In July 1989, Rangers pulled off one of most courageous transfer moves of all time, bringing former Celtic man Mo Johnston back to Scotland from French side Nantes. Indeed, with Graeme Souness in charge at Ibrox, the Gers’ hugely expensive move for the striker sparked a huge backlash all around Glasgow.
At the time, the striker was expected to return to Parkhead, though the Daily Record claims he went cold on the idea of a return after finding out he’d be due to pay half of his huge signing on fee in tax.
As a result, Souness launched a move that’d have sections of the Rangers support burning their shirts, as well as one to prompt sections of the Celtic faithful to register a “We Hate Mo Johnstone Celtic Supporters Club.”
The furious reaction stemmed from the fact that Johnston was the Light Blues’ highest-profile openly Catholic signing in 116 years. Indeed, his move to Ibrox when he seemed destined to return to Parkhead was a watershed moment in Scottish football ahead of the much wider revolution of the 1990s.
Souness himself actually said at the time it was a deal he had to make. A prolific goal scorer, Johnston’s availability would have been of interest to most clubs in a similar market, so it’s clear Rangers had to sign him. At the time, he was one of the best marksmen the Light Blues could sign and the fact he snubbed a move to their greatest rivals was a power play to keep Souness’ side at the top of the league.
Not only that, but as the Record so rightly put it, the addition of Johnston helped try and rid the Scottish game of one of its great stigmas. Despite the initial backlash (from both sets of supporters) it certainly helped bring the game into a new, more open, era ahead of the footballing boom little under a decade later.
Around four months after joining, Johnston would hit an injury time against Celtic and he’d go on to win three major trophies at Ibrox, scoring 17 goals in his first season to ensure the Gers retained the Scottish league title.
Rangers’ signing of Mo Johnston was a brave one, but one they needed to make.