There's been a buzzword of sorts since we've been banished to the bottom of Scottish football these last four years - which Walter Smith correctly stated last week was for ''no reason'' - and that buzzword is treble. Or, to be more precise, that would be the tainted trebles Celtic have failed to collect in their time lording over Scottish football with no credible opposition to speak of. We Rangers supporters have a buzzword all of our own, mind, and that word is Karma.
I personally think Walter Smith got it slightly wrong or rather didn't go far enough in his article in the lead up to this latest Old Firm, Scottish Cup semi final. When he said there was ''no necessity to put Rangers down to the Third Division'' my take on it is there were very real reasons for the bloodlust, but they had nothing to do with football. Nothing whatsoever. But that's Walter for you: while he has to show his diplomacy and be measured in everything he says, as a fan I'm not bound by needless social conventions and niceties.
So, on to the three trophies-in-a-season front. We know the Celtic fans collectively will never admit to it in public but such is the arrogance, they've thought to themselves at the start of every Rangers-less season that they've only had to turn up and the domestic treble(s) were a certainty. As I said, not winning a treble when there is no opposition worthy of the name and operating in a no horse race in the league...well, it's Karma pure and simple.
Now we all know seven domestic trebles or ‘triple crowns’ have come to Ibrox since the League Cup came into being as a major national bauble immediately after WW2, but how many more chances of landing a treble can we genuinely argue passed us by? I’d say a few.
Remember here that with the earlier seasons' efforts I'm about to comment on, I am basing my judgement on what I’ve been told and what I’ve read from those far off times. This is me walking down a personal, hypothetical highway. Also, for some seasons, when we’ve been put out of the League Cup at the semi final stage, but have rallied to win the League and Scottish Cup, this is a whimsical look back and my own individual wee flight of fancy.
1949/50 – After seeing off Celtic in the sections, with 95,000 in attendance at the home tie, the team survived a real scare in the quarters versus B Division Cowdenbeath. Indeed it took a last gasp Eddie Rutherford goal to salvage the tie and take it into extra time.
In the semi final, Rangers would lose to East Fife in extra time. The Fifers then went onto beat B Division neighbours, Dunfermline, in the final. Given that Rangers took three points out of four from Scot Symon’s men in the league and comfortably saw them off 3-0 in the Scottish Cup final, this was a fairly good chance for what would have been back to back trebles.
Treble chance? 4/5
1952/53 – Rangers’ season started off with a 5-0 drubbing at Tynecastle in the LC sections, which resulted in Bobby Brown losing the goalkeeper's jersey, but the side regained its mettle, overcame that setback and won the group by two points from Hearts. The team then lost to B Division Kilmarnock in the semi finals due to a rather lacklustre display. Dundee, who had beaten Rangers in the previous season’s League Cup final, would have been the opponents.
This season was a last hurrah and a final garnish for the Struth era and indeed the league was only won on goal average over Hibs on the last day of the season. The Scottish Cup had a routine feel to it although Rangers needed a replay to thwart Aberdeen in the final. The Struth era was in the last days, and probably highlighted the fatal words of Jimmy Bowie in the lead up to the 1947 AGM; that new blood was required in the manager's office.
Treble chance? Possibly a wee bit harsh? I don't know 2.5/5.
1960/61 – A season when we became the first British club to contest a European final. The League Cup was annexed early on. A disastrous late March/early April nearly scuppered our league chances but the side regrouped and pipped Kilmarnock to the title by a point. In the Scottish Cup Rangers squandered a two goal lead at Fir Park and were demolished 5-2 at Ibrox in the replay.
Treble chance? 2.5/5. The influence and loss of Baxter - who wasn't released by the Army to play in the replay - was being felt even this early in his Ibrox career.
As a side note, after the SC exit there was of course the chance of a different sort of treble, with the ECWC still to play for. As has been said, we did get to the final but a two goal defeat in the first leg at Ibrox, in slightly controversial circumstances, put paid to that notion sharpish.
1961/62 – Rangers won both cups with the LC final replay against Hearts possibly being the pick of the domestic performances. Despite taking only one point out of four against Dundee, including a 5-1 reverse at Ibrox, the side played nip and tuck with the dark blues for the title and with the title in their grasp a disastrous last three games (in which four points were lost) handed the Dens men their first ever Scottish League title.
Treble chance? 4/5
1962/63 – The side was starting to make the sixties swing and with Baxter at his impervious best the second half of the season saw the side win both the title and the Scottish Cup in a canter. However it was the League Cup early doors that gave the side a few collywobbles. The sections group was decided by one point over Hibs.
In the semi final against Kilmarnock, Rangers were leading by two goals to one when Ralph Brand inexplicably handled a net-bound shot from team mate John Greig which would have put Rangers 3-1 up and cruising. Kilmarnock took heart from that let off and ran out 3-2 winners. Kilmarnock lost to Hearts in the final. Given that Rangers would beat Hearts 5-0 and 5-1 in the league, they would have been strong favourites in that LC final.
Treble chance? 4.5/5
1978/79 - Sixteen long, long, seasons would come and go before Rangers had the chance of another domestic treble to add to those won in 1976 and 1978 and it would be lost in the most arduous of circumstances. The League Cup started off routinely enough and a semi final win over Celtic had the fans in clover. Aberdeen would be their final opponents. In a match that Rangers largely dominated, nevertheless they had to come from behind before snatching the winner in the 90th minute.
If that sounds routine the Scottish Cup was not only a marathon, it was torture on the eyes. There were replays in the fourth round v Kilmarnock and the semi final v Partick but if that was bad, then the final against Hibs which went to a second replay, was even worse. And even then it was only settled with ten minutes to go of extra time. Perhaps the only good football we played in that competition was in the Q/F versus Dundee at Ibrox when the side were five up after 35 minutes before they relaxed and ran out 6-3 winners.
The title was lost as shabbily and as cheaply as any in living memory. Even after a disgraceful start to the season when not one of the first six games were won - even after losses at Aberdeen, Tannadice and Firhill - Rangers still found themselves in a position where a victory at Parkhead in their third last fixture would have all but guaranteed them the title.
There is no need to go over the shame of it all. Rangers a goal to the good and a man to the good squandered the title in a 24 minute second half horror show.
Treble chance? No chance sadly, thinking back to that horrible May night. But it has to be said the writing had been on the wall league wise all season long.
1986/87 – The Rangers support that season was bobbing along on the crest of the wave that was the Souness Revolution. Although there was a nervy and controversial start to the league season the side started to settle down, though there were stutters along the way. Dundee and Aberdeen away and Motherwell at home spring to mind. The rock upon which the title triumph was built was an eleven game clean sheet record from the end of November to the end of January. The side never looked back from that.
After a penalties scare at East Fife in an earlier round the League Cup final was won against a Celtic side that tried to kick Rangers up and down the park. Seven men booked and a man red carded was their tally for the day. Rangers running out 2-1 winners. All thoughts of a treble went crashing however when lowly Hamilton Accies came to Ibrox and confounded one and all with a smash n grab 1-0 victory. T
Treble chance? Shock SC result notwithstanding? 3.5/5. Another case of what might have been.
1988/89 – A real ‘what’ if this one and it had nothing to with how we performed on the park. The league title got off to a flyer and the side was always setting the pace. Two outstanding Old Firm wins at Ibrox 5-1 and 4-1 plus satisfying 2-1 wins at bogey grounds Pittodrie and Parkhead in the new year were particularly pleasing.
The League Cup came to Ibrox after a thrilling 3-2 win over Aberdeen in an end to end encounter. All that was left was the Scottish Cup. In the final - and with a complete midfield out injured - the only goal of the game came about when Celtic cheated at a throw in. This was confounded by a woeful passback by Gary Stevens. All that was left was for referee, Bob Valentine, to save Celtic’s season by disallowing a Rangers equaliser late on for an infringement that never happened. Treble chance?
With a midfield and Bob Valentine? 4/5 Without a midfield and Bob Valentine? 2/5
1991/92 – Another season when a treble would have been within our grasp if not for the stumbles in the month of September. Once again, like twenty nine years earlier, the league and Scottish Cup would be added to the trophy room with great gusto. But once again a semi final performance, this time against Hibs at Hampden, had us singing the blues. Some people still cite that rarest of occurrences -ie an Andy Goram blunder - as the reason for Hibs winning goal. A rare sight indeed.
Treble chances? With how that team gelled and the season eventually panned out? 4.5/5
1993/94 – In the league the team was always in command without setting the heather on fire. The Ne’erday win at Parkhead sounded the death knell for the families who ran that club for more than a century. Yet a truly dreadful run, which saw us win only two of our last nine league matches, saw us limp across the finishing line.
The League Cup was won in a grand fashion. Ten man Rangers beating Celtic in the semi and then Ally McCoist making a fairytale comeback in the final v Hibs and scoring the winner with a spectacular overhead kick.
Come Scottish Cup final time the side was a crippling, hirpling shadow of the team that had swept all before them the previous season. Dundee Utd on their umpteenth visit to Hampden finally beat Rangers and the comedy of errors between Ally Maxwell and Davie McPherson, which led to the only goal to give Dundee Utd the cup, summed it all up.
Treble chance? With how we were playing at that time? 2/5
1995/96 – Yet again Rangers reserved just about their worst domestic performance for the League Cup semi final tie against Aberdeen. The hard work had been done earlier in the competition by eliminating Tommy Burns’ team (which the Scottish press would have had you believe was a cross between Puskas’ Magic Magyars and Cryuff’’s 74 Dutch masters) in their ‘ain midden’ at the Q/F stage. Yet a month later it had all turned to mush when we failed to turn up on a drab, dreich night at Hampden.
Rangers would only lose another twice domestically that season and both times to Hearts, and given how that same Hearts team were truly routed in the Scottish Cup final that League Cup semi final defeat has to go down in the record books as another one that got away.
Treble chance? 4/5.
1999/2000 – The elimination from the League Cup at the hands of Aberdeen this time around could have been written by Alan Sillitoe or John Osborne. This really was one of those domestic dramas, as in Rangers hit Aberdeen with everything but the kitchen sink! In a match that saw Rangers squander chance after chance this is a match you can look back not so much in anger but bemusement. Still that’s football for you.
The league was won easily, the Scottish Cup final (against Aberdeen) was as emphatic a win as we have ever witnessed, although it has to be remembered Aberdeen were a goalkeeper down after Leighton was injured in the first few minutes. That was the match over basically as a contest.
So should we have won the treble that season? Well, given who would have met us in the League Cup final if we had eliminated Aberdeen, given how demoralised those opponents were at the time post Supercaley, given the absolute tonking we gave that same mob, Dogleash's Bairds Bar, Ballerinas or The Dalglish/Barnes Dream Team' dross a week after the League Cup final.... Mebbes ayes, mebbes naws? Mebbes definitely!
Treble chance? 4.9/5.
The saying goes; ''The saddest words of tongue and pen are these, it might have been''. The above is my take on some of our 'what might have beens', but it is the 'might have beens' that keep us going I suppose and make football the game that has us punching the air with joy one minute and the next week has us tearing our hair out. Or what's left of it!
Everything that's been has past - The answer's in the looking glass.
So here we are, after me wittering on about the past, looking forward to a treble, that, let's be honest, no one was thinking about when the season started.
Our ex RST international, bright young thing, Davie Edgar remarked to me after the title was clinched, that he had three wishes for this season.
1 - The title. (non negotiable)
2 - The Harry's Challenge. (Let's get the monkey off our back)
3 - Reaching the semi final of one of the two main cups.
He did say that the semi final was a 'free hit' until we were drawn out of the hat with the Yahoos, which of course brings on all those extra special attendant pressures.
Well, we saw what unfolded on Sunday and how wonderful it was to behold. The team spirit was fantastic and the play in the first half especially was a revelation. Sure we carried a wee bit of luck with that miss by Roberts. Now that was a real Messi tutorial.
What yesterday also showed is that the gap between us and Celtic is surmountable, but our high tempo game takes a lot out of the players and we will sorely need new blood and quality at that for next term. But if we know that then we can be sure our management duo will be on the case.
So are there any downsides to this wonderful victory? Well, history does tend to suggest that for the OF manager who is on the receiving end of his rivals winning a treble you don't tend to stay in thee job. Just like Jock Stein back in 1978, there is no doubt in my mind that the 'Norwegian Wood' will be binned and unceremoniously at that as the faifull froo and froo brigade work their minds into a frenzy. A 'newco' (in yer dreams timbo) fall out of nuclear proportions will already be simmering.
As for the final itself, well, I think Stubbs for one will have learned his lesson as in his pathetic and puerile 'mind games' fool no one but himself and his fans. The only other potential blip I can see is the thought that Hibs have to win the Scottish sometime. Just as long as it's not this century.
We are all probably in agreement that a real 'treble' is the top league and the two major domestic baubles.
But tell you what: given the crimes foisted upon us over the last four years; given the bomb site Mark Warburton and Davie Weir had to contend with when they came to the club; and given the way they have transformed us from a disgrace to a club that is ready to embrace modern professional football, this may well turn out to be the most significant and unlikely treble in our history.