Davie White - What Might Have Been
The recent death of former Rangers manager Davie White got me thinking about his spell in charge.
While as an impatient teenager I supported the board's decision to sack him and bring in Willie Waddell, with the benefit of hindsight I can't help thinking that he was very unlucky and, with an even break here and there, history would have remembered him much more kindly.
The circumstances of his appointment, allied to the shabby treatment of Scot Symon, heaped intolerable pressure on Davie White. Having just had one season in management with Clyde and only been Symon's assistant for a few months, there was a widespread feeling that, at 34, he wasn't quite ready for such a massive job. If the board had given the matter serious thought, rather than panicking, they could have smoothed his passage into the position and created a much more secure working environment.
Sacking Scot Symon at a time when Rangers were top of the league was a monumental own goal. Whatever the circumstances of an offer of a general manager's post, the ruthless discarding of a club legend left a bad taste in many mouths and, seeing Davie White as the beneficiary, he had work to do to get the fans on his side.
The Rangers support had great difficulty in coming to terms with playing second fiddle to that lot from the other side of the city. While Him Who Knew was a master at manipulating the media, Davie White preferred to work away quietly with his players, steering clear of too much involvement with the press, so the perception always was that we were lagging behind.
Yet, having inherited a team at the top of the table, the new manager kept things ticking over very nicely and my memory of that time is of our team playing some excellent football. Greig and MacKinnon at the heart of the defence, Penman and Smith in midfield, Wee Bud and Fergie through the middle, with Henderson and Persson on the wings, we really looked the part.
Coming in the immediate aftermath of the fluke result in Lisbon, the pressure was definitely on the Rangers, even more so when missed penalties at both Ibrox and the Piggery resulted in us making an early exit from the League Cup. But an Orjan Persson goal in Scot Symon's last Old Firm match gave us the edge in the league race and we led from the front all the way to the closing weeks of the season.
Septic had been dumped out of the cup by Dunfermline so we looked good for the league and cup Double. Unfortunately, after a 1-1 draw with Hearts in the quarter-finals, we lost to a late goal in the replay at Tynecastle and, with the other lot breathing down our neck, we wilted towards the end of the season, going out of Europe to Leeds United, drawing with Morton at Cappielow to surrender the leadership, then suffering our only league defeat on our final fixture.
Had we won the cup, or the league, or both, in the 1967-68 season, it would have given Davie White the breathing space he needed to mould his own team. Sadly, by the time he had signed Colin Stein and Alex MacDonald, Jock Stein had given his lot a shake, the heat was again on Rangers and, although some of the stuff we played towards the end of the 1968-69 season was a joy to behold, the mood among the fans was that we were still playing catch-up.
The lengthy suspension imposed on Colin Stein, heavily influenced by Septic chairman Bob Kelly, to keep him out of the Cup Final was a hammer blow to Davie White's bid to salvage something from that season. Three years with a trophy was worrying and Willie Waddell's endless attacks of the manager via the Daily Express succeeded in noising up the fans.
The return of Jim Baxter in the summer of 1969 generated new optimism among the supporters but Slim Jim was no longer quite so slim, his contribution to the team effort was negligible and, with Waddell reporting Baxter as a bad influence in the dressing room, the feeling was that White was running out of time.
When he was sacked in the wake of the Gornik debacle nobody was surprised, nor was there too much dissent from the fans. 'Lawrence Must Go' sang the crowd in a parody of John Lennon's 'Give Peace A Chance' but the arrival of Willie Waddell was a popular appointment, it took the pressure off the board and Davie White's reign was quickly forgotten.
It is a harsh fact of life that Rangers managers are judged by the trophies they win. That is the name of the game but Davie White had the great misfortune to be hurried into the job by the board's knee-jerk reaction to events at the other place at a time when they were enjoying the most successful spell of their history. He had to hit the ground running, yet he came so close to interrupting their run, had our team playing some top notch football in the process and could have written a significant chapter in our club's long history.
The men who thoughtlessly dismissed Scot Symon were no less compassionate in their treatment of Davie White. Thankfully, with the passing of time, he was welcomed back into the bosom of the Rangers family, a fitting reward for the dignity he maintained even when treated so badly and the many posts of the FF Messageboard reflect a true feeling of sadness at his death.
It is so unfortunate and perhaps even unfair that we find ourselves looking back on his time in the manager's office with feelings of regret.
LITTLE BOY BLUE
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