KYLE Lafferty accepts that there could be home fans booing him at Hampden Park tomorrow evening. Despite scoring in three successive title-clinching games for the Ibrox club, he knows many of those jeering him could well be Rangers supporters.
Now playing in Turkey on loan from Norwich City, Lafferty, who is still only 27, has packed a lot into his career. He is still regarded as somewhat unpredictable – Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill last week said he was not worried about the player coming to Hampden and doing something daft, since “he’s just as likely to do something daft crossing the street”.
But Lafferty has been elevated to hero status at home after scoring three vital goals in Northern Ireland’s promising Euro 2016 campaign. He will be one of their main threats tomorrow against Scotland, where he is still most firmly associated with a controversial spell at Ibrox.
Lafferty left Rangers when he objected to his contract being transferred to a newco set up by Charles Green following the club’s liquidation three years ago. But now he admits he would “jump” at the opportunity to go back to Ibrox, where he has unfinished business. No-one can claim he did not experience success at the club. A winning goal against Hibernian at the end of the 2009/10 season secured the championship for Rangers, and he was on target against Dundee United and Kilmarnock in pivotal title-winning matches in two other campaigns.
But he was just as likely to hit the headlines for less savoury reasons. He was suspended by manager Ally McCoist for two weeks for his poor attitude and goaded then Celtic manager Neil Lennon on Twitter after one victory.
Lafferty was blasted by skipper David Weir for appearing uninterested during a game at Pittodrie and was also once banned for simulation after pretending Charlie Mulgrew had head-butted him during another game against Aberdeen. Checkered does not begin to describe his Rangers career. “I’ve matured and I’m letting my football do the talking now,” Lafferty protested yesterday, at the Northern Ireland base outside Edinburgh. “I’m enjoying it and that’s what’s most important. Moving to a club like Rangers – I think I was 20 at the time – was hard, especially coming from a wee village in Northern Ireland. So maybe it hit me. I’d be the first one to agree I did some daft things at Rangers, on and off the pitch. But it’s all about learning from it and I’ve learned my lessons. I’m here to play football now.
“On Wednesday night we’ll see how I’m remembered when there are about 50,000 people booing me! But 100 per cent I regret all the daft things I did off the pitch and on it. I didn’t let my football do the talking enough. To play for a team like Rangers, to be known as the crazy guy on or off the pitch wasn’t what I wanted. That wasn’t who I wanted to be.”
A move to Sion from Rangers did not work out while another one to Palermo in Italy came to end when he was described as “unmanageable” by the club’s president. Now on loan at Rizespor in Turkey, he is eyeing a return to Norwich, now managed by Alex Neil, at the end of the season. But, if not, he hopes Rangers could be an option.
Lafferty accepts that his reputation precedes him and he knows he has not always helped himself. “In some ways it overshadowed all the good things I did for Rangers,” he said. “I did score a few important goals but I’m probably most remembered as the guy who was given a chance and didn’t take it. To score title-winning goals was a dream come true for me. But it’s the things I did off the pitch, and the stupid things on it, that maybe take a bit of shine off all that.”
But now he wants to go back. After all, he is a Rangers supporter, who, despite everything, scored almost one goal every three games for the club. “Some Rangers fans have asked me if I’d go back there and I’d jump at the chance,” he said. “But whether that’s an option or not is another thing. What happened for me at Rangers was disappointing. That wasn’t how I wanted to end my career there. But it had to be done.
“I’ve supported Rangers since I was a young boy and still support them now. It would be good to go back to change people’s perceptions of me. If I went back now I’d let my football do the talking. Hopefully that would change their minds of me.”
As for the reaction he can expect tomorrow, he smiled: “I had four years of people booing me at Rangers so I’m sure I’ll be fine on Wednesday.”
“It is going to be good to be back there,” he added. “I have a lot of memories from playing there with Rangers in cup finals.”
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