On Sunday I caught up with former Rangers central midfielder Alex Rae, a boyhood Rangers fan and academy player who made his Rangers debut aged 34. He only scored once for the bears but played over 30 times across two seasons at Ibrox between 2004 and 2006 under Alex McLeish.
Ethan: Who were your football heroes growing up and what inspired you to go professional?
Alex: “My dad was always there, and still is, he used to drive me to games all of the time and he’s still football mad now! He pushed me and my brother, who was also a professional but not on at the same level as me. I assume he’s very proud that his two sons were professional footballers as he was such a big fan. As for players as football heroes, I’m a massive Rangers fan, as you say, so it’d have to be people like Davie Cooper, Bobby Russell, Ally McCoist and of course the 9 in a row team.”
Ethan: What were your memories growing up as a Rangers fan?
Alex: I used to go to the games with my dad and sister back when I was a toddler; we always used to stand next to the tunnel. I remember one Old Firm game as a 16 year old, it was absolutely pissing down with rain – it was an amazing game, I think they had a man sent off too! At the time Celtic were dominant in terms of the league position and we beat them.”
Ethan: What was it like to play for Rangers and to make your full team Ibrox debut?
Alex: “It was really fabulous! I thought I’d passed it being 34 years old to be perfectly honest. I was getting interviewed by the BBC when I was at Wolves and the reporter asked me “what’s your hobbies?” I said “golf and Glasgow Rangers”, so he said he was interviewing the manager Alex McLeish the next day and he’d mention that I was on a free at the end of the season. That’s how I signed for Rangers!”
Ethan: How did the preparation change for Old Firm matches and what were the run ins to those games like for a player?
Alex: “All of your mates would always be asking for tickets, I remember one game a load of my mates were in the players lounge afterwards! You’d often have to blag to get tickets in the week running up to it! It was a ridiculous game in terms of the fans, we beat them at Parkhead and it was the first time in five years. I only made a cameo near the end but it was brilliant never the less.”
Ethan: What were the European nights like at Rangers for a player?Alex: “I didn’t play much in Europe as I got a five match ban for accidentally kicking someone in the head in Russia. I remember one game away to Villarreal in the last 16 of the CL. We drew 1-1 and near the end a chance fell to Kris Boyd a few yards out and he missed; if it was anyone you’d want it to fall to was him.”
Ethan: What was Alex McLeish like to play for?
Alex: “He was a brilliant man manager, very similar to Peter Reid from my time at Sunderland. Big Alex was a tremendous player as well as manager; I think he won 21 trophies over his career as a player and manager. I worked with Alex further down the line and he again was brilliant.”
Ethan: Obviously ‘Helicopter Sunday’ was a great day for fans, what was it like to be on the pitch that day?
Alex: “It was a crazy day! Celtic were within two minutes of winning the league but we ended up battling on and Motherwell ended up scoring too. It was one of those iconic title victories; we didn’t know the score from Fir Park and I’ve played in play-off semi finals when false news has spread around so I wasn’t sure if it was true. Barry Ferguson jumped on my back and said, “we’re f*cking winning this!” after the first cheer. Big Marvin Andrews, he’s a big religious man, he was keep saying “believe” over and over; Marvin thought we were going to win it from the start and he turned out to be right.”
Ethan: What made the Rangers team you played in so special?
Alex: “The fact that there were so many characters. Dado Prso, Barry Ferguson was also a great guy and of course Fernando Ricksen who was one of the biggest characters of them all! Of course with that there were technical players such as Shota Arveladze who was a fantastic footballer.”
Ethan: Who was the best player you played against?
Alex: “There were so many and it’s hard to choose; it was a phenominal generation of players during my career. The likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, Vieira and even Ronaldo was starting to break through the ranks. Obviously before him there was people like Dennis Bergkamp and Zola for Chelsea; it really was an unbelievable era.”
Ethan: You did a bit of managing at Dundee and St Mirren what was it like and do you have any aspirations to return?
Alex: “I enjoyed both spells and although it was a tough environment I had a decent win ratio. I think I had about 44% win ratio at Dundee and then about the same at St Mirren too, so I didn’t do terribly. As for going back into coaching, I’ve been offered three jobs since the summer but obviously turned them all down. I’m waiting for the right opportunity to come along; I don’t want to make any poor decisions. I need a job to come along which is the right job – something that has a decent infrastructure.”
Ethan: Talking of management, who do you will be the next Rangers manager?
Alex: “Honestly don’t know. We’re having a bit of a nightmare at the moment with getting a replacement. Graeme Murty is doing a decent job at the time being though.”
Ethan: I know you’ve been doing some media work recently, is that something you may consider long term?
Alex: “I don’t know, it’s always good to make media appearances – I done some commentary on Saturday. I often do bits on Radio Clyde, a bit for the BBC, BT Sport and I’ve done stuff for Sky Sports too. I’m quite lucky to have all these opportunities."
Ethan: What’s your score prediction for Wednesday night away to Hibs?
Alex: “I’m going to say 2-1 Rangers, but my predictions are crap and normally wrong! I don’t know who’ll start with Morelos getting back to scoring goals or if he’ll stick with Kenny, might go two up top, I don’t honestly know. I watched Hibs on Sunday against Celtic and they looked good so it’ll be a challenge but one I think we’ll win.”
I’d like to say a massive thank you to Alex Rae for speaking to me about his Rangers career. I wish him all the best in finding a coaching job and continuing his TV and radio career in the meantime. Please follow him on Twitter @alexrae1969 - You can also follow Ethan on Twitter and Instagram: @ethan_thoburn
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