Graeme Souness at Rangers

A look at the last time an An­field leg­end took the reins at Rangers

FourFourTwo - - CONTENTS - Words Paul Simp­son

Graeme Souness is English. That’s what some Rangers fans as­sured Scot­tish foot­ball writer Sandy Jamieson in 1990.

The fact he was born in Ed­in­burgh – which, al­though it’s not part of Glas­gow is def­i­nitely not in Eng­land – and had played 54 times for Scot­land couldn’t shake their con­vic­tion.

As Jamieson re­calls in his 1997 bi­og­ra­phy Graeme Souness: The Ibrox Revo­lu­tion and the Legacy of the Iron Lady’s Man: “He talks like an English­man, acts like an English­man and is sur­round­ing him­self with as many of his coun­try­men as pos­si­ble” was the gen­eral con­sen­sus of the fans. If they’d been more po­lit­i­cally aware, they could also have said: “And he votes like an English­man.”

When he ar­rived as player-man­ager in the sum­mer of 1986, Souness was that most ex­otic of crea­tures – a Scot­tish Thatcherite – who re­garded his revo­lu­tion at Rangers as em­body­ing the values and prin­ci­ples with which she had set out to trans­form Bri­tain.

Fast-for­ward 32 years and Rangers are look­ing to Steven Ger­rard, an­other Euro­pean Cup-win­ning Liv­er­pool cap­tain at the very start of his ca­reer in the dugout, to usher in a sec­ond revo­lu­tion. De­spite the in­sis­tence of those Ibrox diehards, Ger­rard is only the sec­ond English­man to man­age the club. He will hope to avoid the ig­no­min­ious fate of his only English pre­de­ces­sor, Mark War­bur­ton, who claims he was at home watch­ing Sky Sports News when his de­par­ture was re­vealed on the yel­low ticker at the bot­tom of the screen in Fe­bru­ary 2017.

At 38, Ger­rard is five years older than Souness was when he took over at Rangers. Just as Souness ap­pointed a Scot, Wal­ter Smith, as his deputy, Ger­rard turned to ex-reds team-mate Gary Mcal­lis­ter, who hails from Mother­well, a place even the most scep­ti­cal Rangers fans ad­mit is in Scot­land. Ger­rard has the same task to­day as Souey did in 1986: make the Gers com­pet­i­tive in a game be­ing dom­i­nated by their old­est, fiercest ri­vals, Celtic.

In some ways, Ger­rard’s task is sim­pler than that which Souness faced. Last sea­son the Bears came third in the Scot­tish Pre­mier­ship, 12 points be­hind cham­pi­ons Celtic and three back from run­ners-up Aberdeen. When Souness suc­ceeded Jock Wal­lace at the helm, they had fin­ished a lowly fifth, lag­ging be­hind Aberdeen, Dundee United, Hearts and ta­ble-top­pers Celtic.

How­ever, off the pitch, Rangers’ past sea­son was a master­class in mis­man­age­ment. Last sum­mer, the of­fi­cial club web­site promised: “The 2017-18 sea­son will be to­tally dif­fer­ent” and it was, al­beit not in a par­tic­u­larly good way. Three bosses came and went, two of the side’s most in­flu­en­tial play­ers – Kenny Miller and Lee Wal­lace – were sus­pended fol­low­ing a dress­ing-room al­ter­ca­tion, and the team’s record in all com­pe­ti­tions against Celtic was Played 5, Won 0, Drawn 1, Lost 4, Scored 2, Con­ceded 14.

All of this may ex­plain why Souness pre­var­i­cated pub­licly over whether Ger­rard (right) should take the job. Rangers had been in tur­moil for a decade, he noted, and were much poorer than Celtic, a club who – cour­tesy of the Cham­pi­ons League – gen­er­ate three times as much rev­enue as their Old Firm foes. Yet he also ad­vised Ger­rard that he may never get a chance to man­age such a club again, and pre­dicted that the ap­point­ment would “elec­trify” Rangers. The new gaffer’s un­veil­ing, in front of thou­sands of cheer­ing sup­port­ers at Ibrox, seemed to prove Souey’s point. One piece of his ad­vice Ger­rard shouldn’t for­get is this: “If you’re sec­ond be­hind Celtic at Rangers, you may as well fin­ish last.”

So as Ger­rard plots to lead Rangers back to the top, what can he learn from his con­tro­ver­sial pre­de­ces­sor? First things first, the new man­ager needs to recog­nise that break­fast re­ally is the most im­por­tant meal of the day...


Look­ing back on his tem­pes­tu­ous time in charge, Souness once told Ra­dio Scot­land: “For a good two years, I lived on Sol­padeine to take my headaches away.” But that doesn’t re­ally do jus­tice to the ex­tent of his de­pen­dence on painkillers.

“Ev­ery day I’d fol­low the same rou­tine from the time I was ap­pointed Rangers man­ager,” he told the Sun­day Mail in 2001. “I would get up at 7am af­ter no sleep and take two tablets in­stead of break­fast. Then I’d drive from Ed­in­burgh to Ibrox and take an­other two tablets to get me through train­ing and of­fice work.

“When I drove home to an empty house, I’d try to sleep for an hour and then go for din­ner with the Rangers owner David Mur­ray. I was al­ways home by 10pm to take two more tablets be­fore go­ing to bed for an­other sleep­less night.

“Foot­ball had bro­ken up my first mar­riage – I had ev­ery­thing and noth­ing. But I re­gard it an hon­our to have man­aged Rangers. I would not have traded places with any­one, even though I now re­alise I was grad­u­ally de­stroy­ing my health ev­ery day I was at Ibrox.” Start­ing your man­age­rial ca­reer at one of the world’s most fa­mous clubs, in such a pas­sion­ate foot­ball city, will in­evitably ex­act its toll, but Ger­rard would do well to tuck into some­thing more nour­ish­ing than painkillers for break­fast. Souness would con­cede that much of the stress he suf­fered was self-in­flicted. On his de­but against Hiber­nian in Au­gust 1986, he was red-carded for boot­ing Ge­orge Mccluskey into the air. Even by the more le­nient stan­dards of the 1980s, it was a shock­ing as­sault, and one he re­mem­bers with cha­grin. “I had be­come a hot­head,” he told the BBC. “It was all Wal­ter Smith’s fault. He’d sug­gested Hiber­nian’s Billy Kirk­wood might leave a bit of studs in. It was like a red rag to a bull. I was hyped up, and by the time I’d made that chal­lenge I’d made a com­plete fool of my­self. It was out­ra­geous and I’ve apol­o­gised 100 times.” Mccluskey, who needed nine stitches in his knee, was not pla­cated, say­ing: “I lost all re­spect for him the day he sliced my leg open.” As he trudged to­wards the play­ers’ tun­nel, Souness re­mem­bered that his fa­ther was in the di­rec­tors’ box. Glanc­ing up, he was ap­palled to see his dad’s head bowed in shame. Af­ter that, he was slightly less


hot­headed on the pitch – he was sent off only twice more be­fore he hung up his boots in 1991 – but re­mained just as com­bat­ive off it. The three pri­mary tar­gets for his ire were the Scot­tish Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion, the me­dia and many of his own play­ers.

That first red card was the open­ing salvo in a re­cur­ring con­flict with the SFA that only ended when he left Ibrox nearly six years later. He was fined £5,000, banned for four matches, put on dis­ci­plinary no­tice and warned by Scot­land’s solic­i­tor-gen­eral that he could be pros­e­cuted for of­fences com­mit­ted on the pitch.

Hos­til­i­ties es­ca­lated as his play­ing ca­reer wound down. In Fe­bru­ary ’89 he was banned from the touch­line for point­ing the­atri­cally to his watch, af­ter Dundee United earned a 1-1 draw by lev­el­ling in the fifth minute of in­jury time. By breach­ing this – and fur­ther sus­pen­sions – Souness even­tu­ally pro­voked the SFA to bar him from the touch­line for an un­prece­dented two years.

When he won his last ma­jor hon­our at Rangers – the 1991 Scot­tish League Cup – the SFA noted that his cel­e­bra­tory sprint onto the pitch was tech­ni­cally a vi­o­la­tion of his ban. The con­flict soon en­gulfed the me­dia – STV were banned from Ibrox af­ter their footage of Souness in the play­ers’ tun­nel was used in ev­i­dence against him.

Souness’ prin­ci­pal com­plaint against the press was that they made Rangers into a soap opera to sell pa­pers. He was es­pe­cially in­censed by what he re­garded as tall tales about his man­age­ment style that were splashed across the tabloids.

When Four­fourtwo vis­ited him in Is­tan­bul in April 1996, dur­ing his stint as Galatasaray gaffer, he ex­plained: “Ninety-five per­cent of the time I’d go into the dress­ing room af­ter a match and give some­one a hug, but that’s not a good story. It’s not go­ing to get you a head­line in the News of the World on a Sun­day morn­ing, is it?”

Souey’s re­la­tion­ship with Ally Mccoist was par­tic­u­larly volatile. Some Rangers play­ers nick­named the ir­re­press­ible striker ‘Dud­ley’ af­ter one clash in which the man­ager al­legedly called Mccoist a “f**king dud”.

Al­though the for­mer St John­stone and Sun­der­land goal-get­ter won the first of his two Euro­pean Golden Shoe awards un­der Souness, he spent enough time on the sub­sti­tutes’ bench to be dubbed ‘The Judge’. On one bit­terly cold match­day, Mccoist emerged af­ter half-time with a teapot, cup and saucer, in­form­ing his scep­ti­cal man­ager that he was sim­ply try­ing to keep warm.

In foot­ball lore, Souness has been vil­i­fied for his au­to­cratic, ar­ro­gant and abra­sive ways. He has since ad­mit­ted that, in his im­pa­tience for change, he was some­times too tough on his play­ers. Yet it is equally true that Mccoist was not ev­ery­one’s cup of tea.

Mid­fielder Ian Fer­gu­son will never for­get his in­tro­duc­tion to Rangers’ dress­ing room in 1988 af­ter an £850,000 move from St Mir­ren. “I was wel­comed to Ibrox by Mccoist and [Ian] Dur­rant spray­ing Ral­gex over my un­der­pants,” he re­called.

When Nigel Spack­man ar­rived a year later, Mccoist said: “You can’t live in Glas­gow and be called Nigel. He’s go­ing to be Rab.” Even some of those who joined in the pranks with Mccoist and Dur­rant de­scribed them as “head­bangers”.

As a man­ager try­ing to rev­o­lu­tionise a club in se­ri­ous dis­re­pair, it is easy to un­der­stand why Souness, in his first man­age­rial role, had lit­tle time for head­bangers, even if, like Mccoist, they av­er­aged a goal ev­ery two games. Souey was con­cerned the striker “could have looked af­ter him­self bet­ter, 100 per cent”, but added: “I pushed him but there was no per­son­al­ity clash – I loved his com­pany.”

The man­ager’s point is not lost on Dur­rant, who told the Daily Mail: “Souness was hard on me, but he was fan­tas­tic for me too. I was on the end of a few of his tirades and one right hook.” He wasn’t tempted to re­tal­i­ate be­cause: “It was a tiff in train­ing, and as I went down I could see him lin­ing up the sec­ond one. Luck­ily, some­one stepped in.” Souness later apol­o­gised.


Not all of the ten­sions in the squad could be di­rectly blamed on the man­ager. The in­flux of English play­ers – at­tracted by the ap­peal of Euro­pean foot­ball when English clubs were banned by UEFA af­ter the Hey­sel dis­as­ter – ir­ri­tated some Scots.

Cre­ative mid­fielder Derek Fer­gu­son couldn’t abide what he re­garded as Trevor Fran­cis’ pre­ten­sions. When he found English foot­ball’s first £1 mil­lion player read­ing an Ital­ian news­pa­per, he per­suaded Dur­rant to stage a dis­trac­tion so he could set fire to it. “Not the most sen­si­ble of things to come up with,” Fer­gu­son later ad­mit­ted.

Lion­hearted Eng­land cen­tre-half Terry Butcher was a bet­ter cul­tural fit at Ibrox. His pre-match team talk, in­vari­ably in­clud­ing the phrase “We are caged tigers”, summed up the ethos Souness was try­ing to in­stil. The mes­sage worked – un­der Butcher’s cap­taincy, Rangers won three league ti­tles in four sea­sons. Yet in­evitably, the de­fender ended up go­ing eye­ball-to-eye­ball with his boss.

As broad­caster and writer Roddy Forsyth re­called: “Butcher had an op­er­a­tion on his knee fol­low­ing the 1990 World Cup and felt he had been asked to per­form for Rangers be­fore he had prop­erly re­gained fit­ness.” Dis­ap­pointed by that at­ti­tude, Souness put the cen­tre-back up for sale, al­most ac­cept­ing an of­fer from Leeds be­fore re­al­is­ing he was a de­fender short for the Scot­tish League Cup fi­nal against Celtic. Back­track­ing, he se­lected Butcher, but the re­cently re­tired Eng­land in­ter­na­tional re­fused to play, say­ing he didn’t feel part of the team.

Souness gave an an­gry press con­fer­ence, and Butcher threat­ened to re­spond in kind but kept his coun­sel. Af­ter be­ing blamed for both goals in a 2-1 loss to Dundee United, he joined Coven­try in Novem­ber 1990 for an ill-fated spell as player-man­ager.

It’s of­ten for­got­ten that the Souness revo­lu­tion did not just lead to the sign­ing of big names such as Fran­cis, Butcher, Ray Wilkins, Chris Woods and Trevor Steven. The foot sol­diers in his rev­o­lu­tion­ary army in­cluded Terry Hur­lock (snapped up for £375,000 when Wim­ble­don chair­man Sam Ham­man re­fused to sell Vin­nie Jones), Mark Falco and Gra­ham Roberts. But many Rangers fans – and some play­ers – in­sist the best sign­ing Souness made at Ibrox was his No.2. The man­ager came close to con­ced­ing as much, say­ing: “Al­though his dress sense was des­per­ate, Wal­ter was great. I was com­pletely raw as a man­ager and noth­ing had pre­pared me.”

In a let­ter to Smith’s bi­og­ra­pher, Neil Drys­dale, long-time Rangers sup­porter Ewan Pren­tice wrote: “You never got the im­pres­sion when you lis­tened to Souness that he was wast­ing too much time study­ing videos or chalk­ing up tac­ti­cal for­ma­tions on black­boards. It was as if he was more in­ter­ested in the strut, lead­ing with the chin, than get­ting his hands dirty.”

Souness’ treat­ment of Butcher was a wa­ter­shed mo­ment for Pren­tice and his pals. “We started think­ing, ‘Hang on, ev­ery­body else can’t al­ways be wrong in these dis­putes’. That scep­ti­cism built


month by month, es­pe­cially when we heard that he wanted to get rid of Su­per Ally. He was a bloody tal­is­man for us.”

The fail­ure of so many great foot­ballers to be­come great man­agers is of­ten ex­plained by their dif­fi­culty in un­der­stand­ing play­ers who are not as good as they were. At Ibrox, this may have been one source of Souness’ dis­sat­is­fac­tion. Wife Danielle bore the brunt of this, re­call­ing: “On the rare oc­ca­sions he took me out, he talked about noth­ing but foot­ball and the good and bad points about play­ers. By the time I left him, I knew more about the game than most man­agers.”

If Ger­rard learns any­thing from Souness’ reign at Ibrox, it should be that you can be at log­ger­heads with some of your play­ers all of the time and all of your play­ers some of the time, but never most of your play­ers most of the time.

Yet Souness’ ar­ro­gance could be a strength as well as a weak­ness – it gave him the con­fi­dence to con­front the trib­al­ism plagu­ing Scot­tish foot­ball. He signed Mo John­ston, the first Catholic to play for Rangers in mod­ern times, and Mark Wal­ters, their first black foot­baller who, de­spite hav­ing ba­nanas, golf balls and darts thrown at him, rel­ished his time at Ibrox and rated Souness among his best ever man­agers.

Wal­ters did, though, add the caveat: “He had a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing abra­sive but it’s just like any other job – if you know who the boss is, you’re go­ing to get on fine.”

Re­cruit­ing John­ston from French club Nantes in 1989 was a seis­mic shock. The 26-year-old Glaswe­gian was set to re­join Celtic – for whom he’d scored 52 goals in 99 league matches – when Souness, bump­ing into John­ston’s agent Bill Mc­murdo at Ibrox, de­clared his in­ter­est. With re­mark­able speed, the striker was per­suaded to break one of Scot­tish foot­ball’s old­est taboos. Souness’ wife was Catholic and he would not have been com­fort­able at a club that could never sign Catholics. He also saw the op­por­tu­nity, he later re­vealed, to in­dulge in a lit­tle bit of mis­chief at Celtic’s ex­pense.

The vis­ceral re­ac­tion from both clubs’ fan­bases as­ton­ished him. An of­fi­cial ‘We Hate Mo John­ston Celtic Sup­port­ers Club’ was founded, while out­side Ibrox, a wreath was left with the mes­sage: “116 years of tra­di­tion ended.” Souness later ad­mit­ted: “I was naive about what Rangers were about. In a sense I was a ‘for­eigner’ be­cause I had left Ed­in­burgh for a ca­reer played en­tirely in Eng­land and Italy. None of that re­li­gious stuff mat­tered to me. We changed things for the bet­ter.”


Souness was not jok­ing about feel­ing like a for­eigner. One chap­ter in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy was headed ‘Some­times I wish I was English’, and the Rangers fans who main­tained he was English told Jamieson: “He was never one of us.”

Even to­day, many Gers fans have, Jamieson sug­gested in his book, “a strong sense that Souness didn’t par­tic­u­larly like Glas­gow Rangers and cer­tainly didn’t like its mass of sup­port­ers, par­tic­u­larly the faith­ful core that he had no deep re­spect for or the tra­di­tions of the club they love, and saw them as an im­ped­i­ment to his own agenda.”

That might sound like a crit­i­cism but Souness would prob­a­bly agree with much of that as­sess­ment. He was in too much of a rush, he later ad­mit­ted, to join Liv­er­pool in 1991.

Look­ing back, he con­cluded that his fa­mous run-in with Aggie, the St John­stone tea lady, proved he was los­ing the plot. Her com­plaint about the mess his team had left in the Mcdiarmid Park dress­ing room so en­raged him, he con­fronted the St John­stone chair­man. “No­body knows me bet­ter than I know my­self,” he told Rangers TV, “and I knew then I had to get out.”

What he needed was a sab­bat­i­cal, but Liv­er­pool were the one club he couldn’t refuse. His dream An­field re­turn soon turned night­mar­ish and led to a heart at­tack. It be­gan to dawn on him that “the win­ning didn’t com­pen­sate for the los­ing”. He re­alises now that he could never man­age a team to­day the way he did Rangers. “The power’s with the play­ers now. If you fall out with one in the dress­ing room, he and his four or five mates have the power to get rid of you as col­lec­tively they are worth £200 mil­lion.” As Ger­rard kicks off his man­age­rial ca­reer at Rangers, there is one more les­son he could heed from Souness’ reign. Don’t be a ‘for­eigner’. Bet­ter still, even though he’s won 114 caps for Eng­land, try not to talk or act like an English­man. That may buy time to lead his own Rangers revo­lu­tion and re­store some com­pet­i­tive bal­ance to Scot­tish foot­ball.

When­ever he leaves Ibrox, he’ll cer­tainly hope the sup­port­ers agree: “He was one of us.”

Right Souness sees red on his Gers de­but af­ter slic­ing open Ge­orge Mccluskey’s knee Top “Who me?” The player-man­ager is given his march­ing or­ders once again, against Aberdeen

Clock­wise from above left Eng­land duo Butcher and Woods joined the Souness revo­lu­tion; the sign­ing of Catholic striker John­ston (sec­ond from left) broke a Scot­tish foot­ball taboo; Celtic’s Frank Mcaven­nie gets the treat­ment in ’88; ‘Head­banger’ Mccoist (far right) had a rather hos­tile re­la­tion­ship with his boss

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.