In reality, I had as much choice about the football team that I support as I did about being born at all. It is like that in the West of Scotland. Your club is a matter of heritage, bestowed upon you at birth. But it was when I was born that made all the difference.
Being a football fan always has its challenges. Your team is never on top forever. There are always bad times to suffer and being a Rangers fan over the last decade or so has brought about an awful lot of suffering. But to be a Rangers fan and born in 1980 - as I was - was as perfect timing as you could possibly wish for.
This year is the 25th anniversary of a huge disappointment but also an ideal time to better appreciate what went before it. I was 17 years old on May 16 1998. Rangers lost a Scottish Cup Final that day but it was much more than that. It was a farewell to so many heroes who had delivered so much joy. Ally McCoist, Walters Smith, Richard Gough, Brian Laudrup and others staggered slowly in the warm spring sunshine and bid a tearful goodbye to a support that had idolised them.
Well, most of the time. By that age, I had been behind the wheel of a car. I had enjoyed my first drink. But only that day did I experience what it felt like to finish a season without seeing Rangers win any silverware. It had felt like a birthright to me and my generation. We were supposed to see history that month - the crowning of the record-breaking ten-in-a-row - but instead had watched a team collapse before staging a dramatic last stand which was heartbreakingly futile. There was anger amongst the sentimentality. So many of us had little time to wallow in the instant nostalgia. Not when there was a new, brighter era to come.
Perhaps the work that I have done over the last three years - a 55 episode podcast series and two books that cover that golden Rangers era of 1986-98 - has been a way of finally saying a proper goodbye to people that had made my life happier than some friends or family ever could. During my childhood and adolescence - a time before mortgages and marriages, kids and career, sex, drugs and rock and roll - there was no perspective with which to view football. It meant absolutely everything, which was just as well as it coincided with a revolution and a period of 20 trophies in 12 years.
And the story of how it began is the subject of my next book - due out in March - ‘Revolution: Rangers - 1986-92’. If the entire era was a story of change and modernisation - and it was - then the first half was about successful modernisation at Ibrox. A period where Rangers were at the forefront of it all. Reversing the traditional flow of players south from Scotland to such a degree that Rangers supplied more players to the England squad so adored at Italia ’90 than any other club. Smashing wage caps and religious signing practices. Developing the size and importance of corporate hospitality. And ultimately, creating the UEFA Champions League. By the turn of the final decade of the 20th century, they were the biggest club in Britain.
The biggest stars of the drama obviously take prominence - Graeme Souness, Walter Smith, Ally McCoist, Terry Butcher to name a few - but there are other, perhaps lesser known names, who are given the appreciation that they so richly deserve. Any account of the revolution at Ibrox at this time cannot ignore the changes around it. This story is set around a transformation in social attitudes towards politics, economics and religion, not to mention the experience of ordinary football fans up and down the country. How we consumed the game itself was unrecognisable by the end of this period than it was in 1986 and how fans found their own voice - through the burgeoning fanzine culture - is another fascinating development. All of these have been woven through the book so as to tell a fuller and richer story of the time.
The response to the podcast series - which finished on the subscription site Patreon this week and will be released ‘free-to-air’ on March 1 - has been overwhelming but it appears that it has fulfilled the two objectives that I had for the entire project. Firstly, to re-kindle some special memories for those fans who lived through it but secondly, to encourage listeners to re-assess the story that they thought they knew so well. It has been a year of enjoyable debate and re-framing which is exactly what I wanted. I hope the books do that too.
Although written primarily for Rangers fans, ‘Revolution’ isn’t exclusively for them. Unlike my first ever book - ‘The 50 Greatest Rangers Games’ which was written very much by a Rangers fan, for Rangers fans - this is something that I’d like to think all football fans could engage with and act as a reminder that, not too far in the distant past, the peak of British football existed further north than Manchester.
For how long, is the real question. By the end of ‘Revolution’ there is the noise of other, bigger, footballing transformations afoot. 1992, that Year Zero in the sport with the introduction of the Premier League, Champions League, Serie A on mainstream television and Championship Manager on computer screens, is where I’ve stopped because this is when the Rangers revolution ended. Internally the drive was running out of both power and focus and externally, ironically shaped by Rangers no less, other changes were about to swallow it up.
What happened next - in the years 1992-98 - was the accumulation of the same amount of trophies but with a more parochial feel. The illegal UEFA constraint on foreign players, the explosion of television markets and the grip that Rangers now had over the rest of Scottish football after 1992 ensured that the focus was now more a narrow obsession: matching and then beating Celtic’s record of nine league championships in a row. As the footballing world was expanding its horizons, Rangers were tightening theirs.
That, however, is for another day and another book. For now, I dearly hope that for those who were lucky enough to have lived through it, ‘Revolution’ transports them back to a time of great excitement, where anything seemed possible. For those who came after, perhaps it can serve as something of an inspiration in how they can help shape their club’s future. And for those who have no interest in Rangers Football Club at all, it can still provide an illuminating and entertaining read on a time where one club changed football forever in Scotland and beyond.