Rangers 1963-64 – a final flourish for the 60s

THE mid-1960s through to the 1970s was Celtic’s time in Scotland, Jock Stein’s side winning almost everything on offer. Before the tide turned in Glasgow, Rangers completed a memorable treble in 1963-64. Ibrox Park regulars would have found it hard to believe if anyone had told them, in 1964, that the Gers would not be crowned Scottish champions again for 11 long years.

The Rangers team of that time had some outstanding players that are now considered to be legendary figures: John Greig, Willie Henderson, Ron McKinnon and, of course, Jim Baxter.

The city of Glasgow had belonged to Rangers since the mid-1950s. From 1955-56 to 1963-64, they won six of nine Scottish championships, while Celtic never finished above third place. When Rangers didn’t win the title, Hearts or Dundee finished top.

Rangers had discovered fresh impetus under manager Scot Symon, who was appointed in 1955 following Bill Struth, who had been in charge for an astonishing 34 years. Symon, whose full name was James Scotland Symon, played for Rangers either side of the second world war and was capped once by Scotland. He managed Preston North End – including Tommy Docherty and Tom Finney – and led them to the FA Cup final in 1954.

Symon also took Rangers to two European Cup Winners’ Cup finals, including 1961 when they became the first British team to reach that stage of a European competition. Rangers lost both times, to Fiorentina in 1961 and six years later to an emerging Bayern Munich team that included luminaries such as Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller.

Rangers won the Scottish “double” in 1962-63, finishing nine points ahead of Kilmarnock in the league and, satisfyingly, trouncing Celtic 3-0 at Hampden Park in the Scottish Cup final in front of 120,000 people.

In 1963-64, Rangers fielded a very young side on a number of occasions. The regular team included Grieg (20), McKinnon (22), Davie Provan (22), Willie Henderson (19), George McLean (20), Jim Forrest (18) and Baxter (23). When Rangers met Real Madrid in the European Cup, the average age of the team was under 23 years. Almost every member of Rangers’ first choice XI was capped by Scotland at some stage of their career, such was the club’s importance to the national team.

Rangers started the season well, beating Celtic 2-1, and went unbeaten until their 14th game on November 30, losing at home to Hearts. Surprisingly, given the passion and size of their crowd, of Rangers four league defeats, three were at Ibrox Park. They also lost to St. Johnstone (home and away) and at home to St.Mirren.

Rangers’ Ralph Brand (l) douses his teammates with a bucketful of water as captain Bobby Shearer holds on to the Cup following Rangers’ 1964 Scottish Cup Final win, which completed the domestic treble: (l-r) Ralph Brand, Billy Ritchie, Davie Provan, Bobby Shearer (holding cup), Ron McKinnon, George McLean, Jimmy Millar, John Greig, Jim Baxter, Willie Henderson (front, seated), Davie Wilson (front, wearing hat).

Rangers were boosted by young striker Jim Forrest, who kept the more experienced Jimmy Millar out of the team for a long period. Forrest would score 21 goals in 24 league games and in all competitions, 39 in 39. He netted four goals in the Scottish League Cup final as Rangers beat Morton 5-0. Another 19 league goals came from Ralph Brand, who would go on to play for Manchester City.

Creativity and virtuosity came from Jim Baxter, “Slim Jim” to the Rangers faithful. The 1963-64 season was his last full campaign as he broke a leg in December 1964. Baxter was something of a free spirit, but his vision, passing ability and trickery made him one of Scotland’s most exciting players of the era. When he was injured in 1964, he  struggled to regain fitness and started drinking and after pleading with the club to let him move to England, was sold to Sunderland in 1965 for £ 72,500. Like many flawed heroes, Baxter’s legend has lasted longer than his career. His part in Scotland’s 3-2 win at Wembley in 1967 has never been forgotten by the Tartan Army, but there are many fans who believe he never quite fulfilled his immense promise.

Other players from the 1963-64 team lasted longer at Ibrox. John Greig, for example, was a youngster when Rangers won the title, but he played almost 800 games for the Gers and 28 times for his country. Originally a forward, and then a midfielder, he settled at left back, captained the club and has been named the greatest-ever Rangers player. Centre half Ron McKinnon played almost 500 games for the club and was an often under-rated by supporters. Glasgow born, he won 28 caps for Scotland but his career was cut short by injury.

Willie Henderson was just 19 but missed only four league games in 1963-64. A speedy winger, 5ft 4 inch Henderson was known as “Wee Willie” and was capped at 18 by Scotland, the first of 29 appearances.

Rangers blend of youngsters and established players rarely took their eye off the ball in 1963-64. When they were beaten by St.Mirren on February 8, Kilmarnock went top of the table, but a week later, Rangers were back in the lead, albeit on goal average. On March 14, goals from George McLean and Davie Wilson were enough to beat Kilmarnock 2-0. Rangers eventually shook off the challenge of Kilmarnock and Celtic in the closing weeks and they finished six and eight points ahead of them respectively. On April 25, Rangers clinched the double when they beat Dundee 3-1 in the Scottish Cup final.

It had been a glorious season, but the green half of Glasgow was stirring and when Jock Stein became manager in 1965, the balance of power shifted quite dramatically. Scot Symon stayed with Rangers until 1967 – things were never the same after Berwick Rangers beat them in the Cup in one of Scottish football’s biggest shocks – when he was somewhat controversially sacked to make way for a younger man – David White.

Rangers were very much cast into the shadows by Celtic’s era of near-total dominance. They won just six major trophies in 10 years, compared to 21 picked up by their “Old Firm” rivals in that same period. Not that Rangers were lacking in talent – in 1967-68, even though they finished runners-up in the league, they lost just one game. Celtic and Stein were exceptional, but back in 1964, Rangers under Symon were certainly Scotland’s top side.


Photos: PA


Rangers close one gap and create another

RANGERS are enjoying a tremendous start to the 2020-21 season, opening up an 11-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership and pushing well ahead of old-firm rivals Celtic. They have won 13 of their 15 league games and have yielded just three goals, keeping eight clean sheets in a row at Ibrox Park. After a grim period in their history during which Rangers stared into the abyss and have been completely overshadowed by Celtic, the Gers could be on the brink of winning serious silverware once more.

Financially, Rangers are closing the gap on Celtic, largely thanks to a successful UEFA Europa League run in 2019-20. They are going well in this season’s Europa League, so there’s every chance they could reap further rewards from this competition. No wonder the club’s Chairman said in their annual financial report, “we are getting ever closer to success.”

Rangers managed to increase revenues in 2019-20, up 11% to £ 59 million. Their neighbours Celtic’s revenues totalled £ 70 million, so the gap between the two clubs in terms of income has narrowed from £ 32 million to £ 11 million. 

If the pandemic hadn’t closed stadiums to fans, Rangers’ momentum in 2020-21 would have resulted in a further increase in commercial and matchday income, not to mention a rise in supporter passion across Glasgow. 

Revenues from matchdays actually increased in 2020-21 to £ 35.7 million (£ 31.9m 2019) and media also went up from £ 10.9 million to £ 13.5 million. Only the commercial stream went down from £ 10.3 million to £ 9.8 million. Nevertheless, the club made a pre-tax loss of £ 17.8 million, some £ 6.5 million higher than 2018-19. Given the impact of the pandemic (Rangers officials believe the crisis will cost the bigger Scottish clubs around £ 10 million each), the damage could have been worse.

However, Rangers’ operating expenses increased by 17% to £ 76.9 million, attributable to an increase in staff costs of 25% to £ 43 million, including £ 29.7 million for first team wages (+29%).

Although Rangers have admitted it needs in excess of £ 20 million in fresh investment, chairman Douglas Park and director John Bennett have confirmed they will continue to provide loans to cover the club’s shortfalls. At the same time, this suggests Rangers’ finances continue to be fragile, although a title win and subsequent Champions League participation in 2021-22 would provide a greater cushion over the coming seasons.

The club could also do better in player trading. Their profit in 2019-20 was just £ 0.7 million, but they do have a number of players who could make Rangers some serious money in the near future. These include: Croatian defender Borna Barisic, who cost the club £ 2.2 million from Osijek; Glen Kamara, the 25 year-old Finnish midfielder (ex-Dundee £ 50,000); former Liverpool midfielder Ryan Kent, who cost £ 6.5 million; and Colombian striker Alfredo Morelos (£ 1 million from HJK Helsinki). Some fans believe most of these players will be sold next summer to help balance the books at Ibrox.

Kent is one player that fans want to see tied-down ahead of the next transfer window. He first joined the club on loan from Liverpool in 2018, but he’s now a Rangers player and a popular one at that. The club is being urged to renew his personal terms in a bid to keep him happy. He currently earns under £ 20,000 per week but a new contract will arguably make him Rangers’ highest-paid player. At 24, Kent’s time is now, so whether he stays in Glasgow depends on how attractive any potential move will be. Rangers also need to bring down their wage bill, so there’s the dilemma – can they afford to keep Kent?

Rangers’ performances on the pitch can help improve the club’s financial position. Rangers’ statistics this season are really quite phenomenal – a goal difference of plus 38 after 15 games. Rangers haven’t won the Scottish league since 2011 and Celtic are currently on a nine-year run as champions. If Rangers end that sequence, they will avoid equalling their worst-ever run without a title, an 11-year spell between 1964 and 1975. At present, it looks good, but there’s a long way to go. The green side of Glasgow is hoping their experience of winning titles (they have two games in hand) will eventually overcome a Rangers team unaccustomed to being Scottish champions. For once, the battle at the top will not be a foregone conclusion.

Photos: PA Images