John Greig MBE - The Greatest Ever Ranger (Part 4)

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No one who witnessed Rangers’ 2nd treble in 3 seasons when we defeated Aberdeen 2-1 in the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden would believe that the man hugged and congratulated by Jock Wallace would be invited to replace Wallace as manager of Rangers. There are many rumours circulating as to why Jock Wallace left Rangers in 1978 but to say it was a shock would be an understatement. Jock Wallace epitomised Rangers and was a very successful and shrewd coach/manager. His departure left a gaping void and the board hoped that John Greig would be the man to fill this void.

Much has been written regarding John Greig’s tenure as Rangers manager and most agreed that it was a terrible time in our proud history, but ironically, it started off wonderfully. Season 1978-1979 mirrored last season where a fixture pile-up and some overly negative tactics would result in Rangers coming tantalizingly close to a quadruple, but end up with the domestic cup double. Under Greig, the fixture pile-up was caused by the weather and resulted in Rangers playing only three league games between 23rd of December and 14th March.

The early league results belied and gave little indication of the run that Rangers were to put together. Rangers failed to win any our opening six league fixtures. However, once the players got used to Greig’s new tactical awareness, vision and perception we looked like a team capable of going all the way domestically and in Europe. In saying that, Greig’s naivety as a manger led to mistakes being made. Possibly the most crucial was splitting the Johnstone / Smith partnership as JG wanted DJ as centre-half and captain.

Domestically, the League and Scottish Cups were retained with Alex McDonald and Colin Jackson scoring the all important goals as Aberdeen were once again defeated 2-1 at Hampden. The Scottish Cup was secured after a marathon three games against Hibernian. The first two games finished 0-0 and were in truth, dire affairs. The 2nd replay saw Rangers eventually win 3-2 thanks to a Arthur Duncan own-goal (Derek Johnstone with the other two goals).

The League Cup Winning Team – McCloy, Jardine, Dawson, Johnstone, Jackson, A McDonald, McLean, Russell, Urquhart, Smith and Cooper (Subs – Millar and Parlane).

Scottish Cup Winning Team - McCloy, Jardine, Dawson, Johnstone, Jackson, Watson, McLean, Russell, Parlane, A McDonald and Cooper (Subs – Millar and Smith).

Our league title was surrendered at Parkhead when we allowed a Celtc to come from a gaol behind and win ultimately 4-2. In the aftermath of the game, Greig was rightly criticised for his negativity and it was widely believed that if we had been more positive, we would have won the game and the league title. Hindsight is a wonderful tool, but you have to wonder if we had won this title, and therefore the treble, John Greig’s stint as Rangers manager would have been far more successful.

However, it was in Europe in this first managerial season that Rangers and Greig excelled and Rangers eliminated Juventus and PSV Eindhoven with brilliant and at times, breathtaking displays. The Italian Champions contained NINE stars from Italy’s World Cup Squad and PSV were the current UEFA Cup Holders and had, until they faced Rangers, never lost a home European tie. The Juventus game at Ibrox gave the young Cammy F (i.e me!) an early taste of those unbeatable and unmatchable European nights at Ibrox, Ibrox was in the process of being rebuilt, but the atmosphere was electric and goals from Alex McDonald and Gordon Smith ensured that Rangers progressed. After a 0-0 draw at Ibrox, the feeling that was Rangers had blown their opportunity against PSV as their impressive home form suggested that we would struggle. This seemed to be the case as we lost a goal in the first minute, but Rangers rallied and with goals from McDonald and Johnstone put us 2-1 in front. The Dutch champions levelled, but Bobby Russell scored an unforgettable goal late on and Rangers became the first European club to win in Eindhoven. The quarter final draw saw us paired with FC Cologne and a severely depleted Rangers team were narrowly defeated 2-1 on aggregate and the European dream was over.

If John Greig’s first season as manager has shown some promise, his 2nd was calamitous with Rangers failing to win a trophy and finish an embarrassing 5th position in the league, 11 points behind eventual champions Aberdeen (who secured 7 points from 8 from Rangers). Our away form was abysmal with Rangers gaining only 10 points from 18 away games – a total bettered by all bar the two relegated teams (Dundee and Hibernian). Aberdeen also put an end to our League Cup hopes defeating us in a two-legged third round tie. We faired slightly better in the Scottish Cup where we reached the final after defeating Dundee UTD, Hearts and Aberdeen before losing to a deflected George McCluskey shot in extra time in an OF Final.

In Europe, after seeing off Lilliestrom in the Cup Winners Cup preliminary round, we defeated Fortuna Dusseldorf by 2-1 to then face Spanish giants Valencia. A 1-1 draw in Spain looked to have paved our way, but the magic of Mario Kempes proved too much for Rangers at Ibrox and the Spanish side went on to with the trophy against Arsenal. On a more positive note, the redevelopment of Ibrox took a major step forward with the opening of the Copland Road Stand.

Bolstered by much needed signings (Jim Bett and Colin McAdam and the return of Willie Johnston), Rangers entered season 1980-81 knowing that they need to improve significantly. Rangers got off to an impressive start in the league with an unbeaten run of 15 matches which included two OF victories and a record 8-1 win away to Kilmarnock. However, this form wasn’t to last and a disastrous run in November and December threw our title challenge of the rails. Aberdeen once again knocked us out of the League Cup and the game was marred with controversy when referee George Smith awarded The Dons not one, but two contentious penalties, the second being awarded for a foul that occurred on the semi-circle outside the penalty box! Due to having no European participation, Rangers entered the Anglo-Scottish which led to humiliation and embarrassment at the hands of English minnows, Chesterfield Town. The third division side held Rangers to a 1-1 draw at Ibrox (Gordon Dalziel) then thumping Rangers 3-0 in the away leg.

We were to finish 3rd in the league 12 points behind Champions Celtic in the league campaign that was over before it really got started. The disastrous run in Nov/Dec was one that we would never recover from. However, there was slight solace in the Scottish Cup where we faced Dundee United. After a tedious 0-0 draw where Ian Redford would miss a last minute penalty for us against his former employers, Rangers went on to win the replay 4-1 with a wonderful performance topped by some Davie Cooper magic. Cooper was dropped for the original game, but made a devastating return in the replay scoring a goal and setting up two others. John McDonald (2) and Bobby Russell were the other scorers. The season ended the end or Alex McDonald’s illustrious Rangers career. Remembered for his true Rangers spirit and his diving headers, Alex McDonald would always be held in great esteem by the fans. After 12 years of sterling service to Rangers, Alex McDonald was sold to Hearts for £30,000 and would later go on to manage the Gorgie side (along with Sandy Jardine).

Scottish Cup Winning Team - Stewart, Jardine, Dawson, Stevens, T Forsyth, Bett, Cooper, Russell, Johnstone, Redford and J McDonald

Season 1981-1982 would bring further misery for the Rangers legions and would see Rangers finish 3rd in the league, 12 points behind Champions Celtic, for the second consecutive season. It was around this time, that it was becoming increasingly difficult to point to any positives regarding Rangers and John Greig was becoming the focal point when fans were discussing what was wrong with Rangers. The simple truth was that we were just not good enough. This lack of ambition and quality appeared to be mirrored in the shock signing of Northern Ireland international John McClelland from Mansfield Town. However, McClelland who had starred for Northern Ireland in the World Cup in Spain, would turn out to be a gem of a signing. Our European participation was halted by Dukla Prague who totally outclassed us in Prague (3-0) but we gained some pribe by winning the home leg by 2-1 (Bett and John McDonald scoring). Rangers did win the League Cup by defeating Dundee United by 2-1 (Cooper and Redford). Rangers were losing 1-0 but a brilliantly executed Cooper free-kick drew us level, then an equally brilliantly executed lob from Redford ensured that Rangers would win the League Cup for a record 11th time. Rangers did reach the Scottish Cup Final but lost to Aberdeen 4-1 after extra time. John McDonald had given Rangers the lead, but after equalising and taking the game to extra-time, Aberdeen ran away with the cup.

This season would mark the end of some Rangers stalwarts and also herald a new era. Tom Forsyth, Colin Jackson, Sandy Jardine and Alex Forsyth were released / retired. Colin Jackson gained a testimonial that saw Rangers play Everton at Ibrox. The red half of Merseyside were the invited visitors when the completion of the redeveloped Iborx was celebrated with a glamour friendly for the opening of the Govan Stand.

League Cup Winning Team – Stewart, Jardine, Miller, Stevens, Jackson, Bett, Cooper, Russell, Johnstone, Dalziel (Redford) and J McDonald

With big-money signings made in the pre-season Rangers entered season 1982-83 with renewed hope that they could at least mount a serious title challenge, but once again, we were to be let down, and let down badly. Dave McKinnon, Craig Paterson, Robert Prytz and Sandy Clark were all welcomed to the club and were the reason some of us were hoping for better times. However, the season was to pan out terribly for Rangers and we would end the season trophyless. The early signs were however positive. Rangers reached the league cup final scoring 29 goals in 10 games and eliminated Borussia Dortmund from the UEFA Cup and remain unbeaten in the opening eight league games. Then, the wheels well and truly cam off the bandwagon. We lost 5-0 in Cologne and finished 4th in the league an agonising 18 points behind Champions Dundee United. The Scottish Cup was lost in the final to an Aberdeen side who had just won the Cup Winners Cup ten days earlier. We were actually unlucky in the final, finally succumbing to a deflected Eric Black effort. There is very little else that could be added to this summation of season 82-83. Rangers fans believed that we had hit rock bottom, that the only way was up. This theory and hope was to be shattered the following season(s).

Season 1983-84 would signal the end of John Greig’s managerial career, with Tommy McLean taking over when Greig resigned from his post on 28th October 1983. McLean was then replaced by Jock Wallace after both Alex Ferguson and Jim McLean turned down the Rangers role. The Rangers board, and a certain Walter Smith, Jim McLean’s assistant at United were left dismayed at his rejection of the job offer. McLean and privately informed Smith that he was taking the job and was taking Smith with him and the United board and resigned themselves to losing their managerial team. Only Jim McLean will know the reasoning why he refused this offer and as they say, the rest is history.

Rangers would slump to 4th position in the league and were knocked out of the Scottish Cup by Dundee in a controversial game that saw Prytz and Redford red-carded for Rangers and the soon to be Ranger, Iain Ferguson scored the winner for Dundee. The league cup was won thanks to a stunning 3-2 win over Celtic at Hampden. Ally McCoist scoring a hatrick and the game will be remembered for two things. Firstly the huge, gaping gaps in the Celtic end terracing and the winning goal. Rangers were awarded a penalty, young McCoist took the kick and it was saved by Bonnor. The Celtic fans had barely time to jump for joy before McCoist (not for the last time) would burst their bubble and slammed the rebound into the net. At last, there was a feeling of joy amid the Rangers support and a feeling that something special was abound. We had Jock Wallace back and we had that feeling back. However, we would have to wait a little longer than expected to finally feel that Champion feeling. Wallace couldn’t recapture the glory days and behind the scenes, a little known David Holmes was plotting a future for Rangers that would blow all our minds and exceed even our hefty expectations. The rest the say is history……

League Cup Winning Team – McCloy, Nicholl, Dawson, McClelland, Paterson, McPherson, Russell, McCoist, Clark (McAdam), McDonald (Burns), Cooper.