Allan McGregor: ‘Rangers in the Europa League final shouldn’t really happen’ | Rangers

As Ibrox roared with approval at the vanquishing of RB Leipzig eyes were drawn towards Allan McGregor. Three months after his 40th birthday an individual not known for demonstrative behaviour bellowed along to “The Blue Sea of Ibrox”. McGregor was like a giddy teenager.

“A lot of people have said the same,” McGregor says. “Someone asked me recently – obviously I am getting on a bit – whether I actually savour moments more now. I thought about it. ‘I should. Why not?’ If I hadn’t been asked that maybe I wouldn’t have been that way that night.

“That was one of the best atmospheres I have ever experienced. Everybody stayed to the end. But it’s a big thing. A Scottish club getting to the Europa League final, it shouldn’t really happen, should it? Let’s be honest.”

McGregor laughs when it is pointed out he is unlikely to be front and centre after a European semi-final again. “If you were a gambling man, you wouldn’t be putting money on it.” The goalkeeper is Rangers’ record appearance holder in Europe. His first game was a scoreless draw in Molde in 2006. Number 103 will come against Eintracht Frankfurt in Seville on Wednesday.

True to understated form, McGregor refuses to personalise the coming days, in which Rangers will attempt to win their second European trophy and first since 1972. With his contract soon to expire and Giovanni van Bronckhorst – should he maintain recent policy – likely to select Jon McLaughlin for Saturday’s Scottish Cup final against Hearts, this could be McGregor’s last outing as a professional. He claims not to have revelled in the post-Leipzig scene with retirement in mind. Talks and thoughts about the future can wait.

“I know this is a club built on winning trophies but you see Frankfurt winning a semi-final, Real Madrid winning a semi-final and they are celebrating like mad as well,” McGregor says. “We aren’t any different. You need to enjoy these moments because they don’t happen all the time.

“Four years ago we were just thinking about qualifying [for group stages]. Five years ago we were losing to Progrès Niederkorn. I came back to Rangers in 2018. A European final in 2022? If you were being honest with yourself back then, you’d think there was no chance.”

Allan McGregor enjoys Rangers’ Europa League semi-final victory over RB Leipzig at Ibrox.
Allan McGregor enjoys Rangers’ Europa League semi-final victory over RB Leipzig at Ibrox. Photograph: Robert Perry/EPA

Even if midweek does not deliver a full stop, this final provides an opportune time to reflect on McGregor’s career. He has been one of Scottish football’s most significant on-field characters of this era. A dozen winner’s medals tell a story. So, too, the widespread esteem McGregor is held in by teammates past and present. A reticence to deal with the media has played a part in McGregor not receiving due plaudits. Not that it troubles him.

McGregor insists comparisons between this campaign and 2007-08 are impossible for anyone involved in both. Then, as in 2022, Celtic were league champions. Rangers reached the Uefa Cup final. McGregor missed that defeat by Zenit Saint Petersburg, and the semi-final victory over Fiorentina, because of an injury sustained at Celtic.

“Someone was offside and had a shot. I went down and did my ankle. My knee had been bothering me at the time as well. I stayed on and actually saved a penalty with a bust ankle but eventually I couldn’t put pressure on that leg even to kick the ball out and had to come off. I knew it was bad.” As Rangers prevailed on penalties in Florence, McGregor was beside a radio.

“I can’t watch on television, I get far too uptight. For some reason the radio keeps me calm. Well, calmer. You just know you aren’t going to be involved, so you get on with it. I was absolutely over the moon for the boys when they won that semi-final: as a fan, for colleagues that you’ve been with for umpteen years.”

Despair for Rangers after losing to Zenit Saint Petersburg in the 2008 Uefa Cup final.
Despair for Rangers after losing to Zenit Saint Petersburg in the 2008 Uefa Cup final. Photograph: Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Do memories from 2008 involve high points or the fact that neither the league nor the Uefa Cup was delivered? “Everything just caught up with us in the run-in, with games every two minutes,” McGregor says. “It is probably disappointment or at least mixed emotions. To be so far ahead in March and not to win the league. Again it was an unbelievable achievement to get to the final but we didn’t win.

“It’s a very hard question. You look at it now: this next week could be one of the best ever. But if we don’t win anything … I don’t think it will be forgotten about; it has been a monumental achievement. We are a massive club but, if you put it into financial perspective – which I don’t really like doing, unlike you – given the teams we have beaten it is crazy to be here.”

It is strange, too, given Rangers have been upstaged by Celtic in the Premiership. Van Bronckhorst’s team have saved epic showings for the European stage. Just ask Borussia Dortmund. “Potentially there is a release of pressure from domestic stuff,” McGregor says. “I am not being disrespectful to anybody [in Scotland] but it’s a different test. Listen, results are everything. You know to win the league you’d probably need 90-odd points.” Rangers closed on 89.

McGregor has contemplated what victory in Spain would mean. Including in respect of the memories of Walter Smith and Jimmy Bell. Smith, the Rangers manager for whom McGregor was the first choice from 2008, died in October; Bell, the kit man at Ibrox for more than three decades, this month. “I have thought about it: it would be like nothing I’d ever done before,” McGregor says. “I get emotional even sitting here thinking about it, which is why you try not to. You just have to concentrate on the job in hand.

“It would be incredible for so many people. I think about Walter a lot and Jimmy now, too. I knew him from when I was 15. He was part of my life on a daily basis, the first guy I would see in the morning and always have some banter with. That was a tough one to take. It would be unbelievably fitting to win this for both of them.”

Allan McGregor in action against Barcelona in the Champions League in 2007 in his first spell with Rangers.
Allan McGregor in action against Barcelona in the Champions League in 2007 in his first spell with Rangers. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Between two stints at Rangers – he left after the club was consigned to the Third Division in 2012 – McGregor served Hull and Besiktas. He played in the 2014 FA Cup final loss to Arsenal despite sustaining serious kidney damage at West Ham in late March.

“I got a knee in the back and was still sent off,” McGregor recalls. “That was rescinded, which wasn’t much use to me lying on hospital. It was a grade four kidney rupture. Grade five and they’d have had to remove it. I remember the pain. I was struggling to breathe walking off the pitch. I’m sure the ambulance went round every cobbled street in London to get me to the hospital. Then I had to try and do a pee, which was like giving blood. You wonder what on earth is going on.

“I remember the doctor telling me there was to be no contact for six weeks. The gaffer, Steve Bruce, had come in to see me. I said: ‘Seven weeks to the Cup final, boss. I’ll be all right.’ It didn’t do me any harm to come back and play.”

Eight years on, the biggest occasion of McGregor’s career awaits. If it is the end, it would be a fitting finale.

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