There were many times in his storied career when Celtic Park was a happy hunting ground for Ally McCoist. But on 29 April 2012, his last visit to the venue, he wore the wearied and defeated look of the hunted.
It was the day the reality of Rangers’ implosion on and off the field confronted the Ibrox club and their supporters in painful fashion.
Taunted mercilessly by the Celtic support over their decent into administration and impending liquidation, Rangers were comprehensively defeated 3-0 by their hosts who had already wrapped up the first of their current run of five title wins.
For McCoist, his dream job as manager of Rangers had already assumed nightmare proportions. His priorities had been switched from the technical area as he became the public face of his club’s battle to secure a future. Rather than hold an inquest into his team’s performance at Celtic Park that afternoon, McCoist’s focus was on a Hampden meeting the following day where Scottish Premier League clubs met to consider whether a newco Rangers would be granted admission the following season.
The subsequent four years are history now, with McCoist’s role in the extraordinary tale ending with his departure from the club in December 2014 when he finally succumbed to the strain of trying to combine leading Rangers back to the top flight with handling the chaotic cast of characters who made their way through the chronically mis-managed Ibrox boardroom.
Sitting in a Glasgow restaurant yesterday, the haunted look has left McCoist’s face. “Life is good,” he happily confirms as he enjoys his recent return to television punditry while still waiting on an opportunity to return to management one day.
The 53-year-old will watch Rangers’ return to Celtic Park on Saturday from a TV studio in the Middle East where he will contribute to a chunk of the worldwide live coverage generated by the Old Firm fixture. While he analyses the action in hand, his mind may briefly but inevitably stray back to his harrowing experience of four years ago.
“We were as low as I can remember in my time being involved with Rangers,” says McCoist. “The club was in a really, really poor place that day. Not just the supporters and players, but the staff and everyone connected with Rangers.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a distant memory for me yet, but I don’t think anyone could argue that the club is in a far better state now on and off the park than it was back then. It was certainly a low point for Rangers.
“The football was secondary that day, there’s no doubt about it. I had a million other things on the go. The club was in absolute turmoil and nobody knew what was coming next. So while it sounds crazy to talk about an Old Firm defeat in that way, the result that day wasn’t as important as other things going on at the club.
“There was a meeting at Hampden the next day, there were all sorts of things happening. I remember it all very, very well. I remember things like being at Hibs training ground for an under-20s game when I got the call to say the club had gone into administration.
“I remember the meetings at Hampden. In many ways, it was crazy but it happened. I did take notes at the time. I do have a glance through them every now and again and it’s unbelievable what went on. Just absolutely unbelievable. Honest to God, nobody would believe me.
“Would it make a good film? If it did, I think Jim Carrey would be the obvious choice to play my part. The Mask – I had a few of them on over the last four years.”
Whatever personal difficulties McCoist was attempting to hide from public view, there was a detrimental effect on him privately. It was witnessed by those closest to him, including his wife Vivien and his five sons.
“No-one told me to quit the job,” he says. “Well, one woman did! The job did take its toll on me. It’s difficult to explain, but I just wasn’t myself and there were one or two people close to me who pointed that out.
“It was more than just sleepless nights, because I think most football managers get them. I could handle that. If you can’t handle worrying about results, then you shouldn’t be in the job. But that’s all you should really have to worry about as a manager.
“There was just so much else going on at Rangers, though. It was just one of those times in the club’s history which wasn’t ideal. I honestly couldn’t tell you what the worst bit was for me – it was just the overall worry about the future of the club and more importantly the people within the club.”
lAlly McCoist was speaking at a promotional event for sports professionals’ career development and advisory service Spohrt who have been endorsed by the Scottish Qualifications Authority as an approved centre of training excellence.