THERE was a time when the prodigious facial hair currently being sprouted by Richard Foster would have earned him a hefty fine from Rangers.
For many years, in a policy imposed by disciplinarian manager Bill Struth in the 1920s, the Ibrox club’s players had to maintain a clean-shaven appearance.
It was a tradition which was sustained for more than half a century, with Davie Cooper and Bobby Williamson among those forced to remove beards and moustaches when they signed for Rangers.
It came to an unspoken end with the arrival of Graeme Souness as player-manager in 1986, with no-one ever likely to suggest he should lose his trademark mouser.
In between times, there was one notable exception to the rule when John Greig grew a full set of whiskers during Rangers’ triumphant 1971-72 European Cup Winners’ Cup campaign. Having been unable to shave after sustaining a cut chin in a training accident, the Ibrox skipper decided to stay away from the razor until Rangers lifted the trophy in Barcelona.
Foster’s own Robinson Crusoe look has not entirely been born of similar superstition during Rangers’ ongoing 39-match unbeaten run in all competitions. But, ahead of Sunday’s Ramsdens Cup final against Raith Rovers at Easter Road and the Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United at Ibrox the following Saturday, the 28-year-old full-back says his beard has become something of a lucky mascot.
“It started off because I was being a bit lazy and didn’t shave,” he smiled. “I’ve actually come to like it. It’s the first time I’ve really tried growing a beard and we’ll see if it’s a lucky one or not.
“I don’t know when I’ll shave it off. I did initially think I might keep it until I scored my first goal for Rangers, but I’m not committing myself to that! I certainly won’t be shaving it off if we win on Sunday and I’ll need to keep it for the Dundee United game.
“So it could be a while. I’ll leave it for now and, if we lose certain games, I might shave it off. All players have little superstitions. I’ve got other little things I do, but the beard is a new one. The rest of the lads don’t mention it at all, of course!
“Since I’ve got back into the first team, the beard has been with me. I’m doing all right, so I don’t to be like Samson and lose all my powers when I shave it all off. I’m enjoying being back in the team and Sunday is the start of a massive week for us.”
Foster collected an SPL winners’ medal during his first spell at Rangers in 2011, when he was on loan from Aberdeen. He insists tasting victory in the knockout competition for lower division clubs this weekend will mean just as much to him.
“I played in the Champions League and won the league the last time I was here,” he said, “but I haven’t won any cups. You come to Rangers to win things and the Ramsdens Cup is no different. Winning it on Sunday would be right up there in terms of my achievements.
“We want to finish the season on a high because it will give us something to take into next year. We all know next season in the Championship is going to be very difficult. It’s a tough, tough league. We want to finish this season on as big a high as possible.
“It’s an exciting week because it’s a cup final on Sunday, followed by a massive semi-final against United. It’s something all the players are relishing.”
There are unlikely to be many plaudits for Rangers from outwith their own fanbase should they claim the silverware this weekend, while their recent league form has been largely unimpressive despite remaining undefeated.
“That’s the nature of the beast at Rangers,” shrugged Foster. “If we win on Sunday we won’t get too much in the way of praise because it will be expected.
“But if we lose we know we’ll be heavily criticised. That’s the way it goes. That’s something we’ve had to deal with all season.
“We’ve had a little dip in form in the league since clinching the title, albeit we’re still winning, and I think that had to be expected. Getting back up for a cup final will be easy because it’s the chance to win silverware. “We’ve been winning games and keeping the run going. It’s all about momentum. You get into a habit of winning games and, hopefully, we can keep that going.
“It would be disrespectful to Raith Rovers to say we are favourites on Sunday. People will have their own opinions and plenty will probably say we are favourites. That’s up to them.
“We won’t be taking the game lightly because Raith are a very good team. They’ve done very well to get to the final and they have a lot of good players who have been in and around Scottish football for a long time.
“We know we will have to raise our performance. We’ve had tough games away to East Fife, Brechin and Arbroath recently and we know there will need to be a marked improvement in our performance level.
“I don’t think that will be a problem. You will have the enthusiasm and buzz of a cup final and then the game against United a week later will take care of itself.”