On a bright October afternoon in 2012, Rangers were at their lowest league position in their 149 year history. In the fourth tier of Scottish football in front of just 3,751 spectators the Gers were beaten 1-0 by bottom club Stirling Albion, who had lost five in a row and whose manager didn’t even turn up to the game as he was attending his own wedding.
Less than nine years later, Rangers are within touching distance. This weekend, if they beat St Mirren and Celtic fail to beat Dundee United, they will be champions of Scotland for the first time in a decade. It has been a long wait for the Ibrox faithful who have been on one hell of a journey to get to this stage. Steven Gerrard’s side will take all the credit, but this success is built upon the work of many others and that trophy lift will be the pinnacle of a decade of hard work.
Having been relegated to the then third division due to financial irregularities and unpaid tax, Ally McCoist set about putting together a side that could rise up through the divisions. Despite an expected mass exodus as the club shredded their huge wage bill, Barrie McKay, Neil Alexander, Lee Wallace and Ian Black formed the spine of a title winning team. After that dismal loss to Stirling Albion, the club went on a 20 game unbeaten run in the league, which ultimately secured them the title.
Tommy McIntyre, who runs Rangers fan account @ThisIsIbrox commented: "Never in football has a manager been asked to hold together a football club against all actions and criticisms such as he was. Never mention starting pre-season without an official licence to play and with a handful of players. The football wasn’t the greatest but in incredibly difficult circumstances he got us to Championship level. His influence and support in our darkest moment should never be overlooked."
Up to the third tier where one year later, the club, with McCoist still in charge, would experience the same title-winning feeling, going undefeated as they romped to the league title with 103 points. Lee McCulloch and Jon Daly played in every single league game that term as Rangers blew away the opposition, wasting little time as they strived to make it back to the SPL as quickly as possible.
The Championship would not prove quite so easy although they came within a couple of games of securing promotion at their first attempt. McCoist left the club, handing in his resignation as financial issues reared their ugly head once again and pressure began to impact his personal life. Assistant manager Kenneth McDowall took over before Stuart McCall came in in March, in what was without doubt, a turbulent campaign for Rangers off the field as Mike Ashley got his greasy mitts on shares and began to cause problems for the club - including the strange move that saw five loan players go from Newcastle to Rangers without a medical.
Despite those issues, they ended the league season in third and reached the play-off final, where they were comprehensively beaten by Motherwell, who retained the Premier League status with a 6-1 win on aggregate. It was clear that the club were not quite ready to compete in the top flight on or off the pitch.
"Even with the problems besetting the club in 2012 the resources, backing and budget meant fans rightly expected a meteoric rise through the divisions," Tommy admits. "The inability to get out of the Championship at the first time of asking was McCoist’s undoing. Rangers' mistake during this period was poor acquisitions and not investing more in youth to build a team that could grow together."
Mark Warburton’s appointment in summer 2015 changed all of that. That summer he brought in James Tavernier who made 50 starts that season and would go on to captain the club, and Martyn Waghorn, who scored 28 goals in all competitions that season. Unsurprisingly, Rangers were promoted back to the top tier as champions, winning the league by twelve points under Warburton.
"I think if asked, fans would agree James Tavernier is the player to resonate with," Tommy added. "Brought in by Warburton in the Championship for a small fee, eventually made Captain, lived through horrible Old Firm defeats but trusted by Steven Gerrard. Playing in the form of his life he is going to write his name into the Rangers mythology as the Captain of 55. A fitting tribute to a top professional who has come through the lows and gets to savour the ultimate high."
Positive steps were also taken off the pitch as Dave King and Douglas Park’s Three Bears group got the club back onto steadier ground, which was an unenviable task, to their credit.
Celtic were collecting titles like they were going out of fashion in Rangers’ absence and had begun talking of ‘ten in a row’. The Ibrox faithful had to watch as their first season back in the top flight was overshadowed by Celtic’s invincible season as they finished 39 points behind their Glasgow rivals in third, qualifying for Europe as a newly promoted side.
Their quest to overhaul their fiercest rivals stalled as Warburton departed and Pedro Caixhina came in. Although he promised big things, the Portuguese boss only lasted 27 games, with Graeme Murty once again taking charge of the club. Then, in the summer of 2018, the club took a risk as they appointed an untested manager in Steven Gerrard.
Slowly but surely he has turned the club from pretenders into champions, bringing the best out of his players such as Tavernier while using his contacts to bring the likes of Ryan Kent to the club. The same summer Gerrard was appointed, the club also brought back one of their former players, Allan McGregor, who left the club that fateful summer in 2012 but returned in 2018 and has played a key role in Gerrard’s side.
Having conceded just nine goals in 31 games so far this term, this title has been won by the Rangers back line and McGregor has played a key role in this success. Still unbeaten, and on course to not only humiliate Celtic by winning the league by such a wide margin but replicate their invincible season and potentially secure the title at Celtic Park, fans could have only dreamed of this success returning the blue half of Glasgow so quickly.
Gerrard, Kent, Tavernier and Alfredo Morelos will lift the trophy, but this success belongs to McCoist, Warburton, Wallace, McCulloch and everyone else who played a role in their remarkable recovery. Rangers, champions of Scotland once again.