AS Rangers pulled away from their city rivals Celtic in the Premiership and competed in the Europa League knockout rounds in the second half of the 2020/21 season, their supporters started to have a regular debate.

Is Allan McGregor the greatest Rangers goalkeeper ever? Is he even better than the legendary Andy Goram?

McGregor enjoyed perhaps the best form of his career during that Scottish title-winning campaign and produced improbable saves from Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths in Govan in January and Slavia midfielder Lukas Masopust over in Prague in March.

Did his inspired displays eclipse those of Nine-In-A-Row hero Goram back in the 1990s? Fans argued over the attributes and accomplishments of both iconic players at length. A consensus was never reached.

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In Safe Hands: Rangers Goalkeeping Greats, the new book which lifelong supporter Alistair Aird has written about the men who have occupied the specialist position at Ibrox during their 151 year existence, suggests there is maybe a much wider discussion to be had on the issue.

It is unclear from the records of the time who the keeper was when the Glasgow club took part in their first match against Callander on Flesher’s Haugh in the May of 1872.

But the following year a “D Smith” was listed with “goal” next to his name when they took on Clyde. All of those who have followed him are examined in forensic detail in the pages of In Safe Hands.

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“Rangers have been blessed with some fantastic goalkeepers over the years,” said Aird, who has previously collaborated with Light Blues stalwarts David Robertson and Davie Wilson on their autobiographies. 

“It is a unique role. Not just in the Rangers team, in any team. It would have been remiss not to mention anyone to have shown the ability and the necessary attributes to play for the club.

“To be a Rangers goalkeeper, there is a skillset that you need that not every goalkeeper necessarily has. If he doesn’t have that focus and concentration and ability to make a save after being inactive for large parts of a game, he will not be successful.”

Aird discovered there has been no shortage of goalkeepers who have excelled despite the pressure and scrutiny they are under on a weekly basis at Rangers - and many who deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Goram and McGregor today.

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“I wanted to go right the way back to the Founding Fathers,” he said. “There were some fantastic Rangers goalkeepers pre-war. Herbert Lock and Jerry Dawson, who was known as the Prince of Goalkeepers, were outstanding players. But, because accounts of football in their time are not what they are today, people aren’t aware of them.

“These days, there are a lot of changes in teams every season.  We don’t necessarily see the same players playing every week. In the post-war era at Rangers, though, Bobby Brown had an incredible run of consistency. He once played in 179 consecutive games.

“When people talk about the famous Iron Curtain defence, it is the two full-backs (George Young and Jock Shaw), the centre half (Willie Woodburn) and the two wing halves (Ian McColl and Sammy Cox) who are mentioned.

“But Bobby Brown was a huge part of it and he is very rarely talked about. That is par for the course. It is an unglamorous position. In the professional game, all the kudos goes to the guy who sets up or scores the winner.

“When people talk about the great Scot Symon team of the early 1960s, they always speak about Jim Baxter, Jimmy Millar, Ralph Brand and Davie Wilson. Very few people focus on Billy Ritchie or George Niven, but they played a huge part in the success that was enjoyed during that era.”

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Aird added: “Peter McCloy is somebody else who is often overlooked. He spent 16 years at Ibrox, but, bizarrely, when it comes to conversations about the greatest ever Rangers goalkeeper he doesn’t seem to figure highly. He should.

“The early 1980s wasn’t a particularly successful time for the club, but he survived a lot of challenges to his position and had a remarkable longevity. Nobody has played more games in the position post-war than he has.”

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The accounts of the players who only made a smattering of appearances – or, in the case of the hapless Lindsay Hamilton, none at all – for Rangers are as fascinating as those of the keepers who played for many years.

“I didn’t just look at the players who were totemic figures, I looked at the lesser known players to have served the club as well,” said Aird. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether you play 500 games for the club or one, you have still managed to do something that I would love to do as a Rangers supporter.

“Lindsay Hamilton is probably one of the most unfortunate players in Rangers history. He was all set to make his debut in 1989 against Arbroath and Graeme Souness brought in Bonni Ginzburg at the last minute. He looked set for a run in the team as Chris Woods had dislocated his shoulder in the first game of the season.

“He did represent the club. He played in the Glasgow Cup. It didn’t have the same allure as it did in the 1960s and 1970s, but there were still a number of first team players alongside him. From what I can gather, he was very pleased to get the opportunity.”

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The experience that current squad member Jon McLaughlin, who had played for Bradford City, Burton Albion, Hearts, Sunderland and Scotland before he joined Rangers three years ago, has had at Ibrox emphasises that it takes an individual with exceptional qualities to flourish at Ibrox.

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“Being a very capable goalkeeper is not enough at Rangers,” said Aird. “You have to be able to make that one important save in a game when called upon. If you make a mistake, that is all that people remember. You need an X Factor.

“Jon Mclaughlin is a seasoned professional. He has played over 400 games in his career. Giovanni van Bronckhorst made him his No 1 at the start of last season. But he made a couple of mistakes which you don’t expect a Rangers goalkeeper to make and lost his place.

“Chris Woods mentioned to me when I was writing the book that in one of his first games for Rangers he made a save in a game against Dundee United. But they then scored off the rebound and he got pilloried for it. He realised very, very early on that the pressure and expectation was such that you had to save the rebound as well. You need to have that extra focus and desire.

“Jon McLaughlin was excellent in the win over PSV in Eindhoven last year that got Rangers into the Champions League group stage. But now people don’t remember that, they remember his performance against Ajax in Amsterdam and Celtic at Parkhead. It is unfortunate for him, but it just shows you need an elevated status to be a Rangers goalkeeper.”

So what is Aird’s own view on the greatest ever Rangers goalkeeper debate after writing In Safe Hands?

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“Andy Goram, Allan McGregor, Stefan Klos, Chris Woods are the ones who will be mentioned when it comes to conversations about the greatest ever Rangers goalkeeper,” he said. “In the modern era, it is between Goram and McGregor for me.

“It is a very subjective discussion because the game has evolved since Goram played 30 odd years ago. The expectations of the goalkeeper in past eras were different to what they are today. You can see that from contemporary accounts of the matches. The book shows how the position has changed over the years. It was even different in the days before the passback rule came in 1992.

“Goram enjoyed more success than McGregor and won more trophies. But it would be interesting to look at their statistics and compare just how many points they won for Rangers. Unfortunately, there wasn’t the same data analysis when Goram played.

“As much as Rangers went unbeaten and cantered to the title when they won 55 under Steven Gerrard, McGregor made key saves during games when the scoreline was 0-0 and 1-0. If the game is ultimately won 3-0 or 4-0, those saves are overlooked. But they were pivotal points.

“Goram was the same during the Nine-In-A-Row era. He made saves, particularly in games against Celtic, which were season-defining moments. That is why the two of them deserve to be at the top of the debate.

“McGregor made some phenomenal saves in the Europa League, like the last minute save he made against Slavia Prague. He was a world-class goalkeeper. But he was never described as being one of the best goalkeepers in the world. When Goram was at his peak he was one of the top three goalkeepers in the world. The fact he was held in that regard means he just shades it for me.”

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Current incumbent Jack Butland has made quite an impact since being signed this summer. The former Birmingham City, Stoke City, Crystal Palace Manchester United and England man was immense in the Champions League qualifier against Servette in Switzerland and helped to ensure the visitors progressed.

Aird feels manager Michael Beale, who provided a foreword for In Safe Hands, and goalkeeping coach Colin Stewart, who he interviewed for an illuminating final chapter, have an appreciation of the kind of character who can be a Rangers goalkeeper.

“Michael has surrounded himself in the right people,” he said. “Colin, whose dad Jim was goalkeeping coach under Walter Smith, has got a huge amount of experience.

“I think they recognise that they need a specific type, somebody who can handle the pressure. As I say, it is not just enough to be a very good goalkeeper. The initial signs are that Butland has got the necessary attributes as well and hopefully he can be a success.”

Butland has, as In Safe Hands: Rangers Goalkeeping Greats illustrates, much to do before he can be mentioned in the same breath as his illustrious predecessors.

In Safe Hands: Rangers' Goalkeeping Greats by Alistair Aird is published by Pitch Publishing and costs £25.

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