The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 6

July 26, 2009


csteinColin Stein was not related to Jock or Frank N of that ilk, but he could well have been some mutant amalgam of both. He was the archetypal Rangers target-man centre-forward of the type that Graeme Souness keeps trying in vain to rediscover via West, Falco, Gray, Dodds and Hately. In full flight, elbows flailing, legs pumping, lungs bursting, blonde hair trailing in the wind, he was a pretty fearsome sight. He was a football journalist’s dream. Practically every tired old cliche applied to him. “Bustling”, “strong-running”,”tireless”, “fearless”, “brainless”,… “useless”. Opinions are divided as to his precise qualities as a player, but one thing is for certain and that is that he scored goals. Lots of them. Like Magnus Magnusson once he got started he just couldn’t be stopped. He also had a peculiar penchant for getting himself sent off, regularly combining both talents and receiving his marching orders within minutes of completing a hat-trick. At Ibrox, he formed an amazing strike-force with another “forgotten one”, namely Willie ‘Bud’ Johnston. At least, he would’ve formed such a strike-force with Bud, had it not been for the fact that one or other of them was invariably suspended as they vied with each other to be first to the sine die sentence.

In 1968, Rangers bought Stein from Hibs for £100,000 which was then a record transfer between two Scottish teams. In post-decimal, hard-ecu terms, that’s roughly equivalent to the million-plus they paid for le petit Mo. Colin made an Owen Coyle-type whirlwind start to his Rangers career, smacking in three or four hat-tricks in his first half-dozen games. He was only sent off once during this honeymoon period. Although he was scoring goals aplenty he had the singular misfortune to have joined Rangers at the beginning of the long dark age of Celtic domination. In response to Celtic’s success Rangers gradually evolved a style which consisted of leaving Colin upfield as the sole attacker and punting long hopeful/hopeless balls up to him in the hope that he could ‘do the business’.
This tactic spawned thousands of newspaper headlines along the lines of “The Lone Ranger” and “Stein left to plough a lonely furrow”.

My favourite memory of Stein was a goal he scored in an away game against Bayern Munich in the Cup-Winners Cup (historical note: Rangers used to score goals away from home in Europe in places other than Cyprus and Malta). A long ball had been played out of the Rangers defence. Colin got to the ball first, bustled past his marker, leaving an elbow in his face for good measure, and raced towards goal, where the goalkeeper had advanced to the edge of the box to meet him. A quick shimmy and he’s round the goalie. Now for the tricky part.He’s fourteen yards out with not a German in sight. In similar circumstances, Bud Johnston would have just side-footed the ball into the empty net and wheeled away giving two fingers to the home crowd. Colin, however, was more ambitious than that. Or possibly he mistakenly believed that there was a Teuton hard on his heels about to perform a John Greig operation on him. Whatever the reason, he suddenly veered hard right out towards the eastern edges of the penalty area and began making for the bye-line. Soon he was in a position where it would have required a Garrincha-type banana-bender to hit the target. By this time a Bayern defender had sprinted back into the six-yard box, at right angles to the untended goal. Now at an impossible angle Colin took aim and fired. The ball was quite clearly destined for High Street, Munchen, until it collided, at extremely high velocity, with the defender’s face, from where it obligingly flew into the back of the net. Goal for Rangers. Broken nose and ambulance home for Fritz. Two fingers to the home crowd. Barcelona here we come.

The trick was repeated in the Final of that competition, where Colin got one and Bud the other two as Rangers lifted the trophy. If you watch that match on TV, poor camera work creates the illusion that Bud’s second goal came about after he’d nipped off for a fly fag and then suddenly re-appeared on the pitch without being noticed by the Soviet defence. Or was it an illusion ?

After the European success these two worthies departed to the greener fields of England, though these moves were probably not unconnected to the SFA disciplinary committee indication that they would not like to see either of their faces again. Colin was thus literally and metaphorically sent to Coventry. Some things never change, huh? He did however return a few years later when the heat was off and the wanted posters had come down at Park Gardens. Rangers were on the verge of breaking Celtic’s stranglehold on the championship. Colin was pitched straight into a tense away game against Dundee at Dens Park. At that time Rangers led the league by one point from Celtic. He lasted twenty minutes before the obligatory ordering off. Coupled with the fact that Dundee were leading 1-0 his dismissal provoked a mini-riot, necessitating the players being taken off for twenty minutes while the police fought to restore order. After serving his suspension he returned to assist Rangers to consign those green ten-in-a-row flags to the dustbin. Remember these flags. Heh heh. Perhaps some reader would like to contribute a “Where are they now” article.

Colin Stein played only 14 matches for Scotland. In that time he scored 10 goals. He is the tenth equal top scorer for Scotland of all time. Mind you, four of those goals were scored in the 8-0 rout of Cyprus at Hampden in 1969. Apart from scoring 4, Colin found time to block several scoring shots from his colleagues, and even helped out the hapless Cypriot defence by clearing some of his own best efforts off their line.

Tragically, Colin Stein may ultimately be best remembered in the history books for the goal he scored on 2nd January 1971 against Celtic at Ibrox. Some say that it was the excitement of this goal which precipitated the Ibrox disaster when 66 football supporters died in truly horrifying circumstances. I prefer to remember Colin for all his other goals, for his non-stop effort, for his occasional brilliance, for the excitement engendered by his sheer unpredictability. In an ideal world he would have played for Partick Thistle alongside Dennis McQuade and Chic Charnley. Oh yes, and Willie Johnston.

First published in The Absolute Game No 22 – March 1991


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