Why Arsenal are the perfect guests for Rangers' 150th birthday bash

When Rangers considered potential opposition to begin their 150th anniversary season at Ibrox, the name of Arsenal was always going to be top of the list.

Jorg Albertz gets in front of Arsenal defender Steve Bould to score for Rangers in Richard Gough's testimonial match at Ibrox in 1996. (Photo by SNS Group).

There could certainly be no more appropriate visitors to Govan this weekend, given the historical links which have formed a strong connection between the clubs which stretches back to the Victorian era.

There will be personification of that relationship in the technical area this Saturday afternoon in the shape of Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta who holds a special place in the affections of Rangers supporters for his role as a player in the dramatic Scottish title triumph of 2003 when he scored the penalty which clinched the crown on goal difference ahead of Celtic.

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As Arteta goes head to head with Rangers boss Steven Gerrard, it will be the 27th meeting of two of world football’s most storied clubs.

Rangers captain Jimmy Simpson takes to the field at Highbury for the match against Arsenal in September 1936. (Photo by A. Hudson/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Humble beginnings

It all began in April 1892 when David Danskin, a Fife native who was one of the founders of the club initially called Royal Arsenal, invited Rangers south for a friendly at their Invicta Ground in Plumstead.

Rangers won 3-2 with one of their players, James Henderson, impressing their hosts so much he signed for them after the game. Henderson would go on to be Arsenal’s top scorer in their first season as an English Football League club.

The clubs’ next meeting came at the end of the 1907-08 season. Woolwich Arsenal, as they had been renamed in 1893, were now managed by another Scot, George Morrell, who had previously been assistant to William Wilton at Rangers.

Managers Walter Smith and Arsene Wenger greet each other before the most recent meeting of Rangers and Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in 2009. (Photo by Bill Murray/SNS Group).

When Woolwich Arsenal faced financial collapse in 1910, the friendship between Wilton and Morrell saw Rangers purchase two shares in the troubled London club as they raised funds to survive.

Gratitude for that assistance would later see Arsenal gift Rangers a further 14 shares. It was regarded as a symbolic gesture of friendship rather than a financial investment. So when Rangers encountered their own financial woes in 2012, the outrage from former players and supporters was palpable when then owner Craig Whyte instructed the club’s administrators to sell them for around £230,000.

The shares had been passed from Arsenal to Rangers during the 1930s when the bond between the clubs was strengthened through the mutual respect and friendship of their legendary managers Herbert Chapman and Bill Struth.

Best of British

The players of Arsenal and Rangers pose together before the testimonial match at Highbury in 1963 for legendary Welsh goalkeeper Jack Kelsey. (Photo by Edward Wing/Daily Express/Getty Images)

A series of fixtures, billed as for the British Championship, drew huge crowds to both Ibrox and Highbury. The stadiums themselves also emphasised the links between the clubs, both designed by famed Scottish architect Archibald Leitch and boasting marble entrances in the main stands.

If the British Championship label was unofficial, it’s provenance was difficult to dispute - Rangers were Scottish champions seven times in the 1930s, while Arsenal lifted the English title five times in the same period.

The last meeting of the teams in that decade provided the launchpad for the career of a man who would prove to be one of the most towering figures in Rangers’ history - Willie Waddell, then 17, scored the only goal of the game at Ibrox in August 1938 on his first team debut.

The fixture continued on a fairly regular basis after the second world war with the inauguration of floodlights at both Highbury and Ibrox marked by games between the clubs in the 1950s.

Honouring legends

Three players have been honoured by testimonial matches - legendary Wales and Arsenal goalkeeper Jack Kelsey at Highbury in 1963, before Rangers captain Richard Gough and Arsenal defender Nigel Winterburn were honoured with games at either end of the 1996-97 season.

In between times, Rangers marked their centenary with a game against Ibrox at the start of the 1973-74 season. At the time, 1873 was widely accepted as the year of the club’s formation although it has since been formally recognised it was founded a year earlier.

The most recent meeting of the clubs came at Arsenal’s own pre-season tournament, the Emirates Cup, when a young Jack Wilshere announced his arrival with a stunning display as Arsene Wenger’s side defeated Walter Smith’s Rangers 3-0 in 2009.

In all, Rangers have won 10 of the matches between the clubs, Arsenal have been victorious eight times with the other eight drawn. It has been a friendship built to last and which sees another momentous reunion today, albeit one which sadly will only be witnessed by 2000 fans at Ibrox.

The full list of fixtures is:

1891/92 Arsenal 2, Rangers 3 (Invicta Ground)

1907/08 Rangers 1, Arsenal 1 (Ibrox)

1911/12 Rangers 0, Arsenal 0 (Ibrox)

1933/34 Rangers 2, Arsenal 0 (Ibrox) (British Championship)

1933/34 Arsenal 1, Rangers 3 (Highbury) (British Championship)

1934/35 Arsenal 1, Rangers 1 (Highbury) (British Championship)

1935/36 Rangers 2, Arsenal 2 (Ibrox)

1936/37 Arsenal 2, Rangers 1 (Highbury)

1938/39 Rangers 1, Arsenal 0 (Ibrox)

1951/52 Arsenal 3, Rangers 2 (Highbury)

1953/54 Rangers 1, Arsenal 2 (Ibrox)

1954/55 Arsenal 3, Rangers 3 (Highbury)

1955/56 Rangers 2, Arsenal 0 (Ibrox)

1958/59 Arsenal 0, Rangers 3 (Highbury)

1960/61 Rangers 4, Arsenal 2 (Ibrox)

1962/63 Arsenal 2, Rangers 2 (Highbury, Jack Kelsey Testimonial)

1966/67 Rangers 2, Arsenal 0 (Ibrox)

1967/68 Arsenal 3, Rangers 0 (Highbury)

1968/69 Rangers 2, Arsenal 2 (Ibrox)

1973/74 Rangers 1, Arsenal 2 (Ibrox) (Rangers Centenary Match)

1980/81 Rangers 2, Arsenal 0 (Ibrox)

1989/90 Rangers 1, Arsenal 2 (Ibrox) (Zenith Data Challenge)

1996/97 Rangers 3, Arsenal 0 (Ibrox) (Richard Gough Testimonial)

1996/97 Arsenal 3, Rangers 3 (Highbury, Nigel Winterburn Testimonial)

2003/04 Rangers 0, Arsenal 3 (Ibrox)

2009/10: Arsenal 3 Rangers 0 (Emirates Stadium)

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