We all have a favourite Rangers match, or at least a handful that standout above all the others, but I’m not sure I could rank my top 50 and certainly not in order of importance. So I approached this book with a mix of trepidation and excitement.
In a recent edition of 'When Saturday Comes' magazine, the writer, Taylor Parks, talks about the three ages of football supporting. The last age is nostalgia; always looking back, comparing everything new to what’s been before. That’s the age I now inhabit. The book ’50 Greatest Rangers Games’, by Martyn Ramsay, is a sepia hued, blue-nose nostalgia-fest, that skilfully avoids rose-tinting the past, while celebrating the seasons, matches, moments and people who have shaped our club and our relationship with it.
The premise is simple enough. Ramsay, who is involved in 'The Time Capsule' on the Heart & Hand podcast, asked listeners to select their ten greatest Rangers matches in order of preference. From that a top 50 was created out of over 170 matches suggested. It’s democracy in action and like all democratic decisions it will have its dissenters. Ramsay is self-aware enough to say that this isn’t the definitive list, indeed I’m not sure even he fully agrees with all the matches chosen. It’s certainly not my top 50 and probably not yours either, but it is a wonderful collection of matches from our foundation right up to relatively recently. One of the more enjoyable aspects of these type of lists is disagreeing with them. Announcing to my startled family my incredulity that the Glasgow Cup Final of 1986 is missing, the match where Souness first showed me what could be possible, or why three European Finals make it but the other one doesn’t. Then you remember that this isn’t the author’s top 50, this is democracy’s, and, well, democracies don’t always get things right as we know.
But I’m being churlish and nit-picking because while you might not agree with every match featured you’ll agree with most of them and you’ll enjoy all of them. Ramsay, wisely, doesn’t regurgitate match reports instead he paints a wider canvas drawing in the context of the game. Most chapters extract a little colour from supporters or players, helping to personalise the occasion. Ramsay even manages to use both Jerry Seinfeld and Albert Camus to aid his description of our first ever match, two great thinkers on one of the most important occasions in sporting history, now that’s inspired. This book isn’t tabloid hackery and it’s not cliche ridden hyperbole hoping to cash in on the blue pound either. The analysis is considered, the context is thoughtful and the overview honest. Not every match was football as poetry, sometimes the occasion was better than the performance and the book doesn’t hide from that.
Memory is deceptive mistress. I found myself reading about matches I attended, and thought I recalled vividly, with renewed appreciation. Many of us will easily remember the Gascoignes and the Laudrups but forget that some of the sides Walter Smith wrung performances from were far from laden with superstars. I was astonished to read our bench for the famous Marseille home game in the first ever Champions' League contained Steven Pressley, Gary McSwegan, David Hagen, Ally Maxwell and a semi-retired Davie Dodds; even I’d have fancied my chances against them as a 5-a-side team. Smith’s teams feature heavily in the top 50, which, as the author recognises, says more about the demographic of his listeners than the 115 or so years that came before Sir Walter’s reign. But I am that demographic and I lapped it up. My unrequited love affair with Ian Durrant was reawakened reading this and it was magical to relive some of his finest moments. There’s a line in the telling of a 1-0 victory over Celtic in 1986; “…amid the usual cacophony of Old Firm heavy metal, Cooper and Durrant managed to produce a moment of pure ballet” that lifts the reader far above the melee. Ramsay has captured not only the essence of that goal but also something deeper, why we, as otherwise normal, sensible middle-aged men and women invest so much of our time, energy and emotion into something that often makes us miserable. Simply, because there are moments that are almost transcendental, and Cooper’s flick and Durrant’s reading of it were that for me. That moment of beauty and joy sit proudly on the credit side of the ledger so often burdened down by financial catastrophe, lower league calamity and signing Ian Black.
Many of your heroes are here, although some might be missing. You are reminded just how fortunate we are to support Rangers. Our top 50 contains league titles, domestic and European cup finals and famous victories over other great sides. If the last decade has taught us anything it’s to not take that for granted and to remember it and enjoy it more often. It’s not all victories, there are draws and even losses in this list, a reminder that greatness can be achieved in defeat as well. But Rangers aren’t about defeat, we’re about trophies and this book doesn’t disappoint on that count.
The author has evidently done his homework, the amount of research that has clearly gone into every chapter is impressive. For instance I’m not sure I’d ever known that one of the reasons for the banning of the back pass was the amount of time Pat Bonner held the ball during a match at Italia 90. That this indirectly then led to one of our greatest ever victories over Leeds Utd was an interesting insight. Well done Packy! But it’s when writing directly about Rangers that Ramsay excels. It’s not just his study of the matches that shines through, although it does, it’s that this has obviously been a labour of love. There is emotion, warmth, honesty, jubilation, frustration and disappointment in his writing, but most of all there’s love. This isn’t just a book about Rangers, this is a book about a relationship that’s endured for most of his life. Most football supporters will be able to relate to that, but few will be able to express it so well. This book understands football fandom isn’t just about a professional player who is fleetingly wearing a blue jersey and scoring an important goal. It’s about how that makes us feel. Truly great football matches aren’t watched, they’re felt. It’s why I laugh whenever I’m faced with all that ‘new club, Sevco’ gibberish. Only someone who fundamentally doesn’t understand football could think that way. This book understands football. For me, the author has taken these matches and added the soul that's so often missing from written accounts.
There’s a paragraph in 'The 50 Greatest Rangers Games' that particularly resonated with me. It comes at the end of his chapter on the 1973 Scottish Cup Final and I’d read it the night before the news of Tom Forsyth’s passing, a match in which he scored a famous winner. Ramsay talks about the connection Rangers creates between generations of the same family and how that shared passion in Rangers allows us to communicate with each other, something we’re not always good at doing. It was a stand out paragraph for me in a book I really enjoyed. I’ll read it again, and I’ll give it to my Dad and to my sons to read too. I encourage you to do the same.
Buy the Book
As well as via H&H's own website above, the book is available from a range of sources, including Amazon where you can download the Kindle version.