Injury woe during 9-in-a-row–an interview with Alan McLaren

Perhaps the most celebrated title win in Rangers history was the famous 9-in-a-row win at Tannadice in 1997. It had been a long hard season for the boys in blue and the squad was crippled by injuries. The pressure was mounting and reached fever pitch when Rangers failed to clinch the title in their last home game of the season.

Captain on the day the title was clinched was none other than Alan McLaren. The memories of that period are as strong as ever as he recalls the last game at Ibrox:

‘We played against Motherwell at Ibrox – a victory clinches the league, I think even a draw clinches the league, and we go and get beat 2- 0!

'That day was clearly set up for a party – there was a full house and we all thought we would clinch it and it went oh so bad that day!’

On the brink of such a momentous achievement, Walter Smith was to have severe difficulties in picking eleven men to face United. Alan was one of many players struggling to finish the season:

‘The final 2 games were Dundee United away and Hearts away and any other time I think we would be fairly confident securing the points from the games but we were running on empty...really running on empty. Bodies were all over the place – the busiest place was the physio’s room. After the Monday I went back home to Edinburgh and came back the Tuesday morning and we were booked to stay in St Andrews. At that point we didn’t have a clue who was going to be ready – or indeed who could play!

‘I was told by the specialist that I wasn’t to play any midweek games...I couldn’t do Saturday, Wednesday and Saturday - let alone Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. At that point my knee was double its size - I had so much fluid in my knee! Davie Robertson had an ankle problem meaning he shouldn’t have played either. Myself and Davie had been in the treatment room the whole of Tuesday – we arrived in St Andrews for tea around six and then straight into the physio’s room and we were there till the small hours of the morning. On Wednesday morning everyone was put into a room and we were all asked – “Who’s fit to play?” Which quickly changed to “who can play?” and that’s genuine!’

This group of players were nothing but resilient and against doctors orders Alan and others stepped up to the plate to fight for the title:

‘The manager knew that myself and Davie...we weren’t fit for purpose - but we were asked “would you take to the field and play?” and obviously we both said “Yes!... if you have not got enough bodies – then yes we will play.”

‘Out then came the doc with his magic pills and tablets and something a little more sinister looking was injected and that was it.’

Personally I remember Alan being a rock in our defence and, amidst all the injury problems, a true warrior for our club. Completely humble, however, Alan plays down his role in the win and gives credit to the rest of the team:

‘I was captain on the night and that was wholly down to the fact that there wasn’t a lot of bodies left – it’s something I obviously take with pride and that I got to play a role in it but I thought it was always about the guys who had done it for the 8 previous years.’

With the title won it was finally time for Alan and others to throw in the towel – battered and bruised he could only watch on as Rangers lost their final game that season:

‘After the title was won and Friday came along and we all had to be professional – we all still had to go to Tyncastle – clearly I was in no fit state to play – Davie Robertson didn’t play and it was a skeleton squad at Tyncastle and we were well beaten.

‘Wee Robbo got a couple of goals for Hearts but I watched it from the stands - after the Wednesday there was no way even with all the will in the world I could step onto the field for another 90 minutes.’

Amongst the great memories of this time in Rangers history (and in true footballer fashion) Alan also has distinct memories of something else from that match at Tannadice...the poor display from the referee!

‘Stuart Dougal the match referee he was desperate to kill us. It looked like from where I was any decision that was 50-50 went against us - and I did tell him on several occasions! I was booked during that game and I was told “Next one you’re off!” I thought he was trying to steal the limelight. I felt like he felt it was all about Stuart Dougal...rather than Rangers playing a match – I’ll always remember that I just wanted a fare crack of the whip but it didn’t feel like it that night!’

I may not agree with Alan when he downplays his own role in 9-in-a-row but one thing we both agree on is that achievement will never be forgotten, not by anybody:

‘It will always be remembered in Scottish football. If you are a Celtic fan you’ll still remember it, you won’t want to remember it but you will still remember it...and to this day the question that keeps getting asked is “how did you feel winning nine in a row and being the captain?” It was only one game in many hundreds of games that was required but it was great being the captain... but it was simply as there weren’t many bodies left! I was maybe the first one that caught the gaffer’s eye on the night. I was playing the spare man in a back three that night – so maybe it was more like “You can see everything so you be captain!” It is something I should be entirely grateful because I’ll always be remembered for leading the team out on the night they won 9-in-a-row.’

Follow Scott on Twitter: @st2oh