Tannadice May 1997, Rangers headed to Dundee United determined to clinch the league title for the 9th season running, 9 in a row was within touching distance.
It’s sometimes forgotten that the captain that famous night was Alan McLaren. The £2m defender, signed from Hearts two years previous, captained the light blues on the night that Brian Laudrup’s wonderful header sealed 9 in a row.
Alan was tipped early on in his Rangers career to replace Richard Gough as captain, something he relished on the occasions he was given the honour. Alan Mclaren was a hard solid defender and a vital part of the latter challenge for 9 in a row.
So when I sat down with him it was obvious how much he loves the club, the respect for Walter Smith and how much he enjoys talking about his time in a light blue jersey
You started your career at Hearts, what was it like to play for your boyhood heroes?
Boyhood Hearts Fan, only thing I ever wanted do was play for the Jambos.
My time at Hearts was amazing, left school couple of months before my 16th Birthday to join the Groundstaff and who thought washing all the Kit for 40 + Professional Footballers would be so good. In those days the groundstaff also cleaned the stadium after a match. Armed with a brush, shovel & a handful of black bags for cleaning the terracing & everywhere else, Toilets too!
Alex “Doddie” MacDonald was my manager & I’ll forever be in his debt for giving me the opportunity, I tell him this every Rangers home match as we both work as Host’s at the club.
When Rangers came in for you how difficult was it to leave & make the move?
Celtic, Blackburn Rovers & Arsenal were in talks with Hearts, Rangers interest had been written about but they hadn’t spoke to Hearts. I HAD TO LEAVE HEARTS the BANK were putting pressure on the Club to repay a £1.25Million debt, so the club needed that Figure ASAP. All players, assets were available, difficult to leave your boyhood club YES 100%. I had lots of questions; moving to a Huge Club, would I get a game, would I be able adjust to expectations.
I spoke with Sir David Murray first, then spoke face to face with Walter Smith who talked about now & the future, he told me he wanted my to join the club!
5 days later I played my 1st game for the club and what a game it was!
How big a factor was Walter Smith in making your move?
When any player is moving to a new club he wants to feel wanted. Mr Smith told me he wanted me at his Club & I’d be given the opportunity to stake a claim for a place in the stating 11.
What initially enticed you about Rangers to make the move?
MEDALS 🥇, the only thing I had won was the Tennents 6’s competition,
I had lost SEMI-FINALS, finished 2nd & 3rd in the league – but with Rangers I had the opportunity to win MEDALS & Play in EUROPE regularly.
I was club captain at Hearts, Scottish Internationalist & was the lowest paid player in the starting 11 most Saturday’s. So financially it was a no brainier to join Rangers but a bonus on the grand scheme of what I could possibly achieve.
You quickly settled and played at Hampden as Rangers won 1-3 against ‘Them’ in the derby, how much of an advantage was it to play in that game so early and play so well?
Signed on Wednesday afternoon, went straight to watch my best man play for Airdrie at St Johnstone in a semi final. I got home around midnight, sat down with my wife & it kicked in what I had just done!
Day off Thursday then Friday mid day training. When I would meet my new team mates, I was SHITTING MYSELF!
I had spoke with a few of the lads whilst on international duty but I’m very reserved / shy so that was the most nervous thing about the move, meeting the Boys.
Had the WORST TRAINING SESSION of my life that afternoon, the tempo the boys played the practice match was amazing, he never said but I’m pretty sure Mr Smith must have been questioning himself on buying me after it!!
The Match was at Hampden Park, The late Tommy Burns was standing at the tunnel as I came out the dressing room for my warm up, he said Hello & said it’s not to late Son, you can still join us, referring to their failed attempt to buy me!
Match kicked off, I got a header after 1 or 2 mins which was good. I then played the match like any other, really disappointed to lose a goal which took the shine of the match a little but overall happy with my performance & of course the most important thing in all games the Win.
You played with Paul Gascoigne & Brian Laudrup, arguably two of the most talented players in Rangers history, what was it like training against these players?
I don’t think they enjoyed training against me!
I LOVED TRAINING!
I hated losing & that included training.
Brian was a pain in the arse! He glided across the field, his feet didn’t touch the ground & it was effortless which for a Hammer Thrower like myself, just wound me up!
I would chase him, boot him, elbow him, I’d do everything & anything to stop him! He didn’t really appreciate it for some reason?! Mr Smith & Mr Knox did tell me to calm down a few times or couple of thousand times infact!
Paul Gascoigne was a Genius, he had a God given talent. I was a professional football player also a Scottish internationalist, but there were things Paul could do with & too a ball that I could NOT DREAM OF – he was 1 of a kind an absolute superstar.
During the famous 3-1 8 in a row clinching game against Aberdeen, Gazza credits you with telling him to ‘Give the team something’ What exactly did you say to him
He was being fecking Lazy! We went behind to a Brian Irvine goal. Paul scored a great equaliser, I think we were on top in the game but not taking our chances, so I told him to fecking show me how good he was.
Seconds later I won a challenge and the ball dropped to him. 60 yards later, a beautiful Curling Left foot shot from 16 yards & 8 in a Row was WON.
You must realise the 60 yard run & goal would not have happened if it wasn’t for ME winning the ball!
PS : I hit the WOODWORK twice in that match, I could & should have been the HERO!
But that’s why he was a SUPERSTAR because he delivered!
Lucky Barstewart that he is 😊!!
How close were you to Walter Smith and were you ever on the end of his famous Hairdryer?
Mr Smith got on with all the players, hairdryer once. Hampden Park, League was already won.
Team decimated with injuries, We lost the match 3-0 and he made sure we all knew that was unacceptable that also included the boys who didn’t play.
1 by 1 he went around the whole dressing room, it was 20 odd years ago but I can still remember each & every word !! It took him around an hour & he didn’t miss anyone
You captained the side on the night we won 1-0 at Tannadice to clinch 9 in a row? Was this amongst your pinnacle moments at Rangers?
It wasn’t something I really thought about at the time. Because of injuries & ONLY because of injuries I had lead the team out a couple of times before. Again on that night at Tannidice through injuries to several players Mr Smith said Alan you lead them out son!
The rest is history & I’m remembered by the Rangers Fans for that, it’s a quiz question that everyone knows by know I think.
It was an Honour which I’m very grateful to Mr Smith for.
You scored a fantastic free kick at Tannadice, was free kick taking a specialty or did you just fancy it that day?
WINDY day at Tannadice that day. It kicked off – I played a long ball to Gordon Durie who made it 1-0 in 20/30 seconds
Free kick was given later in the same half and there was a full blown hurricane behind me so I thought
Feck it I’m going to have a go!
Luckily it hit the back of the net!
You famously scored a wonderful header against Celtic from Paul Gascoigne free kick, how does it feel to score in that match?
Only OK, the result was 1-1. John Hughes scored late on which ruined it
Hated losing goals & it was a goal we should not have conceded
It still haunts me to this day !!
Injury curtailed your career at a time you were being tipped to be Rangers captain, was that ever discussed that you would take over from Richard Gough?
I was being tipped by the Press, by Pundits but it was never spoken about. Was it because I captained the team on the evening of 9 in a row?
It was a great honour to play for the club, to be thought of as a potential Club Captain was very flattering
What exactly was your injury that stopped your career?
I have No cartilage in my Right Knee at all which means that my BONES rub together which cause my Knee to double in size with the swelling.
The club tried everything they could to help me, I was over in Germany for weeks, where I had every kind of injection, from Goats Blood to vitamins in my knee & thigh.
I would have 40 needles in the area every 2nd day, for 3 weeks at a time unfortunately their Voodoo potions didn’t work, with all the surgeries and the injury I have had accelerated Osteoarthritis since my mid 20’s!
You enjoyed a wonderful testimonial against Middlesbrough, drawing 4-4 in a game which Paul Gascoigne starred in as well as Robbie Fowler. It must have been bitter sweet but how was that night for you?
It was a special evening. Paul brought up Middlesbrough, he got a few guest players to appear.
Scotland Legend Kenny Dalgleish ASKED ME if he could play in the match, I met him at Newcastle match, I was speechless that he knew me! He Said he was sorry to hear about my retirement and asked if he could come & play? Wow!
Finally, What now for Alan McLaren ?
Good Question – To Be Continued !
Alan McLaren will be remembered for being a solid hard defender. He was consistent and dependable, undoubtedly had all the credentials to be captain of our great club. I have always thought that it was fitting he was captain the night 9 was clinched given the sad way his career was curtailed.
Injury robbed us of a brilliant defender and robbed Alan of several years of top flight football.
Alan is a humble and extremely polite man, always speaks favourably of his time at our club. His story’s of Gascoigne and Laudrup brought a smile to my face as I imagined him diving into tackles, he is a winner both on and off the pitch.
A worthy captain on the night we clinched 9 and a fantastic ambassador for our club now.
Whatever the future holds for Alan he deserves it to be a successful one and I’m positive the Rangers family will agree.
He lived our dream that night at Tannadice, a real hero of the 9 in a row campaign.