The 4th May 2018. The start of a new era for Rangers. In through the Ibrox doors walked an inexperienced manager, with a glint in his eye. Steven Gerrard. One of the biggest names in English football this century had jumped at the chance to manage the Scottish giants, in his first senior management role. It was a big ask.
Chairman at the time, the legendary Dave King, commented, "This a special day for our club, our fans and for Steven." Few realised just how special things would become with Gerrard at the helm.
We caught up with the David Edgar from the Heart and Hand podcast (@HeartAndHandPod) and Ross Kilvington, one of the writers at This Is Ibrox, to get their views on Gerrard, and the crazy journey the club has been on.
“I was on the Stevie G train early,” recalls Edgar. “It seemed wild and at times I think we all still look to the touchline and think ‘bloody hell, that’s Steven Gerrard.’ But he had me at ‘let’s go’.”
Kilvington was a little more cautious though, explaining, “My reaction to the Gerrard appointment was mixed; he was one of the greatest midfielders over the course of the previous twenty years and someone with his prestige and winner’s mentality managing our club made everyone stand up and take note. However, his managerial record hadn’t exactly set the world alight; it was a massive, massive gamble.”
Gerrard ultimately delivered Rangers’ 55th league title and will watch on as his side potentially receive a guard of honour from their fiercest rivals at Celtic Park in their next league game and in Edgar’s mind, there was no doubt Gerrard would be the man to deliver the title. “I never stopped believing - he’s too driven not to.”
Rangers stopped Celtic from winning their tenth title in a row, something the Bhoys had been singing about for several years, but that was just a by-product of their own success, not something they were focused on.
“Ten in a row almost feels cursed,” says Kilvington. “With the two previous attempts to win the elusive ten, being stopped in their tracks by the other side in Glasgow in 1975 and 1998, respectively. It marks the end of one era of dominance and the beginning of another. Football is cyclical and this is Rangers time to create a dynasty.
“The last ten years have been painful, constantly seeing Celtic win trophy after trophy is demoralising and there have been times in which I simply thought we would never beat them again, never mind compete for the league title.”
As Rangers had beaten St Mirren 3-0, it meant that if Celtic failed to beat Dundee United, the title would return to Ibrox for the first time in a decade. With the score level at 0-0 and time up, the referee blew his whistle to confirm one thing, Rangers were champions of Scotland again. “I felt a rush of emotion I can’t describe. Smiles, laughter, tears, pride, joy. I felt like Andy Dufresne getting out the tunnel in the Shawshank Redemption and seeing the light,” says Edgar.
Kilvington recalls the moment with similar enthusiasm, declaring, “Having witnessed the club winning the title on the last day of the season three times, seeing us compete in a European final and win countless domestic honours along the way.
“The elation felt in the immediate aftermath of the Celtic match on Sunday leapfrogged all those moments and I doubt will ever be matched. It was ten years of emotion bursting out at once and a few glasses of champagne were had to celebrate of course.”
There have of course been low points. Watching their side lose games in the Third Division was bad enough, but losing to Raith Rovers in the Ramsden’s Cup final in 2014, conceding the only goal of the game in the 117th minute, is seen by many as the lowest ebb. Edgar states, “It just seemed like an absurd joke at that point.”
“It was very hard to get motivated when you are in the bottom tier, in which the vast majority of teams treat the matches against Rangers as their cup final, many of whom might never get another opportunity to play at Ibrox again,” adds Kilvington.
Although Rangers won three promotions in four years, the years of recovery still took longer than many supporters expected. “Looking back I think as a fan I had underestimated the trauma of what had happened to us and the damage it had caused. You don’t have a heart attack then run a marathon the day after,” says Edgar.
Now with the Scottish title in the bag, attention can turn to their next endeavor, the Europa League. With back-to-back ties against Slavia Prague, after knocking out Royal Antwerp 9-5 on aggregate, who is to say Gerrard’s Rangers can’t go all the way? The fans are dreaming of a remarkable double.
“We’re realistic I think, but dream? Hell, yes!”