TERRY Butcher has enjoyed an enduring love affair with Scottish football, but his introduction to club football north of the Border got off to a torrid start – coincidentally at Easter Road.
Along with fellow England international Chris Woods, Butcher had been Rangers’ marquee signing in the summer of 1986 when Graeme Souness swaggered through the door.
With an unprecedented budget already half-spent and the hype surrounding Souness’s new-look Rangers cranked up to fever pitch, the new player-manager took his team to his home city of Edinburgh on 9 August to face John Blackley’s Hibs in what would prove the most explosive of fixtures.
When Butcher and Woods emerged from the tunnel to warm up for the season-opener they naively applauded the Hibs fans gathering in the East Enclosure, only to be met with a volley of abuse and cat-calls from supporters not fond of seeing England internationals strutting around their ground in Rangers strips. It was a quick reminder that they had entered a hostile environment and, by the end of 90 breathless minutes, they must have thought they had volunteered for service in a combat zone.
The frenzied game will forever be remembered for a shameful melee and incredibly, it was the experienced Souness – also making his debut in Scottish football – who proved to be the main culprit. The former Liverpool and Sampdoria midfielder was red-carded for a vicious off-the-ball kick at George McCluskey which left the Hibs striker unable to continue and helped from the pitch nursing a nasty gash down his shin. Rangers, and particularly Souness, simply imploded under the intense pressure to justify the fuss that had been made in the build-up. With 27,000 fans crammed inside Easter Road, the game started and finished at 100mph, as Hibs tried and joyfully succeeded in riling Rangers and their big-name signings.
Hibs took the lead – and it was Butcher at fault. His slip allowed Stevie Cowan in to square for Stuart Beedie to score in front of the Dunbar End.
Ally McCoist equalised from the penalty spot before the game erupted in the 30th minute.
Souness had already been booked, but when he was bundled over by Beedie in a tackle, the red mist truly engulfed him. He lashed out at McCluskey, who crumpled to the turf in agony.
Butcher, no shrinking violent, was in the thick of things as 21 of the 22 players were involved in a brawl in the centre circle, only Hibs keeper Alan Rough electing to stay in his goalmouth. When the dust settled, Souness was red carded, and Colin West nearly joined him.
Souness later admitted it was the lowest moment of his career, as he had let down his father, watching from the stand.
With their manager gone, ten-man Rangers then conceded what proved to be the winning goal in the 43rd minute when substitute Willie Irvine – sent on for the stricken McCluskey – set up Cowan.
Butcher could have been forgiven for pondering the first available flight back to England after such an experience, but he stuck around to become an Ibrox legend as Rangers, first under Souness then under Walter Smith, won eight successive league titles and a host of domestic honours.
If his talks with Hibs prove fruitful over the next 24 hours or so, when he next emerges from the Easter Road tunnel, this time it will be to a hero’s welcome.