In October 1968, Rangers broke another record, by paying £100,000 to Hibs for their centre forward, Colin Stein – the first six figure transfer between two Scottish clubs.
Hibs, in fact, wanted to accept a £90,000 bid from Everton, but when Colin heard that there was a chance Rangers were in for him, there was only one club he was going to sign for.
I was fortunate enough to see his debut, in an all-ticket clash at Gayfield Park, Arbroath on Saturday 2 November 1968, three days after Rangers had humiliated Dundalk 6-1 at Ibrox in the (what is now) UEFA Cup. I had just started first year at secondary school, and I can remember fans letting off fireworks (for a laugh?) on the terracing, and a Wullie Johnston double putting Rangers 2-0 up by half-time. Dave Smith conceded an own goal, so Rangers were then 2-1 up, but frankly struggling. (We can all think of games when the team 2-1 down seems to have all the initiative, even though they're still behind.)
Then it happened . . . . BANG, BANG, BANG! A hat-trick from the debutant inside four minutes, Rangers were 5-1 up, and a Legend was born.
Rangers next game was at home against Hibs, and 66,000 turned up, with the memory of Hibs reluctance to sell their top striker to Rangers still fresh in everyone's minds, and Rangers were in top form, crushing Hibs 6-1, with yet another hat-trick from Stein being the main talking point. The Bears were euphoric!
The next match was against Dundalk away, with the Glasgow bookies getting huge publicity by offering odds against Stein getting a third successive hat-trick. Not being at Dundalk - although I gather a sizeable Rangers presence was! – I am led to believe that Stein scored a double (score 0-2) but was denied his hat-trick by the woodwork.
The main point of this article is to emphasise what a massive influence Stein was on the Rangers side that season – every bit as vital as Larsson is to Celtic. Rangers went on to play some exciting attacking football that season, and a League and Cup double definitely looked on the cards. We beat Celtic home and away in the League that season, with Stein having a goal chalked off in the Ne'erday game at Ibrox, but a John Greig penalty still saw Rangers triumph. Stein's pace, energy, skill and strength just terrorised opposition defences, and his enthusiasm clearly rubbed off on his teammates.
And so we come to one of the greatest injustices Scottish football has ever witnessed . . .
Rangers are playing Clyde at Ibrox, and it is 6-0 to the Bears (another Stein hat trick) and there are just 90 seconds left. Rangers are shooting into the Copland Road end, and Stein collects the ball more or less in front of the Rangers dugout to commence another attack. Clyde “defender” Eddie Mulherron (later banned for life in South Africa for thuggery committed on the pitch) kicks Stein, but Stein carries on, he still has the ball, so Mulherron kicks him again, and then again, and finally a fourth time, so our Colin (understandably) boots him back, at which point Referee Ian Foote finally blows his whistle, and sends both off.
I can remember the papers the next day giving it the “but he shouldn't have retaliated” line, when most folk would have retaliated much earlier!
Anyway, the SFA Referees Committee was chaired by one Robert Kelly, the Celtic chairman, and as this was not long after Stein had played in a 6-1 victory over Aberdeen at Parkhead in the semi-final of the Cup, and were due to play Celtic (who were frankly shitting themselves) in the final, imposed a SIX WEEK suspension on him, causing him to miss (a) Rangers run in to the League campaign – which we then lost (b) Scotland's home World Cup qualifier against West Germany – where we could only draw 1-1, and (c) the Final against Celtic where we lost 4-0, partly thanks to Alex Ferguson's well documented horror show, as he was Stein's replacement.
Well, Kelly was delighted!
Stein then came back to play in the Home Internationals, scoring against all three home countries, then hitting 4 goals in an 8-0 Scotland victory, in a World Cup qualifier, over Cyprus.
The man was simply sensational, and if it had not been for that injustice, there would never have been a Celtic NIAR, as Rangers would surely have won the double. Outsiders used to say “One man doesn't make a team” but, Bears, I can assure you, that season, one man did!
During Stein's suspension, he commenced legal proceedings against the SFA to fight this injustice, and I thought this was great, and I can still remember, as I had a paper round then, as though it was yesterday, seeing the old broadsheet version of the Daily Express arriving at the newsagent with the sad headline “Stein Drops Case” and yes, I was gutted.
Colin Stein, as we all know, played a vital part in Rangers future, scoring particularly significant goals in Barcelona in 1972 and Easter Road in 1975, after returning (and being sent off at Dens Park for swearing!!! by Rangers-hating referee George Smith – an act which sparked serious crowd trouble) from playing in England, but I always felt that he was never quite the same player (following that evil suspension) as the man who simply ignited Scottish football in season 1968-69.
“We don't need Eusebio, coz we've got Colin Stein!”
Tom Forsyth will be a guest at the Rangers Supporters Trust Bastille Night on Friday 14 July.
See http://www.rangerssupporterstrust.co.uk for more information.