Looking back over the archives can be a beautiful thing.
Eight years ago this week – on 17 September 2011 – Rangers beat us 4-2 at Ibrox to go four points clear in the league.
At that point, having won the three previous titles, they must have thought four in a row was a sure thing. What no-one in the Ibrox stands seemed to realise – although some of the bloggers had been saying it in loud voices – was that their club was already holed below the waterline.
I believe that was their last good day, the last day they truly lorded it over us, the last day all seemed right in their world.
Apart from being the three in a row winners many of them still believed they were owned by a Man With A Plan.
They were the holders of the League Cup.
The press was still describing McCoist as one of “the best up and coming managers in the game.”
But the disaster had already started to unfold, and some of the real damage had already been done.
That had come a month before, when Maribor had knocked them out of the Europa League and denied them group stage football at a time when, like now, it was necessary to limit the scale of the losses. Without it, they were doomed and then and now that was the reality of the situation. Still, on the park they were rolling forward.
They had opened that league campaign with a draw at home to Hearts, but they had followed that up with five wins in a row before we went there, all of them without conceding a goal. They looked up for it, but we went in at half time with a 2-1 lead.
At that point, we looked better placed to win the points.
Yet our half-time lead had disguised some troubling aspects of our play that day.
They had taken the lead at a time when our team looked half asleep.
It did galvanise us, and Gary Hooper grabbed the equaliser.
The second goal, just before the interval, summed up our first half … poor, but with a little bit of luck.
Remember our temporary left-back Badr El Kaddouri? That’s a future pub-quiz question if ever there was one. He hit a speculative shot which McGregor fumbled disastrously. It went through his hand and his legs and ended up in the net.
But it was Celtic who suffered the traumatic second half; we were brutalised during it.
Lennon said at the end of the game that we’d lost a physical battle, and he was right. We looked weak and easily bullied. Mulgrew getting red carded was ironic as they had rough-housed us all day, all over the park, and we’d meekly shied away from the battle.
The euphoria in their stands at full time was understandable.
It was also spectacularly misplaced. The unravelling would begin much sooner than they anticipated.
Four days later – it will be eight years tomorrow – on 21 September, they travelled to Falkirk for what ought to have been a routine League Cup encounter to defend their prize.
They were on a very good run of domestic form.
Not a single one of their supporters would have seen what was coming that night; it’s what makes it all the sweeter to recall it.
The game was 0-0 at half time. Then, El Alagui struck in the 53rd minute.
The comic nature of the Ibrox club’s efforts to get an equaliser is still humorous to recall. McCoist is recognised now as a dreadful manager; that night showed how bad he was in spades. All his efforts did was allow Falkirk more room to run in behind them.
On 78 minutes the same player scored again.
It was bedlam in the ground that night; the TV footage shows delirious Falkirk fans and fuming Rangers supporters.
But there was to be a twist, or rather a series of them.
With seven minutes left, Doran Goian gave Rangers a lifeline.
Three minutes after that they were level.
Momentum was on their side … or was it?
With the game heading into extra time, Falkirk got a free kick. Mark Millar took it, and although the keeper got to it he seemed to help it into the net.
Just days after winning against us they had crashed out of a domestic cup.
The significance of that is obvious; when they won the League Cup the season before it, they could not have known that it was the last domestic cup competition Rangers would ever win. It is the last major competition any side from Ibrox won.
The chaos that was to come just kept on coming too.
By late October, the BBC had shown their sterling documentary about Whyte.
Boardroom resignations had rocked them.
The secret meetings which had taken place between officials at Ibrox and the SFA in the aftermath of their European exit were mapping out a debt dumping scam and would have resulted in one of the most diabolical stitch-ups in the history of the game … and yet their fans were living in denial.
In November Jelavic scored twice against Dundee Utd to put them 15 points clear of us in the league, although we had two games in hand. On Radio Clyde their entire panel agreed with Hugh Keevins when he said that the title race was over.
I can remember well that entire period; there was an air of surrealism about the whole thing. Those of us who had studied Whyte knew what his plan was, and so administration was a certainty. We knew it carried a deduction of ten points. The only alternative was to have a fire sale in January which would have cost them the core of their team.
So we knew that Rangers was a paper tiger … it was just a matter of waiting for the implosion which was, at that point, as certain as anything could be.
Phil reported that this was directly related to August’s visit; the tax man had served them with a demand and 21 days later they had not been paid, hence the court hearing.
October brought the BBC documentary to light.
Even then, Celtic sites were suggesting that he had funded his takeover by mortgaging the season ticket monies that he hadn’t yet owned; it would be months before the press caught up.
Yet there were many in the media talking as if the league race was over.
Before November had even ended, that prediction looked ludicrous. A fortnight after the United game they drew at home 0-0 with St Johnstone and a week later lost to Kilmarnock. Celtic were now only four points behind again, exactly where we’d been leaving Ibrox.
And we just kept on winning.
The turning of our season had come at Rugby Park, where Kilmarnock had a 3-0 half time lead. Lennon admits that he would have gone had that game ended with that score-line or worse. People inside the ground that night – my old man was one of them – still tell me it was the Celtic fans who turned the tide. Their backing for the team in the second half was extraordinary; from the minute the players came out, they were behind them and roaring them on.
We clawed it back and snatched the draw. And although we’d drop points 14 days later, at home to Hibs, in a 0-0 draw, the corner had been turned. Following the Hibs game we won 17 league games in a row; an incredible feat, in a run that lasted all the way to the end of February.
By the turn of the year, we were already top of the league. Rangers fans have forever blamed their financial woes for us winning the title that year, but those woes had no impact on that winning run, which took us to the brink of capturing the flag.
Their dire situation forced them to punt Jelavic for £5.5 million, which was less than the alleged £9 million offer they’d told the media they rejected in the summer, and which had drawn a famous, sarcastic, response from Peter Lawwell, who knew the smell of bullshit when it was wafting it in the air around him. “Last night, we got a £29m offer for Hooper, from an unknown agent, from an unknown club, from another universe,” he said.
At that point, the club was already in free-fall. McCoist’s limitations were being exposed to the full.
February was a torrid month for them. The news on administration hit them on Valentine’s Day, ending a lot of relationships in a single sweep. They lost ground in the league when Kilmarnock beat them again and Dundee Utd knocked them out of the Scottish Cup.
The first half of March was disastrous. They lost two league games in a row, to Hearts and United, and that meant we could go to Ibrox and win the title there. They scored early and one of the most shocking refereeing displays I’ve ever witnessed cost us Du Rei and Wanyama in straight red cards. But we fought on anyway before the roof came in on 72 minutes when Little made it 2-0 and then Wallace made it 3-0 five minutes later.
We rallied and scored two late, and so had to wait to win the title. Their celebrations were muted because they knew the dire situation they were in and that it might be a long time before they were challenging us again. They didn’t know the half of it.
By the end of that month it was obvious that HMRC were in no mood to play nice.
Every day, the press was running sheer fantasy about how the taxman would do a deal worth pennies in the pound and the Ibrox fans, who needed to believe that, lapped it up. But those of us who’d done even a modicum of research knew this was cobblers.
HMRC policy in a case involving deliberately with-holding of money, or where they believe systematic tax evasion is being carried out, is about as crystal clear as it can be; they would rather have a corpse to hold up as a warning to the world than come to some cosy wee arrangement.
People said to me all the way through it “this is Rangers; do you really believe they’d reject a CVA that effectively killed the club?”
And I kept saying,“Yes, because they don’t care about a West of Scotland football team. This is a matter of law and money and Rangers is not of any concern to the people who will make this decision.”
Never had it been more clear to me just how the media had over-inflated the importance of that club and of how much of this country had swallowed it.
That entire saga showed them for all they really were; a disgraced institution that had cheated its way to success by spending money that wasn’t theirs, just like Enron.
A mere company that had over-extended and behaved recklessly and was paying the price, just what happened at Northern Rock.
The HMRC bean counters didn’t give a stuff about “the culture”, the “history”, their “special place in Scottish society”, far less follow Murray’s arrogant and wholly self-serving suggestion once that they were “Scotland’s biggest institution after the church.”
To the tax man, they were just another company that couldn’t pay its bills.
If they represented anything more than that it was a warning to other businesses who weren’t playing with a straight bat; look what we did to Rangers. We’ll do the same to you.
Nothing over there was ever the same again.
The liquidation of Rangers and the creation of Sevco did not rebuilt the feel-good factor.
The rock their church was built on – that they were special – has been shattered into a million pieces.
They are now paranoid, parochial, feeling victimised and hard done by.
They used to joke that “no-one likes us, we don’t care” back when they thought they ran Scotland, the media, the SFA.
Now they sing it as a lament, and although the SFA still does Ibrox’s bidding and the media slabbers all over them they realise that the real power is gone.
Even the Scottish institutions they believed would protect them if it ever came to that ran for the hills in 2011 … nobody came to save them, nobody went to the bat on their behalf, nobody wrote cheques to keep the wolf at bay or even offered to.
The Real Rangers Men they assumed would come running never did.
The carcass of their club was fought over, in the end, by dimestore hoods and charlatans.
Ironically, after Whyte it was a guy called Green who got the keys.
The celebrations last night as the NewCo beat Feynoord at home were those of a support which alternates between believing they are a big club once more to black periods of realisation that they aren’t … and perhaps that whatever their feelings, that the clubs at Ibrox never were.
I’ve said more than once that without a bank to fund their operations they’d never have risen to the level where they could have challenged us after what McCann built.
We’ve been the biggest in this country since 1994.
I don’t expect them to get out of their Europa League group, in spite of an opening night victory, and their fans already have the sinking feeling that the league race is going to come down to how many points we win it by.
They will never again have the feeling of being totally on top of us, of being the biggest club in the land, that they had that day on 17 September 2011. It was the last time they went into one of those games on top, as a cup holder, a title holder, the last time the superiority complex could be sustained.
It’s not even the same club they’re watching today.
In the meantime, Celtic has gone from strength to strength.
Our own result in Europe last night was both more impressive and more portentious; Lennon is a better manager than many people thought.
And if you thought the period of darkness the Ibrox fans are struggling to get out of was bad … the worst is yet to come.
More on that over the weekend.
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