By Steven Clifford | Guest Contributor
In speaking with Tom Miller it was clear that he was as big a Ranger as anyone I have ever spoken to, if he wasn’t sitting in the commentary hot seat every week then without doubt he would be in amongst the bears in the stands on match day. It makes me happy that we have true supporters in positions throughout our club and there’s no one better to call our games on match day.
Having started in 1999 Tom has come a long way since Ian Ferguson’s testimonial and nearly 700 games later he is now an experienced pro on the mic. I was keen to ask Tom what his favourite game and moment was commentating on Rangers throughout the years.
“Wow, that’s some two part question! With hindsight I wished I had kept count of all the games that I have commentated on but do you know this I have no idea. At a guess maybe 700 or more so delving into the memory banks for an old wrinkly like me is a challenge. Two games do spring to mind though, both audio commentaries, Rangers stuffing it to Parma in the days of Dick Advocaat in a Champions League qualifier at Ibrox when the atmosphere in the stadium was totally electrifying as the teams took the field. Unforgettable noise and it was a game that Rangers weren't overly fancied to win, but the Italians couldn't match the verve, energy and desire from those in light blue that night.
“Then what about the League Cup Final win against Celtic of 2011? Short free kick from Vlad the destroyer as Nikica Jelavic sprinted clear before conjuring up the cutest of finishes, as the ball seemed to take an eternity to run across the goal line after striking the inside of both posts then nestling in the net. The cup was ours!
“More recently the ‘Harry in a hurry’ 14 second goal in the Scottish Cup against Dundee was special. John Bomber Brown was my analyst that day and I’ve been friends with the big guy since before Souness signed him for Rangers. We were totally overcome with joy that day and especially sweet for John having managed Dundee not that long before the cup tie. That Forrester goal set us up for a memorable win but the Jelavic moment, that seemed to take ten minutes to nestle, probably beats them all.
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“Although saying that, the Kenny Miller header the year before against St Mirren, in the same tournament, when we had to see out the final with nine men following red cards to Danny Wilson and Kevin Thomson, was also a special experience. In that final I will never forget the sight of Walter Smith leaving his seat in the director’s box to go trackside at Hampden to bark out his instructions, re-shape his team and the players immediately knew what was required. Another piece of silverware was in the bag and I’m not sure many managers could have changed the course of that game the way that Walter did when it was 11 v 9.
“Title wins at Tannadice (you know of course we have won more trophies on their patch than they have) and Easter Road carry their own fantastic memories too as have nervy cup finals against unlikely stubborn but organised opponents like Queen of the South and Dundee did nothing for nerves, but again that winning mentality of true Rangers got the job done. Every experience I have cherished and again just confirms how lucky a guy I am.”
Tom is not only a fantastic commentator though, he is also a well-established author.
“Books weren’t something I planned or had considered. I was asked to put together a piece for another magazine on my first and favourite big Rangers game. I plumped for the 1964 Scottish Cup final against Dundee. As a young boy being taken to Hampden in my uncle’s Jaguar was special but I had to admit I was confused as to why Rangers were in blue and white stripes. It was a great game with Millar and Brand on target in front of a crowd in excess of 120,000. Man of the match was Dundee keeper Bert Slater but my hero of the day was Jim Baxter. I just didn’t think anyone came close although I also worshipped John Greig and Jimmy Millar. Anyway a publisher read my piece on that game and made contact, apparently they had been looking for someone to put together a biography on Slim Jim for quite a while and they felt I could do him justice.
“So, that was how book one came about. It was a joy to write and just spending time and chatting to genuine icons of the game of the 60`s left me like a kid let loose in a sweet shop. Jim’s family were quite brilliant too and I was so privileged that they effectively shared a family secret with me - a story that Jim had wanted told before he died, but never got the correct opportunity to do so. How honoured can you imagine I felt being entrusted with an enormous story in the life of one of the finest footballers ever to grace this planet.
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“I won’t go into details here but if you haven`t already bought the book, I believe the revelation set the book apart but of course I am biased. It was a huge learning curve to pull the book together and took many more hours of burning the midnight oil than I ever imagined and while financially it’s not life changing, just seeing your work on the bookstore shelf was such a buzz. In fact a couple of Christmases ago I was in Waterstones in Stirling and I put all the copies of ‘Slim Jim: Simply the Best’ to the front when a shopper asked if it was myself who had written it - the power of Twitter - and I was so chuffed to say yes.
“My first effort sold well and the publisher was obviously pleased as they almost immediately asked ‘what was next?’. At that time it was a bit of a box ticked job without consideration to any more literary efforts. After a bit of cajoling and a number of projects considered it was decided that an update on the life and contribution to the game from Sandy Jardine was long overdue. So ‘Sandy’ was next and when I started it, it was perhaps too soon after Sandy’s untimely death, but he had been the rock that the Rangers supporters needed in our times of troubles and we can only speculate where the club would be today had Sandy Jardine not put everything else on hold to fight Rangers corner in so many different battles.
“So - after some consideration I parked the project for a year and later secured full support from the Jardine family and to have them authorise my efforts as his biography was sensational, another huge honour for me. Someone in high authority said to me Sandy Jardine's status as a Ranger is up there with Bill Struth. Having spent many hours talking about William Pullar Jardine to so many people who knew him and respected him - I have to say he’s up there in my opinion. At the launch of ‘Sandy the authorised biography’ I was absolutely humbled by the turn out we had and when my phone rang and it was Graeme Souness asking if it was ok if he came along? FFS you can guess my reaction!
“We had a great night with a few beers and a top curry in Ashton Lane in the company of a host of Light Blue legends and the stories were awesome. Is there another one in the pipeline? I have an idea and the publisher likes it so let’s see what 2018 brings. It takes around a year to put the manuscript together and publishers work to key dates in the year to meet early summer holiday launch or November for the Christmas market. I think I better get busy!”
For anyone who hasn’t read Tom’s books on Slim Jim or Sandy then I would say they are a must read for every Rangers fan. They are readily available from all good bookshops and I know personally Tom is only too happy to provide a signature or two. One thing I was intrigued to find out is whether he had a favourite co-commentator on match day.
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“Not sure if there is a best co-commentator? All are a delight and all have their own style. We have tried to cover as many eras as possible and if opportunities arise, like last season, to have guys like Derek Parlane and Marco Negri join us on RTV that for me is a huge bonus. We work with a core of regular local guys and I never fail to learn from each and every one of them in every game we cover. Who couldn’t warm to Peter Lovenkrands, one of the kindest most gentle guys I’ve ever met. But when the ball comes out, wow, he’s a winner and won’t settle for anything less than 100% from anybody in a blue jersey.
“I have seen him now back at Auchenhowie on the training ground and he’s in his element. His love for Rangers is all encompassing and with our youngsters learning from this Great Dane our future is in great hands.
“I take it as a huge compliment that five of the believed six former players interviewed for the coaching position under Pedro had all been involved with RTV - and while only one could be successful, all were outstanding candidates in my eyes. Jonatan Johannson got the gig and I miss him on the gantry but I couldn’t be more delighted for him and he’s served his apprenticeship well and knows the game inside out. He’ll be a huge asset to the club for years to come. JJ appeared for every game fully prepared on how he expected both teams to line up and was articulate and accurate with every comment. A great guy, a great Ranger!
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“Shug Burns kicks every ball in commentary. I swear he would wear his Rangers scarf when commentating and he makes his observations in the same way that he played the game - 100% commitment and no holds barred and brutally honest when it needs to be. Hugh has never forgiven Souness for moving him on but he has a passion for Rangers that has never diminished over the years. Hugh lives and breathes blue.
“Derek Johnstone while not on RTV as often now was also fun to work with although his gags were usually from a Christmas cracker from the 1960’s. DJ was also a player that I admired as I watched the team from the old Enclosure or Centenary Stand and will always have a place in the club’s history with that 1970 League Cup winning header as a 16-year-old which delivered the club’s first trophy in four years.
“A bit more up to date we have Kevin Thomson, injury played havoc with Kevin’s career but again a born winner and he would kick his Granny without thinking twice to secure the points for Rangers. Sure he has a bit of affinity for a wee club in the east but let me assure you when KT comes to Ibrox on RTV duty, he always sports a smile the width of the River Clyde. Kevin has his own soccer academy that is going from strength to strength and I have no fears will make good players better and will make an impact in coaching or management when the time is right.
“Andy Little came to Rangers from his home in Enniskillen as a teenager but he was focused, determined and had an attitude that set him apart from many talented youngsters coming through the youth ranks at that time. It’s great to have him back coaching kids and bringing his own Irish lilt to RTV. Andy is still looking to play and is with Stirling Albion. If he can fully recover from the horrid facial injury he suffered at the end of last season the Binos will have a helluva player to take their team forward. Andy is another genuine student of the game who is keen to learn and bring new ideas to the table. He’ll do well.
“Add into the mix Alan McLaren who has the driest sense of humour you can ever imagine but also a sense of devilment that makes him a joy to work with and yes he may have been a Jambo but he’s alright now! Alan and I did the Konterman semi at Hampden against Celtic all those years ago, we both shouted no as big Bert shaped to shoot and yeeeeeeeesssssssss together as the ball lifted the rigging! I’ve still got the bruises from the bear hug of the gentle giant that night. Alan was a player ahead of his time and again we can only speculate on what might have been but I do know he cherishes the memory of skippering the side to Nine in a Row at Tannadice in the absence of club captain Richard Gough. The world doesn’t have enough Alan McLaren’s.
“This season I coaxed Ian Durrant to join me on co-comms. It was Ian’s first go at it as we won well at Hamilton and no surprise just like the way he played the game, Ian was a natural. He brought his own special understanding of all things Rangers to the broadcast and I was like the cat that got the cream talking to a real Rangers legend for the two hours or so of the programme (memo to myself, how lucky am I!) We also have Alex Rae, Kevin Drinkell, Gordon Smith, who are all true blues who have played for Rangers in halcyon periods over the club’s history and are proud to impart their experiences to our RTV audience.
“I really believe we have a fantastic team behind the mic and I would like to acknowledge too the part the technical guys play to put our show together; David M, Stu, Big D, Andy J, Calum, Davy, Norman and all in the background. Top professionals who get the job done with no dramas and make my job easy. Believe me they are all blue noses too and will the team on to win on match days. They are all a pleasure to work with.
“So who is the best? Not sure I could determine a best but it’s down to viewers’ individual preference. For me I simply hope I can work with them all for many years to come. I consider every one of them as a friend and a joy to be in their company.”
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Tom’s passion certainly shines through and I do wonder how he keeps calm, Clint Hill smashes one in at Parkhead on 88 minutes, just how does he keep his composure?
“That was a memorable day when we snatched a draw from the most unlikely of sources. Don’t ever recall celebrating a draw like we did that day but it wasn’t about the result, it was more about the resilience we showed or as big Jock Wallace would have said: “Character”. I was pleased for Graeme Murty who went to Celtic Park with a game plan and the players stuck to it. Having been turned over by Celtic as often as we had been in recent match ups, it was just terrific to not roll over. How big Clint Hill enjoyed that goal and the silence from the home fans was deafening.
"Meanwhile Gordon Smith and I were jumping about like a pair of loonies and you would have been excused if you had thought we had just won the Champions League. I remember when Lafferty (aka the Ulster Gazelle), Boyd and Mendes scored to win the title at Tannadice in 2009 - Darrell King (then of the Evening Times) was my co-commentator, he ripped my shirt as he grabbed me to celebrate Boyd’s 31st goal of the campaign and the league flag was ours. I mean really ripped it, like hauled it off my back! Scenes and celebrations, memories of great days.”
As we finish up it’s only fair to ask Tom what he thinks the immediate future holds for our club?
“Consistency is the key. We need to make Ibrox a fortress again and get the fear factor back. That intimidating condition that was as good as a goal of a start to us in home games has been lost in the mist of our lower leagues sojourn. We must get that back. It’s time Rangers were winning trophies again but time is in short supply. The fans have been sensational over the years and no one deserves success more than the Rangers family.
"I have been fortunate enough to witness treble winning teams in so many different decades since first watching the Light Blues when Bobby Shearer was skipper, through the Jock Wallace phenomenon of the 70s to the Souness revolution of the 80’s. This was then taken on by Walter and Nine in a Row was woven into the rich fabric of our history, wonderful teams too, assembled by Advocaat and McLeish. Then the return of Walter Smith in January 2007 as he turned round a depressed dressing room and got us back to winning and winning well while also making us a force to be reckoned with again in Europe.
“The heritage is there – the infrastructure is being addressed after years of decline, through directors who passed through with limited interest in what the club was really all about with self-gain their only agenda. These days are in the past and we are going forward, unity is the key and we’ll get there again, I have no doubts and I can’t wait to be part of it all again.”
When we do lift 55 it is only fitting that the man calling it behind the mic will be Tom Miller. His passion and love for our club is clear for everyone to see and read above. He gave up his own time for the supporters to do this as he does on every match day, whether to speak to his regulars as he makes his way to the ground, or speak with his new friends he has found on twitter. Tom goes about his business and conducts himself as a true Ranger should, with passion and time for the support.
A massive thank you to Tom for giving up his time and here’s hoping he is commentating on more magical moments very soon, a bigger blue nose behind the mic you will not find.