Rangers’ Gareth McAuley living childhood dreams - at 38

Rangers' Gareth McAuley. Pic: SNS
Rangers' Gareth McAuley. Pic: SNS
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The Rangers team bus pulled up outside Ibrox just over two weeks ago and Gareth McAuley was almost quivering with excitement and anticipation.

At the age of 38, he could not suppress his emotions as he contemplated making his first appearance in Govan and realising a childhood ambition.

In his view it justified his decision to dismiss offers from the English Premier League, and now he is relishing the prospect of playing a key role in Thursday’s Europa League showdown with Villarreal.

People thought he was daft, not least his representatives, but nothing, it seems, was going to stop the Northern Irishman from achieving his dream.

The former West Brom defender said: “This was the club I wanted to come to. There was a whisper at the end of last season that it might be a possibility and throughout the summer I was knocking things back waiting to see if it could happen. This was the one that gave me a spark and a buzz and I really wanted to do it.

“I could have gone to another Premier League club but I would have been involved in another relegation battle probably.

“I’d done that for the last seven years as success at West Brom was always about staying up.

“It was different coming here. I wanted to come here with the chance to win trophies, to have that different pressure of playing every week to win. Second isn’t good enough here. And that’s why I came here.

“Looking back on seven years in the Premier League, we survived six years out of seven but what did we actually win? Nothing really.

“When it came to cup games, the manager would change the team so we had no chance of getting to cup finals.

“That’s the buzz for me, that’s the draw.

“Even pulling up in the bus outside Ibrox before the Motherwell game I felt like an 18-year-old. The buzz I got was unbelievable.

“I was comfortable knocking back Premier League teams because it was Rangers.

“It was a calculated risk if you like but, no disrespect to the other clubs and I thank them for their interest and their offers, this is the one that gave me the buzz and I wanted to come here

“My agents couldn’t really believe it. But this is a massive club, a world-famous club, the most successful club.

“I couldn’t think of anywhere better to come and play football. That was the draw of it.

“It’s hard to explain. My wife comes up and we go out and people see you and immediately come over and speak to you.

“In the midlands you can disappear but you can’t do that in Glasgow.

“Football here is bigger than most things. People are so passionate about it – and this club – and that’s the draw.”

McAuley played in UEFA Cup qualifiers and Inter Toto Cup matches as a young man with Coleraine but cannot wait to be involved in a game of such magnitude as Thursday’s clash with Villarreal.

He said: “I played a few qualifiers. I think I scored in one of them – I think against a team from Andorra.

“That was a long time ago and this will be completely different, but the basics are the same.

“One of the things I have always taken with me since I played in the Irish Cup final is to play the game and not the occasion.

“As a spectacle and atmosphere those games were breath-taking. Hopefully we can produce another special result.

“I had never been to a European game as a fan before so the atmosphere was incredible.

“The players were coming off the pitch and saying it’s the best they’ve ever played in.

“My mates travel across regularly to the games and they’re right in the mix of it and have always talked about it.

“But to be there to experience it for myself was something special. I’m hungry now to be involved on the pitch and to soak it all up if I can.”

Rangers are bidding to beat a Spanish side for the first time since Craig Paterson’s header defeated Osasuna 1-0 in 1985.

McAuley added: “It’s a carrot to be the first Rangers team to beat a Spanish side in over 30 years, and it would be a great achievement.”