For Rangers, that old truism that ‘the league table doesn’t lie’ also reaffirms the club’s place among the most successful in football history. With this silverware-laden Scottish institution, the numbers - 33 Scottish Cups, 26 League Cups and a world record 53 top-flight titles – really do speak for themselves. The club may now be in its 139th year, but Rangers’ unrelenting pursuit of success, and notoriously fierce battle for supremacy with city rivals Celtic, shows no signs of abating.
Birth of an institution
Rangers owe their existence to four men: Peter Campbell, William McBeath and brothers Peter and Moses McNeil. It was this quartet who met in 1872, without money, a kit or even a ball, with the modest aim of starting up their own team. The name was picked from an English rugby side spotted by Moses, then 16, in a sports annual, and the new club played its first match in May of that year, drawing 0-0 with Callander FC on a public pitch at Glasgow Green. Later that year, Rangers sported their famous light blue shirts for the first time in a match that saw Clyde beaten 11-0. It was to prove an omen for the years and decades that would follow.
The making of a legend
It was eight years after Rangers came into being that the Scottish Football League was established, with the Ibrox club among ten founder members. Celtic were present too, but at the end of that inaugural season it was Dumbarton who finished level on points with the Gers. So it was that, for the only time in the history of the Scottish top flight, the title was shared – and the first of Rangers’ 53 league championships secured.
The emergence of Celtic and Hearts in the years that followed witnessed a more even spread of honours, but the Ibrox team returned to the fore around the turn of the century, winning four titles in succession. It was during this era that William Winton became the club’s first-ever manager, and with attendances booming and the Scottish game becoming big business, Rangers’ professionalism yielded 14 further pre-war titles under Winton’s revered successor, Bill Struth.
The end of the conflict in Europe brought no end to Struth’s side’s dominance, with a famously miserly defence – nicknamed the ‘Iron Curtain’ – guaranteeing yet more success. With domestic honours now commonplace, the club’s next challenge came in the continental arena, where they became the first British team to reach a European final in 1961, losing 4-1 to Fiorentina in the climax to the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.
With fresh achievements coming thick and fast, and the skills of ‘Slim' Jim Baxter thrilling their fans, Rangers were on a high. However, the years that followed witnessed a turning of the tide in Glasgow, with the great Jock Stein conquering Europe with a Celtic side that marched to nine successive titles. For Rangers, not even lifting the Cup Winners' Cup in 1972 enabled them to escape the colossal shadow of Stein's Celtic. It took until the late 1980s for the club to fully respond, but respond they did, with a bold spending spree that paved the way for Graeme Souness and Walter Smith to equal Stein’s nine-in-a-row record.
Stars such as Paul Gascoigne, Ally McCoist and Brian Laudrup illuminated Ibrox during that era, and with the financial muscle of Rangers and Celtic dwarfing that of their domestic opponents, the Scottish title has remained the exclusive preserve of these great Glasgow rivals for the past 25 years.
Rangers' recent history has been blighted by severe financial problems, the legacy of lavish spending during the Dick Advocaat years that peaked with the £12m purchase of Tore Andre Flo. Now, after moderate success under Alex McLeish and a disastrous spell with Frenchman Paul Le Guen at the helm, Rangers are once again on top thanks to the shrewd stewardship of Walter Smith. The former Scotland coach, who returned to the club in 2007 and will retire at the end of the season, has overcome fiscal restrictions to lead the Gers to the UEFA Cup final and is this season bidding for a third successive domestic title.
Ibrox Stadium has been home to Rangers for 111 years, with funds raised for its 1899 construction by an issue of 12,000 £1 shares. The arena, which is one of Britain’s oldest and largest stadia, packed in 118,597 spectators for an Old Firm derby in January 1939 – a UK record attendance for a league fixture that stands to this day. Sadly, Ibrox is also renowned for two disasters, the first of which claimed the lives of 25 in 1902 when part of the terracing collapsed; the second when 66 perished following a tragic crush in 1971.