IT HAS been billed by the Ibrox club as the “original Glasgow derby”. It might equally be argued that their hosting of Queen’s Park in the Third Division on Saturday is the newest Glasgow derby.
Yet, whatever the view of the history belonging to Charles Green’s Rangers, a team playing out of Ibrox facing up to Scotland’s first powerhouse club in a league fixture has a genuine resonance.
Although the teams last met in a League Cup tie 21 years ago and regularly jousted in the Glasgow Cup in the two decades before that, there has not been a league meeting since 1958, the year Queen’s Park last played top-flight football. The fact the confrontation has returned to the calendar in a wholly different form was best encapsulated by Rangers ambassador Sandy Jardine.
“In terms of history, Queen’s Park were the team not just in Scotland but in Britain and in the very early days Rangers hardly ever beat them in our first 15 to 20 years [after first meeting in 1874],” said Jardine, who netted four times in a 7-1 Glasgow Cup win for Rangers over the Hampden club in 1968. “Professionalism took over but Queen’s retained their amateur status and the two clubs drifted apart. Now, due to unforeseen circumstances, the two teams have come together again.”
Rangers go into the game fresh from their humiliating defeat away to Third Division bottom club Stirling Albion. It left Ally McCoist’s side, with their £6 million wage bill, in the pack of clubs all trailing Queen’s, the only amateur club in Scottish senior football.
Jardine offers a lengthy justification for his club’s poor away form in the league, where they haven’t won in four attempts. “Everybody thought we would just go into the Third Division and romp it. That’s being disrespectful to other teams.
“Six months ago, Rangers were worried if they were going to have a football club. Then, because of the lengthy delays by the SPL and SFA, Rangers had to put together a team in a week or so. Rangers came in at the very end of the window and the market when most of the deals were done. The best out-of-contract players were unavailable.
“Stirling Albion were fantastic on Saturday and if you were a Stirling Albion supporter last weekend you would be so, so proud of your team. They will never reach that level again. It was a one-off. When you play at Ibrox you have to reach that level week in, week out and all these teams have done brilliantly against Rangers as they have nothing to lose and they have got wired in. The Rangers players have to play a cup-tie every week in the Third Division.
“Rangers have cobbled together a new team alongside young laddies in a fortnight and never had much of a pre-season. That may sound like excuses but these players should understand what to expect when they go out on that park now. There are no excuses.
“The present players we have at the club at home have been great but away from home we have struggled and the team has to sort themselves. The problem at this club is that we have to move forward and it doesn’t matter if it is Charles Green, Ally McCoist, Sandy Jardine or Lee McCulloch.
“Everybody is starting a journey and if the players are good enough they will go all the way with Rangers but if they are not they will fall by the wayside.
“The demands and expectations at this club is that we have to get back to the SPL.”
It is easy to overdose on the froth of Scottish football, but in putting former Rangers and Queen’s Park goalkeeper Bobby Brown up to promote Saturday’s encounter, the Ibrox media department reminded us of football’s special powers.
Former Scotland manager Brown, who turns 90 in a matter of months, has a memory for past details that seems photographic. The last Queen’s Park player to earn a full cap, he transferred to Ibrox after the Second World War and enjoyed a trophy-laden decade at the club.
When hostilities broke out, Brown was at teacher training college in Jordanhill. He joined the Fleet Air Arm along with six classmates, becoming a Swordfish pilot. With football the most popular entertainment during wartime, he was given time off to play for Queen’s Park, the Scottish national team, the Scottish League, and the combined service side. A game for the later, in Ipswich, he calls the “salient moment, the turning point” of his life.
“We lost 2-0 against the army and navy but I probably had my best game ever,” Brown said. “There were a number of VIPs there, among them the First Lord of the Admiralty AV Alexander. He asked to see me and asked what I wanted to do after the war. I told him teacher training. He then asked if I would like to get off flying. ‘I certainly would,’ I said, ‘it’s a dangerous game’. He was the vice-president of Chelsea and arranged for me to become an instructor in Portsmouth, and play for the club as a guest. That saved my life. Of the seven of us who signed up from Jordanhill, six were killed. I survived, thanks to football.”
Tickets for the Rangers v Queen’s Park game are on sale, £16 adults, £12 concessions and £6 children.