’t follow the same model as its home and away siblings, and was instead closer in form to Arsenal’s recently-released away jersey. Unlike the insert collars worn on the other shirts, the 3rd had a modified Johnny collar – two pieces of flat knit material joined in a symmetrical Y shape, which in itself formed the V of the neckline.

Narrow horizontal bands of white inset with a narrower black stripe were present at the top of the midriff, around 300mm below, and near the bottom of the sleeves. White trim was present at the edge of the black cuffs and neckline, but not the wings of the collar itself, in contrast to Arsenal’s version. All-in-all, the jersey was almost identical to Nike’s 1998 offering for Dallas Burn, down to the colourway, with the chief difference being more horizontal stripes on the Texans’ outfit.

Figure 3 Rangers’ 97-98 3rd kit

After the Champions League elimination, Rangers dropped into the UEFA Cup where they were drawn against, seemingly inevitably, a team from a country with a ban on alcohol advertising. The Center Parcs shirt made a reappearance in the away leg against Auxerre, this time coupled with blue shorts in the same style as the home and away versions, rather ruining the interchangeable aspect of the two kits. These shorts didn’t have the club crest on them, so there’s a good chance they may have been teamwear – in photographs and video of the game, sometimes the colour of the shorts appear to match the shirts, and other times they don’t.

Figure 4 Rangers’ 97-98 low alcohol home kit

This modular nature of the kits was not something the club chose to exploit in general, although the away socks were paired with the home kit once. Oddly, said away socks weren’t used with the away kit the three times it was called upon, with the home socks (twice) and plain Nike teamwear socks (once) doing the job instead.

Goalkeeper wise, Andy Goram and his two deputies Antti Niemi and Theo Snelders had a grey and yellow jersey to choose from, each in exactly the same style, and not dissimilar to those worn by Arsenal’s contemporaneous custodians. Single colour, with a contrasting modified crew neck collar, only the arrangement of colours on the neck and cuff trim was different from one to the other (yellow and white on the yellow, blue and white on the grey.) Andy Goram wouldn’t have been Andy Goram without a wild card, and twice during the season he turned out wearing a non-crested Nike teamwear shirt against Motherwell and Dundee (ironically, this shirt was identical to one his eventual successor Stefan Klos wore that season for Borussia Dortmund.) There was no real logic to which colour shirt was worn when, and indeed both grey and yellow were used against each other Scottish Premier team, except Motherwell.

Bespoke crested and padded goalkeeper shorts were supplied, although Theo Snelders tended to prefer jogging trousers when he played, a practise he’d been indulging since 1994.

Rangers finished that season without a trophy, something that hadn’t happened for 12 years. Walter Smith had already announced his departure, and a host of the 9 in a Row heroes followed him out the door that May. McCoist, Goram, McCall, Gough, McLaren, Laudrup, and Durrant – most in their mid-30s, heading off to the stud farms of smaller teams, to pass on their experience to younger players. Other not insignificant talents departed as well; Bjorklund, van Vossen, Gattuso, Moore, Petric, and Cleland. Dick Advocaat, Rangers’ first new manager in 8 years, and the first foreign manager to boot, had a challenge on his hands.

Kit Type Matches Used
Home 45
Home alternatives 3
Away 0
Away alternatives 3
Third 1
Third alternatives 0

Table 1 Rangers kit combinations, 97-98

1998-99

Manager –Dick Advocaat. Kit Manufacturer – Nike. Shirt Sponsor – McEwan’s Lager

Home – Blue shirts, white shorts, black socks with red tops.

Away – Red shirts with navy trim, navy shorts, navy socks.

Even by this stage of the 90s, it was becoming increasingly apparent that a new season meant at least one new kit would be launched, and 1998-99 was no exception. The sadly under-utilised white strip was withdrawn, replaced by a new red and navy set, unveiled in June. A simple enough affair, it was scarlet in the main with panels at the shoulders, underarms, and sides in a colour that looked black, but which was actually very, very, very, very, very, very, very dark blue. The collar was a simple V-neck made up of a blue V inside a white V, and a small band of red and white trim appeared at the foot of the blue sleeve panel. McEwan’s Lager, entering their 12th and final season of shirt sponsorship, jazzed up their logotype; the font was much the same, but now had slight serif flourishes, and the ‘lager’ part seemed to get even smaller. The Rangers monogram appeared without a shield. The shorts and socks were both mainly navy; the former had a narrow vertical white stripe at each side and a similar horizontal one on each hem, while the latter featured a twin line of red and white just under the turnover.

Figure 5 Rangers’ 98-99 away kit

The club retained the home kit for another season, but it too received a mini-makeover, if only because following the formation of the breakaway Scottish Premier League, the handsome SFL shield competition patches were replaced with more mundane elliptical SPL ones. The shirt name and number fonts were also updated to new, sleeker versions from the Nike warehouse. Perhaps more significant though in terms of shirt numbering were the signings of left-back Arthur Numan, goalkeeper Lionel Charbonnier, and centre-back Daniel Prodan – with the Italians Lorenzo Amoruso and Sergio Porrini already installed as centre-back and right-back respectively, this meant that the entire first choice back 5, including goalie, were from foreign climes.

The old-fashioned 1-11 shirt numbering never really made a lot of sense to me, in terms of the positions they referred to. This was until I learned that football hadn’t always been played using 4-4-2 as a formation. When shirt numbering first came into use in the late 1920s, the most common formation in British football was 2-3-5. Hence, numbers were allocated to positions from goalkeeper to attackers, right to left. So the right-sided defender wore 2 and his left-back partner wore 3. Later, as football became more and more cautious, they were joined by two of the three half backs (midfielders), wearing (most of the time) 4 and 5. 6 remained a midfielder, and inside right (8), right-wing (7), and left-wing (11) dropped in beside him, with 9 and 10 taking up position as the two centre-forwards. The Rangers 9-in-a-row teams didn’t always follow this convention. 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11 tended to be worn by players of the corresponding position, but 2, 5, and 7 were a bit more of a free-for-all, particularly after Gary Steven’s injury issues during the period 1992-94. For instance, Stuart McCall wore all outfield numbers apart from 11 in the two seasons 1992-93 and 1993-94, while generally operating in defensive midfield (he later completed the set by wearing 11 against Juventus in the Champions League in 1995.)

All that said, the left-sided defender had traditionally worn number 3. That was until the summer of 1998, when Dick Advocaat persuaded the Dutch international left-back Arthur Numan to follow him from PSV Eindhoven to Glasgow, and subsequently handed him the number 5 shirt, a number Rangers’ left-back wears to this day. Advocaat clearly had designs on what his charges should wear on the pitch. Different external factors can have an influence on how a football team dresses. Regulations from the national or international governing bodies, a match day referee’s judgement call, what the kit controller packs (in what was once an actual hamper, but which is now more likely to be a series of expensive flight cases.) But sometimes it comes down to the manager having strong ideas about how his or her charges should look, with the belief that aesthetics are important to success.

An early example is Herbert Chapman adding white sleeves to the Arsenal jersey and blue hoops to the socks, ostensibly because he felt this made the players more distinctive to their teammates. Similarly, Real Madrid’s dominance of European football in the early 60s in their pristine all-white kit inspired Liverpool and, allegedly, Leeds United to change their kits in tribute to the Spanish team. It’s difficult to pick through apocryphal anecdotes nearly 60 years on, but it seems that Bill Shankly at Liverpool felt that a single colour kit had the useful psychological effect of making players look bigger and more intimidating to the opposition. Hence the Anfield club ditched their white shorts and socks for an all-red kit in 1965. Leeds had already gone one step further, abandoning their previous gold and yellow shirts for all-white in 1960. Interestingly, while this change is often said to have been instigated by Don Revie, he didn’t actually become manager of Leeds until six months after the team had adopted all-white.

It soon became apparent that Advocaat wouldn’t stop at tinkering with the team numbers. He also didn’t approve of Rangers’ predominantly black socks. The team began to sport white socks more and more frequently, initially in Europe but increasingly commonly domestically, the chief reason given being that it made it easier for the players to pick each other out. From 1987 to 1998, Rangers’ mixing and matching of kit elements was limited. Non-standard shorts were worn twice. It was more common to change socks, but we’re still talking about maybe less than a dozen occasions in eleven seasons. With Dick Advocaat in charge, kit controller Jimmy Bell’s life was about to get a whole lot more complicated.

Indeed, while the previous season had seen alternative socks and shorts worn on several occasions, under the Little General the sight of non-standard kit suddenly became commonplace, rising from 12% of matches in 97-98, to 24% in 98-99, and 35% and 43% in his final two full seasons. But it wasn’t just socks that the Dutchman fixated on. He was known to believe that V necks were better for footballers (not sure I disagree with this personally,) and it’s probably not a coincidence that the 7 Rangers shirts released during his tenure all featured necklines of that format.

The goalkeepers would tend not to wear V-necks under Advocaat though. In his first season, custodians Niemi, Charbonnier, and mid-season acquisition Stefan Klos would tend to wear the grey and yellow jerseys from the previous season. A red version of the template made an appearance in 8 or so games, and Lionel Charbonnier wore what appears to be a generic black Nike template jersey against Dundee United in October, with the McEwan’s Lager logo gauchely printed on.

In August of 1998, Rangers wore short numbers for the first time, in the matches against PAOK in the UEFA Cup. Bafflingly, they decided to slap white numbers with a thin border on the white shorts, rendering them almost unintelligible. They did this for the remaining 7 European games that season, and the match away to Haka the following season, before switching to a more sensible contrast colour. They would continue to wear numbered shorts in European competition, but would prefer un-numbered variants domestically until the 2010-11 season, perhaps because short numbers in Scotland are historically associated with Celtic.

With the SPL and UEFA (for matches in competitions proper) now both mandating squad numbers and shirt names, from 1998 onwards it would become more unusual for Rangers to wear unnamed 1-11 shirts, but it happened from time to time, 2012-2014 being something of an outlier. That said, there was still room for quirks. In the two matches against Shelbourne, some Rangers players wore numbers that didn’t correspond with the numbers they’d wear the rest of the season – Barry Ferguson wearing 8, and van Bronkhorst 12 for instance. Equally, in both the League and Scottish Cup finals, Rangers wore named 1-11 shirts, with some players adopting numbers they wouldn’t normally. This was despite their opposition in both matches wearing their usual squad numbers.

Kit Type Matches Used
Home 39
Home alternatives 8
Away 3
Away alternatives 5
3rd 0
3rd alternatives 0

Table 2 Rangers kit combinations, 98-99

1999-00

Manager –Dick Advocaat. Kit Manufacturer – Nike. Shirt Sponsor – NTL

Home – Blue shirts, white shorts, black socks with red tops.

Away – White, navy, and sky blue shirts, navy shorts, navy socks.

Third – Red shirts with navy trim, navy shorts, navy socks.

While the design of football shirts had shown no reluctance to go to strange new places, and innovations in artificial fabrics had appeared in the 50s, the actual construction of shirts was slow to change; even in the early 2000s many shirts (collars aside) were tailored in much the same way as their antecedents of the Victorian era. For many decades, football jerseys had essentially followed the pattern of a long sleeved t-shirt – loosely speaking, two rectangles of material sewn together with holes for the head and arms. A further two rectangles formed each sleeve; seamed lengthways to form tubes, these were attached to the body at the arm holes – properly called armsyces. As early as 1991, Adidas and Umbro had both launched shirts that were essentially two t-shaped pieces of material sewn together, but generally things didn’t change much in terms of how kits were put together. As the shadow-striped fabric of the eighties and bright graphics of nineties gave way to the noughties however, kit fashion began to change.

The football industry of 2017 is a world away from that of 1987. Elite players are mostly fitter, drink less alcohol, and have more closely-monitored diets. Fashion has also changed. Umbro had courted ridicule when their new kit for Spurs, launched ahead of the 1991 FA Cup Final, featured a longer, more generously cut short. Within 15 years however, this Knickerbocker throwback style was ubiquitous. At the same time, the players’ jerseys had started to get tighter and more form fitting – some of the lesser brands’ efforts in the 90s actually did look like the players were wearing brightly coloured bin bags.

But sporting advantage and technology is also more important than even in football apparel. The average human regulates its temperature by perspiring, releasing liquid from the sweat glands throughout the body. When this sweat reaches the surface of the skin, it undergoes a process known as evaporative cooling; the most high-energy molecules are transferred to the surrounding environment, becoming water vapour. This conversion requires heat (in the thermodynamic sense,) leaving behind a cooler liquid, skin, and blood, which then recirculates back to the heart.

In theory, this should help us keep cool during exercise, but factors often get in the way. Humid weather prevents sweat from evaporating, which is why 30 degrees with high humidity feels a lot less bearable than 30 degree arid heat. Humans didn’t necessarily evolve to wear clothing either, and different fabrics impede our ability to cool ourselves by trapping water vapour close to our bodies. However, some (mostly artificial) fibres have the ability to draw vapour away from the body using a process known as capillary action, or wicking. Wicking facilitates the passing of moisture through the fabric to the outside of the garment, where it is able to evaporate more efficiently. This is supposed to keep athletes cooler, or warmer, depending on the weather, but ultimately it’s all about keeping body temperatures regulated. An early version of this sort of thinking was England’s Aertex shirts, worn in the Mexican heat of the 1970 World Cup.

As sporting success increasingly depends on ever decreasing margins of superiority, sportswear manufacturers spend more and more time on developing fabrics that wick moisture ever more efficiently, seemingly at the expense of any design work. It would appear, and the burgeoning compression layer market would seem to back this up, that football shirts have got tighter to the wearer’s body over the last 20 years in order to maximise wicking. And this is where the assembly of football shirts started to get more complex and sophisticated as the big manufacturers modified their patterns to allow for the introduction of more wicking technology in special panels at the side of the midriff, and gussets under the arms, and to help make their shirts more closely fit players’ bodies. Manchester United’s 1997 European shirt had featured breathable panels under the arms, and in the summer of 1999, this innovative sweat-airing technology reached Ibrox when Rangers new home and away kits were launched.

The new home kit discarded the complicated six-colour scheme of its predecessor, and utilised a simple blue and white colourway (socks excepted. Mostly.) Under Advocaat’s mandate, it featured a V-neck collar, with a contrasting white V inset. While the shirt ostensibly followed the traditional football shirt pattern, it had breathable panels on the underside of the sleeves, as well as gussets under the armpit, this subtly different body-coloured material demarcated by contrasting white piping.

The back was equally complex. At the top of the body was a yoke, again outlined with white piping. This continued onto the sleeves, marking the seam between the breathable material of the underside of the sleeve and the standard material of the topside, as per the front. There were also 2 further small pieces of piped trim at the bottom of each sleeve. While the previous Nike shirt had had 8 seams, I reckon this shirt would have had 13. That sounds complicated, but from a distance, its monotone simplicity made it a very elegant shirt indeed, and 2 Champions League group stages in its 2 year lifespan mean it’s regarded as something of a classic.

The monogram (sans shield), Nike swoosh, and sponsor logo were all picked out neatly in white. McEwan’s Lager had departed as sponsor, to be replaced by the Cable TV provider NTL. Their logo was stylised as ntl: in lower case, large friendly letters. The ‘t’ and ‘l’ appeared in outline only. Perhaps my only grievance with the shirt was that the Rangers crest was a little undersized.

The shorts were equally understated – white with a blue pinstripe at each side and the club badge and manufacturer’s logo also rendered in blue. The socks were virtually identical as the previous iteration, black with red tops and the Nike swoosh in white. There was a change to the shirt numbers and letters, with the SPL having commissioned a bespoke letterset that all clubs were mandated to wear. It was a pleasant sans-serif font, with enough individuality to be instantly recognisable. Each character had a significant border, and the numbers had the SPL logo at the top. Unusually, despite being a sans-serif font, the u’s had small serif tails.

Additionally, as Advocaat had led the club to the treble in 1998-99, the team were entitled to wear the golden SPL ‘Champions’ competition patch. The league had switched to a rectangular shape, with every other club wearing blue patches.

Figure 6 Rangers’ 99-01 home kit

There’s much debate in football kit design circles about the wisdom of clubs having an away or third kit that is broadly the same colour as the home kit. On the face of it, this defeats the purpose of a ‘change’ kit,’ yet as ever there’s more to it than that. I mentioned in part 1 how the human eye focusses on light wavelengths differently, with the result that dominant colours in striped shirts look slightly different from a distance, e.g. Celtic’s green hoops are the dominant element of their shirts, yet from a distance the overall kit passes for white. That’s why historically Hibs and Celtic always wore their home kits in ties between the two. Similarly, Rangers had a blue-and-white striped away kit in the 60s. This would appear a pastille blue, or even white from a distance, and would have caused no uncomfortable clash against the dark blue of Dundee, for instance.

The modern era has taken things too far, as usual. There seems to be a drive at both UEFA and FIFA to ensure that teams play in contrasting tones, even if the colours aren’t similar, to better help individuals with difficulties perceiving colours. Where an alternative kit might then be useful in a shade of the same colour far darker or lighter than that used on the first choice, more and more often we’re seeing 2, or even 3 sets of kits that are tonally similar. Nike are particularly bad for this. The point of a change kit is that it’s supposed to provide an alternative when there’s a clash of colours, or tones. A change kit that doesn’t do this is egregiously pointless, no matter how nicely detailed. And you know what Morris said about uselessness…

Nike’s new away kit for Rangers was, essentially, blue. True, it was a combination of white, navy blue, and sky blue, but it was fundamentally blue, and not really distinctive enough to wear against Kilmarnock or St Johnstone. As such, it was only worn competitively twice, against the all-red of Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

Its uselessness belied how smart it was. The lower half of the shirt was sky blue, the top half (a separate yoke) white, with a thick navy band stretching from one sleeve across the chest to the other, straight along the top and concavely curved at the bottom. The monogram appeared in navy, and the Nike swoosh in sky bordered with navy, against the white part, with the NTL logo in navy on the sky blue section. The Advocaatian collar appeared in a Johnny collar format, a blue knit section folded over a white V with navy trim.

The shorts were plain navy with white badges, and their short cut (another mandate from Advocaat) was starting to look archaic at a time when shorts were generally getting baggier and baggier. The socks too were navy, with a broad and narrow sky bands just below the turnover.

Figure 7 Rangers’ 99-00 away kit

Presciently, the club had retained the previous season’s red away shirt, updating the sponsor to NTL’s logotype. The matching navy shorts, with the white trim, were consigned to the goalkeeper’s kit hamper as the team wore the navy set from the away kit whenever they sported the red shirts. The navy socks originally introduced with the red kit were worn once, against Kilmarnock in May, while a plain navy set turned up in the previous trip to Rugby Park in October. Otherwise plain white socks were used.

Figure 8 Rangers’ 99-00 3rd kit

As well as their hand-me-down outfield shorts, the goalkeepers also received some new shirts from Nike. You’ll be surprised to learn these were a standard template, in different colourways – white, orange, black. Again, the keepers didn’t get V necks, their jerseys having polo necks instead. The chest band, straighter than the away kit, was blue in all cases. The shirts also had elaborate padding on the shoulders, in the shape of a large diamond and triangle, something you don’t see as much these days.

The white shirt was used most often, with the orange its most frequent deputy, but in a league match against Celtic November, Lionel Charbonnier wore the 3rd kit, for reasons unknown. Intriguingly, when Rangers played Parma in a Champions League qualifier, Gianluigi Buffon wore one of Rangers’ orange goalkeeper shirts, the logos from a Parma shirt stuck over the Rangers equivalents, and with his name and number on the back in the SPL font. It’s not entirely clear why he repeated Theo Snelders’ trick from three seasons earlier, but in contemporary photographs of the match night, he appeared to be wearing a yellow and blue jersey in the warm up. Perhaps the referee felt it was too similar to Parma’s outfield jersey, and demanded he change it?

Rangers’ second season of using squad numbers full-time didn’t result in too many oddities. There were a few changes, most often players moving to smaller or preferred numbers – Lorenzo Amoruso went from 3 to 4, Craig Moore from 38 to 3, Rod Wallace from 16 to 10, Tony Vidmar from 25 to 14, and Stefan Klos from 19 to 1. Conversely, a number of players took higher numbers, always a sign that they’re straying towards the cold – Lionel Charbonnier went from 1 – 22, Gordon Durie from 9 to 24, Gabriel Amato from 10 to 15, Ian Ferguson from 14 – 26, and Derek McInnes from 17 – 27.

Nameless 1-11 shirts were used in the two Champions League qualifying matches against Haka, and in the Scottish Cup final against Aberdeen, Rangers once again wore 1-11 with shirt names. Incidentally, only 3 substitutes were allowed in the Scottish Cup at the time. In the final Aberdeen gambled on selecting three outfield players, and inevitably their goalkeeper Jim Leighton suffered a severe facial injury only a few minutes into the game. The Dons sent on the 5’11” striker Robbie Winters to play in nets, wearing the number 23 shirt of goalkeeper Ryan Esson (who wasn’t in the matchday squad.) Winters managed to keep Rangers at bay for 30 odd minutes, but the Ibrox club eventually knocked in 4 goals against him to win the Scottish Cup for the second season in a row.

Kit Type Matches Used
Home 32
Home alternatives 12
Away 2
3rd 0
3rd alternatives 9

Table 3 Rangers kit combinations, 99-00

2000-01

Manager –Dick Advocaat. Kit Manufacturer – Nike. Shirt Sponsor – NTL

Home – Blue shirts, white shorts, black socks with red tops.

Away – White shirts, white shorts, white socks.

Third – Red shirts, red shorts, red socks.

Close season means letting the grass grow back, resting weary players’ legs, and introducing yet another new kit. Not the home kit, which enjoyed a stay of execution for another year, and retaining the league title meant the ‘Champions’ competition sleeve patches also remained. Instead, feeling that a white and blue away shirt was pointless, the club decided that they needed a new white strip. Once again, Dick Advocaat seemed to have quite an input into the design process, as it was all-white, had a V-neck and skimpy shorts, and had the Dutch flag emblazoned across its front. Well, kind of. It certainly had a narrow red and blue horizontal bands on the chest, separated by a good 20mm of white space, in which sat the blue NTL logo. The collar was identical to the home shirt, but with a red contrast V inset, and there were narrow red cuffs on the sleeves as well. The Rangers monogram and Nike swoosh were in a very contrasting dark blue.

The most interesting aspect of this shirt was the construction pattern. Football shirts tended to have armsyces that were more or less vertical, meeting the shoulder seams roughly where the shoulder joint would be on its wearer. However, an alternative method was to use a diagonal, or arcing armsyce that connected directly to the collar. Adidas had used this type of seam in the early 80s, and it’s probably most recognised from its intermittent appearance on Arsenal kits from 1988 onwards.

It had appeared on a couple of Rangers goalie shirts, but this would be the first time it would appear on an outfield shirt. And it wasn’t just as simple as that. The back and sleeves were of a different material, with bands of alternating thick and thin horizontal shadowstripes. The body’s side seams were actually a few hundred millimetres further onto the front of the shirt than they would normally be, forming a lazy ‘s’ shape, as they meandered from the bottom hem to meet up with the armsyce on its way to the collar. The sleeves came in two parts, a plain material underarm section joined to a shadow-striped overarm part. This seam formed another loose ‘s’ as it moved up the arm before running parallel to the armsyce, connecting at the collar a few millimetres above the shoulder seam. Completing this overly complicated assembly was a hemline that dipped down at the front and back like a 1920s shirt tail.

It was partnered with a pair of white shorts with a thin band of red trim at the hem, and a pair of white socks with a narrow red band in the centre of the turnover.

Figure 9 Rangers’ 00-01 away kit

Perhaps mindful of the fact that a white away kit seemed to result in having to commission a third kit, the club commissioned a deep red third kit. The shirt was a real departure for the club, featuring a lace-up wing col…nope, it was a V-neck again, this time with some black edging, repeated on the sleeve hems. Like the away shirt, the sleeve was constructed of an underarm and overarm segment, this time the seam being demarcated with black piping. Other than that, the pattern was a more traditional version than its sibling.

The logos were white, and it was paired with red shorts with black pin stripes at the sides, and plain red socks. However, as Rangers had entered an era where mixing and matching of kit elements was now fair game, the full third kit would never be worn in the two years it was in use. The red shirt was normally worn with white shorts, and the home and away socks would also be called into action, alongside the proper red socks.

Figure 10 Rangers’ 00-02 3rd kit alternate, worn vs. Hibernian in October 2000


Figure 11 Rangers’ 00-02 3rd kit alternative, worn vs. Kilmarnock in August 2000 and January 2002.

The red shorts were worn with the away kit once as well. While the full white set would mostly be used when Rangers needed to change, a pair of dark blue Nike shorts were substituted away to Dundee in September, which given Dundee were also wearing dark blue shorts, didn’t make a lick of sense. In terms of alternate kits, Rangers mostly avoided any gratuitous changes, although they did wear the red shirt away to Hibernian.

Figure 12 Rangers’ 00-01 away alternative, worn vs. Dundee in September 2000.

Stefan Klos was once again the club’s first choice goalkeeper, and he and his deputies Mark Brown and Jesper Christiansen had a new set of jerseys to choose from. The most commonly used was a deceptively complex affair in teal. The front of the shirt featured a grid of miniscule loops set on a slightly darker background, with arcing armsyces curving in to meet a black polo neck collar. Black panels were present at the sides and under the arms, with the loops motif continuing onto the topside of the sleeves, where it became more intermittent.

The top half of the back of the shirt was black, and the bottom half body coloured. It’s hard to tell from photographs, but I suspect the tiny loops on the shirt were tacky, designed to help the ball adhere to the keeper’s jersey. While the teal shirt was preferred by Klos, there were also versions in dark grey and black, light grey, and yellow.

Figure 13 Rangers’ 00-01 1st choice goalkeeper shirt

The third full season of squad numbers had been the most settled yet, with only a couple of moves. Tony Vidmar switched back to 25 and Billy Dodds cascaded down from 47 to the 16 shirt vacated by Colin Hendry. Tugay Kermioglu did the same, moving from 26 to 17. Conversely, Sergio Porrini moved from 2 – 21 (new signing Fernando Rickson taking the number 2 shirt,) and Darius Adamczuk from 17 – 28, while Marco Negri and Lionel Charbonnier continued their slow egress from the club, dropping from 21 – 35, and 22 – 30 respectively.

Oddly, new signing Ronald de Boer had his name displayed on his shirt as ‘R. de Boer’ – the fore initial normally being a distinguisher for those players who might share a surname. This was only the third season in his 12 year career he’d played for a team where his twin Frank wasn’t also in the squad, so perhaps this was just a superstition on his part. Conversely, Barry Ferguson shed the ‘B’ from his jersey. The name Ferguson is unusually strongly linked with football in Scotland – aside from the Alex Ferguson dynasty, Rangers had at least 2 Fergies, mostly unrelated, in their squad from 1983 through to 2000, save the 1986-87 season when there was just Derek. They’ve been a bit more thin on the ground recently though.

Once again, Rangers wore unnamed, 1-11 shirts in the Champions League qualifiers, but unusually also in a pair of Scottish Cup matches, in rounds 3 and 4, against Brechin and Ross County.

Kit Type Matches Used
Home 28
Home alternatives 19
Away 4
Away alternatives 2
3rd 0
3rd alternatives 3

Table 4 Rangers kit combinations, 00-01

2001-02

Manager –Dick Advocaat (until 12th December 2001.) Alex McLeish (from 13th December 2001.) Kit Manufacturer – Nike. Shirt Sponsor – NTL

Home – Blue shirts, white shorts, black socks with red tops.

Away – White shirts, navy shorts, white socks.

Third – Red shirts with navy trim, red shorts, red socks.

An article published in the Sunday Mail in April 2001 had quoted a club spokesman saying that, as a result of Rangers wanting to do something different with the supply of player and replica kit, the club were considering exercising a five year break clause in the Nike deal. As such, 2001-02 would transpire to be the American manufacturer’s last season kitting out the Ibrox team. Coincidentally or not, the new Nike home and away kits launched in the summer of 2001 were underwhelming to me, although it’s worth pointing out that this might be the start of Nike’s descent into utilitarian templates. In a piece published on the Classic Football Shirts blog in September 2017, Nike designer Drake Ramberg noted that 1996 had been around the time that Nike ‘refocused on designing for the athlete’, rather than continuing with the like of the more elaborate designs they’d previously produced for Dortmund and PSG.

I’m not sure if relationships between the parties had soured as a result of Rangers breaking the contract, but the new designs seemed perfunctory and barely much of a change to the preceding season’s strips. Mind you, I sometimes think the same about the last two Adidas kits, but perhaps that’s just a result of looking back 20 years. A story did emerge in February 2002 where a design student, Kerry Hamilton, claimed to have designed the kits while on work experience. Nike, for their part denied these claims, although they did acknowledge that Miss Hamilton had some input to the socks, but more on that later.

The shirt itself was blue, as usual, but the presence of large red panels under the arms and red wedges at the sides of the body caused consternation among those fans that don’t like too much red on the Rangers shirt. White piping outlined these panels, joining up with the arcing armsyces, and continuing on to the collar, which was…are you sure you’re ready for this revelation? Okay. Definitely? Right, it was a V-neck.

You told me you were ready!

The collar was, for the most part white, apart from where it intersected with a small red triangular insert at the base of the V, after which it switched to body-colour blue. White tape trimmed the bottom of the sleeves. The back was subtly different, with no piping marking the shoulder seams. The piping outlining the red side panels carried round onto the back, eventually sloping down to meet the hem, but like the seams, there was no piping on the edge of the insert that joined the main body, which was also straighter than its forward fellow.

The monogram, Nike swoosh and NTL sponsor were exactly as they appeared on the previous home kit. As Rangers had failed to win the league in 2000-01, the SPL competition patches were back to standard blue versions, and the shirt numbers and names appeared in the mandated font. Well, apart from the two domestic cup finals where they would wear a different font, with squad numbers that were allocated to the matchday squads, rather than the squad numbers registered with the SPL.

The shorts were the standard white, and as plain as you can get, with no piping or pinstripes. The socks were a bit more contentious. While Rangers had previously not shied away from using sock colours other than the historical black and red, the announcement that the team would wear red socks with black tops during the forthcoming season was met worth consternation, and the club quickly backtracked.

Figure 14 Rangers’ 01-02 home kit, as per launch

That’s the story I vaguely remember at the time, and Denis Hurley asked if I’d be covering it in this piece. While I’ve found a photograph of the kit launch with Barry Ferguson sporting said red socks, I can’t find anything from the club that acknowledges the red socks were a mistake. They were certainly only worn in one competitive match – oddly against Celtic at home in the league in September.

Instead, Advocaat continued his sock putsch, with Rangers wearing the now familiar alternative white and blue stockings with the home shirt and shorts in 65% of games under his command. Conversely, when the childhood Rangers fan Alex McLeish was appointed as Rangers’ new manager in December, the team returned to wearing mostly black and red socks with the home kit, doing so on 88% of occasions.

The black & red and the white & blue socks were actually slightly different to the sets used in 1997-99 and 1999-00 (which were virtually identical to one another,) having the monogram on the shin and a Nike swoosh on the turnover. Conversely, the away socks and the red & black socks worn by Ferguson in June also had the monogram on the shin, but the Nike logo on the back of the sock.

But wait. It’s not as simple as that in the Rangers sock department. It never is. Whatever the reason for the club ditching the red stockings, they needed to come up with an alternative. They wore white & blue socks away against Aberdeen, and at home against Maribor, before the black & red ones appeared against Livingston at Ibrox in August. But they were the 99-01 iterations, if not the 97-99 ones. They were worn in three matches before the proper new set arrived. When the red & black socks were finally given an outing, against Celtic, they were different to the ones modelled by Ferguson in June, adopting the model of monogram on shin and Nike swoosh on turnover as used on the black & red and blue & white socks. Coupled with the away and third socks, this meant the team wore six different sets that season. A lot, but they’d manage to outdo themselves in this respect a few years down the line.

Figure 15 Rangers 01-02 home kit (black sock version)


Figure 16 Rangers’ 01-02 home kit (white sock version)

The new away kit, the eleventh in 12 seasons, was so similar to the one it replaced, it begged the question why the club even bothered. It was once again white, with red trim tape at the cuffs. The sleeves themselves were constructed of the now common underside and topside arm sections method, with a thin navy band offset from the cuff on the topside part.

Nike were among the first sportswear manufacturers to do away with collars themselves and simply have a hem at the neckline. And this was the case here, with red tape trimming the neckline. There was a small section of collar at the back of the shirt though, trimmed at the top in the red of the neckline, and at the bottom in navy, repeating the motif from the sleeves. The blue used for the trim, logos, crest, and shorts was notably darker than both the home kit and the previous away kit, but the overall effect was so similar to the previous shirt, one wonders why they bothered changing it, revenue generation aside. The shorts also had a red dart on each side, and the badges were picked out in white.

Figure 17 Rangers’ 01-02 away kit

The red 3rd kit appeared twice in its second season, against Dynamo Moscow in the UEFA Cup, and at Kilmarnock in the league. Clubs nowadays are expected to wear competition patches for up to five different contests, and it makes me wonder how kit controllers manage this – do they have multiple sets of shirts, all with the different patches on, or do they have to painstakingly swap them over from match to match? Perhaps a bit of both? There were a number of games in the 2001-02 season Rangers turned out in shirts that didn’t have any patches; most of these were in cup games, but the red shirt was patchless in the game against Kilmarnock mentioned above, as they had been against Dynamo.

Stefan Klos had been a little injury prone in his previous two full seasons, missing 35% then 16% of games respectively, but he managed to start 57 of the 59 games in 01-02. Allan McGregor deputised in three games, including one substitute appearance. Klos preferred to wear his grey and black shirt he’d retained from the previous season, but he had two new jerseys to choose from. Each was a different colourway of a new template that wasn’t massively different from the year before’s – the sky blue one in particular was almost identical from the front, but lacked the large black panels on the back and under the arms. That being said, the 00-01 version appeared in the UEFA Cup match against Paris Saint-Germain for reasons that remain Rangers-y. Allan McGregor also wore this shirt on his two starts for the club.

Figure 18 Rangers’ 01-02 goalkeeper shirt

You often hear the phrase ‘classic line-up’ used in relation to rock bands, when a certain cohort of individuals is associated with the group’s greatest critical and commercial successes. So it goes with football as well, and while Dick Advocaat hadn’t been in charge nearly as long as his predecessor, but you could argue that 1999 had been as much of a zenith for the club as, say, 1993, winning the treble and beating Parma and PSV twice. But then something seemed to go wrong. From a treble in his first season, he managed the double in his second, then no domestic trophies and a European collapse in his third.

The summer of 2001 saw a number of the players that had been stalwarts for the club for the previous 3 or 4 years move on. Albertz, Porrini, Wallace, van Bronkhorst, Tugay and Allan Johnston all left during the summer, and Claudio Reyna and Kenny Miller followed in December. The players that replaced them were solid enough, but perhaps a little past their best. After years of being spendthrifts, the club were starting to cut their cloth.

A new look squad meant some number changes. Neil McCann and Tore Andre Flo moved from 18 – 11 and 22 – 9, with Michael Mols switching from 9 to 10. Similarly, Andrei Kanchelskis vacated the number 7 shirt for the veteran Argentine superstar Claudio Cannigia, taking 17 instead. While the club failed to win the league for the second season in a row, they did win the League and Scottish Cups. As was now traditional, they switched to 1-11 numbering, with names, but this season they took things a stage further by using a font that wasn’t the standard SPL one, instead pulling the old Nike numbers from 98-99 out of retirement for one last shot at glory.

Having moved from manager to director of football in December, Dick Advocaat would depart the club entirely that November. Nike would precede him out the door, leaving a fair legacy – 7 domestic trophies in 5 seasons, and four decent runs in Europe. Perhaps with the noises coming out of the boardroom at the time, many of us at thought that Rangers might be going on to bigger and better things; surely none of us could have guessed what was to come.

Kit Type Matches Used
Home 30
Home alternatives 19
Away 5
Away alternatives 3
3rd 0
3rd alternatives 2

Table 5 Rangers kit combinations, 01-02

When I first posted part one of this series, I hadn’t expected it to be so warmly received. It didn’t ‘bang’ or ‘do numbers’ (I believe that’s what the kids say,) but those people that are interested in such things said some kind things. I then realised that if I was going to write more on Rangers’ kits, and present it to kit aficionados, it’d have to be far more comprehensive than the mostly half-remembered ramblings from 20 years past that the first part was.

From 1987-1997, I owned at least one of the kits Rangers would wear each season – often two. Barring three seasons, I’ve managed the same since 2002. Conversely, I never owned any of the Nike merchandise. Not a scrap. It wasn’t because their playing and training wear didn’t appeal to me; on the contrary, I thought they turned out some really nice stuff. This was just a period of my life when I wasn’t as interested in football as I had been. Other interests had taken hold. For instance, in the first season of the Nike kits I was saving my student bursary to buy my first guitar. CDs were more expensive then, relatively speaking, and there was the odd driving lesson as well.

From 1997 onwards, I think I went through a bit of a pretentious stage where I felt a middle-class intellectual that I clearly was shouldn’t really be having to do anything with such a working-class endeavour like football. This was a patently ridiculous notion of course, but it seemed to hold for a little while. In 2000, I started university, a fairly large polytechnic in a small city some 300 miles away. That 300 miles was significant because it meant the university was in England, a country that historically has only ever shown any interest in Scottish football when it’s to make money out of it, or to mock it. This was pre-widespread PC ownership, and certainly before the introduction of the smartphone, so my opportunities to keep abreast of goings on at Rangers became somewhat limited, despite my interest in the game becoming renewed.

As a result, I don’t have a great anecdotal recollection of the Rangers kits from 1997 to 2005, when I moved back to Glasgow. I’ve had to do a fair amount of research for this piece, and that was both easier in some respects and far more difficult in others. As the 90s had progressed, BBC Scotland’s Sportscene and STV’s Scotsport were carrying highlights of more and more games in Scotland; up until 1992 at least, only a couple of the weekend’s matches had TV cameras at them. Much of this footage can now be found in poor quality clips uploaded to YouTube, but it all helps. A similar case is true with print coverage – full-colour newspapers became common in the 1990s, and the development of high-end digital single lens reflex cameras and associated information communication technology meant that images could be zipped from pitchside to website in a matter of…well, 20 minutes. If you could get a connection. It was still early days. A lot of these pictures have since been uploaded to various picture archive websites, if you put in the mileage looking for them. It all means there were fewer places for strange combinations and unusual one-off kits to hide. You just have to know where to look.

Once again, Denis Hurley from Museum of Jerseys has gone above and beyond in providing illustrations. While his graphics for the first piece were a later addition, this time round has been more of a collaboration, as we’ve bounced ideas, shared research pictures, and come to consensus about exactly what bloody socks Rangers were wearing on a particular day.

Thanks also go to Stewart Brown for the reference pictures of the 97-99 home shirt.


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Soccermetrics and Scottish Football – a follow up

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog about the rise of soccermetrics in Scottish football, and how I wasn’t sure how much value they added. To be honest, my tone was a bit snarky. I’d like to say it wasn’t deliberate, but I think I’d snapped a bit after reading yet another tweet shared onto my timeline about how stats ‘proved’ Barrie McKay and James Tavernier were Rangers’ best players, and I went off a bit, at the wrong targets. I should have been criticising the credulity of people that were displaying their confirmation bias rather than the guys who spend a lot of time analysing data, and I apologise for that.

That said, I still think it’s important to critique, audit, and monitor soccermetrics to ensure their validity. I’m a big fan of looking at football as objectively as possible, as humans are terrible at processing stimuli – we’re far too emotional. Conversely, sometimes we can get a little too objective, and little bit of interpretation of data is often helpful. It’s getting the balance right that’s the trick. A lot of Rangers supporters were, and still are, fans of James Tavernier and Barrie McKay, and would regularly retweet posts from metrics accounts that highlighted when they had high Expected Assist (xA) scores, which seemed to me the type of confirmation bias rampant on social media. I have to be open here – I’m not a massive fan of either player, despite recognising each is talented, and so I convinced myself that there was an issue with the xA model.

For most of the 2016-17season, both Tavernier and McKay had far higher xA than actual assists. McKay ended the season with 0.15 assists per 90, and Tavernier 0.20. In context, there were 8 Rangers players who assisted more regularly, and four who racked up 2nd assists more frequently. Combining goals per 90 and assists per 90 for the entire squad, McKay was ranked 10th, and Tavenier was ranked 12th. This discrepancy between expected and actual assists was often put down to the paucity of the strikers who were receiving the key passes, although I maintain that by rights, if Tavernier and McKay were more creative than the rest of the team, they should have had more assists per 90 than the rest of the team, regardless of who was playing up front. Funnily enough, four strikers that Rangers offloaded during the summer have had impressive starts at their new teams, at comparable levels of the game (although sustaining early form over the course of the season is always hard.)

Player

Goals per 90 2016-17

Goals per 90 2017-18 (to date)

Joe Dodoo

0.44

2.05

Joe Garner

0.33

1.00

Michael O’Halloran

0.00

1.20

Martyn Waghorn

0.33

1.14

 

In the summer of 2017, new Rangers manager Pedro Caixinha made a few changes to the Rangers squad. Most pertinently to this post, Barrie McKay left to join former manager Mark Warburton at Nottingham Forest, and Daniel Candeias was signed from Benfica. The Portuguese midfielder has had an immediate impact, contributing 1 goal, 3 assists, and 4 secondary assists after 8 games in all competitions, and has hopefully ameliorated fears that the departure of McKay would make Rangers less creative (McKay managed 6 goals, 12 assists, and 10 secondary assists in 46 games in all competitions last season.)

Candieas isn’t a straight replacement for McKay though, given the Scotsman played on the left at Ibrox, and the Portuguese works on the right. Pedro Caixinha not only changed much of the playing squad over the summer, he tweaked the formation as well, from the nominal 4-3-3 favoured by Warburton (realistically more like a 2-3-5) to something more akin to a traditional 4-4-2 (although operating more like a 2-5-3.) Under Mark Warburton’s stewardship, Rangers tended to line up with a slightly asymmetrical formation, with Barrie McKay and Lee Wallace teaming up on the left and Tavernier tending to mostly have the right flank to himself for the best part of 2 seasons. There’s some data to back this up – the Rangers Report’s Controlled Zone Entries metric measured Tavernier’s tendency to get forward from right-back. This season Rangers have lined up with Wallace and Windass on the left, and Candeias in front of Tavernier on the right. The Englishman’s xA figures appear to have dropped off this season, which is consistent with having an out-and-out right midfielder playing in front of him, and limiting his chances to get into the final third. It should be noted that his goals per 90 and assists per 90 are actually up on last season at this stage, and his xA (at least before the international break) is more tolerably closer to his actual assist figure.

This does raise a little doubt in my mind again about expected assists models. Why was Tavernier’s xA and xG so high for most of last season, despite his actual A and G scores being lower? Was it due to the paucity of the strikers, who are now netting regularly elsewhere? I think this is down to an issue of quantity. Expected Goals and Expected Assists are designed to attempt to measure the degree of difficulty of an attempt on goal, something a lot of us would like to know. But when you start aggregating xA and xG over the course of a season, you begin to lose a bit of that hard-earned granularity. As you can probably tell, I’m still a little bit sceptical about xG and xA, as I think they can be decontextualized by aggregation. I like that the Backpass Rule factors in the number of attempts that have generated the xG figure – for me at least, this makes the figure far more intuitive, and I’d be interested to see the same thing done regularly for xA.

For example, we know that James Tavernier scored 1 league goal last season despite taking 45 shots, meaning that of those Rangers players that scored a goal, he had the worst conversion rate. The average xG figure per shot seems to average about 0.2, so Tavernier could easily have reached 5.4 xG over the course of the season just from his 27 shots off target. I suspect something similar happened with his xA tally – it was bolstered by aggregation of lots of poor quality passes. While Tavernier’s xG+xA seems to have dropped off a little, Rangers’ goals-per-game has increased, from 1.47 last season to 2.2 this season, so the team’s not showing any signs of a downturn in creativity. Of course, it’s early days yet as only 5 league games have been played, and perhaps Alfredo Morelos’ 1.35 goals per 90 stat shows he is a better striker than last season’s crop. Of course, I could have written this entire piece to try and justify what is primarily me subjectively not rating a pair of footballers. But I do think the data lends credence to my theory here, even as much as it lends itself to other people’s contrary opinion.