Andy Goram tribute

ONE of the great debates of the mid-to-late nineties in Scottish Football was who should be the number one for the Men’s National Team – Jim Leighton or Andy Goram. Two of the finest goalkeepers of our generation battling it out to represent their country, we really were blessed.

The debate particularly intensified ahead of the Euro ’96 Finals in England. On one hand, you had people say that Leighton should get the nod because he’d kept goal in the remaining six qualifying matches without conceding a goal, whilst Goram had dropped out of one of those squads at the eleventh hour for not being mentally attuned to play. On the other hand, Goram had played a crucial role in Rangers winning their eighth league title in a row, particularly in matches against Celtic where he made such an impact that the late Tommy Burns joked that his tombstone would state that Andy Goram broke his heart.

In the end, manager Craig Brown opted for the man nicknamed The Goalie in what he described as his most difficult decision in football. Four minutes into that opening match against Netherlands at Villa Park, the decision was justified as Goram made an unbelievable save from Clarence Seedorf as Scotland earned a credible goalless draw against a Dutch side containing top names like Davids, Bergkamp and the De Boer brothers in addition to Seedorf.

The Euro ’96 adventure was, arguably, Andy Goram’s finest hour as a Scotland goalkeeper, which came during the peak years of his career. He was a catalyst in Rangers record-equalling nine titles in a row, often producing the goods in big games that proved decisive at the end of each season.

Peak

Understandably, the tributes point to Goram’s influences in the Old Firm matches, particularly during the era when Burns was Celtic manager as they strived to protect the record set by the great Jock Stein side of the late sixties and early seventies. However, it wasn’t just Celtic and Burn’s hearts that Goram was breaking during the nineties.

During the early part of that nine in a row run, Rangers main challengers for the title were Aberdeen. In season ‘92/93, Goram’s second season at Ibrox following his £1million move from Hibs the previous year, the two sides were embroiled in a title battle when they met at Pittodrie in February ’93. The Dons threw everything at Rangers that night, but they found Goram in sensational form as he produced save after save to keep his side in it. Then the visitors produced the sucker punch when Mark Hateley scored the winning goal just short of the hour mark. From then on, Rangers strolled away to the title and also the treble, whilst Aberdeen had to be content with a treble of runners-up places.

Arguably, this was the season where Andy Goram was at his best. He was voted player of the year by both the Players and Football Writer’s associations, and also played a key role in Rangers undefeated Champions League campaign, where they came close to reaching the final but missed out to eventual winners Marseille. The games against English champions Leeds United that took them into the group stages were a particular highlight, with Goram’s performance in the second leg at Elland Road proving to be every bit as key in Rangers 2-1 win as the goals by Mark Hateley and Ally McCoist.

By this time, Goram was firmly established as the Scotland number one goalkeeper, having grabbed the opportunity following Leighton’s three and a half year international exile that began after his error against Brazil at Italia ’90, and ended in November 1993. During this time, Goram would play every qualifying match that saw Scotland qualify for their first ever European Championship finals in Sweden, and had a solid tournament at Euro ’92 as the Scots took on the European Champions Netherlands, World Champions Germany, and Euro ’88 runner’s up CIS (formerly Soviet Union). His performances for club and country at this time saw him regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in Europe.

This is not to say that Goram never reached the heights of ‘92/93 in the following years, far from the case. What you do have to remember there were periods where he was managing a knee injury that would often keep him out of the Rangers side. But whenever he came back into the Rangers team, it would be in time for those key games against Celtic, who would often dominate Old Firm matches, but would often come away with a narrow defeat or, at best, a draw, thanks largely to Goram. The save he made from Pierre Van Hooijdonk in a 3-3 draw at Ibrox is often described as one of the best saves a goalkeeper has ever made, and his penalty save from the same player in a 1-0 victory the following year proved crucial as Rangers clinched that ninth consecutive league title.

Recovery from a dodgy start

To think, all of this might not have been possible had UEFA not introduced the three foreigner rule in 1991 (scrapped in 1995 in line with the Bosman ruling). Walter Smith had to reduce the number of English players brought in by predecessor Graeme Souness, and one of those included letting then England number one Chris Woods sign for Sheffield Wednesday to bring in Goram from Hibs. He had a shaky start of course, misjudging a looping Scott Crabbe effort that sailed into his net in a 1-0 defeat by Hearts being one error in particular that saw him criticised, but he recovered and emerged over the next seven years as one of the best goalkeepers that Scotland has ever seen.

His Scotland career did come to a sad end as he left the squad ahead of the France ’98 World Cup. At the time, he cited media intrusion into his private life as the reason for the sudden walk out whilst the squad was on a pre-tournament camp in America (https://www.thefreelibrary.com/GORAM%3A+I+WAS+HOUNDED+OUT+OF+MY+WORLD+CUP+DREAMS.-a060568360). However, in later years, he revealed that he learned from coaches within the camp that he was going to be left out of the opening game in favour of Leighton, and decided to end his international career after 43 appearances. Manager Craig Brown insists to this day that a decision had still to be made and that his intention was to start Goram in one of the two friendlies, with Leighton starting the other, before Goram made his decision easier by handing him a letter explaining that he was leaving for personal reasons. To be fair, Goram does reference the letter when he spoke to Sportsound in 2007 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/scotland/6501037.stm). We may never know who Brown would really have chosen for France ’98 had Goram not chosen to end his Scotland career during that pre-tournament trip in America, but it would’ve been an interesting discussion given the calibre of both goalkeepers at that time.

Goram would go onto have three seasons at Motherwell, which culminated in an unexpected short term transfer to Manchester United in 2001, before winding down his career at Hamilton, Coventry, a second stint at first club Oldham, Queen of the South and Elgin City. He turned his hand at coaching, helping out at several clubs, and was a popular after dinner speaker over the last few years of his life. His revelation on 30 May 2022 that he had terminal cancer and had just six months to live, which days later turned into weeks rather than months, sent shockwaves across the footballing world, and his sad passing at the age of 58 was met, largely, with tributes from even rival fans paying their respects to a man who excelled in his profession.

To me, Andy Goram was a rival I hugely respected, because he was one of the best goalkeepers of his generation. In my lifetime, Rangers have had some great goalkeepers, including Woods, Stefan Klos and Allan McGregor, but he was the best for me. In fact, whenever I’m asked to name a best Scotland team in my lifetime as a football fan (1989 onwards), Goram gets the nod over Leighton for me. I don’t recall Leighton in the 80’s so can’t pass comment on how good he was then, but on judging both goalkeepers from Italia ’90 onwards, and Leighton’s comeback after three years in the doldrums is amazing, Goram for me was the better keeper, and this was emphasised with his performances at the two European Championships that Scotland reached in that decade.

Legacy

That’s the legacy of Andy Goram. Whether you are a fan of the clubs he played for, or a rival fan, it is widely acknowledged that he was a great goalkeeper. Even fellow Aberdeen fans on Twitter posted their appreciation of his goalkeeping abilities that got even a talented Rangers team out of jail on occasions that propelled them to their nine in a row haul. His performances in a Scotland shirt were also largely excellent as he played his part in the National Team reaching their first ever European Championship Finals, and performing well in the Finals themselves against some of the best sides on the continent at the time.

His premature death is a reminder of how important it is to detect the diagnosis of cancer early, especially in an era where we are coming out of a global pandemic. By his own admission, Goram didn’t think much of his earlier symptoms and, by the time he got his diagnosis, it was too late. The one thing that can come out of this is that it raises awareness for others to get checked early, and hammer through to GP’s to be seen and not be fobbed off with “non-urgent” lines that are commonly fed as a result of that pandemic. Cancer has not gone away during the last two years and, now that we’re moving to a new normal life to deal with COVID, there needs to be a renewed focus on horrendous illnesses like cancer that have been largely neglected (through no fault of the NHS who are following government guidelines). It came too late for Andy Goram, but we still have a chance if we see early signs and do something about it to get the diagnosis early enough to treat this disease and make a recovery.

J Bleasdale

I am a football fan with a passion for writing, briefly studied journalism before other priorities got in the way. Enjoy blogging as its my way of expressing my thoughts on Scottish Football. Even though I'm an Aberdeen fan primarily, I'm happy to express my impartial views on other clubs.