Searingly resilient, yet almost playful, in his attitude between the goalposts, it often appeared that, somehow, Andy Goram’s exclusive mission in life was to shatter Celtic hearts and minds.
There was, of course, much more to the Rangers legend than such crafty brinkmanship. Goram, who has died following a short illness with oesophageal cancer, is widely regarded as the finest goalkeeper ever to appear for the Light Blues. ‘The Goalie’ lived it like he loved it.
Over the last season, Ibrox has been the centrepiece of emotional peaks as Rangers enlivened their own reputation as well as that of Scottish football, driving with determination to within a penalty shoot-out of Europa League glory.
However, the recent era at the club has been overshadowed by the deaths of a number of major figures.
The passing of Walter Smith, popular, long-standing kit man Jimmy Bell and Fernando Ricksen cast a marked melancholy at Rangers, who have had to process bereavement within relatively compressed, emotional timeframes.
And if the loss of Goram wasn’t unexpected under the distressing and premature circumstances at the age of only 58, a pall of mourning still seems difficult to comprehend. Death at a young age for someone who operated at the highest levels since making a first-team debut at Oldham Athletic at just 16 reminds the rest of us that tomorrow is guaranteed to no one.
If Scotland international Goram happened to be here for a good time but, sadly, not a long time, then it’s fair to say he did it his way.
Five Scottish Premiership titles, three Scottish Cups and two League Cups in seven golden years at Rangers amid the ‘esprit de corps’ fostered under the flinty gaze of Smith was an almost inexplicably special sense of time and place in Glasgow’s south side; a platform which every football club invariably seeks, but rarely manages to construct.
From a vacuum after the big management changeover from Graeme Souness to Smith, Goram, alongside the redoubtable Ally McCoist, Mark Hateley, Ian Durrant, Richard Gough and Stuart McCall — with showboating Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup to follow — created an alchemy at Ibrox. Unbending, thrawny personalities. Serial winners.
Yesterday’s tributes appropriately concentrated on a litany of some of the best saves from a goalkeeper who, at his peak, rivalled Peter Schmeichel, David Seaman and Oliver Kahn. Nevertheless, small morsels on social media only begin to tell the story of a man whose Rangers and Scotland career rarely ran on a straight edge.
Goram’s Ibrox status became indisputably stellar — radiating positivity on the pitch as the last line of heroic, bordering on ridiculous, resistance in Old Firm clashes — but it is often overlooked that the 43-times-capped Scotland international reached eventual heights after trawling the depths of early errors and questioning following a summer move from Hibernian in June 1991.
The pressure of replacing Chris Woods was significant, in light of the Gers having to negotiate the then ‘three foreigner’ rule for European games.
A number of mistakes in a poor September cost Rangers as they exited the European Cup and League Cup, and laboured in the League at the start of 1991/92 — and it was only around that December when Goram overcame doubts via a vital win at Aberdeen.
Rangers went on to clinch a League and Scottish Cup double. Goram made the highest number of appearances — 55 — the blueprint for a personal rise.
The Rangers legend was indeed a nemesis for old foes — despite being surrounded by streetwise team-mates, he was a major reason for stopping Celtic making tracks in the mid-1990s when they finally re-emerged from bleak years.
Whether Paul McStay, or the feted ‘three amigos’ of Jorge Cadete, Pierre Van Hooijdonk and Paolo di Canio, the incredulity of various Celts stars as Goram kept defying gravity to help chisel out telling triumphs for Smith’s men is an unmistakable legacy of compelling Old Firm theatre of the period.
Moreover, too, those heights of Rangers nosing to the brink of a Champions League Final in 1993, in a treble-winning campaign. An Eric Cantona-led Leeds United onslaught at Elland Road proved fruitless and Goram held the line as the band of outlaws Smith had assembled since taking over cultivated an industrious winning mentality.
Lancashire-born Goram was, generally, never a man to repent. However, having faced Smith’s wrath at the end of a personally errant 1993/94, and his unceremonious placing on the transfer list, it was the only real regret of a long career.
Sadly, having been lost to a dreadful disease within just a few months of diagnosis, it was remarkable that Goram managed to make a personal appearance at a charity event in Airdrie only last week. ‘The Goalie’ chatted for half an hour as some former Rangers players in attendance spoke afterwards with understandable poignancy.
Beyond the devil-may-care exterior lay a man of principle. Goram knew his value. Ex-Scotland captain Colin Hendry told the story of how he could not be persuaded to remain in the Scotland camp prior to the 1998 World Cup in France when he discovered that manager Craig Brown was going to select 40-year-old Jim Leighton ahead of him. By then, Goram was a reluctant Rangers departee and not for listlessly hanging around on the international margins.
The ex-Hibernian man had an Indian Summer of sorts at both Manchester United — briefly — and Motherwell, where he continued to thwart Celtic, was also a keen cricketer who knew both Phil and Gary Neville well upon arrival at Old Trafford, from younger days by the stumps in Lancashire.
Indeed, in his early Ibrox days, there was disappointment when Smith ordered him to shelve the cricket and concentrate exclusively on football. ‘Which Scottish football internationalist took two wickets in the NatWest Trophy?’ Now you know the answer to an old Question of Sport puzzler.
Throughout Rangers’ history, the club has been fortunate to call upon some tremendous, larger-than-life, goalkeepers. In modern times, there is Allan McGregor, Stefan Klos and Woods, with Bobby Brown and Billy Ritchie starring in the fine inter-war years and early 1960s teams respectively.
There will be few, though, inclined to disagree with the status of greatest ever Rangers keeper bestowed on Andy Goram.