‘Meeting the opposition’ – Rangers F.C

‘Meeting the opposition’ – Rangers F.C

It was announced recently that Micky Mellon’s first game back in the Prenton Park Home dugout would be against Rangers on the 10th July, after two solid weeks of Pre-season training. It doesn’t seem like too long ago that the Whites were knocked out of the play-offs by Derek Adams Morecambe but a lot has happened since. I had the pleasure of talking to Rangers supporter Graeme McMillan, @graememcmillan, on what has happened at the home of the Scottish Champions this summer for the first Meeting The Opposition of the new campaign!

How long have you been a Rangers supporter and how did you first come across the club?

I’ve been a supporter since birth, which is just over 31 years. My Dad followed the team and so did his Dad so it’s part of our family. I went to my first match when I was six years old, and got my first season ticket when I was 14. I started following home and away later that season and went abroad for the first time when I was 17.

There is a certain particular moment that many will be familiar with that you may want to mention whilst answering this question, the club’s gigantic financial troubles which saw them playing in the Scottish Fourth Division. However, what are your best and worst moments as a fan?

When I think of best moments I will mention two. My best overall moment so far was winning last year’s league title. It was disappointing not to be able to follow the team last year and go to the matches but the significance of the title makes it the best moment. It was our first major honour for ten years and during that ten years there were many, many dark days where I thought we might never win a league or a cup again so to win the league in the way we did last season was something every Rangers fan will never forget. The scenes on both the weekend we won the league and the day we were presented with the trophy will live long in the memory.

My best moment as a fan while attending a match was probably the UEFA Cup semi final in 2008. We drew 0-0 at Ibrox with Fiorentina then drew 0-0 again in Florence and won 4-2 on penalties. The euphoria in that away end in Italy that night when Nacho Novo scored the winning penalty is something that will be hard to beat.

As you alluded to in your question, the worst moment was going into administration then liquidation. The months from February to late July in 2012 were horrendous, with so much uncertainty surrounding the situation that the fans preferred bidders for the club kept being blocked by the administrators and we ended up with a cowboy in Charles Green. There were many, many bad moments on the pitch as well from 2012 to present, the worst probably being a 5-0 defeat to Celtic at their place which confirmed them as champions for the 7th time in a row. That day we were so far off them, it felt like we would never beat them again. For us, us being the board, management and fans as a collective, to turn that around and be invincible champions in the space of three years is quite remarkable to be honest. Obviously the management team deserve most credit, but the board who put him there and backed him and the fans who bought and sold out season tickets in their thousands deserve credit also.

Random fact about the Bears? (Something that I’d like to know is why you’re called the Bears but I’m sure there’s a better random fact somewhere!)

I believe the Bears comes from rhyming slang. The Rangers, the gers, the teddy bears. Would be happy to be proved wrong if that’s not correct!

A good random fact is that when we won the European cup winners cup in 1972, our only European trophy, we actually got ‘knocked out’ on the way to winning it. We played Sporting Lisbon and both ties finished 3-2 so the second leg went to extra time. We were away for the second leg and AET the game finished 4-3 but the referee wasn’t aware of the newly introduced away goal rule and took the game to penalty kicks where Sporting were successful. It wasn’t until the players were in the changing room after the game and a member of the Scottish press entered the changing room to tell manager Willie Waddell that Rangers should be through, that they realised the penalty kicks should be void!

Going into this upcoming campaign, considering the successes experienced in the last, what are your current expectations and how do they compare to last summer’s?

Last summer we went into the season with hope rather than expectation but this summer I’d imagine 99% or more of our supporters will expect to win the league again. We have a settled squad and have progressed every year under Gerrard so hopefully with a few more additions we can kick on and have another great season domestically. We have yet to win a domestic cup competition under Gerrard so I’d say it’s fair to expect at least one cup as well. On the European front it would be unbelievable to qualify for the Champions League but as long as we get into the Europa league group stages that would be OK. We will have two tough ties to get to the Champions League but Gerrard’s record in Europe has been superb so I wouldn’t put it past us making the group stage and that would be considered a massive success.

Liverpool legend and scouser Steven Gerrard is the manager at Ibrox and has been since 2018, he’s a young and emerging manager but his qualities have shone in Glasgow thus far. What are your thoughts on him and has he played a significant role in turning around the feelings and hopes surrounding the club? Where does Gerrard rank in terms of your favourite Rangers managers?

I have already mentioned him a few times and that is because he has had an unbelievable impact since coming to the club. He is now a Rangers legend after delivering the league title last year. My own thoughts on him probably couldn’t be higher. He is a young, energetic, vibrant manager backed up by superb coaches and as a management team they have got us competing at the highest level in Europe and just guided us through a 38 game league season unbeaten. They have all played a major part in turning round the fortunes of the club and as a fan base we honestly cannot thank them enough. 

In terms of ranking, I’d say he’s second only to Walter Smith who had two very successful spells as manager in the 90s then most recently 2007-2011. If he continues to be successful though he may well overtake Sir Walter.

Who are the owners of Rangers and what are your thoughts on them?

We are backed by wealthy businessmen – we don’t have one outright owner, it’s several different wealthy businessmen who are also fans who own the majority of our shares. Through our rise back to the top division they put their hand in their own pocket and continued to fund the club when there were gaps in finance. We aren’t quite there yet in terms of being self-sufficient and the guys are continuing to make up the shortfall so as well as the manager and coaching staff, the fans are very very grateful to the current board because if it wasn’t for them then who knows where we would be – certainly not in the position of strength that we find ourselves in this summer anyway!

Although they may not play given that this is a friendly in which there is a difference of qualities coming up against each other, who are your danger men and potential one’s to watch? How do you think the management team will approach this game?

This will be our second game of pre-season so I would imagine we might use a full pool of 22 players with 11 playing a half each. The ones to watch who will hopefully feature are Ryan Kent, who we signed from Liverpool for £7 million two years ago. Ianis Hagi (Son of famous Georghe Hagi) is also technically an excellent player, and Joe Aribo is also very gifted – we signed him from Charlton Athletic two years ago. New signing Fashion Sikala may also feature in the forward areas. Our most used striker is Alfredo Morelos but he probably won’t feature as he has been at the Copa America with Columbia recently.

Rangers and Tranmere have never faced each other before. However, the Scottish champions faced Shelbourne at Prenton Park in the 1990’s. Do you have any memories of that game and what are your opinions of the Whites?

I was only 8 when the game was played. I remember watching it on Eurosport and don’t think I realised at the time how much a shock it would’ve been if Shelbourne had beaten us but the team managed to turn it around.

I don’t have a massive opinion of Tranmere but they first came to my attention when they had a cup run round about the year 2000.

From a personal perspective, one of a Scottish football fan, how big do you believe the difference is between the SPL and the lower ebbs of the EFL, Leagues One and Two and what makes the SPL special to you, if there is anything in particular that does?

I think apart from ourselves and Celtic there won’t be much between league 1, 2 and most of the SPFL Premiership. Possibly Hibs and Aberdeen would maybe be too strong for most teams in league 1 and league 2 but in the main I’d say the two leagues aren’t that far apart in terms of quality.

There is absolutely nothing that makes the SPFL special to me apart from winning it! For a county our size to have 42 professional clubs is far too many, and they are currently discussing increasing that which I find farcical. Each league plays each team a minimum of three times and if you draw a team in the cup or even both cups, you can end up playing the same team 6 or 7 times a season which becomes boring. Unfortunately, the TV deal is dependent on 4 Rangers Celtic games, and the smaller clubs also rely on several home matches against the big teams to stay competitive therefore I don’t see the format changing anytime soon.

In terms of standard I think it’s a decent league that maybe gets downplayed down South. Many players have said don’t knock it till you try it after coming up here and being surprised at the standard.

‘I was only 8 when the game was played, I remember watching it on EuroSport. The team managed to turn what would’ve been a shock result around’.

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