Last August I wrote a thread outline called “The Weight of Expectation” that Frankie turned into a Gersnet article. In that I tried to sum up my thoughts about Stephen Gerrard becoming manager of Rangers, his motivations for doing so and where it could ultimately lead us. I thank Frankie for spreading that further than I intended and for everyone who commented on and responded to what I wrote. One paragraph stood out for me when I sat down to write it and I want to reflect on that now after today’s 2-1 win against Celtic in the last Old Firm game of this decade. This is it:
“For the first time since Walter was manager I feel like we have someone at the helm who understands tactics and has a vision beyond the next crisis. For the first time since Souness arrived in 1986 I feel like we have a manager who feels comfortable with the grandeur of Ibrox and the history of the Rangers that the building embodies to us all. McCoist, Warburton, Pedro and Murty all looked too small for the Rangers manager’s suit, the arto deco furnishings made them look uncomfortable and somehow less. But from the day he walked in Gerrard looked like, not only was he comfortable with it, he understood the importance, he intuitively knew what a big cub expected and what its manager must be.”
Nothing that Gerrard has done over the last 15 months has done anything to shake that impression. Last season was ultimately unsuccessful and we fell short in the league and in both cups. The chasm between us and Celtic that existed when Gerrard took over was too great to bridge in a single season and while all of us would have sorely loved an instant title to wipe the smug smiles off the faces of Lennon, Brown and all the others across the city, it was too much to realistically ask. Gerrard’s inexperience as a top-flight manager and his tactical inflexibility were exposed at critical times but he delivered two vitally important league victories to end a terrible barren run against Celtic and he planted the seeds of what we saw on show in today’s game. I think most would agree that this season Stephen Gerrard has put an extra level of determination and a steely edge to grind out results when they really matter into his players that was not there before.
That steely edge extends beyond the dressing room into the wider sphere beyond. What passes for a media in Scotland are in awe of Gerrard because of the peaks he ascended as a player but loath him because he is Rangers manager in equal measure. They just can’t help themselves. I love the fact that he is taking a stand and calling out some of the ridiculous decisions that have gone against Rangers; pointing out how ludicrous they are and asking the assembled hacks how they would justify them. Gerrard probably wasn’t expecting the degree of hostility from the media that he and his players have received but he hasn’t let it affect him in the way that it crushed his predecessors.
But the thing I love most about him and the thing that fans of other clubs probably most dislike about him is the way he understands and communicates with us, the supporters. I said above that from the minute he walked through the door Gerrard intuitively understood what and who he was dealing with. As Liverpool captain and a Liverpool supporter in a period where Liverpool couldn’t win the league title they desperately craved and as a man seeking redemption for a mistake that snatched away a chance at a title Gerrard could instinctively see and empathise with our pain, our frustration and our desire. Now you can argue that Ally McCoist as a Rangers legend had the same empathy but he wasn’t able to communicate it and transmit it in the same way that Gerrard has. That’s what makes him the leader he was at Liverpool and he is now to Rangers.
Look at his reaction to today’s win. In those few seconds of undiluted joy when he screamed into the TV camera at the end of the game he wasn’t just Stephen Gerrard. He was every single one of us. I bet everyone watching that felt something and saw themselves in that instant. It was spectacular in its intensity and unexpected but all the more powerful for it. The mask of dignity that Gerrard usually wears so well fell away completely for a second and he was a fan, he was one of us. You would expect it if that victory was Liverpool's but it wasn't them it was Rangers and it is a measure of how much he has invested in our club and its supporters.
His words tonight when he had calmed down and was being interviewed about his reaction to the win are worth repeating:
“I’m not going to apologise for that. This means a lot to me. I came here for a reason because I want these players to be successful. I want this club to be successful and I want the supporters to be successful. That’s what it means to me. That’s what myself and my staff are putting into this job. We’re living it. And we’re doing everything we can.”
“These fans have been through enough, and they’ve been through enough in this stadium. Tonight should be all about them. And I’m going away tonight smiling inside, for them.”
Those words inspire me and make me feel proud of my club and connected to my team and manager in a way that feels different to anything I’ve felt before as a supporter. It’s not logical or something I can rationalise but that’s the way it feels.
I hope today’s result is a massive turning point for Rangers. From miles behind 18 months ago we have shown Celtic we can beat them at the Piggery. We should have won the League Cup but for inspired goalkeeping, incompetent refereeing and huge slices of luck that handed them the win. Last season Gerrard and his players gave me a hope that change was going to come but ultimately that hope couldn’t be sustained. This season we are stronger and hungrier than them. There is a fear in Celtic that wasn’t there before and I hope it’s enough to take us to the title.
Stephen Gerrard is special. We took a gamble on him and he took one on us but it is paying off and he is reinventing what it means to be manager of Rangers for me. The weight of expectation still hangs heavy around Ibrox and the media would love to see us fail again. They have become so used to kicking us they can't perceive of a time when Rangers are back on top and the look on their faces when 55 comes will be all the sweeter for all the lies and hatred they have thrown at us. Time will tell just how phoenix-like Gerrard’s Rangers will be but by goodness it’s been an incredible transformation so far and hopefully a title for him and for us is close at hand.
I don't think Gerrard expected this himself and is probably surprised by it. Liverpool will always be his true love and it’s not unfair to say that his ultimate redemption must lie there somewhere in the future. Rangers could have simply been seen as his first real job before carving out a CV elsewhere but you sense now that it holds something more for him than he expected. This rebuilding of Rangers fits perfectly with the arc he wants to follow and he can achieve glory and learn the skills he needs for his ultimate test in a place where it doesn't hurt Liverpool (Champions League ties notwithstanding - we can dream..). So much for logic but there is heart as well and Gerrard's heart is now bound with Rangers and the club's revival in a way nobody could have foreseen. He gets and understands us as supporters. He gets and understands what our club is. He is proud to be our manager and utterly unapologetic for it, as so many in the media would somehow want him to be. He isn't going to play their game. He's playing his game and that means making us the best. He was never a Ranger as a player but boy does he exemplify everything I would want my ultimate Ranger to be.
There’s a job still to do and a title to win. Let’s go!