28 June 2013

John Irwin's nine in a row quest

by PamelaRFC | Guest Contributor

Who doesn't remember the successful Nine In A Row years of Glasgow Rangers?

It started in season 1988-89 under Graeme Souness, who was succeeded in 1991 by Walter Smith, and the ninth successive championship title was won in season 1996-97. In 1997-98, Walter Smith's last year as manager, there came an end to the glorious years.

The original Nine In A Row period came directly before and during the Second World War however championships during the wartime era aren’t officially recognised.

A few famous players of the Nine In A Row period are Ian Durrant, Davie Cooper, Ally McCoist, Paul Gascoigne, Brian Laudrup and Andy Goram but also so much more.

Last week I came across a page about a fan who travels around to collect all the signatures of the players of the 9IAR years. I know a lot of dedicated fans, and I always like to meet new fans, so I contacted him and set a date for a call.

The strip at Hampden's museum
His name is John Irwin, 62 years old and from Glasgow, and John is a Rangers supporter of 60 years. Since he was two years old, his dad took him to Ibrox, and he still goes to Ibrox to see his beloved club playing.

During the time from the nine in a row years, John lived in England, and travelled to Scotland to see them playing. I asked John what his most memorable match was that he ever saw during those years, which was the match in 1992, when Rangers played Leeds United. Rangers beat them home and away, both goals from McCoist, to progress to the semi finals of the Champions League.

John has a 1992 Rangers away shirt and during those nine years, 86 players played for Rangers.

Three and a half years ago, in February 2010, he decided to go try and track those players, to get the shirt signed and get a picture of them taken with the shirt. So far he has already collected 67 signatures. On my question on how he finds all the players, John told me that he goes on the internet for hours and hours, and tries to find out where the players have gone after they left Rangers. 

The famous players, most know where they have gone after they left, but the less known players are not easy to track down. He said some of them are now working as driving instructors, or salesmen and it wasn’t easy to find them. It's like working as a detective.

Gazza with the shirt
The most difficult player so far he got, is Paul Gascoigne. Because Paul didn’t come much to Glasgow last year and when he comes up, everyone wants to speak to him. John managed to track down Paul’s sister in England, and she told him when he came to Glasgow and arranged that they could meet.

Every nine in a row player has been willing to meet John and to sign the shirt. No one avoided it. They were all very happy to do it. John said: "the nine in a row generation is a very different generation from now. The players played together, drank together, socialised together, and so did their wives. They were one big family”. John and me both agreed that the Nando’s generation should watch the Nine In A Row matches and take lessons from it.

The furthest country he travelled to was Holland. On that particular day, he had been on 13 trains to get Pieter Huistra, Theo Snelders and Peter Van Vossen’s signatures. That day was a very hectic day. He had to meet Pieter Huistra at the train station, to get the shirt signed, take his picture and jump on another train, and was on the wrong train that went to Dusseldorf in Germany. Lucky enough he could get out of that train in time, but being Scottish in the Netherlands isn’t easy, because all the announcements in the trains are – of course – in Dutch.

Peter Huistra with the signed top
John has travelled 14,000 miles already to get all the signatures so far. He has been to Northern Ireland and every other part of the UK, plus the Netherlands, and during his trips he sleeps in his car with his dog, because as a pensioner he can’t afford himself hotels.

He still has to get 17 more signatures and they live in the Ukraine, Israel, Australia, USA, Norway, France and Denmark/Sweden. Now the attempt to get all the signatures on the shirt gets expensive. So John is going to try to get a sponsorship to finish the shirt. He thinks it will cost about £8,000 to finish it. To fund what he already has achieved, he has sold every piece of memorabilia he had. He gets to the Rangers training ground to get shirts signed, and sells them to fund his trips.

The players he still needs to track down for signatures are:

Basile Boli, Sandy Robertson, Erik Bo Andersen, Dale Gordon, Seb Rozental, Lee Robertson, John Spencer, Nigel Spackman, Ian Ferguson, Joachim Bjorklund, John McGregor and Paul Rideout.

So, if anyone who reads this article can help John to one of those players, contact me via Twitter or John via his Facebook page.

At this moment the shirt is on loan in Hampden, in the Scottish national museum.When it's all finished he wants the shirt go into the Rangers museum, yet to be built. It’s also John's wish to get on Rangers TV to spread the word about the shirt.

Brian Laudrup and John with the strip
John’s favourite player of the nine years is Brian Laudrup and the most underrated player he thinks, is David Robertson, a brilliant defender.

My final question to John was, will there ever be a Nine In A Row again, and the first thing he said was: "We don’t have a Gazza and we don’t have a Laudrup and we don’t have an Andy Goram. These players were so special. It was a group of players who played for each other.

"I don’t think we will ever see that again."

Thanks to John Irwin. It was good to speak to such a passionate fan, who puts a lot of energy to get his goal: all the signatures on one shirt. I wish him all the luck with reaching this goal.