After the conclusion of World War Two, Scottish football reconvened for season 1946/47. In the intervening seventy-two seasons, we have only faced Aberdeen in a League Championship opener on two occasions. This Sunday's match will be the third, all three have been/are Pittodrie fixtures. Thus, league beginnings with the Dandies are the proverbial hen's teeth. Looking at the previous collectors' items might show a way ahead for two days hence?
Season '77/78 was a tumultuous roller coaster ride for Bears. The previous season had seen Rangers set up to defend their Treble, but failed abjectly. The close season was seemingly uneventful, the Coop had arrived for £100,000 from Clydebank and we sold Ian McDougall to Dundee for £15,000. Oh, and we paid Shettleston Juniors £2,000 for the mercurial Bobby Russell. I traveled on the Tannochside RSC bus to FurryBoots City on the morning of the 13th of August, and collective optimism was low. The midfield needed new legs and a Junior player was not the answer. Inside the Paddock, the gloom deepened as the Rangers team was announced; McCloy, Jardine, Forsyth, Jackson, Miller, Russell MacDonald, MacKay, Parlane, Robertson, and Cooper. The Junior, a teenage winger, Billy MacKay, and the diminutive forward Chris Robertson(older brother of Hearts, John) all starting at Pittodrie failed to inspire confidence.
The game began with the Don's Drew Jarvie scoring in the second minute and we had to survive a few more near things before Cooper and Russell revealed a near telepathic relationship. We played our way into the game and deservedly drew level on the half hour, Russell finishing a lovely move. Heightened spirits at half time soon dissipated when Jarvie and Joe Harper struck twice inside a minute on the hour. Boos rang around the away support as the most promising teenager, MacKay was substituted by Bobby McKean. In the wake of an opening day 3-1 defeat, the journey home on the bus was most fractious. An assurance from the Bus Convener that Gordon Smith was signing for the club on Monday and £400,000 (Parlane plus £200,000) had been offered to Leeds United for their young Scots centre half, Gordon McQueen was not deemed helpful, Smith was a fan dancer!
We regained the Treble at the culmination of the season. Russell, Cooper, and Gordon Smith played significant parts. DJ notched forty goals and John Greig became the first player since Davie Meiklejohn, over half a century before, to be awarded a Testimonial. Colin Stein was released on a Free. Tragically, Bobby McKean was found dead inside his car, and our manager, Jock Wallace resigned after securing two Trebles in three seasons. John Greig was appointed manager of Rangers the very next day.
We must spring forward thirty-four years to the 28th July'01 for our second Hill'o'Dung opener. Circumstances were vaguely similar, a chastened Dick Advocaat led Rangers to the reflecting light of the grey granite. MON had put his gas at a peep, and the city of energy was not keen on reigniting his enthusiasm. It was reported that Rangers players and staff had been out their beds twice due to bogus fire alarms, the usual suspects sniggered at their discomfort, promising it would only get worse. They had not graduated to etching Ibrox Disaster slurs on the team bus, that would come later.
Pittodrie was a sun drenched toilet that day, Rangers lined up as follows : Klos, Ricksen, Moore, Vidmar, Numan, Reyna, Latapy, Konterman, Nerlinger, Caniggia, and Mols. Interestingly, Rangers had just returned from Slovenia, where they had defeated Maribor three zip, and the midweek exertions were clearly visible in an uninspiring goalless first half. Rangers increased the pace after the restart and the Dons Struggled, three goals in twenty minutes turned the sheep to mutton. Nerlinger clipped a twenty yarder into the net, Latapy dispatched a penalty, and Caniggia followed in on a spilled Miller shot.
A successive three nil away win should have inspired confidence to kick-on, but we drew nil nil with newly promoted Livi' at Ibrox the following Saturday. By mid-season, we had lost sight of ra Sellik and were fighting off a rejuvenated Hibs under McLeish. We had progressed in the UEFA Cup, but lost out to Feyenoord by the odd goal in seven at the quarter-final stage. Dick resigned, became Director of Football, appointed Eck and we went on to win both the League Cup and Scottish Cup finals against ra Sellik. Who can forget Lovenkrand's last minute header, or the sharp crack of 25,000 seats snapping back as the green'n'grey hordes rushed to depart a truly joyous national stadium?
Sunday's early kick-off will be a trial for both teams. Recovery from Thursday evening's trials and tribulations will demand fresher legs. I suspect the first half will be a territorial battle and thus hope McCrorie starts beside Jack. Either Arfield or Coulibaly for the third midfield berth. Further, Murphy's fresher legs on the flank. I would go with : McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Flanagan, Jack, McCrorie, Coulibaly, Candeias, Morelos, and Murphy. After an hour, when football breaks out, Kent, Middleton, Ejeria, etc will have a part to play. I hope for a two nil victory?
Whether this fixture is as seminal in the coming season as the previous two proved to be, is anyone's guess. Would we sacrifice the result for an improving performance, leading to silverware later in the season? The only remaining question is who will BBC Scotland target for further attention from the Compliant Officer? Big Dick Gordon hates McGregor, despises Morelos, and fulminates at the mention of Ryan Jack. Deciding vote becomes the responsibility of Liam McLeod, Wullie Miller, Billy Dodds, Chris McLaughlin, and Jonathon Sutherland. Does an unanimous decision await?
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