Darren Jackson was part of a Celtic side that was hastily assembled over a summer, who bonded quickly and overcame Rangers to win the league and ultimately deny the Ibrox side a historic tenth title in a row. But he isn’t putting any money on Pedro Caixinha’s Rangers revolution having the same success as Wim Jansen’s did at Celtic.
The summer of 1997 was a pivotal one in Scottish football. Walter Smith’s all-conquering Rangers side were steamrollering their way towards history after securing their ninth successive title.
Across the city, Celtic owner Fergus McCann was faced with a huge decision. Who would he choose as the man to fill Tommy Burns’ not inconsiderable shoes and lead Celtic to not only their first league triumph for a decade, but prevent the unthinkable.
He turned to Dutchman Wim Jansen, who arrived to little fanfare despite his considerable reputation as a player with Feyenoord, where he was part of the side that defeated Celtic in the 1970 European Cup Winners’ Cup final, and his title win with the same club as manager.
A little under a year on, and he could have been lifted all the way down the London Road to Glasgow Airport on the shoulders of his adoring public, as he departed the Scottish scene as a Celtic legend.
How did he do it? In part, by signing players. Lots of them.
Marc Rieper, Craig Burley, Harald Brattbakk, Stephane Mahe, Jonathan Gould and Paul Lambert all arrived to compensate for the loss of Paolo Di Canio, Pierre Van Hooijdonk and Jorge Cadete. Oh, and a little-known Swede by the name of Henrik Larsson.
The first man to arrive though was Darren Jackson from Hibs. And although he missed a section of the season after receiving treatment for the brain condition hydrocephalus, he recovered to play an integral part in Celtic’s success both on the field, and off it.
He credits the numerous ‘bonding’ sessions that the Celtic players enjoyed on their frequent nights out for merging the disparate cogs of their squad into one well-functioning machine, but even if Pedro Caixinha can replicate that sort of camaraderie at Rangers this summer, he doesn’t think they have a chance of overturning Brendan Rodgers’ all-conquering Celtic side.
And he reckons they will do well to bridge the gap in the four seasons that stand between the Hoops and a historic tenth title triumph on the spin.
“There were a lot of signings,” Jackson said. “But, after the first couple of games, we got ourselves together.
“We didn’t start the season well, losing to Hibs and Dunfermline. That was a reality check, because we soon realised how tough the season would be.
“The players got together and, yes, we probably did what you can’t really do now – we had a few nights out. Now, it would be all over social media. We were dinosaurs, we didn’t have that – which was a good thing.
“So, we did get together, we did go out and it brought the foreigners into realising what this meant.
“By the way, we had good players as well. You can have a good team spirit – but good players win you the league.
“I don’t think Rangers will be thinking about 10-in-a-row just now, they just have to get back to where they should be.
“They can worry about 10-in-a-row later, it’s not there yet. They just have to get back to the Rangers that we know.”
And getting back to something resembling the Rangers teams of old means not only improving the standard of player they have in the squad from the foreign market, according to Jackson, but by ensuring that they have a strong Scottish presence too in order to rediscover their identity on the field.
He believes it is vital to have people who know what the club are all about to hammer home the message to those coming in from outside of the country just what it means to be part of Glasgow’s famous rivalry.
“I don’t know anything about the boys they have brought in, so it’s really hard to say, but can a team gel that quick?” said Jackson.
“The year we stopped 10-in-a-row we had a lot of new signings, but there were a few Scottish boys in there, and I think you need a good core of Scottish boys who know what it’s about and can speak to the other players to let them know.
“I think maybe that’s why he brought Jonatan Johansson in – because he knows the Scottish market. I know [Graham] Dorrans has been down south but JJ will know all the players in Scotland.
“And I honestly believe you need it. People ask are the Scottish players good enough. Yes, they are. You can only add to the talent that, hopefully, he is bringing in. I do think you need a core of Scottish boys.
“I’m not comparing but, when you see Celtic with [Kieran] Tierney, [Scott] Brown, [Leigh] Griffiths, [Stuart] Armstrong, [Callum] McGregor, [James] Forrest and [Craig] Gordon, there is a core there who are very, very good.
“Rangers fans and Celtic fans will never accept second-best, but if Rangers fans can see improvement this season and see that the club is going forward, then I think they’d be happy with that.”