The Glorious Tenth

By Tommy McIntyre
 July 10, 2020

Some moments sear themselves onto the psyche; that first kiss, your first real triumph, that time you told that really funny joke (I’m still waiting on that one).  One of those moments you deliver a never-to-be-revenged blow to a rival (more on that later).

For some of us, the day Maurice ‘Mo’ Johnston signed for Rangers is up there, burned into the Scottish Footballing history books for all time. 

The 10th July 1989 represented a crystallised moment in Rangers’ history.  Traditional signing policy hangovers regarding those of a Roman-Catholic background had embattled the club, cost us some good players and (much like the crest recently) an update for the modern-era was much needed.  In with Band Aid, Jive Bunny and shoulder pads. In with ‘MoJo’.

It is hard to overstate the feeling that was generated when Graeme Souness and Chairman David Murray decided to open up the newly-minted Ibrox chequebook and lure Johnston away from French Club Nantes for £1.5m.  

No, that wasn’t the story at all.

If you’ll indulge me as I switch sports; it was a pass in the chicane, a dip to the line, a 40-yard putt.

Leaving your rival glassy-eyed and panting on the canvas.  

Much has been written before so I’ll be brief.  Souness and Murray snatching a player from underneath the noses of our greatest rivals (a player who had been pictured holding their jersey and confirmed as a signing) was something you’ll never see again. It showed the best of Rangers at that time, bigger, better, faster and smarter.  See, better never really stops.

It was pants off, run them up the flagpole and make a Tik-Tok of it embarrassment. It was one-upmanship, one-showmanship. 

One ownership.

But Johnston also proved to be a lot more than the final say in public humiliation.

He was a very shrewd acquisition and a very talented striker.  At the start of the 1989/90 season Rangers had just acquired (and denied a rival) a lethal goal scorer capped twenty-eight times by Scotland.

Johnston was a relatively small but powerful forward who was deceptively good in the air despite his height (a bit like Morelos today). He had pace and became the perfect counter-balance for Ally McCoist, with the pair managing to easily replicate the productive partnership they had already engineered at international level with Scotland.

Yes there were grumbles from some fans, those who wouldn’t ever come back or who chucked the scarf. It also took Johnston a while to find his form.  But when he did…

His first goal in a Rangers jersey came in a league match against Aberdeen at Ibrox on 9 September 1989.  A winning goal it is worth saying. That lifted the pressure and off he went.  The way to a Rangers fans heart?  Performances and goals.

The moment the jersey really started to fit him was November that year when he picked up a loose clearance on the edge of the penalty area and drilled a right foot shot beyond the despairing Pat Bonner to score the only goal in the final minute of the Rangers-Celtic Old Firm clash at Ibrox. Another followed when his could-have-been employers returned to Ibrox the following April.

By the end of his first season with Rangers, Johnston had pocketed a Premier Division winners’ medal, with his goal-scoring return of fifteen from thirty-six league appearances a major factor in Rangers' title triumph.

In his second season, 1990/91, Johnston found himself paired with a new striker in the shape of English international and ex-AC Milan player Mark Hateley, with Ally ‘The Judge’ McCoist relegated to the bench. This new 'Little & Large' combination gelled instantly, as Rangers embarked on another successful season that yielded a three-in-a-row Premier Division title in dramatic fashion with added triumph in the League Cup. 

Johnston netted a total of nineteen goals in thirty-nine league and cup appearances, including one sweet moment at Parkhead, on 25 November, and bagged his first Rangers hat-trick when he netted three of Rangers' six goals in their trouncing of Maltese minnows Valletta in the opening round of the European Champions Cup.

That’s thirty-six goals in just two seasons. Johnston looked set to be a stick-on name in the Rangers line-up in the years ahead, but the departure of Graeme Souness to Liverpool in April 1991 heralded the beginning of the end of his Rangers career. 

Although he started the 1991/92 season under Walter Smith with a double in the opening league fixture against St Johnstone, Johnston eventually had to play second fiddle to the resurgent Ally McCoist, and he moved to Everton for £1.75m in October 1991.

It is hard to say what could have happened had Johnston stayed on. His talent was prodigious and ability unquestionable. What isn’t hard to say is that Rangers gazumped Celtic for all time in the public eye with the manner of his signing.

Spare a thought for those that were never able to get up off the canvas.

Rangers Now, Then & Always

@Tommynglasgow

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