01 January 2013

CRO 1-on-1 exclusive with Graham Roberts

by Scott Ferguson | CRO Guest Contributor

The revolution was only 5 months old but Graeme Souness already had the Light Blue legions packing Ibrox and a sense of anticipation was building.

The business brain behind Rangers at that time was David Holmes who was quick to recognise the part the fans had played in rejuvenating the Club and decided that they deserved a very special Christmas present.

It was the one present that the fans really wanted, but despite 50,000 plus letters to Santa it just didn`t look like happening. However, that Souness and Holmes partnership was persuasive in the extreme and Tottenham finally admitted defeat with a fee of £450K going south in exchange for their defensive stalwart, Graham Roberts. Rangers were Kings of British Football and signing footballing royalty was now a common occurrence. Roberts was the fifth big name English Internationalist to commit to The Copland Road cause.

The second biggest home gate of the season--42,165, only bettered in August v Celtic--turned up for Robbo`s debut against Dundee United and he majestically took centre stage while the fans took to him with an immediate affinity that just made Xmas of `86 a true blue dream come true.

For the record, Rangers ran out 2-0 victors with Fleck and McCoist on target, and the same score line was evident to bring in 1987 in fine Old Firm style with Souness sublime on the day.

If Christmas was great it would also prove to be a magnificent New Year!

-Tom ‘The Commentator’ Miller

Over the years Glasgow Rangers fans have become accustomed to protracted transfer sagas and the headline signing of Graham Roberts was certainly no exception. However, Graeme Souness and David Holmes were eager to seal the signing of Roberts for the Rangers fans with Holmes describing the signing as ‘a deserved Christmas present from us.’

Once the transfer had finally become official a relaxed Graham Roberts spoke of his joy at finally signing on the dotted line in his first interview as a Rangers player: “I’m relieved and glad it is all over, both for myself and my family. The deal has dragged on for some weeks now and the uncertainty was getting to me.  Now I couldn’t be happier.’’ (Glasgow Herald, Dec. 1986)

Almost 3 decades later the memory of the lengthy transfer process lives long for Roberts:

“I was on the transfer list at Tottenham and Graeme Souness contacted me and asked me if I would be interested after I had come up for the Skol Cup Final when we beat Celtic. I watched that game and it just escalated from there - he contacted me the following week, but it took a while; this was October and I eventually joined in December.  It was a long two-month negotiating period  to get the price right but then it all finally happened – I think on the 17th or something like that!”

These were exciting times at Ibrox and two league titles for Rangers and Roberts followed.

Whilst speaking with Roberts it was immediately obvious to me that like many true Rangers the Club has remained important to him - and he like all of the Rangers family has watched in horror as the dramas of the past 10 months have unfolded.

When asked his thoughts on the past ten months at Ibrox,  the man whose autobiography is entitled ‘Hard as Nails’ lives up to that title by delivering a passionate and  damning verdict on those responsible:

“Craig Whyte took over and we wouldn’t be in this position if he had paid the tax that he owed for the 9/10 months he was in charge. What I think happened was that he was expecting to get into the Champions League and get more money that way - we never qualified and it was clear he didn’t have any money at all and it all went up in the air.  It’s a disgrace…as it’s a fantastic club.

“David Murray sold the club for a pound and he left us in the lurch. However, now he’s been proved right - that what he did wasn’t illegal. Unfortunately the people who were looking to buy the club at the time were thinking, ‘We could immediately be £70 to 80 million in debt and we don’t want that.’

“EBTs go on all around the world: Arsenal were doing them--at least that’s what I’ve been told--and other football clubs have been doing them and it’s not illegal!

“I’ve heard that’s there was one player at Celtic that had one as well. At the end of the day if it’s ok for us then it’s ok for them, but if it wasn’t ok for us then every other club should have been put in the same position as well.

“It’s just an absolute joke, and I think Craig Whyte has got a lot to answer for. If I was him I would never come near Ibrox again. I’d stay many miles away! He should have paid the £8- £9 million or whatever it was in taxes at the time and we would still be where we should be: in the SPL and at the top!

“But things happen and you need to move on. All the supporters have been fantastic! They have got behind the club, they have rallied behind the club, and we will be bigger, stronger and better for this.

“It will be a great club to be with for the next 140 years!’’

The troubles at Rangers have been reported with a penchant for theatrics at times within the Scottish media. In England the story has perhaps not been reported quite as dramatically--however, it appears lessons from the Rangers situation are being learnt even outwith Scotland as Roberts suggests:

“South of the border, I don’t think they really make much out of it. They just see that if a big club like Rangers can go into liquidation then any club can go into liquidation and I think now everybody is very cautious of what they are doing.”

After many months of twists and turns Rangers eventually found a new home in the Third Division of Scottish football. They were welcomed by the SFL with almost as much enthusiasm as there was shown by those voting them out of the SPL.

Although Rangers had lost countless first team players  from all corners it was shouted that Rangers would stroll through the season, even with talk of winning every single game a popular topic from fan and pundit alike.  

However, in reality, Rangers initially struggled to adapt and it was only after several attempts that the boys in blue finally got their first away win. It came against no other than Clyde FC, an occasion that may have been of particular interest to Roberts having managed Clyde in 2005 whilst they were in the Scottish First Division. When asked if it was a particularly surreal occasion for him he was quick to concur:

“It was! The only time you would ever think you would see these matches is in the cups. When I was manager at Clyde we played Rangers in the League Cup and we beat Celtic in the Scottish Cup, but these were the only times you ever thought these matches would happen.

“Even with Clyde, when I left them they were 3rd or 4th in the league in the First Division and now they are near the bottom of the 3rd division while Rangers are also in the Third Division. This shows you how things move on in life.

“But it’s a disgrace really, as Rangers shouldn’t be in that league.

“What they have had to do is cut their cloth and work out how to play in that league. The SPL and the Third Division are obviously two very different leagues. In the SPL you can play your football but in the Second and Third Divisions, yes you can play, but you have to battle first. You have different pitches; muddy pitches; small stadia, and it’s not easy for the younger boys that they have got coming through now.

“For the likes of McCulloch, he’s been there before and done it all. But these young boys coming through and the new foreign lads have never experienced these grounds and it was always going to be hard to start with. But they are up at the top now and I think they will push on now and win the league comfortably.”

Although Roberts believes Rangers will now dominate the Third Division he is under no illusions that the next few years will prove to be difficult for all at Rangers.

“It’s a tough road ahead but Rangers have got SPL players and that’s what you need. You need to use these players to get you out of these leagues. I think what will happen now is when they get into the Second Division it will get a little bit tougher and when they get into the First Division it will get even tougher again!

“It will be a cup final every week!

“The younger players will have to grow up very, very quickly, but by then hopefully everything will be sorted and more money will be in the club and they will be able to buy more experienced players.”

Whilst at Rangers and being responsible for stopping goals being scored against the club, up front ensuring that goals were being scored for Rangers was none other than Alistair McCoist. It has been a baptism of fire for the manager of Rangers, unlike anything most managers will ever face.  

However if anyone can empathise with Ally’s situation, it is perhaps Graham Roberts.

When Roberts took over the reins at Clyde FC he had no fewer than three contracted players at the club. He was forced to hold open trials to try and build a squad to take on the best the First Division had to offer:

“What you have to do is just get on with your job; it’s out of your hands!”

“The good thing with Ally is that he had some money behind him and he could go out and get the lad Shiels from Kilmarnock and the lads from Hearts, and they are on good money. When I took over at Clyde I had to get players on £150 per week, so yes it’s a hard start for him, but it will make him a better manager and a better coach because if he can do it at this level, and he is able to get the best out of his players, then when we get into the top league he will have better quality players and will be stronger. He will be a better manager for it.”

Roberts is very complimentary when talking about his former teammate, but he is aware that the road ahead will be a tough one:

“He’s just been Ally hasn’t he! He gets on with his job and he’s been very professional, and he’s handled everything very well.

“We just have to see what around the corner, but it’s not over yet. I’m sure there are going to be lots of twists and turns on the way but hopefully Mr Green sticks with him and gives him the chance because at this level Rangers should win the league. At the next level they should win the league and in the First Division they should win the league. It’s when things aren’t going right that you need your directors, chairman and your chief executive to stay behind you and hopefully they will stick with him.”

It is obvious that ever since that Skol Cup Final of ’86 Roberts has been nothing but impressed with passion the Rangers support have for their team. Even now when the club find themselves in the Third Division the support and passion has never wavered.

Some within the Scottish media debated the prospect of Rangers losing some of this support and predicted falling crowds at Ibrox. With 36,000 season tickets sold and 49,000 regularly turning up at Ibrox these predictions have been proved to ill founded.

Roberts for one is not surprised:

“I never ever doubted it!  The Rangers fans are fantastic, they stick with their club.

“I think they have shown Scottish football up really.

“It’s like they have said that you could put us in any league you want, but we are going to support our club and it is OUR club!

“I heard rumours of other supporters of other clubs say that if Rangers got to stay in the SPL then  they weren’t going to support their own teams!

“At the end of the season last year I think there were two clubs--I’m not going to name them as it would just get me in trouble--but the home support was only 2000 people and the away support was only 3000  to 4000.  They are the clubs that are going to lose out as they aren’t going to get the fantastic support of the Rangers fans going to the away games. They are not going to get the Rangers supporters money.”

Rangers fans are angry at how their club has been treated and when the day arrives that Rangers eventually return to the top league of Scottish football (in whatever form it  takes) talk of boycotts has been a hot topic. Roberts passionately agrees with this:

‘’I hope the Rangers supporters don’t go to any of the away games.

“Let them suffer like we have had to suffer for the last few months. They have put us into this situationl I think what they should do is all the Rangers supporters should just say they aren’t going to the away games--we are going to give all our money to Rangers and make our club even bigger!

“I think all these clubs when they were getting Rangers twice a season they were probably getting between 5000 and 10000 supporters going to the games. You’re talking anything from £200,000 to £500,000 a game!

“Let them miss out on that for the next five or six years and see how they get on, and let’s see how many clubs go to the wall then, and let’s see if they get kicked to the Third Division.

“That’s what needs to happen now – they will all go to the wall, like they  tried to do to Rangers!

“For me, they are all two-faced. They don’t look after each other and they absolutely stabbed Rangers in the back!”

After a rocky start with the Rangers fans,  Charles Green has won over the majority of the support. He is a man seen to be fighting for the club and  Roberts believes he is the right man at the helm.

“I think he has come in and done a fantastic job; he’s got the club stabilised again.

“People were saying that he was involved with Craig Whyte, which I never believed as people like that are business people. They don’t come in on the back of somebody else.

“I think he’s made a fantastic start, and the Rangers supporters now believe that he is the right person.

“We just have to wait and see as there is a long long way to go yet, but all the vibes and all the noise coming out of Ibrox is positive and I think at the moment he is the right person to take us forward.”

Charles Green has previously voiced his opinion that he believed that some of the decisions that were made against Rangers were based on bigotry. Rangers fans certainly feel that there has been a witch-hunt against the club, and the manager Ally McCoist has accused others of trying to kick the club when it was down. Graham’s opinion certainly does not differ in many regards:

“I totally agree with it. But what’s going to happen is we are going to have the last laugh. If the Rangers supporters stick together and the club sticks together, when we do get back there, we don’t go to their stadiums.

“It could be three years or four years before we are back in the Premier League, or I suppose it could be quicker with this league reconstruction.

“We have to stick to not going to these clubs and just do it for two or three years and see how much they want Rangers then. The supporters hold all the aces at the moment as it’s their money that would be passing through the gate, and if you don’t give the likes of Aberdeen,  Hearts,  Hibs and Motherwell--all those clubs--if you don’t give them any money they are going to struggle and in turn it will make Rangers stronger.

“These clubs will get punished for it then and it will be their punishment for not backing us.”

When asked him if he had any last messages to the Rangers fans or indeed the rest of Scottish football, Roberts was quick to show that only Rangers held any importance to him:

“Not to Scottish football as I have no time for them. But for the Rangers fans I say just keep backing your club. We are stronger than all of them and if we all stick together and we work this through then Rangers will be ten times the club it has always been. It’s always been a magnificent club.

“The supporters hold all the aces.

“Keep supporting your club. Don’t go to these SPL away games or if you get drawn against them in the cups don’t give them the money or the satisfaction to say you need to come here!

“Our club is much bigger than any of the other clubs!”