13 August 2014

From the pages of WATP: Bears Abroad

From the pages of the newest WATP Magazine, Shane Nicholson tells his story about the time when Brian Laudrup joined Rangers.

Twenty years have come and gone since the signing of Brian Laudrup and with it the revelation that was Walter’s completion of nine-in-a-row. Finding markers in the lifetime of supporting a club as illustrious as Rangers can be difficult but for me this has always been 0 AD. It’s no wonder the arrival of God at Ibrox laid the marker.

England’s ban from Europe following Heysel ushered in an era that saw Rangers take the mantle of the premier side in Britain. The effects rippled across the Atlantic as, for the first time, the Light Blues were readily available so long as you had one of those little grey cable boxes sat on top of your television. We did, and the stories I’d heard as a young child and the newspaper clippings which I was occasionally privileged to receive suddenly came to life on the screen.

We saw Rangers win their first treble for 15 years, and witnessed them fall tragically short of the very first Champions League Final. We saw it, or at least a very good chunk of it, in our living room. It was fantastic.

And then I turned 10, and Christmas came again, only I wouldn’t recognize it until years later.

When Laudrup signed I was playing AYSO (American Youth Soccer) on Saturday mornings like I had since I could remember. The very first team I played for, back when I’d only just turned four, featured blue tops (sky, sadly) and black socks. Grandpa told me I was lucky; I didn’t really understand.

I enjoyed it, enjoyed playing football every week from August to November, but not like I enjoyed Little League baseball. I didn’t have identifiable heroes like I did on the baseball field. Yes, I had a team that I embraced and great players on it, but none that as a young boy thousands of miles away that I wanted to be.

Laudrup changed that. Signing shortly after my grandfather had passed he gave me reason to continue watching. He made me want to sit and watch Rangers without the man who brought them to me in the first place. On the back of a World Cup which introduced a generation, my generation, to world class football right out their back door I was one of the few who walked away from that summer with a hero.

How rare was it? Very, for unlike my friends who idolised Ryne Sandberg or Frank Thomas or Michael Jordan, the men who dominated the sports scene in Chicago at that time (and one who dominated the world), athletes who they would likely see in the flesh on many an occasion, I wanted to be a Danish footballer who I would likely never see never take the field in person.

Rangers slipped away from the television during his time with the club as England regained its stature and ESPN slowly began to identify a marketable product. The memories of Laudrup trouncing sides at times seemingly single-handed along with them. Old Firm games were still easy enough to come across for a while – our trips through the Champions League as well – but other matches seemed to drop off the listings at a rapid rate. I still watched to see Laudrup, to watch him do things with the ball I knew I never would.

The day he left seems like the day Rangers largely disappeared from the television. If we’re sticking with overblown timescale comparisons it almost feels like the era from 1998 to roughly 2004 were the dark ages. Watching Rangers was limited almost exclusively to Champions League ties, and even once I’d reached university in 2002 and experienced high speed internet for the first time it only served to provide audio feeds of matches.

It’s really been a challenge ever since. Martin Bain seemingly denied the existence of the North American market, one blanketed with Bears from coast-to-coast in two nations. Without the advent of Rangers TV watching our Club would have largely been a hit or miss proposition, the hits being European nights and the misses being nearly everything else. There was promise in the deal with FOX Sports – a part of Murdoch’s News Corp, the parent company of Sky – that was torched along with the rest of the Scottish football contracts upon our unjust relocation to the then SFL3.

I still do it, though. I still wake up and put on coffee at 5 a.m. in the morning during the winters to watch Rangers play. I still do it because 20 years ago a man signed with our Club and gave me someone I wanted to be on the pitch. I still love Rangers like I did as a small child reading those newspaper clippings at my grandfather’s house because of him.

It’s the biggest compliment I could ever pay the man, one who gave us so many great memories. One whose runs remained etched in our collective conscious. One who we refer to as God without skipping a beat.

Brian Laudrup gave a young American a hero. He gave Rangers a supporter for lifetime. For me, beyond all the goals and the fantastic pieces of skill and breathless moments, it was the greatest thing he ever did.

Find WATP Magazine on match days outside Ibrox, at the Louden Tavern, and at news agents across Scotland.