Mark Walters recalls racism on Rangers debut, 30 years on

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Mark Walters

The history of Scottish football is littered with tales of glory, upsets and inspiration; the exploits of legendary players and managers.

However, every so often, something happens that brings shame on our national sport.

On 31 December 1987, a left-sided winger from Birmingham joined Rangers from Aston Villa for a fee of £500,000 and Scottish football was soon mired in contemptible controversy.

Mark Walters arrived in the midst of a revolution under Graeme Souness, who had moved to Glasgow from Sampdoria as player-manager the season before.

Souness was on a mission to change everything about the game north of the border.

English clubs were banned from European competition because of crowd violence at high-profile matches and among his early signings were the England captain Terry Butcher, goalkeeper Chris Woods and defender Graham Roberts.

Walters signed two days before the traditional New Year fixture against Celtic, having been impressed with the manager's vision.

'I was hooked on Rangers'

"Graeme Souness rang me at home, at my mother's house, and told me what he had in mind for the club," he recalls.

"I had seen them play in Europe, and in previous games as well, so I was quite up for it.

"He showed me the stadium, and I was hooked then, and I thought, 'this is where I want to play football and fulfil some of my ambitions.'"

Walters had spent six seasons at Villa in his home town, making more than 220 appearances and scoring 48 goals. He was one of the most sought-after wingers in the country.

At the time, he also happened to be one of very few black footballers to have played in Scotland.

Mark Walters

Walters' first match in Rangers colours, at Celtic Park on 2 January 1988, was marred by vile racism from the home support, with bananas and other assorted fruit items thrown onto the pitch as supporters made monkey noises and gestures any time he collected a pass or ran down the wing with the ball.

Rangers banned one of their own fans following similar behaviour at Ibrox during Walters' first home game against Morton, but it wasn't until an away match against Hearts at Tynecastle on 16 January that the disgraceful behaviour hit the headlines.

"I was always brought up to - I wouldn't say ignore it - but just make it not an issue," said Walters.

"My mother brought me up to think, all right, that's where we are - we obviously can't do anything about being black, so play even better."

'Just something I'd grown up with'

At Tynecastle, Walters was subjected to more fruit being thrown at him along with appalling taunts from the crowd, and BBC Sportscene presenter Archie Macpherson called out the fans' actions on the weekend highlights programme in no uncertain terms.

Hearts chairman Wallace Mercer apologised for the behaviour of his club's supporters and Scottish FA president David Will released a statement deploring the incidents.

Walters, meanwhile, took it all in his stride.

Mark Walters was 23-years-old when he signed for Rangers
Walters was aged 23 when he moved to Scotland from his home city of Birmingham

"It was just something I had grown up with, and I was prepared to put up with it to achieve what I wanted to achieve," said Walters.

"I just knew it was part of the game, unfortunately; if you couldn't take it, you wouldn't last long being a professional footballer."

In time, Walters became an Ibrox favourite, winning three league titles as part of Rangers' record-equalling nine-in-a-row run, along with two League Cups.

He played more than 130 matches for Rangers, scoring 52 goals - but one stands out in particular; a superb solo strike from the edge of the penalty area against Raith Rovers in a 4-1 Scottish Cup replay win on 10 February 1988.

The racist incidents abated when the football authorities took steps to root out the problem and initiatives such as Show Racism The Red Card have now become commonplace as Scottish football continues to promote an inclusive match for all.

Walters left Rangers in 1991 to join Liverpool and also spent time at Swindon and Bristol Rovers before hanging up his boots in 2002.

He now coaches at Aston Villa's youth academy and still participates in annual charity matches, while also fulfilling a role as one of three honorary members of the Rangers Supporters' Trust.

Rangers still holds a special place in his heart, despite the difficult beginnings.

"I won more things there than any other club, so that is probably the most successful period of my career," he said.

Mark Walters is an honourary member of the Rangers Supporters' Trust
Walters is an honourary member of the Rangers Supporters' Trust

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