Celtic might only be days away from ‘Nine in a Row’ if the 2019/20 Scottish Premiership season is abandoned and they are declared champions as expected – thanks in no small part to their 13-point lead at the top when the campaign was halted in March due to the coronavirus crisis.
Some would argue that there will always be an asterisk against Celtic’s ‘Nine in a Row’ because number nine is likely to be an incomplete season. There is also the fact that Rangers’ 2012 liquidation and subsequent re-entry into the lower leagues eliminated the competition.
Rangers themselves completed ‘Nine in a Row’ on 7 May 1997, sealing the ninth title with a 1-0 win at Dundee United. The cheers at Tannadice when the final whistle rang out made it sound more like a home game at a full Ibrox than an away fixture.
Brian Laudrup scored the only goal of the game that day, with the Dane a general symbol of the quality of individuals who were plying their trade in Scottish football in the 1990s.
For Rangers, the run started in the late 1980s when Graeme Souness, fresh from a spell in Italy and multiple European Cups with Liverpool, was hired as player-manager. Bizarrely, it was his first time playing in Scotland since he left his local boys club to join Tottenham at 17.
Souness delivered the league title in 1986/87, Rangers’ first in nine years – Aberdeen and Dundee United had both won titles in the intervening seasons when Scottish football wasn’t a duopoly.
Celtic took it the following season, but Rangers kicked off their near decade-long dominance by claiming the trophy in 1988/89. The stiffest competition came from Aberdeen, with Celtic in a slump that dominated their fortunes in the early 1990s and resulted in a last-ditch takeover.
In 1989/90 and 1990/91, Rangers finished above Aberdeen again, with the challengers just two points back from the champions in the latter campaign. In 1991/92, now under the guidance of new boss Walter Smith, Rangers finished well clear of Hearts and Celtic, before Aberdeen returned to second place – the Dons put up another close fight in 1993/94.
It was Motherwell finished second in 1994/95 as Rangers obliterated the competition to finish 15 points clear. That was seven in a row for the Glasgow club.
The 1995/96 campaign saw the start of Rangers and Celtic pushing each other to new levels of superiority over the rest of Scottish football. Rangers, as champions for the eighth successive time, finished 32 points clear of third place Aberdeen, with Celtic 28 points clear.
1996/97 didn’t produce quite as vast a chasm, but a chasm nonetheless.
The aforementioned Laudrup, previously a Euro ’92 winner with Denmark, and once of Bayern Munich and AC Milan, enjoyed his best Rangers season in 1996/97. He was joined in that team by new signing Jorg Albertz, with the German winger playing more games than anyone that year.
This was also the Rangers of the mercurial Paul Gascoigne, a 1995 signing from Lazio.
Ally McCoist was limited by injuries in the mid-1990s, but the Scotland striker had netted 34 league goals in consecutive seasons earlier in the decade - twice winning the European Golden Shoe.
Centre-back Richard Gough was a feature of all nine title-winning seasons. Goalkeeper Andy Goram, who later had a very brief spell as an emergency stop-gap at Manchester United, was there for six.
A number of England internationals played for Rangers during the ‘Nine in a Row’ run, including full-back Gary Stevens, goalkeeper Chris Woods, midfielder Trevor Steven, forward Mark Hateley and, most famously, Terry Butcher. In fact, with four players, Rangers were the single most represented club in England 1990 World Cup squad, which reached the semi-finals.
Rangers weren’t just dominant in Scotland at that time, they were competitive in Europe, too.
In the early years of the streak, Rangers were unfortunate in the European Cup, knocked out early by eventual winners Red Star Belgrade in 1990/91 and semi-finalists Bayern Munich the year before. But in 1992/93, the inaugural season of the newly rebranded Champions League, Smith’s side beat Stuttgart and Leeds en route to the latter group stage and narrowly missed out on a place in the final.
With the top team in two groups to contest the final, an unbeaten Rangers finished just two points behind eventual champions Marseille - who were soon to be embroiled in a domestic match-fixing scandal - having drawn home and away against the French side. What difference a late winner away in Brugge or at home against CSKA Moscow might have made.
Rangers’ stranglehold on Scottish football came to an end in 1998 when Celtic finally got the better of them, but only just – two points were all that separated them and prevented a full 10.
The two clubs proceeded to trade blows in the years that followed, with neither stringing more than two in a row together until 2005 when each then managed three in a row one after the other, all the while seeming to pull further away from the rest.