Into the Ibrox archives: The Rangers fans who are following in the footsteps of the Gallant Pioneers
THEY follow in the footsteps of their team and they are retracing the steps of their founding fathers.
It is a journey of a different kind for Iain McColl and Gordon Bell, one that is enlightening, as they have delved into the history books and brought the tales of the Gallant Pioneers to a new generation of Rangers supporters.
It has taken them through the years and across Glasgow and beyond as they have looked into the lives of Peter and Moses McNeil, William McBeath and Peter Campbell and given fans an insight into how Rangers began, and what became of the men whose club continues to write chapters, some that make more pleasant reading than others, in a remarkable story 143 years later.
Through the Founders Trail and the Rangers Graves Project, McColl and Light Blues supporters will continue to pay tribute to those who are revered at Ibrox as the story of Rangers has become a labour of love for many.
Their work has seen the gravestones of the likes of Bill Struth, William Wilton and RS McColl restored to their former glory, with that of Harry McNeil, the brother of Peter and Moses who played in Rangers’ first game against Callander, also on their to-do list.
The final resting places of the members of the 1877 side, who form the famous image of the team in white shirts with the blue star on their chest, have also been located at cemeteries around Glasgow.
The hours spent trawling through the history books and guiding visitors across the city on their sightseeing bus have proven more than worthwhile for McColl. His efforts and his messages have struck a chord with his fellow fans.
For this generation, the story of Rangers in recent years has seen many characters come and go. It is one of joy yet also of hurt, of anxiety, but looking at the past has helped many in the present.
“People that have attended have said that by us taking the story back to the early days and showing what these guys went through for the club, they are finding more of an attachment with Rangers themselves and they appreciate what the club is about even more,” McColl told SportTimes.
“That gives us a great sense of satisfaction. We are triggering something within people.
“Those guys went through very difficult times as well, but they stuck together for the good of Rangers.
“To come so close to losing all of that, it has certainly focused people’s minds on not only the early days but in the last few years as well.
“It is the generation of today that will take the story forward and it is great people are showing an interest in the history and what happened in those early days.
“It is not just black and white pictures and a book for us, it is bringing these guys to life.
“We are showing supporters what these guys went through and the struggles they faced.”
From those initial days reading up on the four lads who had a dream, McColl and Bell have come a considerable distance and covered many miles. The Founders Trail has proven a success story with supporters, while the efforts of the grave restoration team are appreciated by fans and family.
The years spent working on the project have uncovered new sites to visit and new tales to tell as the early years of Rangers have been unravelled and uncovered.
The work of volunteers has been crucial to the success so far, and McColl is grateful to the efforts of everyone who has helped bring the Gallant Pioneers to a modern audience.
“A few years ago, we approached the late Sandy Jardine and asked if the club would be interested in putting on a stadium tour at the end of the Founders Trail,” he said.
“If you go on a tour, you get the contrast all the way from Fleshers Haugh to Ibrox. It has taken off and proven very successful and popular.
“There has been a real change from within the club since March and they are keen to help us. We are in discussions with them about how we can take it forward.
“The restoration project is moving forward. It is going to be a long process. We are doing one site at a time but we are getting there.”
The work will continue for McColl and his fellow enthusiasts as they look to add more layers to the remarkable Rangers story. It is one they are determined is told, and one which deserves to be.
The reminders of the club’s history, its stature, are all around Glasgow, but encapsulated at Ibrox where medals and pictures adorn the walls and rooms at the top of the Marble Staircase.
And McColl hopes there will one day be an even finer collection of memorabilia and memories to celebrate Rangers’ most famous sons and greatest triumphs.
“If there is any club in the world that deserves a museum, it is Rangers with the rich history that we have,” he said.
“It would go down really well with the support if we could have somewhere where they could go and digest the story.
“There must be a wealth of stuff out there that people are holding on to but if the call went out, I am sure people would come forward and the club would be inundated.
“It is something I would love to see. There are bigger issues just now but hopefully we can sit down and look at the possibility over the coming months and years.”