In 2012 I was in Glasgow with the SA women’s hockey team and on an off day I fulfilled a vague childhood dream. I went to the home of Rangers, Ibrox Stadium, and was confronted with a sign at the main entrance that said Ibrox was closed, the club bankrupt and in administration. I knew this beforehand, but that pre-knowledge did nothing to prevent the feeling of loss.
It was quite a jolt, as when a young boy I was fascinated by the fierce rivalry that existed between the two Glasgow and Scottish giants, the Catholic-supported Glasgow Celtic and the Protestant-supported Glasgow Rangers, who would play before massive crowds at the national football stadium, Hampden Park.
Feature image: Photo of an Old Firm clash on 27 April 2008. Rangers in blue.
Credit By Excalibur1953 – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3952810
The “Old Firm” as Celtic and Rangers are known, played one Cup final before a crowd of 131 000. In 1937 a crowd of 150 000 crammed into Hampden Park to watch the Scotland team play against England.
Emerging from bankruptcy, Rangers the club resurrected from the ashes of gloom and doom and were forced to start in the fourth division of Scottish football. They began to pick up the pieces and thrive once more., getting back into the Scottish Premier League in 4 seasons. The structure of the club was changed, its focus was refined.
Rangers formulated a key policy that relates to recruiting players with the right “fit” for the club.
The most important consideration is, can the club afford the player. With an annual revenue in the region of £50 million compared to the big European clubs £500 million or so, you can see the constraints.
To put it into perspective, Manchester City bought Jack Grealish in August last year for £100 million, that’s twice the annual income of the Rangers club. Just one player.
So, Rangers focus their minds on seeking out bargains, players who have somehow slipped out of interest from the rich clubs. They also seek players who are comfortable playing in front of 50 000 expectant fans at their stadium, Ibrox.
The players also needed to be mentally tough, technically skilled enough to play in a team who seeks to aggressively dominate possession.
Coming back to the present, Rangers found what they were looking for in players like Leicester City academy boy Calvin Bassey, ex-Premier League midfielder in John Lundstram and others.
Crucially, Rangers also identified the right fit in a manager. Liverpool and England legend Steven Gerrard taking the Glasgow club to great heights before the distinguished Dutchman Giovanni van Bronckhorst took over just 6 months ago and continued the evolution of a club that was doomed to disappear as recently as 2012.
And with these considerations in order, Rangers started winning. Last night, in Seville, they played in the Europa League final against favourites Frankfurt of Germany. It was touch-and-go all the way, Rangers eventually losing on penalties on an emotion-charged evening in Spain.
Just getting to the final was a massive achievement for a club that was dead and almost buried just 10 years ago. The one and only time Rangers had previously won a European competition was 50 years ago.
Last year Rangers won their 55th Scottish Premier League title. The club is celebrating the 150th year of its existence. This Saturday, Rangers play Hearts in the final of the Scottish Cup.
The Rangers tale is one of punching way above their weight. Given their financial limitations, it is an incredible achievement. Deloitte, the global giant financial services firm, has a money table that lists the top 30 highest earning football clubs in the world. Rangers, notwithstanding their 50 000 fans at each home game, are nowhere.
Rangers’ financially far better off rivals in the recently completed Europa League were top 30 money league clubs Napoli, Leicester City, West Ham , Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Seville.
Topping the money league are the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germaine, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Juventus.
To sum it up, the Rangers executives have recruited personnel quite brilliantly, players and coaching staff who behave properly off the pitch, who don’t court night-time controversy. Rangers’ success is a story about attracting players of good character, players who realise they are part of the whole and not bigger than the club or their teammates.
Rangers’ legions of fans, however, are a somewhat different kettle of fish. Wednesday night’s Europa League final in Seville, Spain was an accident waiting to happen.
100 000 Rangers fans descended on Seville with 50 000 Frankfurt fans joining them. The stadium capacity is 42 000 fans. And this was the outcome.
Absolute chaos!!! Changing the ways of their fans may be Rangers’ toughest battle yet.
Wikipedia: Celtic and Rangers have played each other 430 times in major competitions: Rangers have won 168 matches, Celtic 161 matches, and 101 ended in a draw. The biggest attendance at a Rangers Celtic match is 118 000.
The clubs have large fan bases around Glasgow and Scotland and have supporters clubs in most towns throughout Scotland and Northern Ireland and in many cities around the world. In 2005 the presence of Rangers and Celtic was estimated to be worth £120 million to the Scottish economy each year.