Browsing the shelves of Waterstones about fifteen years ago was a bit of a mixed bag for people interested in books about Rangers. Sure, we had the usual ghost-written (auto) biographies and quiz collections and the occasional published effort that was actually readable, but we were generally poorly served as a support; not only by comparison with inferior clubs, but from the point of view of the glorious history and stories that Rangers has to offer, which – on the whole – we’ve been very slow to sell to the world.
Thankfully the last decade and a bit has filled in some of the gaping holes, with a marvellous book on the founders and a number of punchy essay collections complemented by some genuinely interesting efforts on our former managers and others. At first glance, Martyn Ramsay’s new offering ‘The 50 Greatest Rangers Games’ may appear as if it’s the perfect if unseasonal stocking filler, but if that sounds like damning with faint praise let’s cut to the chase: I’m glad to report that this is one of the best books about Rangers that has been published in a very long time.
Martyn was one of the most erudite and thoughtful contributors to the old Follow Follow Fanzine and is now, amongst other things, the host of ‘The Time Capsule’ podcast on the Heart & Hand network. Listeners were asked to nominate their favourite games and around this list has been constructed a fascinating insight into how we as fans view our history, and, much more interestingly, a coherent vision of how we should be correcting some of our more glaring blind spots and the ways in which we value that ongoing tale. These are fifty games which, for good or for bad, do an effective job of summing up the first century plus; one with triumphs and trophies, landmarks and legends, and the occasional generational turn, false dawn, and Govanite fin de siècle thrown in for good measure.
Although Ramsay openly disagrees with some of the choices and more vehemently with some of the positioning, one of the strengths of the approach and, indeed, the through argument is that most readers – even or perhaps especially if they chose to vote – will find an entirely different way to consume and to reflect upon the selections, derived as they are from a mixture of recency bias and emotional resonance, touching on those passions both parochial and occasionally borne of national pride.
Before we’ve left the introduction it’s clear that we have before us a curious idea at the very heart of the book – one made explicit in the very first sentence. It’s a fervent hope that informs the rest of the work and is something we should all be able to get behind; for the author would dearly hope for its contents to become largely obsolete before your next kindle is charged, far less the updated version appears in time for an anniversary. If Rangers are to progress and to return to a position of prominence where past glories are routinely replaced and updated – and the club and fans are to make a better attempt to adequately represent the totality of the achievements over the course of those glorious days – then this list will necessarily be shredded and amended.
The games are presented in reverse order (can you believe that Forfar 0-0 Scottish Cup Semi isn’t in there?!) and although it’s possible to dip in where you fancy and start with some of the games that mean the most to you I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it: you will miss some of the themes that develop as each game moves to the next and familial connections or comparisons between eras or coaches can be introduced. However, for me the chapter on our 1872 game v Callander is a clear highlight and distillation of everything good about the book and its intention.
Regardless of your reading order, you will likely be hugely impressed on a number of levels. Firstly, and this is no easy matter, it manages to bring to life games that we’ve all thought about and watched over and over again, while combining that sharp eye for detail and exposition with some astute observations and considered insight that places some of these games in their proper historical context. Too often even club historians fall foul of this balance – to say nothing of the horrific copy produced by journalists trying to synthesise action and analysis. To do this so well when dealing with forty-nine games where a great deal of primary source material is available must have involved a significant deal of effort and time and – crucially – absolutely none of that effort has been passed to the reader, who will find something to enjoy, or marvel at, within each game entry.
Amid the commanding descriptions that flow through the chapters there are to be found some spectacular summaries of marginal players in this drama, and at least a couple of anecdotes and career determinations regarding our regular foes that will make you laugh out loud and should make the individuals involved – should they ever have cause to have them repeated – consider retiring from public life (Hello Davie Hay).
On a more serious level, almost every new game brings with it a turn of phrase or revelation from someone intimately involved – both on the field or in the more stressful environment of the stand or terracing – that brings to life what so many of these occasions mean and meant on an individual level. The interwoven reminisces of players interviewed for Heart & Hand is a nice touch but so too are the passionate mythology and meanderings of the punters for whom football, but really Rangers, are likely too important in their lives: those are exactly the kinds of voices that you want – and a smart writer would need – to add a flourish to the potentially dry narrative of who did what when and with which foot.
Although it’s not a surprise to note how many Old Firm victories or significant matches still within the last generation or so find room in this list, there are some surprises in the order of the top twenty, and in the frequency with which certain types of victory are presented. It turns out, at least according to the rarely-sober subscribers to Heart & Hand, that those much discussed and celebrated feats of a domestic treble aren’t what we make them out to be – such games that clinch the accomplishment are barely represented.
And it gets worse yet for the old yins; those of you with your “I love Bill Struth” t-shirts or the “I heart the 1970s Jock Wallace sides and I can still fit into a medium Castore jersey” brigade of not-quite-boys are probably going to investigate the index and then evaluate the secondary use of this book in their nice new Broxi Bear burners. We’ll say nothing more of that recent Old Firm semi or the way it allows Alistair Murdoch McCoist the manager to equal the tally of appearances made by those somewhat more capable managers mentioned above.
The only real grumbles one could reasonably highlight are largely dealt with by the author himself, which is both a small stroke of architectural genius at the heart of the project, and a wonderful way of insulating oneself from the criticism that always surfaces when one has the temerity to make such a serious determination. There has rarely been a list presented for publication that did not threaten disharmony, or a minor case of cancel culture, and it says something for the Rangers support that they have managed to compile a list of games that matches that expectation but is also even mildly idiosyncratic: So much for a monoculture.
You needn’t be a cricket-loving, Richard Nixon name-checking, Camus-as-goalkeeper daydreamer or Clive James aficionado to love this book. But no Rangers supporter – or fan of how football acts as a force to entertain, frustrate, educate, and bring friends and families together – will be able to resist. It’s a beautifully-written, constantly amusing, and broadly illuminating look at some of the best moments in the history of one of the game’s most important institutions. Ramsay’s debut rewards the keen reader with a glorious dose of nostalgia, but with a firm nudge in the direction that we should all be moving towards when we consider that history and how we not only remember it but how it should be taught and protected. It will be a success if it sells some copies but also if it changes some minds.
I have rarely enjoyed a volume on Rangers to this degree and it is a great pleasure to recommend this unmissable book.
You can pre-order ‘The 50 Greatest Rangers Games’ from the following URL:
The pre-order will end as July 1st moves to whatever day comes after it on the calendar but the book will be published on Friday 31st July and is available in paperback and Kindle.
Martyn Ramsay can be abused and encouraged @hobbes_ff on Twitter.