Book Review: Tangled Up In Blue – The Rise and Fall of Rangers FC by Stephen O’Donnell

Growing up in the 1970s as a football mad kid in England I absorbed all I could about the nations favourite game and even though my team, Fulham, were rooted very much in the Second Division, BBC’s Match of the Day, allowed me to see the great teams of the First Division, as Arsenal, Derby County, Leeds United, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest won the top-flight title during that decade. During that same period in Scotland, only Celtic and Rangers won the First Division title, giving rise to the limited view of myself and so many others south of the border, at that time, that they were all there was to Scottish Football. And to some extent that view still pervades, when you consider that the last time a side other that the Glasgow giants won the top-flight Championship was Aberdeen back in the 1984/85 campaign.

But what do I really know about the Old Firm and indeed their relationship within the Scottish football scene? In reality – pretty generic things. Celtic, based in the East of Glasgow, the first British Club to win the European Cup, playing at Celtic Park, where its Irish Catholic connections are evident in the shamrock that adorns the club badge. Rangers, based in the West of Glasgow, playing at Ibrox, where the flags of Northern Ireland and the Union Jack are just as likely to be flown as the cross of St Andrew, highlighting the clubs Protestant leanings.

Of course, being a football fan, the big stories associated with these clubs since the seventies have also made it on my radar, such as the Ibrox disaster in 1971, Kenny Dalglish’s move from Celtic to Liverpool in 1977, Graeme Souness taking charge of Rangers in 1986, the 1991 signing of Maurice Johnston by Rangers as their first openly Catholic player and more recently in 2012 when Rangers went into liquidation, and a new side had to start life in the fourth-tier of Scottish football.

The reality is that I’ve never delved any deeper into many of those stories until now. Tangled Up In Blue – The Rise and Fall of Rangers FC by Stephen O’Donnell, is an incredibly well researched book split into two parts. The first, Rise: Religious Bigotry, looks at the formation of Rangers and provides an insight into the Protestant ‘influences’ on the club that despite great strides are still in evidence through sectarian chanting at the club. Insights are also provided on the Ibrox disaster in 1971 when 66 spectators lost their lives, with O’Donnell offering a different prospective on the possible cause of the tragedy and indeed the way the authorities dealt with the aftermath.

Part two, Fall: Financial Malpractice, looks at the period from the arrival of Graeme Souness to Rangers eventual return to the Scottish top-flight in the 2016/17 season. This is at times a quite extraordinary read as the eye-watering amounts of spending on players increases year-by-year, which whilst bought the incredible nine in a row titles between 1988 and 1997, creates the spiral of financial disaster that saw the club crash and burn. O’Donnell lays out the illegal financial transactions that contributed to their demise with the detailing of the ‘top-ups’ made through the Club’s Employment Benefit Trust, which came to be investigated by the Scottish Football Association and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, as well as issues such as the mortgaging of four years’ worth of season-tickets to Ticketus.

There is no doubt that this will be an uncomfortable read for Rangers fans, as O’Donnell does not pull his punches in examining both their club’s history and ultimate demise. However, it is hoped that the book is not merely seen as anti-Rangers or a hatchet-job and is therefore judged instead as a salutary lesson to club, owners and fans alike.

(Pitch Publishing Ltd, 2019. Hardcover 320pp)


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Posted January 3, 2020 by Editor in category "Reviews

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