Safe Hands – The Great Rangers Goalie Debate

Image for Safe Hands – The Great Rangers Goalie Debate

By Alistair Aird

Rangers have been blessed with a litany of magnificent players in our 150-year history, but one position where we seem to recruit exceptionally well is that of goalkeeper. From Jerry Dawson to Bobby Brown, George Niven to Billy Ritchie, Peter McCloy to Chris Woods, Andy Goram to Stefan Klos and, of course, our current number one, Allan McGregor, our custodians have been hugely influential in the silver-laden successes that we have enjoyed.

The debate that this stimulates, though, is which goalkeeper is our best-ever. This article will take a statistical look at the main men that have had the gloves in the past 50 years, namely McCloy, Woods, Goram, Klos and McGregor. It will also look at some of the understudies that have served the club too.

Peter McCloy (1970 – 1986)

Signed by Willie Waddell from Motherwell in 1970, the man dubbed ‘The Girvan Lighthouse’ holds the record for the most post-war appearances as a Rangers goalkeeper (535) and the most clean sheets (214).

Yet when people list the great goalkeepers, McCloy’s name is rarely mentioned. Perhaps that’s because he made some errors in high-profile games – the concession of a late goal against Porto at Ibrox comes to mind – and some folk also associate Peter with the comical moment when he swung from the crossbar after conceding a goal against Aberdeen in the 1978 Scottish Cup Final. But you don’t make over 500 appearances for Rangers if you are a bad player. Solid and, for the most part, dependable may well be the best way to describe McCloy.

In addition to saving shots, McCloy also had another string to his bow; the distance he could get when kicking the ball out was phenomenal. The clearances were effective at times too, none more so than in Barcelona in 1972. McCloy’s ‘hoof’ up the park went all the way through to Willie Johnston, and Bud expertly tucked the ball away to score the goal that effectively won the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

Peter saw off the challenge of numerous goalkeepers for the gloves over the 16 years he was part of the playing squad. The most notable was probably Stewart Kennedy who vied with Peter for the number one jersey for four seasons between 1974 and 1978. And in 1981, Jim Stewart was brought in by John Greig and he looked to have edged McCloy out of contention.

But Peter came back in when called upon and by season 1983/84, McCloy was first pick again. In fact, it was only during his final season as a player, 1985/86, that Nicky Walker ousted him from the starting XI on a regular basis.

Peter McCloy won two league titles, four Scottish Cups, four League Cups and was in the XI that won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1972. He was capped four times by Scotland.

His Rangers record reads:

Chris Woods (1986 – 1991)

Signed for £600,000 by Graeme Souness, Chris Woods was the understudy to Peter Shilton for the England team when he came to Glasgow. He was recognised as being one of the best goalkeepers in the British Isles, and he cemented that reputation during an extremely successful five seasons at Ibrox.

Woods was accomplished in all aspects of the art of goalkeeping. He had superb reflexes and was comfortable dealing with cross balls. He was the last line of an impressive defence that during his time at Ibrox featured the likes of Terry Butcher, Graham Roberts, Richard Gough, Gary Stevens and the often-underrated Stuart Munro.

Woods set what at the time was a world record of 1,196 minutes without conceding a goal in his debut season. After Uwe Rahn scored on the stroke of half time in Rangers’ 1-1 draw against Borussia Mönchengladbach on 26 November 1986, Woods wasn’t beaten again until the infamous goal scored by Adrian Sprott for Hamilton Accies on 31 January 1987. In that time, he kept 11 successive clean sheets in the Premier Division and added another one in the away leg of the UEFA Cup tie against Mönchengladbach.

The defence in that era was almost watertight. In season 1989/90, Rangers conceded a mere 19 goals in their 36 Premier Division, and in his 230 appearances for Rangers, Woods shipped just 156 goals. That equates to conceding once every 1.474 appearances.

With the advent of the three-foreigner rule in 1991, Chris Woods left Rangers and joined Sheffield Wednesday. In his 230 appearances for Rangers, he kept 119 clean sheets (51.74%) and won four league titles and two League Cups. Alongside Terry Butcher, he fortified the Rangers defence and was one of the cornerstones of the success the club enjoyed in the latter part of the 1980’s.

His Rangers record reads:

Andy Goram (1991 – 1998)

The man who broke Celtic’s heart on numerous occasions, Andrew Lewis Goram, ‘The Goalie’, must be at the top of most supporters’ lists when it comes to the great goalie debate. In his six seasons at Ibrox, Andy faced Celtic 26 times and conceded only 22 goals. Of those 26 matches, Rangers won 15, drew six and lost only five.

Goram’s main attribute was his shot stopping, and he was rarely beaten in one-on-one situations. He was a huge presence during the nine-in-a-row era, and his saves were worth numerous points in those championship-winning seasons. And although the side under-performed in Europe at that time, the same could not be said for Goram. Indeed, had it not been for some superlative saves from ‘The Goalie’ heavy away defeats against AEK Athens, Juventus and Grasshopper Zurich could have verged on humiliation.

The latter part of his Rangers career was hampered by a knee injury, but after raising the ire of Walter Smith and finding himself transfer-listed in the summer of 1994, Goram got the gloves back and was doing what he did best, repelling opposition strikers, until he left Rangers in the summer of 1998.

‘The Goalie’ made 260 appearances for Rangers. He kept a clean sheet in 41.92% of those games. He won six league titles, three Scottish Cups, and two League Cups. Andy was voted Scotland’s Player of the Year in season 1992/93.

  • His Rangers record reads:

Stefan Klos (1998 – 2007)

If Andy Goram was ‘The Goalie’ then Stefan Klos was ‘Der Goalie’. Signed by Dick Advocaat in December 1998, Klos went straight into the team and was rarely out of it for the next seven years.

Another who falls into the ‘superb shot-stopper’ category, Klos was a Champions League winner, and he brought experience and a cool head to the sides built by Dick Advocaat and Alex McLeish. In the Treble-winning season of 2002/03, Stefan played in all 48 domestic matches, shutting the opposition out in 25 of them and conceding just 35 goals.

Another who had a penchant for shutting out Celtic, Klos was appointed captain at the start of season 2004/05, but his Rangers career effectively ended in January 2005 when he caught his studs in the turf during training and ruptured his cruciate ligament. He was replaced initially by a young Allan McGregor before McLeish recruited the experienced Ronald Waterreus.

Dutchman Waterreus was the preferred choice in season 2005/06, and new manager Paul Le Guen favoured Lionel Letizi for most of the matches in his short stint as the Rangers manager. But Klos was still in and around the team, and after Allan McGregor was ordered off in the UEFA Cup tie against Hapoel Tel Aviv, Klos came off the bench to play the last 15 minutes of the tie. He was then selected for the final time for Rangers for the first leg of the last-16 encounter against Osasuna.

Stefan Klos made a total of 297 appearances for Rangers, recording shut outs in 47.81% of them. He won four league titles, four Scottish Cups and two League Cups. In common with McCloy, Woods and Goram, Klos has been inducted into the Rangers Hall of Fame.

His Rangers record reads:

Allan McGregor (2000-2012 & 2018 – )

Rangers’ current number one goalkeeper, Allan McGregor, is a product of the youth system at the club. He made his debut as a substitute in a Scottish Cup tie against Forfar Athletic in February 2002, but he had to bide his time before he became a regular between the sticks.

McGregor had loan spells with St Mirren and St Johnstone to get valuable game time, but the signings of Ronald Waterreus and Lionel Letizi in 2005 and 2006 suggested that the young upstart wasn’t deemed ready for the rigours of playing for Rangers. The return of Walter Smith in January 2007 changed all that, though, and for the remainder of Smith’s second spell in charge, if fit and free from suspension, then McGregor’s name was the first on the team sheet.

Although McGregor missed out on the UEFA Cup Final in 2008 – an ankle injury sustained against Celtic in April effectively ended his season – he played a massive part in getting Rangers to Manchester. While football aficionados wax lyrical about the save Gordon Banks made from Pele in the 1970 World Cup, few of them reference the miraculous save made by McGregor in a match against Werder Bremen. Boubacar Sanogo rose six yards from goal, and his header looked like forcing the tie into extra time. But racing across his goal, McGregor dived, got his fingertips to the ball and diverted it onto the crossbar. The save effectively sealed Rangers’ progress into the last eight of the competition.

Since then, we’ve come to expect such heroics from McGregor. After leaving the club in 2012 to move to Besiktas, McGregor returned to Ibrox in 2018 having had spells at Hull City and Cardiff City after his short stint in Turkey. And as Steven Gerrard rebuilt and reinvigorated Rangers, McGregor was a stoic last line of defence. Time without number he has repelled what has been thrown at him, and when the debate rages about who is Rangers’ greatest-ever goalkeeper then Allan McGregor must be in the mix.

Remarkably, Allan, who will turn 40 on 31 January, was criticised earlier this season when he made a couple of uncharacteristic errors, but he has silenced them since then by adding to his list of jaw-dropping saves. The double save against Sparta Prague in the Europa League was breath-taking.

McGregor’s contract is due to expire in the summer. With rumours of moves for Benjamin Siegrist and Xander Clark doing the rounds, Allan may choose to hang up his gloves. He has after all done more than most to help re-establish Rangers as Scotland’s premier club.

But he’ll still be motivated by the challenges that lie ahead. To be part of the team that retains the title will be a driver, but on a personal level, he is just 14 clean sheets short of Peter McCloy’s record. With a couple of Europa League ties guaranteed, 18 Scottish Premiership games remaining, and a Scottish Cup run too, few would bet against McGregor surpassing McCloy’s milestone of 214 shut outs.

Incidentally, McGregor likes facing penalties against Celtic. Of the 33 penalty kicks he’s faced in his Rangers career, seven have been taken by Celtic players. McGregor has saved four of them, the most important of those undoubtedly being the one from Georgios Samaras in April 2011.

As of the 2-0 win over St Mirren on Boxing Day, McGregor’s Rangers record is:

The Understudies

Rangers haven’t just been blessed with excellent first-choice goalkeepers in the last 50 years, most of the understudies have been top drawer too.

When Peter McCloy arrived in 1970, he took over the gloves from Gerry Neef, but his main challenger for the number one jersey in the 1970’s was Stewart Kennedy.

Kennedy was signed by Jock Wallace from Stenhousemuir in April 1973, and he made five appearances in season 1973/74. Wallace decided Kennedy would be the number one for the following season, and Stewart was ever-present as Rangers won the league for the first time in 11 years, stopping Celtic winning 10-in-a-row in the process.

Kennedy was rewarded for his fine form when he won his first cap for Scotland in April 1975 in a 1-1 draw against Sweden. He was selected for the next four internationals too, and he looked set to be the top man for Rangers and Scotland for years to come. But in the last of those internationals, his promising career came to a shuddering halt.

Kennedy was made the scapegoat for the 5-1 hammering against England at Wembley, and he never played for Scotland again. At Ibrox, Wallace chopped and changed between McCloy and Kennedy over the next three seasons. Although Stewart did play a part in the Treble seasons of 1975/76 and 1977/78, the barren campaign that was sandwiched between them was the one in which Kennedy played the majority of the games.

Stewart Kennedy left Rangers to join Forfar Athletic in 1980. His confidence was shattered by the loss to England and his career as a goalkeeper will always be a case of what might have been.

His record at Rangers reads:

In 1981, John Greig brought in Jim Stewart from Middlesbrough. The man who would return to the club and enjoy great success as a goalkeeper coach played in each of the last 13 games of season 1980/81, picking up a Scottish Cup medal in the replayed Final against Dundee United. Jim was injured early in the following season, but once fit it was apparent that Greig regarded him as the first-choice goalkeeper. But this wasn’t the most successful of times at Ibrox, and after a Brian McClair hat-trick earned Motherwell a 3-0 win at Fir Park in January 1983, Stewart was dropped. He only made a further four appearances for the first team after that.

Jim’s Rangers record reads:

Next up to challenge McCloy was Nicky Walker. Nicky came from Motherwell in December 1983. He had worked with Jock Wallace at both Leicester City and Motherwell, so you could understand why big Jock brought him to Rangers a few months after he started his second stint in the Ibrox hotseat. But over the next seven years – with the exception of season 1985/86 – Walker waited in the wings for a chance to play for the first team. He eventually opted to join Hearts in 1989 but did a decent job for the club, notably when he stepped into the breach in the 1987 League Cup Final when Chris Woods was suspended.

His Rangers record reads:

The next man to assume the role of regular understudy was Alistair Maxwell. A Scottish Cup winner with Motherwell in 1991, Walter Smith brought Maxwell in to provide competition for Andy Goram. He is, however, probably best remembered for a couple of howlers, fumbling a cross in an Old Firm game against Celtic in 1993 which allowed John Collins to equalise and botching a back-pass which allowed Dundee United to score the only goal of the 1994 Scottish Cup Final.

Ally remained at Rangers until 1995, and his Rangers record reads:

Ronald Waterreus (2005 – 2006)

When Stefan Klos came to Rangers, Dick Advocaat was able to tap into a rich stream of goalkeeping talent. On the books were Lionel Charbonnier, Antti Niemi and Theo Snelders, but neither did much to dislodge Klos from the number one position. Admittedly, Charbonnier sustained a nasty knee injury early in season 1998/99, but the trio mentioned made just 71 appearances in total for Rangers (Charbonnier 31, Niemi 22 and Snelders 18).

The experienced Waterreus arrived in the 2005 January transfer window after Klos injured his knee in training, and the Dutchman played in all but one of the final fourteen league matches. In that time, he picked up two medals, playing in the League Cup Final win over Motherwell and as part of the side that snatched the title so dramatically on what will be forever remembered as ‘Helicopter Sunday’.

Alex McLeish selected Waterreus ahead of a fit-again Klos for what was a calamitous season 2005/06. Waterreus made almost 50 appearances during that campaign but elected to leave Glasgow at the end of the season.

His Rangers record reads:

Neil Alexander (2007 – 2013)

Allan McGregor emerged as Walter Smith’s number one in 2007, but in Neil Alexander, Rangers had a more than able deputy. When McGregor injured his ankle in April 2008, Alexander stepped in at what was a thrilling time for the club. Neil played in both legs of the UEFA Cup semi-final and also the Final in Manchester. He picked up a Scottish Cup medal too.

Alexander was back to being number two at the start of the following season but following a disciplinary breach that resulted in McGregor being suspended by Rangers, Neil stepped back in, helping Smith’s men collect the first of three successive titles.

Part of the journey back from the lower leagues, Alexander left Rangers at the end of season 2012/13.

His Rangers record reads:

Note: For the purposes of comparison with the other goalkeepers, the data above only includes Alexander’s appearances in the top flight. It does not include data from season 2012/13.

Jon McLaughlin (2020 – )

Another inspired signing by Steven Gerrard, the current deputy goalkeeper at Rangers is Jon McLaughlin. His arrival has sparked competition among the goalkeepers and has probably pushed Allan McGregor’s performances up to another level too.

When Jon has played for Rangers, he has never let the club down as his Rangers record shows:

Concluding Remarks

Impressive. That’s one word that can be used to describe the performances of the Rangers goalkeepers over the past 50 years. Who is the best, or our greatest-ever? Hopefully this article will re-ignite the debate. For me, the best is Goram, with Allan McGregor a very close second. And Klos just edges out Woods to take third place in my top trio of Rangers goalkeepers.

Share this article