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BEFORE THE REVOLUTION

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By CRAIG ANDERSON

IMAGINE a scenario where Hearts almost won a league and Cup double and Rangers finished mid-table in the Premier League.  That was exactly the case back in 1986.

As the Edinburgh club now look at life in the Championship once a season of any description can begin, those of a certain vintage will remember the year it nearly all happened for them.

You’ll know the story of Albert Kidd and his two goals for Dundee in the final league game against the Tynecastle outfit that saw Celtic, who beat St Mirren 5-0 ay Love Street, take the title in dramatic fashion on goal difference.

The effect of that day was carried into a Scottish Cup Final a week later that saw Aberdeen really add further misery when they defeated the hurting Hearts faithful 3-0 at Hampden.  The stuff of dreams becoming the ultimate nightmare.

Rangers, by comparison, were nowhere to be seen in that campaign 34 years ago where they failed to challenge consistently for the domestic crown. In fact, they lost more games in the Premier Division than they won.

If anything like that were to happen now, fans of the Ibrox club would be melting the internet while manager Steven Gerrard would need to be smuggled out of Glasgow in the dead of night.

It was different in 1985 when Jock Wallace took charge of what would be his final campaign in Govan and the decision to bring him back, replacing club legend John Greig two years earlier, had not produced the hoped-for effect.

JOCK WALLACE…barren season brought an end to his Rangers career.

Wallace was part of the coaching team under Willie Waddell that won the European Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1972 and, after succeeding the club legend, went on to win three league titles, three Scottish Cups and four League Cups in a six-year spell as manager.

Since Rangers had last won a league title in 1978, under Wallace no less, Celtic, with Billy McNeill in charge, had scooped the championship three times and were heading for a fourth under the guidance of Davie Hay, Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen had also racked up a trio while Jim McLean’s Dundee United emerged triumphant for the first – and so far only – time in their history.

Money was not as easy to come by, but the quality in the other squads was superior to who was among the ranks at Ibrox. Considering the nine barren non-title years between 1978 and 1987, Rangers never even finished second.

The 1985/86 campaign did start well, with Wallace’s side winning five of their opening six games, the one they didn’t win was a 1-1 draw at Parkhead.

Soon the tide changed and two defeats later to Dundee then Aberdeen, Rangers had been knocked off the top of the table.

They didn’t get a sniff again after that.

Off the field, there had been movement in terms of the ownership when the Lawrence Group, headed by Nevada-based Lawrence Marlborough, became majority shareholders with 52% after doing a deal with then vice-chairman Jack Gillespie.

They also knew things needed to change to restore the club to anywhere near their past glories.

Years of bickering and in-fighting among the board had to stop and following Lawrence Group’s increase in shareholding, David Holmes was brought in as a director.

GRAEME SOUNESS…led the Rangers revolution.

While Holmes worked away in the background to plot a path for Rangers to return to the top, the team on the pitch didn’t fare so well.

Three league wins between September 21 and New Year’s Day 1986 – a 15-game spell – meant they were already well behind where they wanted to be.

One respite was a 3-0 home success over Celtic, with Ian Durrant, Ally McCoist and Ted McMinn all on target. A moment of brightness for the Gers faithful in an otherwise forgettable run.

The form and the results was reflective of the attendances.  Ibrox may have been one of the best stadiums in the world at that point, bearing in mind this was the campaign immediately after Heysel and a few years before the horror of Hillsborough.

Other than when Aberdeen and Celtic visited, attendances were around 12,000 to 13,000 for certain games. For a stadium of 44,000 at the time, this was desperately poor.

Even away from home, it’s telling that Rangers failed to win their last 13 games on the road, winning only three all season.

It seemed inevitable that it would be the end of the road for Wallace, especially as the Edinburgh duo of Hearts and Hibshad put paid to their respective Scottish and League Cup aspirations.

Even a UEFA Cup run, using the term loosely, lasted two games, giving up a 1-0 home lead to lose 2-0 away from home to Spanish side Osasuna and crashing out at the first round.

Change was needed and on April 6, 1986, Wallace took change of his last game, a 2-0 friendly loss to English Division One side Tottenham Hotspur and Jock knew his time was up.

Two days later, PR guru Alan Ferguson opened the door and in stepped the new player-manager, Graeme Souness.  It was a moment that would transform Rangers Football Club and, in many ways, Scottish football.

His revolution had to wait until May 1 as he finished his season with Sampdoria in Italy’s Serie A, When Souness did take the reins at Ibrox for their final game, it was a positive one.

Gers won their first outing in seven as Dave McPherson and a McCoist, with a penalty-kick, sealed a 2-0 win over Motherwell.

On the same day, while all eyes were watching the drama of the championship being settled with Hearts’ last-day heartache at Dens Park to Celtic’s rampant triumph at St Mirren, something else was starting at Ibrox Stadium as Souness got to work.

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About Author

Editor

Acclaimed author Alex Gordon wrote the biography of Scotland international legend Denis Law, entitled 'King and Country'. He is a former columnist with World Soccer magazine and Scottish correspondent of respected European journal L'Equipe.

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