Before administration struck just three years ago, Glasgow Rangers was part of the capital duopoly that dominated Scottish football. Almost any player wishing regular European football, not to mention an almost guaranteed trophy or two, every season, would gravitate towards Ibrox, or Parkhead. Fledgling talent or top stars, like Paul Gascoigne and Graeme Souness, made their way to the iconic Victorian red brick stadium that towered above the city and football north of the border.
However a series of poor board decisions and massive over investment in players, such as the £12 million spent on Tore André Flo in 2000, blighted the club that won a world record 54 domestic titles with massive debts. Debts that led to administration and consignment to the lowest level of Scottish football, and with trips to Alloa and Arran instead of old Firm derbies and annual sorties into Europe.
In a kind of historical paradox, the messy legacy of recent regimes and attempted takeovers is mirrored, to a smaller extent, in an event that not only led to the creation of the club itself but to a football expression that has been uttered across many a school playground or urban football pitch. ‘Taking my ball home‘ has echoed down the near 150 years since said expression gave birth to Glasgow Rangers Football Club.
Back in Victorian times, the last quarter of the 19th century saw the birth of many of the football clubs that exist today. Rangers began as a result of a dispute following a game, in the summer of 1872, between Argyle and Clyde. A number of the Argyle players were to feature significantly in the formation and flourishing of the club that became Glasgow Rangers.
The McNeil brothers were from a Glasgow family and despite the three eldest of the seven having no football interest, William, Harry, Moses and Peter were to become giants of the Scottish game.
William was the beneficiary of a rare and expensive but vital piece of equipment- a football. Given to him by the son of his father’s wealthy employer, it was to prove the catalyst in the birth of Rangers. After the game between Argyle and Clyde it was proposed that the football would be the focal point of the formation of a brand new football club.
The proposal received almost universal support until, that is, the younger element expressed the view that William was ‘too old’ to be admitted to the membership.
According to football folklore William picked up his football, tucked it under his arm and remarked
“If you can’t have me ye canna have ma ball.”
The younger element that had caused this event were undeterred. They held a second meeting, and the main decision taken was to initiate a subscription with which to buy their own ball. However, the McNeil family still had a say; Moses suggested they call the new club, the Rangers Association Football Club. The name was unanimously adopted and Glasgow Rangers was born.
Ironically William (legend does not confirm if he brought his ball back), Peter and Moses all played for Rangers with great distinction for many years as the club made its way to the pantheon of Scottish football. A period of dominance that lasted until very recent times, until successive periods of mismanagement brought the giants of Glasgow tumbling down.
The climb back to the top has stuttered a little the closer Rangers have got to regaining their top flight status, on the field. Off it the rumbling and in-fighting continues.
I wonder what William McNeil, and his brothers, would have made of it.