JOHN Irwin thought he was coming home to Glasgow – after 30 years living and working in England – for a quiet retirement.

Tens of thousands of miles and countless memory-making moments later, he admits: “Instead, it became my greatest adventure.”

John, who is originally from Whiteinch and Yoker, spent seven years on a mission – to track down every man who played for his beloved Rangers during their nine-in-a-row run of league wins between 1988 and 1997.

“I met some of my biggest heroes and found myself in cities and situations I could never have imagined,” smiles John, who has written a book about it all – The Bear Hunter: Searching for Rangers’ Nine-in-a-Row Heroes, which he wrote in conjunction with Murray Scougall - to mark the 20th anniversary of the club’s achievement.

John, now in his 60s, says he has been a Rangers fan for more than 50 years.

“My dad took me to my first game at Ibrox when I was eight years old, and from that moment on I was hooked and rarely missed a home match,” he says.

There were 86 players who featured in the nine league title wins, from legends such as Ally McCoist, Brian Laudrup and Richard Gough to journeymen, loanees and youngsters who only turned out for one match.

John’s obsession took him around the world, from a nightmare trip to Ukraine and a whistle-stop tour of Dubai, to a mayor’s office in America and 13 trains across Holland, he left no stone unturned. Whether it was a fire station in Sheffield or a shortbread factory in the Highlands, John quickly became an amateur detective to track down his heroes.

Thanks to financial support from his nephew Andy Thomson, he managed it, with David McPherson the first to sign and Oleg Salenko in October 2016, the last.

The book is a fascinating mix of history and biography. It is funny and moving, an entertaining and at times emotional journey that paints a fascinating picture of one man’s love and affection for the football club he supports.

There are some fantastic highlights – such as the whisky dinner with an ex-striker that caused John to pass out and wake up in another country; the important medical operation John postponed in order to meet a player who featured in just one nine-in-a-row game and the fans’ favourite who treated John to a Sunday roast dinner with his family in Texas, Arizona...

And there are some properly dramatic ones too – such as the overseas journey to hell that left John alone, penniless and fearing for his life and the airport security scare in one of the most conflict-heavy countries in the world.

John says his favourite meeting was with reserve goalkeeper Bonni Ginzburg in Tel Aviv.

“He took me to his favourite pub and we had a meal and a chat about Rangers,” he recalls.

Sometimes, the only way of tracking people down was the old-fashioned way – with a phonebook.

John had no idea how to get in touch with Danish striker Erik Bo Anderson. Asking other players had drawn a blank, so he got a copy of the Copenhagen phonebook and looked him up.

“There only was one E B Andersen so I rang the number and when a man answered, I said – ‘hello, is that the Erik Bo Andersen who used to play for Rangers?

“There was a slight pause and then he replied – ‘the one and only!’.

The only player John didn’t meet, of course, was Davie Cooper, who died in 1995 at the age of 39.

“I thought long and hard over the years about how I could include Coop in my project,” he reveals. “He couldn’t just be left out.Once I had every other signature, I took the shirt to the statue of him in his home town and paid quiet respect to the great man. It seemed fitting, considering he didn’t chase publicity.”

John still cannot quite believe he has achieved his ‘crazy dream’ but he says it would not have happened without the support and understanding of the players.

He says: “To all of the nine-in-a-row boys, both on the pitch and, 20 years later, off the pitch too – thank you for the memories.”