IT WAS the day the helicopter famously changed direction. It was also the day Stuart McCall duped his manager and was granted an extended leave of absence by his wife.
Every Rangers supporter who was at Easter Road on 22 May, 2005 has their own story to tell of one of the most remarkable afternoons in Scottish football history. McCall is no different.
Everyone was up on their feet going crazy. Two seconds later, it was the same again
Ten years on from that almost impossibly dramatic final day turnaround, in which Rangers’ 1-0 win at Hibs earned them the title in conjunction with Celtic’s late collapse to a 2-1 defeat at Motherwell, McCall leads the Ibrox men back to Easter Road seeking to provide another happy memory for their fans.
But amid the tense build-up to today’s play-off semi-final second leg, which Rangers go into with a 2-0 lead, McCall happily took time out to reflect on his experience in Leith a decade ago.
Assistant manager of Sheffield United at the time, McCall booked his passage to Scotland by informing his boss Neil Warnock that it was a crucial scouting mission.
“I told Neil the week before that Derek Riordan, who scored 20 goals that season for Hibs, was getting lots of rave reviews and I should go up and see him,” smiled McCall.
“So I got two directors’ box tickets, but managed to swap them. I told Hibs not to give me anything fancy, so I ended up behind the goal with the Rangers fans.”
McCall’s determination to be at Easter Road was in sharp contrast to his fellow former Rangers players from the 1990s who lacked his belief that the title race was not yet over.
“I think I was the only one of the ‘nine in a row’ team who was there,” he added. “John Brown, Ally McCoist, Andy Goram, Richard Gough and Gordon Durie all told me they were going, but none of them did.
“Ian Durrant claims he was in the main stand because he’d just joined the coaching staff, but I’m not sure I believe him. None of them thought it was going to happen. So I was quite proud of myself.
“I got my little carry-out at Harrogate Station in the morning and travelled up on the train. Clink, clink!
“The actual game itself was a bit of a nothing game. I went with my brother-in-law and with five minutes to go, he was saying we should just leave because Celtic were still winning at Fir Park, but I reckoned we might as well see the end of the game as we still had an hour and a half before our train back to Harrogate was due to leave.
“Then there was a buzz going round Easter Road and all of a sudden, everyone was up on their feet going crazy. Two seconds later, it was the same again because word had come through that Motherwell were 2-1 up.
“At the final whistle, I was trying to send text messages to McCoist, Durie and the rest saying ‘You should have had faith’ but they wouldn’t send in the pandemonium. What I didn’t know was that a TV camera panned in on me in the crowd just as I was jabbing the phone unsuccessfully and saying: ‘F*** it!’. Which, of course, my wife saw. As I say, I was supposed to get the last train home but I got a nice message from her saying ‘See you on Tuesday!’ She understood. I went back to Glasgow to celebrate with pals.
“As a football fan, the only thing that compares to it for me was when I went down to Wembley as a kid and saw John Robertson score the only goal of the game for Scotland against England. When things are unexpected like that, it’s so much better.”
McCall will hope today’s encounter lacks any dramatic turnaround in fortunes as he looks to lead Rangers into next week’s play-off final against Motherwell.
“Everyone knows the prize at stake if Hibs or ourselves get through,” he said. “There’s still another two-legged tie to go to get promoted, but you can’t underestimate the importance of this game. Not for me personally, but for the club.
“I know Alan Stubbs is saying a 2-0 lead can be precarious. I’d be saying the same, because it can be. But I’d rather have a 2-0 lead than be 2-0 down.
“We have to take belief into this game, that we will create chances and hopefully score. There was nothing much between the teams in the first leg but we defended well and managed to score two really good goals.
“I think we have scored in 14 of our last 15 games so, as a manager, that gives you confidence. Everyone is talking about the first goal being crucial at Easter Road, but it’s the winning goal that counts. We lost the first goal in the second leg of the quarter-final against Queen of the South but we always had that belief we would score.”