“Big fish” Rangers still trailing Europe’s elite

ALONG with their Old Firm rivals, Celtic, Rangers continue to enjoy the status of being Scottish football royalty, earning way more money than every other club in Scotland. The Gers’ finances for 2020-21 underlined the gulf between the Glasgow duo and the rest of Scotland, but it also highlighted the challenge facing Rangers in competing with Europe’s top names.

With an appetising Europa League encounter with Borussia Dortmund on the horizon, Rangers will be reminded of how far they still have to come. Dortmund may not be Bayern, but the Ibrox club will be only too aware that they were once in the same ballpark as BVB and met them in the 1967 European Cup-Winners’ Cup. In 2022, they will be the underdogs.

Rangers won their first Scottish Premier title in a decade under Steven Gerrard in 2020-21, but their losses increased by 43% to £ 24.7 million. The last time Rangers made a profit was in 2013.

The club’s revenues dropped from £ 59 million to £ 47.7 million (-20%), largely due to a dramatic fall (-49%) in matchday income, which was partially offset by increases in both broadcasting (+39%) and commercial revenues (+9%).

Rangers’ wage bill rose by 10% to £ 47.7 million, which entirely absorbed the club’s revenues and was a marked difference from 2019-20 when wages were 73% of income. By way of comparison, Celtic’s wage bill totalled £ 51.7 million and was 85% of total earnings.

Scottish football still appears to be undervalued by many people. According to data produced by football analyst Swiss Ramble, the TV deal, for example, is paltry compared to many leagues, just € 34 million per annum compared to the € 3.6 billion awarded to the Premier League and € 2 billion paid to La Liga. The total income of the two leagues is also eye-opening; the Scottish Premiership generated € 221 million while the Premier League earned € 5.1 billion.

Consequently, matchday income is far more important to Scottish clubs than their counterparts across many leagues. Overall, 48% of revenues is derived from matchday, although Rangers’ matchday cash amounted to 38% in 2020-21. By contrast, matchday income amounts to 13% of Premier League income, 11% of both France’s Ligue 1 and Serie A, 15% of La Liga and 16% of the Bundesliga’s revenues.

One area that Rangers need to improve is in their player trading activities. Over nine seasons, they have made less than £ 10 million in profits from player sales, versus the £ 100 million made by Celtic.

Rangers have started the 2021-22 season reasonably well and are top of the table once more, although they have been beaten. They went out of the Champions League rather cheaply but they go into 2022 with the Europa League play-off awaiting them. In November, they lost manager Gerrard to Aston Villa, replacing him with Giovanni van Bronckhorst. The odds are they will probably retain the league title they won earlier this year, but can they make a splash in Europe?

Hibernian 1950-52: Five was the magic number

HIBERNIAN have had a mixed history in recent times but in 2020-21, they finished third in the Scottish Premiership and reached the final of the Scottish Cup. In today’s football climate, that wasn’t a bad campaign, but for a relatively big club, the Hibees have a modest honours list, they were last Scottish champions almost 70 years ago. 

The Edinburgh club has produced some excellent players down the decades, including Peter Cormack, Pat Stanton, Joe Baker and Andy Goram, to name but a few. But some of the players from the early post-WW2 years remain club legends to this day – the so-called Famous Five: Gordon Smith, Lawrie Reilly, Willie Ormond, Bobby Johnstone and Eddie Turnbull.

For over five years, this quintet of talented footballers drove Hibernian to some of their greatest triumphs, including the league title in 1948, 1951 and 1952. The names of these players still trigger a smile from Hibs fans young and old and Easter Road has a stand that honours their part in the club’s history. 

Hibernian had won the Scottish league twice before the second world war but they had been very much in the shadow of Rangers in the inter-war years. The Gers had won 15 out of 20 championships between 1919 and 1939.

After the war, Hibs signed a number of young players from junior clubs, including most of the “Famous Five”. When the title was won in 1948, the team only included occasional appearances from the hallowed group, but it would not be long before they were all regulars. 

Hibs failed to retain the title in 1949 but went painfully close again in 1950, losing to Rangers by a single point. They met the Glasgow giants at Ibrox just before the end of the season in front of 101,000 people, the largest crowd to watch a league match in Britain. The game ended in a draw, but if Hibs had won, they would have been champions again.

They didn’t have to wait long, though. Hibs started 1950-51 in rampant form, winning 6-0 on the opening day against Falkirk but losing their next two games against Edinburgh rivals Hearts and Aberdeen. They then went 10 games without defeat before going down once more to Hearts on New Year’s Day on a frozen pitch. Hearts were certainly Hibs’ “bogey team” as this was their fifth successive win against them. Hibs were in fourth place in the league but they had games in hand.

In March, Hibernian were beaten 3-2 by Motherwell in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup, a game that became an uphill struggle after defender Jim Ogilvie broke his leg. Some said that the loss of a player effectively cost Hibs the double in 1950-51. It could even have been a treble as Motherwell beat them in the Scottish League Cup final in October 1950.

Hibs lost just one more league game, away at Aidrieonians at the start of March. It almost became a foregone conclusion that Hibs would win the title and on April 11, it happened. They travelled to Shawfield, home of Clyde, with an injury-ravaged squad, and won 4-0, Turnbull, Archie Buchanan and Jim Souness scoring the goals, along with Clyde’s hapless goalkeeper.

It had been an easy victory against a team threatened with relegation: “Surely no tamer game ever decided a league championship,” said one report. Hibs had four games still to play and they ended 10 points clear of second-placed Rangers. A few days later, Hibs players Bobby Johnstone and Lawrie Reilly were in the Scotland team that beat the “auld enemy” England 3-2 at Wembley. 

Manager Hugh Shaw, who had arrived in 1948 on a mission to make Hibernian Scotland’s most successful club, was eager to retain the title. He believed that attaining true greatness, was only achieved by winning trophies time and time again.

The 1951-52 season wasn’t quite as emphatic, but Hibernian, thanks to their all-star forward line, were prolific in front of goal. They scored 92 goals in 30 league games and at one stage were five points clear at the top, but they had fierce competition from Rangers who had games to spare. On March 15, while Queen of the South were beating Hibs 5-2, Rangers were squeezing home against Morton by 1-0. Hibs were three points clear, but Rangers had two games in hand. Rangers caught up on games, but had dropped three points against Motherwell and Queen of the South. Hibs had a two point margin and when they beat Dundee 3-1, the gap was four points and Hugh Shaw’s side had a far better goal average. The title was won.

Although Hibernian went close again in 1953 but lost their title on goal average to Rangers, they were invited to Brazil to compete in the Octagonol Rivadavia Correa Meyer, a competition involving Sporting Lisbon, Olimpia of Paraguay and five top Brazilian teams. The fact they were invited says a lot about the reputation they had established but they found it hard going, drawing against Vasco da Gama and losing against Botafogo and Fluminense. Both Reilly and Turnbull were on the scoresheet in Brazil, enhancing their reputations on foreign soil. 

Hibs became the first British side to compete in Europe when they entered the inaugural European Cup in 1955, reaching the semi-final and going out to Reims, who lost to Real Madrid in the final. By this time, the “famous five” had started to break-up. Bobby Johnstone was sold to Manchester City in 1955 for £22,000 and went on to win the FA Cup in 1956.  Lawrie Reilly, who later claimed, “my life has been blessed” when recalling his career, was a one-club-man and stayed with Hibs until 1958. He won 38 caps and has gone down in history as one of Scotland’s greatest forwards. Gordon Smith, “the prince of wingers”, left the club in 1959 and joined Hearts, although an ankle injury refused to completely go away. Eddie Turnbull joined Hearts from the Royal Navy after serving in the second world war. He departed Hibs in 1959 but later managed the club. And Willie Ormond finished playing for the club in 1961 and later became Scotland manager between 1973 and 1977. He also had a spell in charge of Hibs.

There were other notable names apart from the much celebrated five: Goalkeeper Tommy Younger won 24 caps for Scotland and later played for Liverpool; Jock Paterson, a centre half, was born in England and had a long career with Hibernian and represented the Scottish League XI; and wing half Bobby Combe played three times for Scotland and spent 16 years with Hibs.

These were golden days for Hibernian, a time when sound team-building and good management could create winners rather than simply bucket-loads of money. Scottish football has long suffered from the imbalance between the “old firm” and the rest of the league and it’s a problem that will not go away. Recreating that golden period has probably never been more unattainable than it is today, but isn’t that what football is all about – dreaming of the impossible and witnessing the unexpected?

This article is dedicated to John Ogilvie, who sadly died of covid-19 in May 2020.

Recalling Scotland’s “Wee Blue Devils” of 1928

IRONICALLY, two of England’s most documented and discussed games happen to be defeats – Hungary’s win in 1953 and two and a half decades earlier, England 1 Scotland 5. The Scots have never forgotten how they humbled their fierce rivals at Wembley in 1928 and the defeat stands alongside other defining moments in history when the English have had their noses blooded by the tartan hordes.

This was in a time when England – in blind ignorance to a certain degree – thought they were the best in the world. Given they were not FIFA members and international football was mainly the home internationals and the occasional tour game, neither England nor their self-garlanded crown of being the world’s top football nation, could ever be tested.

As for Scotland, if they beat England, that was enough to have local bragging honours. In 1928, two years before the first FIFA World Cup, the Scots earned the right to talk about the events of March 31 for the next 90 years.

Certainly, the Scots had the upper hand on England in the 1920s, suggesting that “best in the world” was a false and unproven claim from the Football Association.

In England, the 1926-27 Football League champions were Newcastle United. Seven of the Magpies’ regular team were Scottish. The FA Cup winners were Cardiff City, whose team contained four from north of the border. English football was, effectively, full of talented Scots, so it was no wonder the Scotland team to face England at Wembley comprised eight “Anglos”.

Not that this pleased the local media at the time, or indeed some Scottish fans when they heard the selection a few days before the game, from the steps of the Scottish Football Association, declaring, “Yon team’s nae chance”. There were no Celtic players in this team, just one from the “old firm”, the veteran Alan Morton from Glasgow Rangers.

Nobody could have predicted that Scotland would create a seismic shock in London, primarily because their team contained a forward line that had nobody above 5ft 7in – in the age of high balls lofted into the area. In addition, their current form was not especially good and just before the match at Wembley, a Football League XI had thrashed a Scottish League XI at Ibrox Park – a reason why the team for the big clash was mostly domiciled in England.

Indeed, Scotland lost at home to Northern Ireland at the end of February 25 with a team that included just one “Anglo”, six drawn from the “old firm” and two apiece from Motherwell and Hibernian. Only two of that team, Jimmy Dunn and Alan Morton, would line-up at Wembley 36 days later.

It would be the only time this particular XI would play together for their country. Of the eleven Tommy Bradshaw, despite his performance, and Dunn would never appear again for Scotland, and Tommy law and James Nelson would only win one more cap. Jimmy Gibson had two more outings in the dark blue shirt and skipper Jimmy McMullan played three more games. It was easy to assume that Scotland had assembled a team to “do a job” on their hosts!

But it was a team that had a high degree of quality about it. The forward line included several notable players – Alex Jackson, Hughie Gallacher, Alex James and Alan Morton were all among the most revered players of their generation. That said, Gallacher’s inclusion was not universally popular – the firebrand had been out of the game for a while and his general demeanour was not entirely appreciated outside Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where he had inspire the team to the league title.

Gallacher was, however, in his pomp. In 1926-27, he scored 36 goals in Newcastle’s last championship. In 1927-28, he netted 21 in 32 appearances. Sadly, Gallacher always came with baggage and his lifestyle and behaviour – he would smoke up to 40 Woodbine cigarettes a day – often saw him rail against the establishment.

Alex Jackson was another charismatic player and a member of Huddersfield’s 1925-26 title team. Jackson was known as the “Gay Cavalier” for his dashing style, poise and guile. He was only 22 years of age, but within four years, his career was in disarray as he fell-out with Chelsea, the club he joined in 1930.

Inside forward Alex James became one of the 1930s’ most influential players. In 1928, he was with Preston North End player, but a year later, he joined the rising power that was Arsenal. James only won eight caps for Scotland, but he had his mark on much of Arsenal’s success across the next decade.

Players like Gallacher, Jackson and James were teased mercilessly for the way the Football League team had trounced their Scottish counterparts at Ibrox. “The baiting served Scotland well,” said Sandy Anderson in the Evening News.

The match was a battle between the old and the emerging. English football, in the post-McCracken world, was moving into a more machine-like efficient era, championed by the likes of Arsenal under Herbert Chapman. Scottish football was still tied to its tradition of crafted football based on passing and slick movement.

On the eve of the match, Jimmy McMullan told his team to “got to bed and pray for rain” and lo and behold, there was a downpour on the day. The game would be played on a greasy pitch by fleet-footed players who zipped across the turf – well, those in dark blue shirts, that is.

After surviving an early shot from Huddersfield’s Billy Smith that hit the woodwork, Scotland went ahead after three minutes, Jackson heading a cross by the irrepressible Alan Morton past Ted Hufton. By the 66th minute, Scotland were four goals to the good. James had dribbled his way to the second goal in the 44th minute and Jackson had converted another Morton cross on 65. James scored the fourth seconds later after Gallacher had been felled by a heavy tackle. Five minutes from time the crowd of 80,000 was treated to a classic goal, shot home by Jackson from another cross from Morton. “The whole netting structure shuddered as if an elephant had leaned against it,” reported the Evening News. England’s only response came in the 89th minute from Bob Kelly.

“Never has the Scottish style of play been more gloriously confirmed in its correctness,” said Ivan Sharpe in his assessment of the game. “The greatest display of my time….that is football, the real thing.”

Alex James felt that Scotland “could have scored 10”, while others declared the end of the English game, one that relied on power and speed. Scotland’s stylish football had demonstrated that the virtuous short-passing game could still be stunning to watch, but alas, Scotland’s success did not signal a new era. Both England and Scotland didn’t rejoin FIFA until after the second world war and Scotland didn’t play a non-British team until 1929 when they went on a summer tour to Europe, playing Norway, Germany and the Netherlands.

Nevertheless, the “Wee Blue Devils” of 1928 will live on forever and come March 2018, it will be 90 years since they delivered a huge blow to the morale of the English game. For the record, they were:

Jack Harkness (Queens Park); James Nelson (Cardiff City), Tommy Law (Chelsea); Jimmy Gibson (Aston Villa), Tommy Bradshaw (Liverpool), Jimmy McMullan (Manchester City); Alex Jackson, Jimmy Dunn, Hughie Gallacher, Alex James, Alan Morton.

Photo: PA