You only have to look at the winners of the national cup competitions for evidence to confirm the gap between Rangers, Celtic and the rest of Scottish football has narrowed, reckons former Gers skipper Richard Gough.
Ross County are the current holders while Aberdeen, St Mirren and Kilmarnock have all had success in the past five years while Inverness Caley Thistle (holders) and St Johnstone are the most recent two names on the Scottish Cup – something which was almost unheard of for much of Gough’s spell as Rangers captain.
“If you look back to the 98 or 99 era to see who was winning the cups it was always Rangers or Celtic,” Gough told the Stornoway Gazette during a vist to the town’s Lewis and Harris Rangers Supporters Club.
“Now we have teams like Ross County, Inverness Caley Thistle in finals and winning them. That means the Old Firm are not as strong as they were 20 years ago when one half of the Old Firm were always in the cup final. Probably knocking each other out on the way if they both weren’t there.
“The gap is much closer now between the Old Firm and the rest of the league, much like it was when I first started playing with Dundee United. We won the league in 82/83 and it is getting back to that level again when Rangers and Celtic can’t get the top level of players like Souness did when he came in signing the then-England captain in Terry Butcher and me, Scotland captain.”
He continues: “That could never happen now because it would cost maybe £30million to get me from Tottenham and £200,000 in wages for me so it’s not going to happen.
“The one good thing is Rangers will always be able to produce a decent team because the club is an institution with 50,000 supporters at the game because its a way of life.”
During two spells at Ibrox Gough led the club to their historic run of nine successive Scottish league titles as well as lifting a hat-trick of Scottish Cups and six League Cups.
Gough made over 420 appearances in Light Blue after becoming the first ever seven-figure Scottish footballer when Rangers shelled out £1 million to bring him north from Tottenham Hotspur.
Nowadays Gough has taken on the role of global ambassador for a club which remains a huge part of his life even after almost 20 years have passed since he left.
“I always say to people I feel very humbled to still be talked about for playing with Rangers all these years later,” admitted Gough.
“I played in a football team which, honours wise, was one of the most successful around. When I come through Glasgow Airport and even at the age of 54-now I’m still recognised a lot.
“And not just by older supporters but younger guys too. I said to my wife I expected this to have stopped by now but she reckons it might never stop.”
Reflecting on the success of his Rangers team he beamed: “We knew winning nine league championships on the spin was a huge thing and it doesn’t seem so long ago. Someone said recently it was 20 years since Paul Gascoigne scored a hat-trick against Aberdeen to win the league for us. It feels like yesterday, time just flies by.
“Just great memories and it is a pleasure to come and share those with supporters at events like this one. For me it is keeping a bond between the ex-players and the club. I have become an ambassador for the club now too. I try to help the club after what was a really traumatic three or four years for the club.
“It was hugely difficult to watch as there was a possibility that the club could have gone away. Thankfully we managed to survive and get a new board in.”
After plunging into administration in February 2012, Rangers were demoted to the bottom tier of Scottish football. But worse was to come as Rangers teetered on the edge of the abyss with the threat of liquidation looming large.
They were very dark days for the Rangers supporters and Gough too was deeply concerned during the times of turmoil.
Rangers now have a new board in place after a stunning season which has seen them clinch a return to the top table of Scottish football with a Championship triumph while the Challenge Cup is already on the Ibrox sideboard. A Scottish Cup final is also yet to be played as Rangers chase a glorious treble.
“Dave King came and asked me for my backing,” said Gough as he discussed the current Rangers board.
“It was a difficult decision for me too, as people were against not supporting the club against season ticket sales. Dave said, ‘listen if we sell season tickets then these guys will just be taking the money. So we have to stop that and pay at the gate.’ That was a huge momentum shifter to get that in line.
“ I’m just glad at the moment the club is in Rangers hands and it seems to be on a good footing. If the head of the snake isn’t right then the rest of it won’t be either. We have people who understand what Rangers are all about now involved. The last three years we never had that at all.
“It seems to be an even keel again but whether we ever get that quality of player that we got in the past remains to be seen because the money is gone.
“Mark (Warburton) has done well with a small budget and I hope he finds a few more gems for next season because I think we’re going to need them.”
On the park Rangers have been ‘a breath of fresh air’ says Gough, but as arguably the club’s finest ever centre-back he would like to see them stronger defensively.
“I see all the games,” revealed Gough, “and Rangers play a very expansive game and Mark (Warburton) will realise himself he hasn’t quite got the balance right between defence and attack.
“We have been very open and as a defender I’d like to see us much tighter than we are and we lose far too many goals from corners, but I’m only saying things the manager obviously knows. Attack minded and the way we play is great.
“Too much possession for me at times and maybe not getting it into the box enough but it’s been good, a breath of fresh air, especially in the first-half of the season.
“I think teams have maybe clicked on a wee bit.”
As always when the Stornoway based supporters club roll out the blue carpet for visiting Ibrox heroes, the club was sold out weeks in advance and Gough admits to being impressed with what the Lewis and Harris Rangers Supporters Club offer.
He added: “I don’t do too many of these events. I could probably do one every week but I’m back in Stornoway, five years after I was last up the lads at the club have told me, but it feels like yesterday,
“This is a good club, and it’s the biggest with paid up members in the world. It is a fantastic achievement and I’m always really well looked after when I come here.”