Formation, early years and William Wilton
Rangers were formed by four founders – brothers Moses McNeil and Peter McNeil, Peter Campbell and William McBeath – who met at West End Park (now known as Kelvingrove Park) in February 1872. Rangers’ first match, in May that year, was a goalless friendly draw with Callander on Glasgow Green. David Hill was also a founder member. In 1873, the club held its first annual meeting and staff were elected. By 1876 Rangers had its first international player, with Moses McNeil representing Scotland in a match against Wales. In 1877 Rangers reached the Scottish Cup final; after drawing the first game, Rangers refused to turn up for the replay and the cup was awarded to Vale of Leven. Rangers won the Glasgow Merchants’ Charity Cup the following year against Vale of Leven 2–1, their first major cup. The first-ever Old Firm match took place in 1888, the year of Celtic’s establishment. Rangers lost 5–2 in a friendly to a team composed largely of guest players from Hibernian.
The 1890–91 season saw the inception of the Scottish Football League, and Rangers, by then playing at the first Ibrox Stadium, were one of ten original members. The club’s first-ever league match, on 16 August 1890, resulted in a 5–2 victory over Heart of Midlothian. After finishing joint-top with Dumbarton, a play-off held at Cathkin Park finished 2–2 and the title was shared for the only time in its history. Rangers’ first-ever Scottish Cup win came in 1894 after a 3–1 final victory over rivals Celtic. By the start of the 20th century, Rangers had won two league titles and three Scottish Cups. During William Wilton’s time as match secretary and then team manager, Rangers won 10 league titles.
Bill Struth and Scot Symon
Taking over as manager from William Wilton in 1920, Bill Struth was Rangers’ most successful manager, guiding the club to 14 league titles before the onset of the Second World War. On 2 January 1939 a British league attendance record was broken as 118,567 fans turned out to watch Rangers beat Celtic in the traditional New Year’s Day Old Firm match. Leading the club for 34 years until 1954, Struth won more trophies than any manager in Scottish Football history, amassing 18 league championships, 10 Scottish Cups, two League Cups, seven war-time championships, 19 Glasgow Cups, 17 Glasgow Merchant Charity Cups and other war-time honours. During the wartime regional league setup, Rangers achieved their highest score against old firm rivals Celtic with an 8–1 win in the Southern Football League.
Scot Symon continued Struth’s success, winning six league championships, five Scottish Cups and four League Cups, becoming the second manager to win the domestic treble in 1963–64 season, the era of ‘Slim’ Jim Baxter, one of the club’s greatest players. Rangers also lost by their biggest Old Firm margin of 7–1.
Rangers reached the semi-finals of the European Cup in 1960, losing to German club Eintracht Frankfurt by a record aggregate 12–4 for a Scottish team. In 1961 Rangers became the first British team to reach a European final when they contested the Cup Winners’ Cup final against Italian side Fiorentina, only to lose 4–1 on aggregate. Rangers lost again in the final of the same competition in 1967, by a single goal after extra time to Bayern Munich.
Ibrox disaster, European success and Jock Wallace
The Ibrox disaster occurred on 2 January 1971 when large-scale crushing on a stairway exit at the culmination of the New Year’s Day Old Firm game claimed 66 lives. An enquiry concluded that the crush was likely to have happened 10 minutes after the final whistle and to have been triggered by someone falling on the stairs. A benefit match to raise funds for the victims’ families took place after the disaster, a joint Rangers and Celtic team playing a Scotland XI at Hampden, watched by 81,405 fans.
In 1972, Rangers emerged from the tragedy of the previous year to finally achieve success on the European stage. A Colin Stein goal and a Willie Johnston double helped secure a 3–2 victory over FC Dynamo Moscow at the Nou Camp, Barcelona, to lift the European Cup Winners’ Cup. Captain John Greig received the trophy in a small room within the Nou Camp following pitch invasions by Rangers fans reacting to the heavy handed tactics of the Spanish police, the majority of whom had been brought in from outwith Catalonia. The following season Rangers were invited by Barcelona FC to take part in their pre season tournament at the Camp Nou. Rangers were banned from Europe for two years for the behaviour of their fans, later reduced on appeal to one year.
The following season saw the club compete in the first ever European Super Cup, although the European ban saw it officially recognised as Rangers centenary anniversary match. The side played the European Cup holders Ajax, who had first proposed the idea, in January 1973. The Dutch side proved too strong and recorded a 6–3 aggregate win, with Rangers losing 1–3 at Ibrox and 3–2 in Amsterdam.
Emerging from the shadows of Jock Stein’s Celtic side, Rangers regained ascendancy with notable domestic success under the stewardship of manager Jock Wallace. In his first season in charge – the club’s centenary – Rangers won the Scottish Cup at Hampden in front of 122,714 supporters. In 1974–75, Wallace led Rangers to their first League championship triumph in 11 years, before winning the treble the following season, repeating the historic feat in 1977–78.
John Greig and Jock Wallace returns
John Greig served as manager for five years but was unable to achieve the success as a manager that he had as a player. Unable to win the league during his reign, he was replaced by Jock Wallace returning in 1983. Unfortunately Jock Wallace was unable to repeat the success of his first period in charge with a win ratio of less than 50%. He was himself replaced by Graeme Souness in 1986.
Graeme Souness and Walter Smith – 9 in a row
Every year from the 1988–89 season until the 1996–97 season, Rangers won the league title. This nine-in-a-row achievement equalled Celtic’s record, set prior to the forming of the Scottish Football League Premier Division, subsequent to which competing teams met four times a season. The first three of these seasons the club was managed by Graeme Souness; the latter six under the stewardship of Walter Smith.
Notable seasons included 1990–91, which culminated in a final-day finale, Rangers securing a 2–0 victory at Ibrox over Aberdeen, who needed only a draw to secure the championship. Season 1992–93 was notable for a domestic treble of trophies, as well an extended run in the inaugural UEFA Champions League, the club at one stage only one goal from securing a place in the final.
Rangers’ ninth consecutive championship title was secured at Tannadice Park on 7 May 1997, with a single-goal victory over Dundee United.
Dick Advocaat and Alex McLeish
In 1998, Dutchman Dick Advocaat became the club’s first foreign manager. Nine-in-a-row era stalwarts having moved on, Advocaat invested heavily in the team with immediate results, leading the club to their sixth domestic treble. The league championship was won with a 3–0 victory at Celtic Park on 2 May 1999. A second-consecutive league title was won by a record 21-point margin, the club securing a domestic double with a 4–0 Scottish Cup final victory over Aberdeen. Rangers’ campaign in the Champions League saw them defeat UEFA Cup winners Parma en route.
Advocaat’s third season saw Rangers fail to compete domestically against Celtic under new manager Martin O’Neill. Despite investment in the team, including Tore Andre Flo for a club-record £12 million, European success beyond the Champions League group stages again proved elusive. After a slow start to the following season, Advocaat resigned from his post in December 2001 and was replaced by Alex McLeish.
In his first full campaign, the 2002–03 season saw McLeish become the sixth Rangers manager to deliver a domestic treble. The championship was won on goal difference during a dramatic final day 6–1 triumph over Dunfermline Athletic at Ibrox, securing Rangers’ 50th league title, the first club in the world to achieve the feat. Major expenditure sanctioned by chairman David Murray had burdened Rangers with considerable debts in the region of £52m. The club’s worsening financial state saw many of the team’s top players leave in the summer of 2003, the following season failing to deliver any trophies, only the second such occasion since 1985–86.
The 2004–05 season restored success to Rangers, who were boosted by signings such as Jean-Alain Boumsong, Dado Pršo and Nacho Novo, along with the return of former captain Barry Ferguson after a spell in England with Blackburn Rovers. The club’s league championship triumph culminated in a dramatic final-day finish. The destination of the trophy changed unexpectedly, with Celtic conceding late goals to Motherwell at Fir Park whilst Rangers led against Hibernian, requiring the helicopter carrying the SPL trophy to change direction and deliver the prize to the Easter Road ground in Leith.
Despite beginning as favourites to retain the championship, Rangers suffered an unprecedented run of poor results between September and November, a club-record run of ten games without a win. Included within this period, a 1–1 draw with Inter Milan took Rangers into the last 16 of the Champions League, the first Scottish team to achieve the feat since 1993, the club eventually exiting on the away goals rule to Villarreal. On 9 February 2006, it was announced by David Murray that McLeish would be standing down as manager at the end of that season.
Paul Le Guen and Walter Smith’s return
Frenchman Paul Le Guen replaced Alex McLeish as manager after season 2005–06. The season started with an early exit from the League Cup whilst Celtic built a commanding lead at the top of the table. In the UEFA Cup, Rangers became the first Scottish side to qualify for the last 32 of the competition, since the introduction of the group phase, after finishing their group unbeaten. However, amid claims of disharmony between the manager and captain Barry Ferguson, it was announced on 4 January 2007 that Le Guen had left Rangers by mutual consent. On 10 January 2007, former boss Walter Smith resigned from his post as Scotland manager to return to the Ibrox helm, with Ally McCoist as assistant manager.
The following season Rangers contested the UEFA Cup after dropping into the competition from the Champions League. The club reached the final, defeating Panathinaikos, Werder Bremen, Sporting Lisbon and Fiorentina along the way. The final in Manchester against Zenit St. Petersburg, who were managed by former Rangers manager Dick Advocaat,ended in a 2–0 defeat. An estimated 200,000 supporters travelled to Manchester for the event, and some disorder occurred.
The 2008–09 season saw Rangers recover from an early exit from the UEFA Champions League to FBK Kaunas of Lithuania. The club secured its 52nd league championship on the last day of the season with a 3–0 victory at Dundee United. Rangers also successfully defended the Scottish Cup, a 33rd competition triumph, defeating Falkirk 1–0 in the final.
The 2009–10 season saw Rangers reach their fifth consecutive domestic final: against St Mirren in the Scottish League Cup, the club overcame a two-men deficit from red cards, a late deciding goal from Kenny Miller securing a record 27th victory in the competition.The league championship title was retained, with three matches remaining, at Easter Road, defeating Hibernian 1–0 with a Kyle Lafferty goal. The 2010–11 season, Smith’s final season in charge, saw Rangers retain the League Cup, defeating Celtic at Hampden with a Nikica Jelavić goal in extra time.A third consecutive title was won by beating Kilmarnock 5–1 on the last day of the season, Smith’s final match in charge of the club.
Ally McCoist, insolvency and the lower leagues
Ally McCoist took over from Walter Smith in June 2011 but season 2011–12 started with Rangers eliminated from two European competitions before the end of August: losing to Swedish side Malmö FF in the Champions League third round qualifying match, and to Slovenian side Maribor in a Europa League qualifying match. While good league form saw Rangers in top spot after being unbeaten for the first 15 games, they were knocked out of the League Cup by Falkirk and the Scottish Cup by Dundee Utd at Ibrox.Rangers was placed into administration on 14 February 2012 resulting in the club being deducted 10 points as per SPL rules. Though Rangers avoided having Celtic win the championship at Ibrox on 25 March by winning the game 3–2, Rangers ultimately finished 20 points behind Celtic in second place. A failure to reach agreement with creditors on 14 June 2012 led to The Rangers Football Club plc (since renamed RFC 2012 plc) entering the process of liquidation.
After the CVA proposal was rejected, the administrators completed a going concern sale of the business and assets to a new company Sevco Scotland Ltd, later renamed The Rangers Football Club Ltd. When the new company failed to secure the club’s previous place in the Scottish Premier League, Rangers were accepted into the Scottish Football League and placed in the lowest division, the Third, rather than the First Division as the SPL and SFA had sought. The transfer of Rangers’ SFA membership was agreed by the SFA upon acceptance of a number of conditions, including a one-year transfer ban, in time for the club to begin the 2012–13 seaso
With most key first team players having refused to transfer to the new company, a very different Rangers team lined up for the first league match in Third Division. Despite this, Rangers secured a comfortable 5–1 victory over East Stirlingshire in front of a crowd of 49,118, a world record for a football match in a fourth tier league. Away from home, Rangers started their league campaign with three successive draws before losing 1–0 to Stirling Albion, at the time the bottom club. Rangers were defeated in the third round of the Scottish Challenge Cup by Queen of the South at Ibrox, in the quarter-finals of the Scottish League Cup at home to Inverness Caledonian Thistle and in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup by Dundee United. Rangers beat their own new record against Queens Park with an attendance of 49,463 and again against Stirling Albion with an attendance of 49,913. Rangers clinched the Third Division title on 30 March after a goalless draw at Montrose.
Apart from being defeated 2–1 by Forfar Athletic in the first round of the League Cup on 3 August, season 2013–14 got off to an excellent start with Rangers winning maximum league points in their first 15 games in League One, before being held to a draw at home by Stranraer on Boxing Day 2013. Rangers secured the League One title and promotion to Scottish football’s second tier on 12 March 2014 and went on to end the season unbeaten in league football. Rangers also reached the final of the Scottish Challenge Cup, in which they lost to Raith Rovers and the semi-final of the Scottish Cup, in which they lost 3–1 at Ibrox to Dundee United.
Playing in the Scottish Championship in season 2014–15 provided Rangers with a more difficult challenge, with the club losing home and away to both Hibernian and Hearts and also losing away to Queen of the South in the first half of the season. Rangers also failed to beat Alloa either home or away in the league before losing 3–2 to Alloa in the semi-final of the Scottish Challenge Cup. Amid mounting criticism, McCoist submitted his resignation intending to honour his 12 months notice period but was placed on ‘gardening leave’ and replaced by Kenny McDowall on a caretaker basis. McDowall remained in charge for just three months before resigning in March 2015. During his time in charge, Rangers won just three matches. Rangers then named former player Stuart McCallas their third manager of the season for the remaining fixtures. Under McCall, Rangers finished third in the league and then reached the Premiership play-off final, which they lost 6–1 on aggregate to Motherwell.
Return to the top league: Warburton, Caixinha, Murty
In June 2015 it was announced that Mark Warburton had been appointed manager on a three-year deal. Rangers went on to win the 2015–16 Scottish Championship and automatic promotion to the Scottish Premiership, ending their four-year stint in the lower divisions. The club also reached the 2016 Scottish Cup Final, beating Old Firm rivals Celtic in the semi-final at Hampden, before losing to Hibernian in the final. After a poor first half of the 2016–17 season, Mark Warburton and David Weir left Rangers on 10 February 2017, Graeme Murty was placed in caretaker control of the Rangers first team. Pedro Caixinha eventually took over as permanent manager.
Caixinha’s first full season started with Rangers suffering one of the worst results in their history. After winning at Ibrox 1–0, Rangers lost 2–0 to Luxembourg minnows Progrès Niederkorn, resulting in Rangers being knocked out 2–1 on aggregate in the first qualifying round of the 2017–18 Europa League. Progrès had never before won a tie and had only ever scored once before in European competition. After that disappointing start to the season the form did not improve, with notable results including a 2–0 reverse to Celtic at home in the league and defeat to Motherwell in the Scottish League Cup semi-final by the same scoreline. On the 26th of October, a day after a 95th-minute equaliser at Ibrox by last-placed Kilmarnock saw Rangers draw 1–1, Caixinha was sacked and Graeme Murty took over as caretaker manager again. The Portuguese manager’s reign was the shortest ever in the club’s history, only serving 229 days in charge. It was described as “a desperate mess from start to finish”.
In late December, after a search for a more experienced manager proved unsuccessful including a failed attempt to appoint Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes, Murty (who had won back-to-back games over Aberdeen and also defeated Hibernian away from home during his interim spell) was appointed to the role until the end of the season.