For reasons that will become apparent, the next couple of seasons are best remembered for two individuals rather than the overall performances of Rangers. If you thought that 1993/94 was bad just winning the two trophies and losing the Scottish Cup Final then you are in for a treat. Dropped points in 16 out of 36 games and points total of just 69. When you look back in more detail, Rangers were aided and abetted towards 9-in-a-row by the inadequacies of others. There was a recurring trend with Rangers in the mid-nineties, injuries. It was almost like they didn’t train properly or something….
There was, however, a team spirit that got Rangers over the line. The famous quote, “a team that drinks together, wins together” from Richard Gough encapsulating what the club was about at the time. Substance over style.
New season, new formation
But then, as if from nowhere, there was a shift in direction. Much like the lilac third strip that we all regret getting rid of, it was different and took some getting used to. The trend at the time was to play 3-5-2. Rangers had struggled the previous season and perhaps a change in shape would help? Spoiler alert, it didn’t. Not yet, anyway.
In Europe, season 1992/93 had been the outlier and not the norm. The Champion’s League was growing financially and this was where Rangers wanted to be dining. Having better players than the opposition wasn’t going to happen most weeks in Europe but it would domestically. Rangers needed a sprinkle of stardust and players with European pedigree if they were to compete at the top table.
Basile Boli was an integral part of the Marseille team that had won the inaugural Champion’s League in 1992/93. The same Marseille team that had progressed (*cough* cheated) at the expense of Rangers. Rangers fans knew him well, immensely powerful, athletic, and a truly dominant centre half, perfect in the central sweeper role in a back three. This was the marquee signing, Boli was the player that lifted Rangers up a level. Much vaunted to much maligned, poor fitness, form and being played out of position ensured a torrid and solitary season for Basile.
A month later and Walter Smith was at it again, signing another Champion’s League winner. Brian Laudrup arrived from Fiorentina for a modest £2.5m, to put this into context, Duncan Ferguson would be sold for £4.2m a few months later. Everyone knew who Laudrup was.
The Laudrup brothers were synonymous with Danish and European football in the nineties. Michael was “the better one” but this wasn’t really the slight on Brian that it might’ve seemed. Michael was as good a number ten as there was in World football. Denmark’s success at the European Championships in 1992 remains one of the greatest tournament successes in football history. How would Brian fit into Rangers’ shape with the front two of Mark Hateley and Ally McCoist still in their pomp though?
For a start, you don’t sign Brian Laudrup and make him track back on a cold, wet, Tuesday evening in Dunfermline. He would get a free role. Depending on the opposition it would be behind McCoist and Hateley or a solo striker, usually Hateley or Durie. He was the one bright spark in this season.
Obligatory Laudrup Montage
To add a little perspective, in 1992/93, Hateley and McCoist scored 78 goals. In 1993/94, they scored 41 and in 1994/95 they scored 16. There were numerous factors, mainly injury, for the decline and Gordon Durie also contributed but there was a huge drop in goals being scored by the front two. Laudrup chipped in with 13 goals in his first season and it felt like he created every other goal we scored. Laudrup played more games than any other player, only five players made more than 30 appearances. This gives an indication to the level of disruption in the team.
From one magician to another. Laudrup was a huge influence on me this season as I tried to force my way into a senior XI at 15 years old, watching how he dribbled and crossed the ball. But it was another that got me hooked, firstly on football and secondly on Rangers. Davie Cooper. He died in the March this season, tragically, at the age of just 39. The age I am now.
He was my first hero, my first role model. I tried to do everything he did, including using my left foot all the time despite being right footed. His early years at Rangers were wasted being surrounded by mediocrity. I just count myself lucky that I could see him play, the cliché that someone has “a wand of a left foot” should’ve been retired with Cooper. His was the original wand. He was doing “no look” passes in the mid-eighties for goodness sake.
The season finished as it started, with a whimper. Walter Smith had clung to his job by a thread in August after his nightmare week in which Rangers lost to AEK Athens, Falkirk and Celtic all at home. That week led to the greatest interview of all time between Walter Smith and Chick Young. Rangers had won the league at a canter despite being so far below the expected standard. They needed goals, creativity and support for Laudrup, he couldn’t do it on his own.
Sir Walter at his best, the greatest interview of all time
And then it happened. Paul Gascoigne arrived. In July 1995, Paul Gascoigne signed for £4.3m, a club record. It was a gamble considering he’d played less than fifty games during his time in Italy. There was an obvious plan though. Fill the team with hard working, solid, winners and give the ball to Gascoigne and Laudrup. Let the others do the work so they don’t have to. Simple but effective.
Rangers got peak Paul Gascoigne for two years. He never played more games in a season than he did at Rangers. He also had his highest and second highest goals tally for a season during his time at the club. Gascoigne fitted perfectly into the culture at the club with Andy Goram, Richard Gough, John Brown, Ian Durrant, Ian Ferguson and Ally McCoist the chief protagonists. There was also the perfect father figure to look after him in Walter Smith.
Gascoigne would finish the 1995/96 season as Players’ Player and Writers’ Player of the Year, borrowing them off Laudrup for the season. Goals in Old Firm games and one of the best hat-tricks you will ever see in the penultimate, title-clinching, game against Aberdeen at Ibrox defined his season.
For ninety minutes, every Saturday I loved Paul Gascoigne. The times in between, I couldn’t be doing with him. Every week there was a different story about his “off-field” antics. I’m not sure if this makes me a hypocrite or if being able to differentiate between the two personas is a credible opinion. Part of me blames him for Rangers not winning 10-in-a-row. He didn’t turn up for a season and had gone completely “off the rails”.
If I’m being honest, I thought he was an arse. It was only on watching the recent “Gascoigne” documentary that you realise how much football failed him and how troubled he was. This doesn’t excuse domestic violence or substance abuse but it does explain the fragility of his mental health. He has been targeted by the media and let down by so many people he considered to be friends, it is a wonder he is still alive given the severity of his afflictions.
The dynamic duo
If Laudrup won 7-in-a-row, Gascoigne won 8-in-a-row. They both lit up cup finals, remembered purely for their performances, both in 1996 in the Scottish and League Cups respectively. These two seasons were defined by players that most Rangers fans will have in their all-time XIs. It looked as though Rangers were now unstoppable again, players were staying fit, key players were on form.
The team was starting to get older though. Alan McLaren, Charlie Miller, Craig Moore, Derek McInnes and Stephen Wright had all been bought or brought through the youth system with the hope they would rejuvenate the squad. Walter Smith would spend money again in his bid to secure 9-in-a-row, he knew this team wouldn’t last forever. Just another couple of years would do.