After the excitement of the 1966-67 and 1967-68 seasons, we had high expectations for our first season in the old First Division. After all, we had swept through the old Third Division and despite a nail biting finish, we had acquitted ourselves well in the old Second Division and we were on the crest of a wave. With what followed, the season, other than one or two games, seemed to be faint in the memory (for obvious reasons) and it also was a season in which I moved away from my beloved Shepherd’s Bush to Essex and away from my trusty band of away supporter friends.
Our first game of that season was Leicester City at home on the 10th August. There was a bumper crowd of 21,494 which included myself and Kerrins. The 1-1 draw did not diminish our optimism for a repeat of the previous two seasons. We were soon to be given a reality check as we then lost the next two away games and with two draws in consecutive home games, we had just three points from five matches which was hardly an electrifying start. When we lost the next four games, including a 4-0 home defeat to Chelsea, our world collapsed. We were mortal ! The end of September and the beginning of October saw a brief change in fortunes with a couple of wins following two draws, but that was very much the end of any hope of staying in the Division.
For the second season running, a certain Rodney Marsh missed the opening games due to a pre-season injury. He did not appear until the nineteenth game on the 10th November at Everton, but it did little to change things and we lost 0-4. Although we did win the following home game against Nottingham Forest on 23rd November with Rodney scoring, this proved to be a false dawn and we had to wait until the 12th April before we secured another win which was 2-1 against Stoke So we could not blame the loss of Rodney as we had at least won as many games without him ! Perhaps the ultimate nail in the coffin was the 8-1 defeat at Manchester United. I think I had to endure listening to that on the radio !
We finished rock bottom, some 12 points adrift of Leicester City and we had amassed 18 points from the 42 games which I think was a record low at the time. Crowd levels were good all season despite our league position with the largest home gate being 31,138 against Manchester United. You certainly knew you had been to a match when the crowd was at that level ! Finally, some weeks into the season, the South Africa Road Stand was opened and the Ground as we know it today, began to take shape. Somewhat of a contrast with the old main Stand on Ellerslie Road ! There were two record transfers that season. Our record signing to date was Barry Bridges for £55,000 and a record sale when Roger Morgan was transferred to Spurs for £110,000.
For those of us who endured that season, it was an experience we did not feel would happen after the previous two successful seasons and we found it hard to take. From memory, the crowd remained very much behind the team that had given so much. In the latter stages of the season, Gerry Francis made his debut and players such as Ian Gillard began to feature and we had glimpses of what would follow after our relegation. Certain players had reached their level or were just too old and with little change in the squad from the previous season, we should have realised that we would struggle. In addition, the one man who had made it all possible, Alec Stock, succumbed to internal club pressures and illness and left the club in 1968. We had four different Managers in that year…sounds familiar….and with no continuity from the previous season, the master plan fell apart.
Don’t forget that all this was before big TV money and much had been spent on the construction of the South Africa Road Stand. It was a sobering experience for us all but what followed after a few years was well worth waiting for ! The following is an extract from the Bush Telegraph comment section in the Home Match Magazine against Liverpool on the 29th March:-
‘The saddest and most disappointing season in Rangers history is drawing to its close and we must finally face the fact that our stay in the first division is to be a brief one. Everyone can advance his own opinion of why this has happened and there is little point now in listing a string of excuses. Certainly luck has never been with us at any time throughout the entire season but it is considered bad form to blame lack of success on ill luck. The team has fought bravely and well against all the big guns of the Football League and although often defeated, has rarely been overwhelmed, indeed of the 37 league matches played to date, 20 have been lost or drawn by the odd goal (i.e. an extra goal in each of these 20 matches would have given us 20 more points) Perhaps after all is said and done, the experts were right and the gap between the First and Second Divisions is greater than one thinks….One thing cheers us during this dark period until the good times come again, is the large number of supporters who are writing in to encourage and sympathise with us and to assure us of their support no matter what division of the League we play in. To all these we say a very sincere “Thank you” – it’s good to have you with us.’
I think that sums up the season, and, our supporters.