2021 saw Rangers football club crowned champions of the Scottish Premiership after a particularly dazzling, dominant campaign. Beside the team’s impressive 102-point haul, and their totally unmatched defensive record, the triumph was especially noteworthy on account of the fact that nine years earlier Rangers had been competing in the bottom tier of Scottish football.
But what may to unschooled onlookers appear to have been a monumental rise from the foot to the peak of the Scottish football mountain was in fact, in Rangers’ eyes at least, a battle to simply reclaim what was, in accordance with historical achievement, rightfully theirs all along. Rangers’ journey back to the top has seen its fair share of ups, downs, twists and turns, and has, all told, been nothing if not memorable. Here, we revisit some of the major milestones along that long road back, as exclusively reported in our Rangers: Journey Back newspaper book.
13 July 2012, Rangers join the SFL Third Division
2012 marked the end of the world for Rangers football club and its fans. After four months in administration, the club entered liquidation, losing its Scottish Premiership status in the process. Opposed to the new iteration of Rangers beginning life in the Championship, 25 of the 30 SFL clubs voted to send them down to the bottom tier of the Scottish football pyramid. The club also received a year-long transfer ban.
Nevertheless, Gers boss and club legend Ally McCoist vowed that his team would come back stronger. McCoist would pave the way for Rangers delivering on this promise by leading his side to promotion at the first time of asking, before capturing the Second Division title the following year; in doing so, the 2014 team became the first Rangers side in over a century to go an entire season unbeaten.
Kings of the Road
5 April 2016, Rangers 1-0 Dumbarton, Ibrox
After sailing through the bottom two tiers, the Scottish Championship proved a much tougher challenge for Rangers, eventually resulting in McCoist offering his resignation and the Gers finishing the season in 3rd place and suffering a promotion playoff defeat against Motherwell.
Ahead of the following campaign, former Brentford boss Mark Warburton took the reins at Ibrox. With the spectre of the club’s ongoing legal battles still looming large, Rangers’ fortunes on the pitch were far more favourable. Topping the table for practically the entire season, the Gers secured their return to the top division of Scottish football with a dogged 1-0 victory over Dumbarton on 5 April 2016.
Rangers would’ve been hoping for their opponents to lay out the red carpet, but instead Dumbarton held strong, tormenting the home side throughout the first half. Then, in the 50th minute, right-back James Tavernier, a revelation since signing from Wigan, drilled home his 13th goal of the season. Rangers were champions, and promoted automatically. David McCarthy of the Daily Record wrote:
For the vast majority inside Ibrox this was about one thing and one thing only. This was their team’s 146th league game since the summer of 2012 and a 104th victory would be celebrated like no other… at 9.34pm on Tuesday, April 5, the wait was over.
4 May 2018, Rangers Hire Gerrard
After a terrible end to their Championship-winning season, and a poor start to their first back in the Premiership, Rangers parted company with Mark Warburton. The tenure of his replacement, Pedro Caixinha, which lasted a mere seven months, was described by the BBC as “a desperate mess from start to finish”.
This was a ship in search of a captain. And in the summer of 2018, following consecutive third-place finishes, Ibrox welcomed one of the biggest names in world football to its hot seat: former England and Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard. Rangers chairman Dave King would refer to the appointment as “Scotland’s biggest signing for a generation”.
8,000 Rangers fans flooded into Ibrox on 4 May 2018 to welcome their new manager. Champions League winner Gerrard immediately acknowledged the importance of the Ibrox faithful:
The supporters are THE main thing here, not just one of the main things… The supporters were a big reason I wanted to come here and be a leader for them. Their loyalty and how they’ve stuck by this club are values I believe in.
17 October 2020, Celtic 0-2 Rangers, Celtic Park
Gerrard’s arrival signalled an immediate improvement in Rangers’ performance. In December 2019, shortly after reaching the knockout stages of the Europa League, Gerrard orchestrated the club’s first league win at Celtic Park in over nine years. At the time, this seemed a pivotal victory, but in the grand scheme of things it was dwarfed in impact the next time the two sides met, almost a year later.
Both Celtic and Rangers had started the 2019/20 season promisingly, jostling for top spot without losing a game. Suffice to say, in the first Old Firm of the season, on 17 October at Parkhead, a huge psychological advantage was on offer along with the potentially crucial three points.
In an empty stadium unbefitting such an historic matchup, Rangers emerged victorious, as boyhood Liverpool fan Connor Goldson, who had grown up idolising his now-manager, netted in the first ten minutes of each half. The Sunday Mail’s Michael Gannon emphasised both the short and long term repercussions of the outcome:
The result was barely in doubt… Now we have to wait and see if it was just first blood in the Premiership fight or the start of a seismic shift in Scottish football.
8 November 2020, Rangers 8-0 Hamilton Academical, Ibrox
The immediate effect of the Old Firm on both clubs was both obvious and monumental. Celtic would draw three of their next four matches. Rangers, on the other hand, would embark on a 12-game winning streak, scoring an incredible 33 goals in the process while only conceding three.
The pinnacle of this remarkable run perhaps occurred on 8 November, against Hamilton Academical. Goals from Scott Arfield and Brandon Barker sandwiched doubles from both Kemar Roofe and Joe Aribo, before Tavernier, now club captain, helped himself to two of his own.
It was the most comprehensive victory of the Gerrard era, as well as the second biggest win in the history of the SPL. After the game, The Daily Record’s David McCarthy highlighted the growing sense that this could be Rangers’ year:
In their 20th game of a campaign that’s seen them win 17 and draw three, scoring 54 goals in the process, this was the clearest indication yet it is going to take something pretty special to knock Steven Gerrard’s side off their perch.
Glowing for 55
6 March 2021, Rangers 3-0 St Mirren, Ibrox
“Get the champagne uncorked. Get the Red, White and Blue ribbons on the trophy”. Those were the words of the Sunday Mail’s Scott McDermott following Rangers’ 3-0 victory over St Mirren on March 6. Goals from Ryan Kent, Alfredo Morelos and Ianis Hagi put Rangers a single point away from a 55th Scottish league title, a decade after their last.
This would indeed prove to be Rangers’ final game as mere title challengers, certifying McDermott’s declaration that “unofficially, it’s done”. Sure enough, the very next day Rangers were crowned champions after Celtic failed to beat Dundee United at Tannadice Park.
Chairman Dave King referred to the triumph as “by far the most important in Rangers’ 149-year history”. Nine years earlier, Rangers had been staring administration in the face, along with the prospect of the first season in their entire history to be played outside the top flight. Now, they were champions of Scotland for a record 55th time, made sweeter by the fact that in becoming so, they had derailed Celtic’s quest for an unprecedented tenth consecutive league crown.
15 May 2021, Rangers 4-0 Aberdeen, Ibrox
Not satisfied with simply delivering Rangers’ first league title in a decade, Steven Gerrard pushed on with the intention of writing his 2020/21 crop into the history books as one of the most successful Glasgow Rangers sides of all time. Indeed, only one Rangers team had ever gone an entire top flight season unbeaten previously, and that had been in the nineteenth century.
On the final day of the season, Rangers became invincible with a 4-0 demolition of fourth-place Aberdeen at Ibrox. Strikes from Kemar Roofe, Steven Davis and Jermain Defoe followed an early Joe Murphy own goal as the Gers raced to 102 points, their first ever top-flight century. But perhaps more important than that, the club finished the season 25 points ahead of Celtic, the largest margin ever.
After ten years, Rangers had taken their final steps on the long journey back to the pinnacle of Scottish football, in the most emphatic style. McDermott summed up just how far the club had needed to climb to reclaim its former position, as well as the impact of appointing Gerrard as manager:
As a club it had lost its soul and respectability. It had been battered from pillar to post, on and off the pitch, and it was difficult to see a way back… That all changed this season under Gerrard. Rangers have amassed 32 wins – 19 straight at Ibrox – and 26 clean sheets but this league title triumph was never in doubt for most of the campaign.
For articles covering Rangers’ entire history, our standard Rangers book makes a great gift for any die-hard fan.