By Alistair Aird
A day we were dreading 10 weeks ago is now upon us. But we’ve gone from dreading to relishing, and whilst you never go into an Old Firm game brimming with confidence, Rangers certainly go into the clash at Parkhead on Saturday in a much better place than they were at the end of September.
When Michael Beale’s side capitulated at Ibrox against Aberdeen, 27 days after they had meekly surrendered against an injury-ravaged Celtic, hostility wasn’t just rising, it was at fever pitch. If you had mentioned a title race at that point, you would have been fast tracked for an emergency appointment as to coin an old phrase, you would have been perceived as having ‘lost your marbles.’
Even the most fervent and positive supporters of Rangers would have said that the idea of being nip and tuck at the top with Celtic ahead of this game would have been fanciful.
Rangers haven’t enjoyed much success in the East End of Glasgow recently. You have to go back to the fabled 55 season for our last league win – Connor Goldson scored a double in a 2-0 win – and there was a memorable win there in 2019 when Steven Gerrard showed just how much the 2-1 victory meant to him when a TV camera was thrust in his face at full time.
Most of the wins there are narrow ones, but we’ve enjoyed a couple of comfortable victories too, none more so than on 10 September 1960.
The fixture at Parkhead was the second league match of season 1960/61 but was actually the FOURTH Old Firm match of the campaign. Celtic held the upper hand, winning 3-2 at Ibrox in a League Cup sectional tie and 4-2 at Parkhead in the Glasgow Cup. But crucially, seven days before the sides met in the league, Rangers had gone to Parkhead in the reverse fixture in League Cup Section Two and won 2-1 to secure top spot and qualification for the knockout stages.
Both sides had endured a rather difficult league campaign the previous season. Rangers, champions in season 1958/59, had finished third, while Celtic were a distant ninth, finishing 21 points behind the champions, Hearts.
The Rangers ranks had been bolstered by the signing of one James Curran Baxter. He had made his Old Firm debut in the aforementioned Glasgow Cup tie at inside left but had since reverted to left half. Baxter had also played in the League Cup defeat at Ibrox, but he wouldn’t play on a losing side again against Celtic until October 1962. Indeed, across his two spells at Rangers, he only lost five Old Firm matches.
Rangers had opened their league season with a 6-3 win over Partick Thistle at Ibrox. Davie Wilson, who would play in all of the matches contested in season 1960/61, scored twice, and he would be on the scoresheet again at Parkhead.
Scot Symon named an unchanged starting XI. Billy Ritchie was in goal, and Bobby Shearer and Eric Caldow were the full backs. Bill Paterson was at centre back, and he was flanked by Baxter and Harold Davis. The forward line was Alex Scott, Ian McMillan, Jimmy Millar, Ralph Brand, and Wilson.
On an afternoon when the pitch was drenched in sunshine, Rangers were ahead inside two minutes. Wilson won a corner and although John Fallon punched the ball away, it landed at the feet of Scott who rifled a shot into the net.
Celtic responded and Stevie Chalmers missed a couple of good openings before striking the inside of the post just shy of the half time interval.
The match was evolving into a typical ‘blood and thunder’ Old Firm game. Celtic were pushing for an equalising goal at one end, while at the other Rangers were looking to extend their lead. And in 66 minutes they did just that thanks to a splendid goal by Millar.
Seizing the ball in the heart of the pitch, the Rangers number nine ran towards the Celtic goal, and although Fallon stopped his first attempt, Millar found the net with the rebound to hand the visitors a 2-0 lead.
Rangers were now in the words of Peter Hendry in the Evening Times ‘rampant’. Brand saw an effort cleared off the line, but the Rangers inside-left wasn’t to be denied. Twelve minutes from time he pounced when Fallon spilled a cross from Millar and hooked the ball into the net.
With the game all but over there was an exodus from the Celtic supporters and they missed three further goals. Davis made it 4-0 with a header within a minute of the Brand goal, and the irrepressible Wilson scored a fifth goal for Rangers when he rocketed a shot into the roof of the net after 84 minutes. The goal from Chalmers 90 seconds from the final whistle did little to dampen the spirits of an exultant travelling support. ‘Celtic Not in The Same Street’ chanted the headline in the Evening Times, and that was the case for much of the early part of the 1960s.
The emphatic Old Firm win would be one of 10 Rangers chalked up in their opening 11 league games. The only blemish was a 1-0 defeat at home against Dundee. Kilmarnock and Ayr United were the next teams to inflict defeat on Symon’s side, but at the halfway stage in the title race, Rangers had registered 14 wins and only three defeats. They led Kilmarnock by four points.
But despite their dominance, the marathon that our current manager refers to went to the final day. After beating Celtic at Ibrox on 2 January, Rangers won only two of their next six league matches. And between 18 March and 8 April, their record was played four, drawn two, lost two. The last of those defeats was a 6-1 thrashing against Aberdeen at Pittodrie.
That set the stage for a grandstand finish. Rangers needed to defeat Ayr United at Ibrox to win the Championship. And they did so, winning 7-3 thanks to a hat trick from Alex Scott and doubles from Davie Wilson and Ralph Brand. Among the goals for Ayr was Max Christie who would join Rangers the following season.
The League Cup was bedecked in red, white and blue too. A 5-3 aggregate win over Dundee in the quarter-finals was followed by a 7-0 hammering of Queen of the South in the last four at Hampden. Goals from Brand and Scott saw off the challenge of Kilmarnock in the Final.
A 5-2 defeat at Ibrox against Motherwell in a third-round replay meant that the Scottish Cup didn’t join the league and League Cup on the sideboard, and Rangers also lost out to Fiorentina in the final of the inaugural European Cup Winners’ Cup. But overall, it was a successful season and arguably the one that laid the foundations for the dominance Rangers would enjoy in the early part of the 1960s.
That 5-1 win at Parkhead remains a significant moment in that campaign too. An Old Firm win imbues you with confidence, and when it comes at the home of your rivals, then it can be argued that it is more important than a win on your own patch.
On Saturday, we have a massive opportunity to show to all and sundry that we are here to stay in this title race. The postponement of the match against Ross County means that we won’t top the table when we usher in 2024, but a win means we can do so two points behind with two games in hand.
The pendulum of power is swinging. Let’s make sure it continues to swing in our direction.