George McCluskey limps off with a gash on his knee. An even bigger gash is walking off beside him after being shown a red card.
When the curator told me to write up this notice he advised that I should not allow things to get too personal. I grunted my assent and said I’d do my best. But sometimes my own personal feelings get in the way. Long before he pitched up at Ibrox I hated Graeme Souness. That hair, the ‘tache, the chucking the Football League trophy to a team mate after Liverpool had won another league title, the chipped passes with backspin that looked great but which must have been a bastard to control and the awful self-satisfied, sneering voice – complete with evidence of elocution lessons but none in grammar – made him a hate figure for me.
When it was announced that Rangers had signed him in the spring of 1986 I was anxious. Despite thinking he was immensely overrated as a player he was undoubtedly a really big name in football. As readers will know, Rangers had been rubbish for years before he arrived, but most would have conceded that if ever there was a football ‘sleeping giant’ it was Rangers. A guy like Souness – who’d been playing in Serie A, was Scotland’s captain and had had a very successful career with Liverpool – was not coming to Rangers to play beside diddies like Cammy Fraser and Hugh Burns.
No, he was coming as player-manager and he was going to spend serious money. Rangers was going to win the European Cup by the end of the decade. For once, it didn’t just sound like hype. The first steps on the road to the glamour world of five star hotels, mega-casinos, floating pitches, moonbeams and EBTs had been taken.
Souness duly splashed the cash early in his regime – cash borrowed from a bank obviously – and signed several players from south of the Border. The Typewriter Loyal went into overdrive. This was it. After 8 years in the doldrums – and with pain of being second fiddle since Jock Stein arrived at Celtic in 1965 – this was the answer to many a pundit’s dreams. After years having to pretend they were interested in teams from Aberdeen, Paisley, Dundee and even Edinburgh the world was righting itself.
Thirty minutes into his debut Souness was sent off after an incident involving Hibs’ George McCluskey that led to a 19 man brawl on the Easter Road pitch. Souness had already maimed Iceland’s Siggi Johnson a year or so earlier and former Celt McCluskey was lucky he could still walk after he met Souness. It was a shameful start. But when a timid Celtic fell a few weeks later to a late defeat at Ibrox the moustachioed one was back in the good books.
Rangers ended up winning the League Cup and the League in Souness’ first season – in the former tournament they’d been exceptionally fortunate to beat Celtic 2-1 in the final after a classy display of refereeing by David Syme but it must be conceded that Celtic threw the league away.
Despite Souness’ team being out of Europe by Christmas and making an early exit in the Scottish Cup – at home to Hamilton Accies – Souness was acclaimed as a revolutionary genius.
Genius he may have been but he had feet of clay as even his most brainwashed disciple of the time – one Chick Young – must have blanched when Souness was sent off after a really terrible challenge on Billy Stark in the first Glasgow derby of the new season at Celtic Park.
Still, the League Cup was won in late October and all seemed to be going well for Souness and his chums. But, unexpectedly, a previously faltering Celtic lost just one game in the last seven months of the season and romped to a league and cup double. The imaginatively coiffured Rangers manager guided his team to third in the league and another early exit in the Cup to a team set to be relegated – Dunfermline. The revolution and the genius guiding it were apparently derailed.
Again Souness – by now backed by the borrowed fortune of David Murray – went on a further spending spree. This time Celtic, who had spent virtually nothing in real terms, crumpled. Other clubs like Aberdeen and Hearts – clubs which had been at or near the top prior to the Beast’s arrival – spent huge sums bringing players of decidedly mixed ability to Scotland from outside the country in an attempt to keep up.
Eventually Celtic started spending money that wasn’t their own and ended up nearly dying in the process.
Rangers won the next two titles at a canter as well as two more league cups. When Kenny Dalglish resigned as Liverpool manager in February 1991 few in the media north of the border suggested that Souness was likely to leave Rangers to replace him – he seemed so in with the bricks at Ibrox. It was therefore a surprise when he did rejoin his old club. Especially as his Rangers team had lost two matches in eight days to a mediocre Celtic side by 2-0 and then 3-0 with Rangers having four players sent off in the process.
Frankly, despite the transfer largesse and the successes in the league and league cup it was not hard to come to the conclusion that Souness actually wasn’t that good a manager. His team never won the Scottish Cup and after a European Cup quarter final in 1987/8 Rangers performed with no distinction in European competition culminating in a fabulous loss in Belgrade to a gifted Red Star side that brought back memories of ignominious defeats to Tottenham, Real Madrid and Gornik Zabrze in the club’s supposed sixties heydays.
For all the big talk in 1986 Souness’ Rangers’ teams had as much chance of winning the European Cup as I had of taking Kim Basinger to Bairds Bar.*
Souness did not return to manage a team in a competitive match in Scotland until October 2002. No longer was he big time as he was by then in charge of Blackburn Rovers. Under Souness Liverpool descended into the kind of mediocrity they had not experience since before the arrival of Bill Shankly.
With Galatasaray he won a cup and planted the club’s flag on the centre spot and in the process sparked crazy scenes.
With Southampton his most noteworthy moment came when he signed the Senegalese player Ali Dia. Look that name up in Wikipedia if you want a laugh.
Before Blackburn he’d done a lousy job at Benfica. Prior to the match with Celtic the Blackburn boss made little attempt to charm the locals by querying the ability of Henrik Larsson. After the game – won 1-0 by Celtic with a goal by you know who – he was reported to have described the match as been having been a contest between men and boys. As a morale boost it was better than anything Martin O’Neill could have come up with and Celtic produced their best footballing display of the run to Seville and won even more easily than the 2-0 score suggested. The Beast was slain.
Well sadly not literally as he stumbled on to Newcastle, no trophies, the Jean-Alain Boumsong affair and an EBT from Rangers.
His strangely re-sculpted face appears spouting banalities on Sky Sports during coverage of Champions League matches. In some ways it is appropriate that he ended up there- an arrogant mammon worshipping eighties wide-boy who had lit the touch paper that eventually led to Rangers imploding and dying** finding a home for the organisation that has done more to distort football and turn it into a soulless, value-less sporting equivalent of a Simon Cowell creation.
Take him down
* Kim always preferred to stop off at Heilan Jessie’s on the way to matches
** Do you think they’ll sue?