Offside’s Mark Leech looks back to Rangers’ opening day defeat to Hibernian 28 years ago in which new player-manager Graeme Souncess received a red card on his debut…
Saturday August 9 1986 is a date I can still remember vividly and no doubt, so can George McCluskey.
Scottish football already had its own Premier Division and with the European ban on all English clubs, a few England international players were about to head north of the border to Rangers FC, to earn more money and compete in European football.
The FA Charity Shield was a week away, so I expected a lot of English photographers would be heading to Easter Road for Hibernian v Rangers but I was the only person lugging a telephoto lens on to the BA shuttle flight to Edinburgh that morning.
A beautiful sunny day greeted us on the journey from Ingliston airport but still not one photographer that I recognised was at the match as kick off drew near.
There was the usual frosty reception from the local photographers but that was quite normal. However, when Scotland played England at Hampden, there were normally half a dozen familiar faces to talk to. Perhaps the usual suspects were feeling a touch fatigued after working the 1986 World Cup in the summer, and didn’t fancy the trip north of the border?
These feelings of isolation eventually gave way to the realisation that it could be a good day’s work for me. I was thinking of capturing something along the lines of a shoot poster of Terry Butcher or Graeme Souness as I was possibly the only photographer with colour transparency film in the ground.
Anyway, the match started and like most games back then, the first fifteen minutes were full of flying tackles from behind and brutal headed duels. Both teams’ hard men were letting each other ‘know they were there’.
The potent mixture of Glasgow against Edinburgh now had the added ingredients of Graeme Souness, a couple of English players and a hot August afternoon. The pressure and the heat appeared to get to Souness first and he decided to take out his frustrations and get his retaliation in first on a Hibs player.
This took the tension up a level or two. Something had to snap. Unfortunately for George McCluskey, it was his right knee. A stud raking assault from the boot of Souness after the play had stopped for yet another foul.
Never before have I seen a player with an open wound getting carried off the pitch alongside his red carded assailant.
The remainder of the match went by in a bit of a blur. All I could think about was getting these films processed. So, knowing I had to get a cab back to the airport, I left the pitch side via the players’ tunnel, which was the norm back then.
[George McCluskey is helped off the pitch with a gaping wound to his knee, the result of an off the ball challenge from the new Rangers player-manager Graeme Souness, who accompanies him off the field after receiving the red card for the offence.]
The tunnel at Easter Road widens near the changing rooms and I crouched in the left hand recess to pack my camera kit away. I must have misjudged how much time was remaining because suddenly I was joined by the furious looking Ally McCoist, who was taking up position in the opposite recess, fist clenched and waiting for someone.
Perhaps the referee had had enough and blown early but surely there wasn’t more violence about to erupt on this day? I was just beginning to now unpack my cameras when Terry Butcher came through and spotted McCoist and sensibly took him away in a headlock in a scene akin to a Friday pub night car park: “I’ll kill him”, “Leave it, he’s not worth it” etc. etc.
Well I got on my plane in time and found myself sat with the great writer, Ken Montgomery who was making full use of the BA hospitality, or rather their free drinks trolley. He was a man of few words besides what he put down on the page but after his third or fourth Bell’s miniature, he undid his tie and calmly said “Graeme’s an animal!”
This was obviously years before digital photography, so I drove from Heathrow to the London offices of Today newspaper, got my films processed and next day discovered that they had run about five or six of my images on the back page and double page spread inside.
It seemed like a strange day at the time and stranger looking back. All I know is that August 9 2014 will be much quieter for me.
After all what could possibly happen at Millwall v Leeds United?
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