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the prince of patter

The Cult: Ally McCoist

This week's inductee to The Cult was a boyhood Rangers fan who went on to become one of the club's greatest goalscoring heroes. But, during an uninspiring spell as manager, Ally McCoist learned that you can't have it all.

by Callum Hamilton
14 February 2017, 2:45pm

Illustration by Dan Evans

This week's inductee to The Cult was a boyhood Rangers fan who went on to become one of the club's greatest goalscoring heroes. But, during an uninspiring spell as manager, Ally McCoist learned that you can't have it all. You can read previous entries here.

Cult Grade: The Prince of Patter

It's not really hard to explain why Ally McCoist is a legend at Rangers. After all, he was a boyhood fan of the club, and he scored hunners of goals for us. That's all that really needs to be said on that front. Aye, you can go into more detail – he was a great guy, and he had a particular mastery of the ancient art of Timskelping ­–­ but there's nothing that extraordinary there. We loved him because he loved us, he was good at football, he fucked over our rivals and he was a likeable guy. In truth, we could be talking about anyone with Official Legend status at any club. But this isn't about that. At some point, things went seriously wrong for Coisty, threatening to tarnish his name forever. And that should never be allowed to happen.

Firstly, you have to remember what exactly you're getting with the man. Coisty could have been a sort of Scottish Paul Gascoigne, somebody who was loved for his off-field antics but wandered on to dangerous terrain, mutterings over a wasted career dogging his latter years. Yet the combination of a contemporary drinking culture, the ability to walk but never cross the line into alcoholism, and a firm focus on shagging – the only vice that doesn't slowly kill you – helped him to have the best of both worlds.

READ MORE: The Cult – Wayne Rooney

He was, essentially, the true sex symbol of the Cool Britannia era. These isles have never produced a more archetypal "women want to be with him, men want to be him" figure, and despite fitting in perfectly with the lad culture of the time, he never strayed into any dark territory. The man was so likeable he even managed to come across as the good guy when cheating, successfully cucking both Liam Gallagher in his prime, and domestic abuser Stan Collymore.

To give him his due, it's possible that he can't turn it off. He was, and is, patter incarnate, and just happened to be a highly sexual being in his youth. There are no serious rumours about him and Sue Barker, but a quick check of Question of Sport – Uncensored (yes, it really exists) reveals that this otherwise tame show consisted, in reality, of Barker and Coisty dominating proceedings with back-and-forth sexual innuendo. If he wasn't so good at it, the man would've had a problem.

So it's easy to see why he was liked, even aside from the fact that he supported Rangers and scored a lot of goals for them, especially against Celtic. The problem was that he then became their manager. For any club legend, that's playing with fire. He'd already been assistant, under the tutelage of the fearsome Walter Smith, surely the ideal man to teach him how to stir some grit into the patter. The duo seemed to work well together, in what must have been a perfect good-cop bad-cop set-up. It certainly worked better than Smith's earlier reign, where he elected to pick an assistant who was somehow an even more terrifying bastard than he was.

We never found out. That first season, Rangers got slapped with a tax bill, and you know the rest. Despite that, he committed himself to the club, sending his approval rating soaring ever higher. There was also time for one desperate Alamo moment as, with the club collapsing around him, Coisty inspired his charges to a 3-2 win over Celtic to prevent the title being won at Ibrox. And then....

Point of Entry: Oblivion

Well, not quite oblivion. Once the shock was over, an attempt at rationalisation was made. At least it would be easy for him. And we'd get to build a team from scratch, full of kids from the academy. We'd tour Scotland for three years, maybe win a cup or two. It wouldn't be so bad – only three years, remember – and Coisty would provide the stability necessary to make it all work.

It didn't. The football was dour and unimaginative. The youngsters were few and mostly terrible. The signings were either cheap past-it cloggers who turned out to be abysmal, or exciting season-ticket-selling transfers who turned out to be abysmal. The results were tedious, routine wins interspersed with humiliating draws and cup exits.

Now, Rangers fans are the least forgiving in Britain by a long, long way. Have you ever heard your team booed off for winning? Or at half-time when it's 0-0 and the opposition have hardly had a kick? Or have you seen someone scream at your 18-year-old wonderkid midfielder to fuck off back to the club he came from because he misplaced a pass while you were winning 3-0? Rangers fans have. Most weeks. Even Coisty couldn't hold it off for long. The supporters became sick of the sight of him, and perhaps saw him as the embodiment of the total waste that was the club's lower-league period. Basically, it was like three years of watching your dad get beaten up every weekend.

There was, however, a very minor mitigating factor: the club was essentially in a state of permanent civil war and on the precipice of armageddon for, oh, about four years. "Shambles" doesn't really cover it. One year, the owners decided to hold the AGM in a gazebo in the middle of the Ibrox pitch. This was attended by various fan groups and shareholders and resembled a loyalist version of the 'Two Minutes Hate' from 1984. At the centre stood a Mike Ashley-appointed puppet chairman, happily reflecting that "when you're the chairman of Rangers, you can do what you want." Blackpool and Coventry looked like Bayern Munich by comparison.

PA Images

In that kind of environment, you can imagine that the players might struggle to focus on the game from time to time. Yet there was never a revolt on the pitch. The dressing room was never lost. And tellingly, when he left, his caretaker replacement was far worse, and when a competent, real-life manager was appointed after sanity had returned to the club, he fared little better, condemned to another year in the second tier by Motherwell.

So, Coisty: a classic good-time-guy who wasn't smart enough to cut it in the job? That would be a harsh dismissal. Consider the man's other undoubted talents. Bilel Mohsni, a big daft centre-back who will mostly be remembered for chinning Lee Erwin after Rangers were defeated in the promotion play-offs, had been talking about the appeal of Coisty in coming to the club. There followed an odd revelation: not only was he a nice guy who inspired players, but the move was made easier due to the fact that he could speak fluent French.

READ MORE: The Cult – Edgar Davids

Then came #AllyVersus, a piss-poor marketing campaign from SPFL sponsor Ladbrokes that pitted the man against team captains in a selection of banal tasks (because when you've nailed down a funny, charming guy with a storied professional career, what people want is to watch him doing long division). Yet something odd happened. The sum appeared on screen, Coisty took half a second to read it, then immediately wrote down the correct answer. Another talent revealed: the ability to solve equations in split seconds, half Rain Man, half guy who's probably played a thousand rounds of darts in his life.

As well as this, there's his acting career. In A Shot At Glory, Coisty displays his breadth of talent by playing a former Celtic striker in a cast that included Robert Duvall and, for some reason, a raft of Scottish lower-league players. The less said about the film the better, although Duvall did pose for a photo-op with fans outside Ibrox, either not checking or not understanding what was written on the scarf he was holding up, which is the funniest thing to have ever happened in film or football.

The Moment: The Final Old Firm Goal, 1998

It is difficult to sum up a man who has been around for so long, and who has so many talents, in one moment. But Rangers fans pleading the case for an unblemished memory of the man will always turn to this, the last of his 27 (TWENTY-SEVEN) Old Firm goals. The opener in the Scottish Cup semi-final of 1998, it comprised a lunging header followed by a self-induced emotional breakdown, as the goal brought the sudden realisation that his time at Rangers was drawing to a close. The only way to keep the high would be to go into coaching and management – it's maybe at that exact moment he decided to embark on what would be a doomed and lonely road.

Mathematician, linguist, shagger, footballer, television personality, pundit, actor. There is, quite simply, no end to the man's list of talents. 'Accomplished football manager' might not be one of those, but that was the curse and the joy. God couldn't give everything to one man, so he struck him down in the area where he really wanted to excel. Despite that, Coisty didn't let the fact he was shite stop him from managing the club, when he could have walked away a million times. That's not something terrible. It's something as beautiful as the man himself.

Closing Statements

"Sharp as a tack."––Robert Duvall

And, from an exchange with an officer in East Kilbride police station:

"Do you have a police record, Mr McCoist?"

"Aye – Walkin' on the Moon."

Words: @Callum_TH // Illustration: @Dan_Draws