17 October 2014

The Rangers Memory Lane - Part 1

by Ross EJ Hendry | Guest Contributor

Our good friend from Toronto, Mr Ross EJ  Hendry, brings you the first in a series of trips down Rangers memory lane. First up...Celtic 2, Rangers 4 - January 1994.

A couple of weeks ago I was doing the usual, glazed over scan of Twitter that habitual users of the medium will no doubt relate to. It is one of those things that you just do even if you did the exact same thing 30 seconds before. A tweet caught my eye that highlighted the anniversary of that famous win against Dynamo Kiev.

Now, I don't know if it is because of the international break or the “fact” (there should be an international symbol for air quotes) that our support has been infiltrated by “fifth columnists” or because I am so sick of the off the field mess that this Board and their predecessors have got us in to. 

But, since then, I have been stuck reliving this and other games over and over in my head without much thought to the present day state of our Club on or off the pitch. If I said that I have not found some relief in this I’d be lying (or I would make up lies about some other Rangers supporters, whatever floated my boat). 

This sojourn down memory lane has invariably led me to focus on games that I actually witnessed. And, given the starting point was that historic night against Kiev I sharpened the focus of my metaphysical stroll to the best atmospheres that I have been a part of. Next thing you know I am conversing with CRO Bossman Nicholson and he cons me into writing down a few words for the site (he also tried to sell me a t-shirt but that is besides the point).

Before I begin I will preface the upcoming ramble with a few caveats. This list is not exhaustive. This list contains some pretty obvious misses (Leeds United at home being one) where geography stopped my actually being there. These are not bot generated memories or lies (despite what the more mental parts of the Internet seem to think, I am actually a Rangers supporter and I do, in fact, exist). This list will change, 100%.

January 1st 1994.

Every Old Firm game is special in its own right. Not many fixtures in any sport, in any part of the world will run you ragged like Rangers v Celtic. But, this one was particularly special for me; it was my first at Parkhead. I was 15 years old and up until then I had always been deemed ‘too wee’ to be taken to their, ahem, stadium. Others were fine and I had been all over Scotland watching Rangers. But, this was the big one. The home of our mortal enemy.

It is a bit comical looking back on this one. We were meant to lose (again) and the way that the press was talking we would be lucky to have any subs on the bench. My memory of the lead up is the focus from the press on a young Steven Pressley at the back and how he was the weak link and the fact that Macari’s team had not conceded a goal at home during his reign to date. My actual memories of Pressley during the game are non-existent. My memories of the supposed impenetrable Celtic defence are about the same.

With the majority of the Rangers support being well lubricated from the previous night's festivities, the walk to the stadium was an entertaining one. It was not until the turnstiles of the Rangers End came in to view that the gravity of the situation took a hold and the butterflies started. The last time I had been at Parkhead was the day of the Hillsborough Disaster for a Scottish Cup tie against St. Johnstone. Four Rangers fans sneaking in to the ground just ahead of me didn't do much to settle my nerves.

When we finally got on to the terrace there was, quite literally, a party going on. Rangers were a Club in absolute ascendency. Celtic on the other hand, well, they were in total disarray on and off the park. 58 seconds in, this was confirmed as McCall split the Celtic defence with a ball of stunning simplicity to free up Hateley; 1-0 Rangers.

Cue absolute bedlam on the terrace. The crowd propelled me forward away from our small part of the stand. All of a sudden a hand grabbed my collar pulling me back. In the same motion another hand shoved a wicker cowboy hat, adorned with red, white and blue ribbons, on my melon. The guy that grabbed me (and given me superb new hat) straightened me up next to my Dad. 

He was standing next to us and had seen us get separated when Hateley bent the ball around Bonner. The three of us finished celebrating the opener and joined in with the rest of the travelling choir as we serenaded The Jungle with the song of the day, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”.

As you would expect the Celtic support showed a momentary bit of defiance and responded with a dirge of one sort or another. Less than three minutes later they were silenced for the duration of the afternoon when Alexei ‘Miko’ Mikhailichenko. This time it was a through ball from Durie that released Neil Murray whose shot was parried into the path of the languid Russian; 2-0 Rangers. 

This time my Dad and I were ready and we celebrated by attempting to suffocate each other and shouting very, very loudly. More Monty Python. More waving at The Jungle.

By the time the half hour hit we had notched a third through Miko getting his second of the day. This instigated three bits of madness. The first was a rabid Celtic supporter breaching the security perimeter and attempting to attack Rangers goalkeeper Ally Maxwell. John Brown and Richard Gough were more than happy to assist their goalkeeper and escort the poor unfortunate in to the hands of the police and ground stewards. 

The second was a larger group of Celtic supporters taking it upon themselves to start hurling missiles, including various items of confectionery, at the Celtic Park Director’s Box. 

The third and perhaps the most astounding came from my uncle. Who, upon seeing Rangers go 3-0 up inside half an hour; proclaim to everyone around us that it was ‘too soon’. TOO SOON? WHIT? This was met with such shock that we actually took a 30 second break from tormenting The Jungle to noise him up about it.

As you will no doubt be aware the game ended up 4-2. There were a further two invasions of the pitch by the Celtic support - and the Rangers support brought in a very happy New Year. Celtic were saved further embarrassment as the SFA, led by the late Jim Farry, retained a ‘sense of balance and perspective’ in handing out punishment for the disgraceful behaviour of the home support. Whoever heard of such a thing down Park Gardens way?

So, what made this atmosphere special? Well, as mentioned earlier, any win over Celtic is a good win. Any win over Celtic on their own turf is an even better win. But, it was that crucial detail, that seems so ridiculous now, that made this one really special; they were favourites. Their supporters rolled up that day thinking it was going to be a stroll. Our supporters left home with hope rather than confidence. 

The media had them backed in spite of the fact that this was a Rangers side that half a season previous had been a single result away from the European Cup Final. That was the beauty of this atmosphere. 

We didn't expect to win. We had been conditioned to think they were formidable and we destroyed them and effectively ended Macari’s short-lived, much hyped reign that afternoon.