Christmas Day match turned into a turkey for Light Blues fans

THERE are certain gifts we all dread receiving at this time of year ...

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Eric Caldow played in front of 35,000 fans for Rangers on Christmas Day
Eric Caldow played in front of 35,000 fans for Rangers on Christmas Day

but Rangers fans got possibly the worst present ever on Christmas Day way back in 1965.

Their team were edged out 3-2 by visiting Dunfermline at Ibrox in the league.

And that painful reverse allowed their Old Firm rivals Celtic to leapfrog them into top spot in the table.

Football matches used to be played as normal on Christmas Day if it happened to fall on a Saturday.

And Scot Symon's team found themselves up against a formidable side managed by Willie Cunningham on that date 48 years ago.

The Gers, who fielded legends like Eric Caldow, Willie Henderson and Willie Johnston, were leading the race for the Scottish title at the time. So nobody, not the players and not the supporters, minded fulfilling the fixture on December 25 in the slightest.

"We opened our Christmas presents in the morning and played football in the afternoon," recalled Caldow.

"We didn't think we should stop playing just because it was Christmas Day. It was brilliant, great fun."

The fans were certainly happy to forego the turkey and mulled wine to see their heroes play and 35,000 turned up. But Dunfermline - for whom a certain Alex Ferguson played up front - were nobody's fools.

They had just missed out on being crowned champions the season before when they finished only a point behind Kilmarnock.

The Fife club ended up edging a thrilling encounter in Glasgow thanks to a double from Scotland international Hugh Robertson and a strike by Bert Paton.

Goals from Jim Forrest and George McLean ultimately meant nothing for the home team whose supporters trudged back home disappointed.

The fact that across the city Celtic had thrashed Morton 8-1 at Parkhead to go top of the league on goal average did not help their mood.

Caldow said: "I played for Rangers for 16 years and throughout that time we always had good teams. The team we had at that time was no exception.

"But we had lost Jim Baxter the previous summer. Jim was as slow as treacle. But, boy, was he good on the ball. All I had myself was pace. I couldn't tackle a fish supper! If I got in trouble I would pass it to Jim and he would do something with it.

"We did miss him. Dunfermline were a very good team at that time, too. They had players like Alex Edwards, Hugh Robertson and Alex Ferguson."

Ferguson failed to get on the scoresheet that day despite enjoying what he would later describe was the best season of his playing career.

The future Manchester United boss scored 45 goals in 51 games - form that would earn him a move to his boyhood heroes Rangers in 1967.

Robert McElroy, the author of several books on the history of Rangers, was standing on the terraces at that Christmas Day match against Dunfermline.

"With five goals scored it was a thrilling game," he said. "Dunfermline had a very good side at that time and, what's more, were something of a bogey team for Rangers.

"Rangers went a couple of years without beating them. In the 1964/65 season, when Dunfermline finished runners-up, Rangers lost home and away against them.

"Fergie didn't score that day. But he had a habit of scoring goals against Rangers. He had scored a couple against them at East End Park the year before.

"But it was no disgrace to lose to Dunfermline. They qualified regularly for Europe at that time and had some outstanding results. They knocked Everton out of the Fairs' Cities Cup.

"It was quite normal for games to be played on Christmas Day if it fell on a Saturday. New Year was a far bigger occasion in Scotland around that time."

McElroy added: "The Rangers team at that time was not in the same class as that of the early 1960s when they could field the likes of Baxter, McMillan, Millar, Brand and Wilson.

"They were a decent, hard-working side. But they were missing John Greig that day. Roger Hynd, the nephew of Bill and Bob Shankly, played in defence."

McElroy, though, believes the consequences of that Christmas Day defeat to Dunfermline were far- reaching for Rangers.

He explained: "Celtic went ahead at the top of the league table on goal average that day. Jock Stein's side would go on and win the league by two points that season.

"If Rangers had won the league that season there would have been no Nine-In- A-Row and no European Cup triumph in Lisbon for Celtic.

"Rangers badly missed the class and skill of Baxter that season. He wanted to stay at Rangers. But he wanted more money so he left and joined Sunderland.

"He was only after £75 a week. Rangers paid a heavy price, then, for refusing to give him what he was looking for."

Rangers only ever played one more game on Christmas Day after that and the outcome was far more satisfactory for their followers. In 1971, they took on Hibs through at Easter Road - and won 1-0 thanks to a last-minute winner from striker Colin Stein.

Football

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