We’ll be remembering this fabulously long, hot summer for decades to come. And we’ll also be waxing nostalgic about Russia’s World Cup, the best-ever if you were too young for 1970, packed with great games, big shocks, thrilling climaxes – and, most surprising of all, England didn’t stink the place out. So spare a thought for Steven Gerrard who can’t have got much of a suntan, who can’t have seen many of the Three Lions’ games in their charge to the semi-finals, and who couldn’t be in a TV studio this time, punditising and to-be-fairing and jumping up and down behind the glass when ruthless baby’s candy thief Harry Kane stuck out a cynical heel to re-route a team-mate’s shot and claim his hat-trick against the mighty Panama.
Why the sympathy? Because Stevie G must have been squirreled away watching footage of old Rangers games. Tall towers of tape recordings looming over his desk, blocking out what remained of the sun’s brilliant rays. Thick pads of A3 scattered around, each of them chock-full of furious scribbles logging all the times the club were done out of a decision. Half-drunk cups of coffee, chewed pencils, the crumpled bags from so many Steak Bakes, the Greggs signature dish. This must be the scene inside Gerrard’s man-cave, it simply has to be. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to utter with any kind of boldness the juddering words “FOR SEASONS”.
At Pittodrie last Sunday, Rangers had a man sent off and Aberdeen didn’t. The double whammy angered the manager who said: “It seems like the world is against us today … it looks like some more decisions will go against us as the season goes on. It’s not just today, it’s been happening for a while. That’s my opinion. I’ve watched footage, yeah. I believe it’s been happening FOR SEASONS.”
The emphasis on the words is mine. I’m not suggesting that Gerrard bawled them into the dictaphones clustered about him, blowing the cheaper models. But they need capping up. The rest of Scottish football found them astonishing. How far back did he go? Did he sit though those seasons when Ibrox, resembling a building site, seemed to influence the team’s tactics with the likes of Bobby Williamson and Colin McAdam becoming human wrecking-balls as they hurled themselves at the doughty backlines of Airdrieonians and Dunfermline Athletic, the sparse crowds eventually deciding they must be watching It’s A Knockout! and urging boss John Greig to play his joker card pronto so they could all skedaddle? If so, then respect to Stevie G.
Michty me, there are so many questions I want to ask. Was Gerrard, pictured. able to transfer the Betamax seasons on to something viewable? Surely he laughed, like I did and still do now, when Colin Stein boomed a shot out of Ibrox and right down the Copland Road, letting rip with an easily discernible expletive, which prompted a desperate attempt by Sportscene commentator George Davidson to protect the BBC’s Reithian probity: “And Stein says: ‘Oh, how near I was!” Did he stick with the Steak Bakes all the way through? I think we should be told.
I love the idea of Gerrard rooting around the TV archives, scolding staff for wiping games, then searching charity shops for home-made recordings before calling in at the club superstore to request, again, a check of the final-reduction DVDs to be absolutely certain there aren’t rare clips of the mid-1960s Gers in those regulation thick shinpads seemingly cut from drainpipes lurking in a copy of Bert Konterman: My Rangers. I love the idea of the new boss undergoing deep immersion in Big Hoose heritage, emerging as someone who would breeze through Mastermind specialist-subject questions on the length of Lorenzo Amoruso’s love-god hair, the gradient of the Gullane dunes, how much higher the pegs are in the away-dressing room compared to the home one, a cunning act designed to intimidate the opposition.
You wonder, though, what he makes of what he sees. Does he study footage of John MacDonald and go: “That’s a dive … that’s a dive … that’s a dive … and that’s his best starfish impersonation yet”? I mean, no matter that he’s begun looking at the world through light blue-tinted specs, how could he possibly reach any other conclusion?
Gerrard, pictured, may have scrutinised moving images of an old Rangers centre-forward and admitted: “That fellow’s close control is fairly erratic, I wouldn’t be surprised if he occasionally crumbled to the ground to gain some advantage – oh, it’s Alex Ferguson.” He might have thought the same of George McLean although knowing the latter was ridiculed relentlessly by the bunneted comedian Lex McLean he would have felt some sympathy. And Gerrard might have wondered about another McLean, Tommy on the wing: “By the sheer law of averages I don’t suppose this little guy with the feet stuck at ten to two can really have danced along the defensive line and stayed onside every time.” Gerrard must have done this because he’ll know, deep down, that Rangers aren’t on the wrong end of controversial calls any more than other clubs. Indeed, if he wasn’t intimately involved at Ibrox, he would probably concede that because of Rangers’ size and status, the pressure of the baying Govan mob on referees and goodness me the thickness of those flat-fronted Ibrox goalposts back in the day, they would likely have had more than their fair share going their way.
This is the heartfelt view of the rest of Scottish football, established over many years of fruitless trips to the Big Hoose. Rarely if ever have these words been uttered on the journey home: “We got lucky there today.” I recall a match in the 1970s when it seemed that all the fates were conspiring against my team’s fightback. Every time the ball bounced over to the little three-wheeled cars of the disabled fans it took ages to be returned. There’s a suspicion those around Gerrard have been filling his head with conspiracy theories but I want to believe he’s gathered up all that film and watched the lot, I really do.