The joy of lists
There is almost no subject immune to the obvious benefits of ranking and noting – from girls via cars and trainers to (if you’re called Shane and from ‘Merica) guns. Music, film, TV shows, fillies: they’re all ripe for a list and (you can’t have one without the other) a serious rammy.
It’s long been my contention that spreadsheets were invented not for any silly task like accounting or keeping note of some series of insignificant figures or tasks but to reward those whose pencils became blunt as they endeavoured to keep track of their collections of music recordings, books, Star Wars figures and other not-at-all geeky hobbies* and important first world matters of import.
Serious publications commonly rank their greatest of all time. Rolling Stone goes through its archives and alters its ratings to show that although they make mistakes they know how to correct them and film bible Sight and Sound recently took the contributions of hundreds of film experts, critics and industry men and women of genius and compiled their once-a-decade account of the finest films known to mankind. Some titles swapped places, others slipped out or snuck in, but a good number remained within the canon.
Citizen Kane, from 1941, was displaced at the summit by the youngling Vertigo, from 1952, having topped each poll since 1962. But it had finished a mere 13th in the 1952 inaugural listing. Polls and lists are subject to the whims of fashion, changing social and political outlooks and that most difficult thing of all to stop – the march of time and the changing of tastes. It’s not the films, and books, and music albums that change (save for the odd input from men like Lucas, alternative Phil Spector versions and others notwithstanding) – it’s the people and their perspective.
Every new list brings with it the twin certainties of initial excitement and certain disappointment and this week’s effort from the Evening Times – the top fifty Rangers players – is no exception. But with any listing of the greatest in sport we’re faced with the obvious problem – herein known as the Boyzone/Beethoven conundrum – where the weight of evidence in some areas (hypothetical horse A won 14 class 1 races, horse B only won 6 in the same era from the same number of starts) runs into trouble where absolutes must bow to at least a little of the intangibles and opinion (is Player Z from 1963 really better than the present-day Player Y and if so how do you prove it?).
(Beethoven's deafness would now be a plus)
Boyzone have enjoyed six number one singles in the UK and their albums have sold somewhere north of twenty million units. Ludwig hasn’t written anything new for over 175 years and in some circles would be seen as a loafer. Is anyone going to make the argument that Boyzone are better than Beethoven? Quite possibly. Would it be persuasive? No. But in some areas, you can use numbers, stats and figures to prop up even the preposterous.
The old versus the new
Arguments about players and where they fit on any list tend to illuminate the personal favourites, most likely the age, and most certainly the prejudices/philosophy of the combatants. Modernity often plants people in positions which, when the subject is revisited in years to come, they fail to maintain. But there’s a danger an orthodoxy comes to exist and people don’t read the books, listen to the albums, watch the films or study the players for themselves (see also umpteen academic books where the list of references at the back bear no resemblance to the footnotes, far less the grasp of arguments within). People vote for something or someone because they feel they should.
Something rarely given the light of day in all of this is the likelihood that, in most cases, if you could use a time-machine to bring two teams of players together then the team from 2013 would actually beat that team from yesteryear (Black, Hutts and Holiday Daz would beat Struth’s great side and quite possibly the Barcelona Bears; the Gothenburg heroes might struggle against the teary Milne marvels; Hibs under Fenlon would not only beat the now assuredly unfit cup celebs from 1902 but would also finish off the Famous Five and co.)
(Copyright Holiday Daz Instagram)
The speed and – no laughing at the back there, Nando! – the fitness level of today’s top players (ok, sit back down again class) makes the game as it is currently played seem like an offshoot of that from, say the 1950s. Go and have a look at YouTube and think about it. Of course, in this theoretical exercise, we can assume that the elder statesmen would have access to the improved equipment of the modern age, but unless you start using a machine with all sorts of buttons and knobs (think Jimmy Page during the Whole Lotta Love session) then you cannot eliminate the physical advantages. So to sidestep that you have to consider the following: how good were they in their day and how good were they in relative terms against the best each era had to offer (and how strong was said era)?
(With thanks to God)
Firstly, we should be careful when considering the now distant or the black and white, and assuming the position of some complacent, smug know-it-all from the glorious present. This isn’t the heyday for footballing popularity, in terms of people going to watch the game, and the constant borderline hagiographical treatment of today’s stars shouldn’t blind us to the fact that there were a good few long before who outshined many of those today feted as sporting gods.
Secondly, we need to be very careful indeed in how we remember and honour those who have achieved great things. A case in point: the Rangers Hall of Fame. Now, before your eyes glaze over, don’t fret; we’re not going to go over this again in detail, but this Club historical record is now tarnished beyond any usefulness, and the idea that certain eras have to be equally represented – with the on-the-record slip from the official Club historian to confirm that those who are still alive will be given preference – makes a mockery of the idea of creating a true Pantheon and rather dilutes the true honour involved.
Why history matters
We don’t need to go back to the days where James I outlawed football to do justice to all of those who have excelled in the story of the game – although I hear that Stewart Regan is wondering if he can now collect the (old) four pence fines still due – but it is incumbent upon the Club and the active supporters’ groups to do their bit. This summer will see an eagerly-awaited book from contributors to the Rangers Standard website, which promises to give the side of the supporters who have suffered throughout the recent turbulent times. At the same time, the Press Association’s Lisa Gray will release a tome chronicling the season past, one which will undoubtedly in years to come be of great historical interest for those interested in the game. Both are welcome and both will do much to help shape the narrative of the period from the point of view of those directly affected, and from a human perspective sadly lacking in some shoddy rubbish so far published – such as Oberschütze Phil’s ‘Der Untergang.’
In addition, arguably a more important book comes to our shelves this autumn when an official biography of William Struth is published. Why has it taken so long? Perhaps even the great man has suffered from the relative neglect toward those from the near-distant past. But in recent times the Club and the support have realised that if you don’t tell the story of your own past then someone else will misrepresent it. The Founders’ book and the complementary and ongoing research and rejoice experience that is the Founders’ Trail is not only a must for any fan of Rangers but for anyone who loves an underdog story and the way in which the west of Scotland had such an important part to play in the development of the world’s game. Perhaps the next step is – finally – the idea and then the reality of a real Club museum?
Older Bears will recall talk of it in the 1980s and later bizarre (and hopefully apocryphal) excuses along the lines of “we bought Richard Gough instead” but even by 1993 it was still on the cards, at least according to official Club publications.
(With thanks to @RangersFacts)
In more recent times, those who should know better have tried to fob us off with the idea that “the stadium is a museum” and while it is certainly true that the tour given by staff offers a fascinating and rewarding insight into the history of the Club there’s more to it than fixtures, fittings, trophies and the odd bike or pennant. It should also be noted that – much like the Mitchell library a few miles to the north of the stadium – the total on show at any one time is far exceeded by that ‘in storage’ or ‘not for display’. And, in any case, a museum is about a story: it’s about presenting the facts and the fables and providing a sensible, in-depth look at how an institution was born, what it represented and represents, and how we met and treated Kipling’s two impostors and lived up to the wise words of Mr. Struth. Previous regimes have been negligent and cowed when it comes to the history of the Club and we are now reaping the benefit. Such a lack of imagination and dereliction of duty cannot be allowed to continue.
Not only can a museum be a positive force in the social fabric of a support but it will make money if properly fitted and adequately run – see Hamburg, Barcelona and dozens of other examples from trips made and reported on in FF over the years. It would also (drum roll) assuredly be one of the few things on which every half-sober fans’ group and organisation can at least partially agree. There’s few stories in all of sport to compare with the humble origins and rise of the Rangers and it’s worth noting that in their attempts to consistently attack the Club it has not been beyond certain nefarious national newspaper columnists to tell outright lies about the circumstances and intentions behind the Club’s birth and early days. In the past few weeks, a national newspaper had to apologise in print for a lie told about the dark and distant days of the Club, and be sure that the reason said journo thought he would get away with it is partly connected to the way fabrications and passed-down prejudices have been allowed to interfere with the purity of our origins and our continuing remarkable sporting story. Even the Founder’s Trail chaps, a fine collection of anoraks and genuinely nice guys, recently ran into trouble when a Glasgow festival would not permit their stall to reappear after a handful of anonymous and frankly unfounded complaints. The very presence of the Club is a matter that brings the oxygen of life to and defines the daily existence of some of the most socially disturbed individuals in Scottish life. It’s encouraging to see recent steps to allow less mentally-challenged voices the chance to speak on all matters Rangers but the Club has to continue to up its game and a proper museum is long since overdue. Edmiston House is being worked on as I type. It’s surely no longer too much to ask?
As we (fans) seek in the present to take greater control of how the Club is represented, and scrutinise how it is run and to what end it allocates money and how we do or do not take advantage of the recent opportunity to re-think aspects of our footballing philosophy, so too must we (The Club and all with RFC in their hearts) take care of the past and assume fuller control of the Rangers story.
Every day of delay re a museum brings a potential problem closer: we could do with and should have an oral databank of people alive who still remember Baxter at his peak, Waddell crossing for Thornton, wee Hubbard taking penalties and so on and so forth. We must also do everything possible to bring together the relevant clips, cuttings, books and stories relating to those who have punctuated the proud history of our Club. A naive chap or chappess today using the Internet could be forgiven for thinking that – based on the YouTube evidence – someone like Sebo was a better player than some true legend who doesn’t have a great highlight reel. We assume that everything today will be kept for future generations but RTV doesn’t even have the rights to broadcast many of the brilliant moments documented at the time and of comparatively recent vintage. Websites change, are hacked and take on new identities (we’re onto at least our fourth FF) and much in the way of interest in the modern world will be lost if not properly archived now and hopefully by someone more capable than those who run this website –
One can still hear the voice of Enrico Caruso, undoubtedly a great tenor and one of the finest voices of his or any other generation, coming to us from the early twentieth century, like a ghost but more clearly than we have any right to expect. But we, as a culture, have suffered great losses through flooding and burned books and lost more films than you might care to guess – not everything that is put out there lasts forever and between cultural vandalism, neglect and the art (see here both the BBC and your granny) of ‘taping over’ many works that should have rightfully been preserved for future generations to enjoy are no longer extant.
They appear only on lists of ‘things’ we’d like to find in a car boot sale somewhere in the colonies where some enterprising chap took the one time only chance to record Dr. Who for posterity.
It’s not important if the sexy Brian Laudrup fails to be covered in the top five of the Evening Times version of the greatest Rangers players of all time (although the RST twitter might discover and display previously untapped levels of emotional unpredictability) but it is vital that we continue to promote and argue about the history of Rangers and do so from a position where we are all more impressively informed, involved and willing to consider the beauty and the brilliance of the old and the new.
*In reality, and as any man would tell you if connected to a lie-detector, a proper hobby is more important than any job, woman, horse or gun. Sorry.