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 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.