by Alasdair Sim
Being born in the late eighties meant that my earliest, and most sentimental, footballing memories coincided perfectly with one of the most successful domestic spells in the history of Glasgow Rangers Football Club; nine league titles in a row with three Scottish Cups and four League Cups between the 1988/89 and 1996/97 seasons resulted in a childhood that was packed full of celebration and adoration for a team that played only a few miles up the road.
There was, however, always one player in that Rangers team that stood out to me; even though the era of Souness and Smith (and after nine in a row – Dick Advocaat) was closely linked with high transfer spending and international stars descending down the famous Ibrox marble staircase, there was a figure in the Rangers side that would mean more to me than Gazza, Gough, Laudrup, De Boer, Goram et al, and that figure was Ally McCoist.
Deemed ‘too small’ by Sir Alex Ferguson as a schoolboy at St. Mirren and ineffective during a stint at Roker Park with Sunderland, one could see how the young McCoist might have drifted into footballing obscurity had it not been for the foresight of then Rangers manager John Greig in 1983. A promising start with St. Johnstone from 1979 to 1981, where he hit the back of the net 22 times in just under 60 games, was almost destroyed by a dreadful period in the North-East of England where he managed only eight goals in some 56 matches under Alan Durban. However, Greig saw something in the lad from Bellshill and thus a footballing legacy was born when McCoist, at 21, was brought to Ibrox.
Jonathon Wilson has written about the death of the traditional goal poacher; in modern football we rarely see a striker on the field who’s one and only job is to score goals. The 21st century has witnessed the rise of what Wilson has termed the ‘defensive forward’; an attacker who is expected to contribute almost as much to defence and winning the ball as he is to putting it in the back of the net. For sure, strikers and still fundamentally on the pitch to score, but it is not seen now as the be all and end all of their position. In a way, McCoist, who ended his career with Kilmarnock in 2001, was one of what we can perhaps now term as a ‘dying breed’ of attackers, a player who was put on the pitch for one reason, and one reason only: to score goals.
And score goals he did. In 833 games for club and country, Super Ally notched up an impressive, if not downright astonishing, 422 goals in a playing career that spanned 23 years. From his debut Rangers goal against arch-rivals Celtic in September 1983, to his last in the Scottish Cup final against Hearts in 1998, McCoist portrayed everything that was expected of a Rangers player: passion, commitment, talent and a never-say-die attitude.
He was the type of player that could be in the starting eleven and notch up a hat-trick (the 1984 League Cup final win over Celtic), or come back from a broken leg months previously and score a dramatic overhead-kick winner (the 1994 League Cup final against Hibs). The only Scot to ever win the European Golden Boot – he won it two years on the trot from 1991 to 1993 – Rangers’ all time record goal scorer had me enthralled and captivated as he scored time and time again. Whether he was playing alongside a target man such as Mark Hately, or relying on the services of Ian Durrant, Brian Laudrup or Mark Walters, McCoist could be relied upon to find that crucial pocket of space in the opposition’s defence.
He is, however, more than just the phenomenal goal scorer that his playing career has justifiably seen him labelled as; his chirpy, humorous and likeable nature has been the catalyst for a successful television career that spanned a decade on the BBC’s ‘A Question of Sport’, a punditry role on ITV and a perhaps best forgotten film role alongside Robert Duvall in ‘A Shot at Glory’ where McCoist, ironically, portrayed an ex-Celtic player.
Even given the ease and effortlessness that McCoist has had moving from football to television, you always felt that it would never last; like all great players, football is in his blood and you can only be away from the game for so long. In 2004 he joined the coaching staff with the Scotland squad under his mentor Walter Smith and then followed him back to his spiritual home at Ibrox when Smith returned to the Rangers dugout in 2007. When Rangers added yet another League Cup to their trophy room with a win over Queen of the South in 2008, it was revealed that McCoist had been in full charge of the team during the whole cup campaign and was being groomed to take the hot seat in June 2011.
For 15 years the Ibrox faithful chanted ‘Super Ally’ from the stands as he mesmerized us on the pitch by putting the ball into the net and breaking Celtic hearts over and over again; come next year we will be, as always, shouting the same song from the depths of our lungs as he begins a new chapter in his illustrious involvement with Glasgow Rangers Football Club.
Read more from Alasdair on his blog, Attempting Thought.