THINGS have changed since Stuart McCall walked into Rangers as a player in 1991. Back then he remembers climbing into a mini bus and leaving Ibrox to train on the playing fields at Jordanhill, the Murray Park training complex a thing of the future.
He said he wouldn’t have minded the luxury of the current training facilities but he wouldn’t trade them for the many other differences which have assailed the club since his departure as a player and subsequent return as manager.
In the season he first signed, the club rampaged towards the fourth title in what turned out to be a nine-in-a-row run, they were in European competition and winners dominated the dressing room.
Back as boss – gifted the chance to impress between now and the end of the Championship campaign – his best hope is progress via a promotion play-off, the league title already well out of reach. Even that could be a big ask unless he manages to fire up the winning desire which once drove the club to success.
“I was so proud back then – just as I am now. I don’t think it sunk in that I was manager until I walked through the door yesterday. I haven’t had a chance to think about it before that. I got back after training on Thursday and I had 59 messages and when I was being driven back to my house I was trying to go through them all and got to about 53. My good lady had dinner waiting for me when I got home at eight o’clock and she said she would leave me for half an hour. She came back at ten and I was still answering all these messages while trying to watch DVDs of Livingston.
“It’s been a whirlwind. I know there are big challenges ahead but if we aim to get what we want then there will be big, massive pressure games coming up – but that’s what we want.”
Born in Leeds, his Hamilton-born father imbued him with his love of Scotland – and his lengthy summer holidays visiting cousins and uncles introduced him to Rangers. “I used to come up, and sometimes go to Hamilton or sometimes come here when I could get a lift on a supporters’ bus. Colin Stein, Sandy Jardine, big DJ and stuff like that. I was brought up a Leeds fan because that was where I stayed, when I used to come on holiday I would stay in Hamilton for three or four weeks during the summer holidays. My cousins, my uncles, used to drag me along to Rangers. But the love for it really comes from when you do come in the door, and play for the club.”
That pride in the club, pride in the jersey, hasn’t been as evident in recent times, as performances have fallen well below expectations. As a TV pundit, McCall often criticised the men he now has to steer to some modicum of success but he maintains he said nothing the players would have been shocked to hear. “I think I was being honest. I don’t think there is a Rangers player who would say anything different – there has not been a level of consistency and nobody has performed at a level they are capable of. I did say that in our day we could have a little blip but we would have seven or eight team-mates doing well to give you a lift. Gazza might have had a couple of bad games but McCoist has banged in a hat-trick. But now you’re looking at your mate and he’s going through a hard time and it’s the same with the guy next to him. So it’s all about improving performances and the sooner that happens the better it will be.”
“There is a lack of confidence but that can be turned round with a couple of decent performance and results. It’s a big challenge. I doesn’t matter what happened 20 years ago or yesterday, it can still be a good season. What was planned three years ago was three promotions – ideally as champions but obviously that’s not going to happen this season. But if this season ends with Rangers back in the Premiership it will still be deemed as a success.”