By Steven Clifford | Guest Contributor
Rangers Television has been broadcasting now for nearly 20 years and during that time the voice of commentary has been Tom Miller.
Tom’s knowledge and love for our club is incredible and I was delighted to sit down with him recently and speak to him about all things Rangers. Tom has commentated on Rangers throughout the various highs and lows of our club’s recent history, he has literally been there, done that and commentated on it. So when we met the first thing I asked was where and when it all started.
"My first game was Ian Ferguson’s testimonial in 1999," he said. "I had been working on Scot FM’s Saturday football show since its inception a couple of years before and when a former colleague from there contacted me to say that he was in communication with Rangers to stream the first ever game on the internet and was I interested in being involved - I had to pinch myself!
"I was over the moon and just wanted it happen there and then. Now here's the rub? I wasn't to be the commentator! I had been out reporting on games - had been doing trackside interviews pre and post-match but I had never commentated on a game before. That was big time - that was for specialists not for me! However, I wasn't to commentate on Rangers v Sunderland in Fergie’s game but again be the reporter, I was just chuffed to be involved.
"Then one week before the game I was told the guy who had been in the frame to commentate couldn't do it and I was catapulted into the hot seat. No if buts or maybes, no one else was in the frame - I was to “just get on with it”.
"Thinking back now this was pretty massive. The internet was still unknown cyber space and this was ground-breaking, audio live match commentary - no pictures - and it had never been done before in Scotland. I was to be a pioneer - or maybe a guinea pig more like.
"Anyway it was Rangers and I would have walked over broken glass from home in Airdrie at that time to enjoy the experience. I was left to recruit my co-commentator and my first call was to my great friend Colin Jackson whom I had been pals with for 20 years at that time and bomber was quick to volunteer. Colin was a true Ranger - a great friend and family man - he is such a sad loss - taken far too young. He epitomised what being a Ranger was all about. I miss him dearly and think about him regularly. I had the great privilege of speaking at his memorial service at Ibrox and it's something I will never forget.
"But to steer a rookie commentator through his first 90 minutes nearly 20 years ago Colin came into his own and made the job much easier than I could have ever imagined. However - before the game I needed to get a bit of practice in, although nothing can really prepare you for that first truly live experience.
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"The Friday night before the Sunderland game Rangers made the short journey to Paisley to take on St Mirren in a pre-season game. That would be my training ground, my 90 minutes of trial and error. So, armed with my Sony Pro-Walkman I headed to Paisley to have a go at this commentating lark and fully prepared for an audience of one - me!
"I got through the game after a fashion, I think it was a 1-1 draw with Jorg Albertz on target for the light blues, but the big one was the next week as Rangers took on Sunderland. I replayed the 90 minutes from Paisley over and over again and tried to eliminate repetition and gaps of silence for the next game but being honest the game at Ibrox passed in a blur and I really don't recall anything about it.
"David Melvin who is now head of digital output at Rangers was the technical operator that night and we took e-mails from fans all round the world who were tuning in to this first ever live game. It was a massive buzz and not a lot of sleep was taken that night as I replayed the whole experience again many times in my mind.
"The next day I got a call from Rangers to say they had taken 57,000 hits! Now in those days of old dial up internet - people probably went on and off a few times during the transmission but reflected probably and audience of between 15,000-18,000 people. Rangers also advised they had an e-mail from a Joe Christie listening to the game in Calgary, Canada and was enquiring if the commentator used to live next door to his parents in Coatbridge?
"Yes it was me - Joe had qualified as an accountant and had travelled to Canada 15 years before. It had been at least that length of time since I had spoken to him last. Joe signed off his e-mail by confirming he was enjoying the game but confessed to being a Celtic fan, just shows you this obsession is nothing new.
"David Murray also contacted me the next day and thanked me for a good job but then asked the $63m question, how do we make money from it? That would come later. After that experience I wanted more and fortunately we got to cover a few other games for the official club website.
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"But I was also very lucky to be given opportunities with other broadcasters over the years including talksport, Scotsport, talk107, Radio Clyde and Setanta Sports, not always covering 'The Famous' but when I did that was always a real bonus. Since then of course the Rangers broadcast model has changed over the years and I have been involved over the years between audio and TV style."
Speaking to Tom it is clear his passion and love for the club, describing how when they approached him to work was like listening to a Barry Ferguson describing signing for his boyhood heroes. I was keen to find out from him how it felt to be part of the journey as Rangers travelled through the divisions?
"When we brought the curtain down on the last game of 2012 season with a win at Perth and Charles Green had been confirmed that morning as the preferred bidder to take the club on, we really had no idea what the future would hold for our great club. I ended the audio coverage that day with a bit of a speech that was totally unrehearsed or prescript - it was just how I felt at the time - I think it captured how we all felt as fans facing a very uncertain future.
"I don't think anyone would have envisaged that we would be positioned in the bottom tier of our domestic game and face a mountainous task to get back to the top.
"It all really hit home when we travelled to Brechin a couple of months later to compete in the Ramsdens Cup. We struggled to put 11 players on the park that day - it was totally surreal. Yes - we had the blue jerseys of Glasgow Rangers but something just wasn't right. We had more than Brechin as opponents to start that journey. Parts of the establishment and supporters of other clubs throughout the land didn't want us still to be in existence in any shape or form. I have loads of memories from covering games throughout that journey. Highs and very low lows.
"But if I was to look for the platform or spark that really confirmed that we were progressing and making huge strides forward with limited rear view mirror consideration was the game against much fancied Hibs at Ibrox just after Christmas 2015. We won 4-2 and the fans celebrated in a fashion as only we can. It was a special night and really signalled that we were back or at least very close to it.
"Of course the Scottish Cup semi-final shoot out to eliminate Celtic at Hampden with 'big red wall' Foderingham on top form and Gedion Zelalem slotting home a spot kick as if it was a training game (remember the on loan Arsenal youngster had never scored a senior goal before.) When promotion to the top flight was actually secured with the narrowest of home wins against Dumbarton it was probably more about relief than utter joy especially after we were within a minute of the title in the game before at Raith Rovers but we had a bit of the golfers yips in that run in.
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"I have to say most clubs were very welcoming as we came through the divisions although they were often let down by the small time thinking of some of their support. They don't always see it as being 'all about the Rangers' ".
Listening to RTV regularly I was always intrigued to see how Tom kept so positive especially with the journey so turbulent in terms of ownership and various other events, how did you stay positive on match day to be able to deliver a happy commentary?
"Staying positive? Easy, how could I not be? I am a glass half full type guy anyway but to be lucky enough to be the voice of Rangers while I am a fan first and foremost, makes living the dream an absolute understatement. I will never underestimate how fortunate I am in being able to commentate on official club channels - nor take it for granted. I am very privileged and as my partner Patricia says when it's match day: "Tom - you have your wiggle on!" Whether it's Alloa or Aberdeen - Tynecastle or Ochilview - I hope I capture the atmosphere and put the same energy and verve into the game as I always try and do.
"Also working with some fantastic co-commentators who are all former players is another delight. Let's be honest, who wouldn’t want to talk all things Rangers with guys like Lovenkrands, Johansson, Burns, Parlane or McLaren for the best part of two hours and believe me they are all every bit as passionate about the club as the rest of us. Sure, there have been a hell of a lot of bumps in the road but they will make the taste of success 55 even sweeter."
Having reached the top flight once more, how did Tom feel commentating during the better results, like 3-0 Pittodrie, and the worse ones like 5-1 OF defeats? How did he keep calm?
"Keeping calm? Not sure that I do and absolutely impossible when you have guys like Hugh Burns and Peter Lovenkrands alongside you, as they kick every ball during commentary and when Shug is around shin guards on the gantry are advised. We've had great highs and of course disasters like ending the game at Celtic Park down on numbers and shredded defensively but you just get on with it and try and be honest. Call it as you see it, you can’t fool fans who know the game and credibility would be shot if you tried to.
"So when we do get a heavy defeat like 5-1 to Celtic, you just cling on for any crumb of comfort and hope for the final whistle. Once it’s done park it in the memory banks for when our day comes and it will, believe me I will not forget some of the social media comments from certain quarters when it does. That does grind my gears, why so many fans of other clubs take such pleasure in watching RTV commentary when they have won the match on the park then taking time to have a pop at me on Twitter?
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"What do they expect me to come out with, Hail Hail after each goal? We clearly have work to do but I don't see any other clubs being criticised for failing to mount a challenge when they haven't laid a glove on Celtic in the last five years' league campaigns? When we play well it's a bonus and you can usually get a good idea how games may unfold by the tempo we start the match at and on our travels we are a formidable operation. What we now need is that consistency at home as well and to put a sustained winning run together. When we win 55 I can see emotion taking over, bring it on!"
With King and co in charge how does Tom feel about the future? Is it great to just go on a Saturday and simply commentate?
"I have always avoided the politics and it's stood me in good stead over the years. I am very fortunate that commentating on match days is not my primary income but I do treat the gig as professionally as I can by preparing properly and delivering the best match description I can while ignoring the multitude of off-field issues over the years. You only have to think back to that first league game in the bottom flight at Peterhead when as a team we didn't even have proper match shirts to wear.
"That brings things into context and confirms how many twists and turns this journey has involved. Ally McCoist is a pal of mine and I know some of the daily challenges he faced just trying to put a team together during his tenure as manager, no Rangers manager ever experienced anything like it before and I sincerely hope no Rangers manager of the future will ever experience the likes of that again.
"The history and heritage of Rangers Football Club is sacrosanct, the fans will see to that and we should all support the team, whatever and whoever the regime."
What is clear speaking with Tom is how passionate he is about our club and what stories he has to tell. In this day and age when the option of commentators is so poor, subscribing to RTV and listening to a real Ranger talking you through the 90 minutes, is something we should all be considering. It’s also clear that when 55 does arrive that Tom's speech will definitely be something to hear that’s for sure!
You can read part two of Steven's sit-down with Tom Miller tomorrow, only on the Rangers Observer.