Glasgow’s Unsung Hero

The 2010’s have been a turbulent time for Rangers.

The Gers entered the decade unbalanced, having become gradually suffocated by financial troubles throughout the 2000’s. The club was eventually sold to Craig Whyte who, through the borrowing of over £20 million in loans as well as a failure to acknowledge his ban as a company director, steered Rangers into administration, liquidation, and misery. The Glasgow Rangers, one of Europe’s most merited clubs throughout time, had to start all over again. With liquidation came a plummet down the Scottish leagues, the 2012-13 season seeing Rangers in the fourth league of Scottish football for the first time in their history.

As can be expected, relegation to such an extent saw an extreme fire sale of talent. Whilst Steven Davis and Maurice Edu commanded fees upon their departure to the Premier League, players such as Allan McGregor, Steven Naismith, Carlos Bocanegra, Kyle Lafferty, and Steven Whittaker all departed on free transfers. A combination of the steep relegation, contract irregularities, and a season long transfer ban meant that the already thinly stripped Glaswegians would struggle for reinforcements.

At a time of change and departure, there were some that would remain at the Ibrox. One such player was a certain Lee Wallace. Formerly of Hearts, the Edinburgh born left-back was one of the first signings under the reign of Rangers legend Ally McCoist and was brought in as a challenge to Sasa Papac in 2011. Although no bid had materialised, he had been linked with a move to Premier League side Wolves prior to his move to the Gers, further emphasising the ability and promise that the full-back displayed.

In the space of a season, Wallace had gone from Champions League qualifiers against Malmo to the prospect of League Two ties with Montrose. At 24, he could have easily desired a move away to prove himself at a higher level. He was at an age that most clubs would be interested in, an already established player that still had years to grow. Instead, he opted to stay in Glasgow, his loyalty being rewarded through his appointment as vice-captain at the beginning of the new campaign.

Wallace, as expected, was a mainstay in the Rangers side that would finish top of League Two, albeit with a few challenging ties along the way. Whilst having a fleeting of appearances at left midfield and right back, Wallace had solidified the left-back spot as his own. In 2012, he signed a new five-year deal, committing himself to the club and their odyssey to return to where they belonged. At a time of turbulence, Wallace’s commitment was much adored by the Ibrox faithful, a reward for early form that would continue through a season that saw him record three goals and six assists, as well as being part of a backline that would keep fifteen clean sheets.

Rangers were promoted to League One at the first time of asking, unsurprising to most, but still a boost to supporters who finally had something to cheer about. As could be expected, finances still were not as free as fans and executives would hope for, with a reliance on free imports still apparent. Wallace continued to develop as a player, his impressive form carrying on throughout the entire season.

Throughout the 2013-14 season, potential suitors came calling for Wallace, his talent becoming further recognised by the wider world. Rangers turned down bids from Nottingham Forest for Wallace in the 2014 January window, leaving the Championship club disappointed and empty handed. As for Wallace himself, his talent would continue to expand. Although he would miss the last five games of the season through injury, Wallace was present for all but two other matches, in which he would again net three goals whilst also attaining nine assists, bettering his prior season by three.

Wallace was continually improving as a player as his side rose through the leagues. Forever a marauding full-back, Wallace’s confidence grew as he aged. Wallace’s on-ball intelligence and overall calmness in his game was something that fans only grew to appreciate. Of course, his fondness for the occasional goal was too smiled upon, but his overall ability at both ends of the pitch was what truly captivated fans, as well as his undeniable loyalty to the club.

Two successive promotions meant that Rangers were in the Championship for the 2014/15 season. In comparison to prior seasons that saw a fairly smooth rise from the fourth tier, the 2014 campaign was far rockier than most would have wished for. Rangers saw three managers in the space of a year, with McCoist, Kenny McDowall, and Stuart McCall all seeing themselves at the helm in an attempt to guide Rangers back to the Premiership. In the midst of such instability, Wallace proved himself reliable once more, his consistency present throughout the regular season with a very similar stat line to that of his prior seasons.

Wallace’s three goals and eight assists were a key contributing factor to Rangers’ successes that season, as was his general play each game. Rangers had managed to finish in a playoff place, only six games away from returning to the top. Wallace actually scored in the 2nd leg of the quarter-finals, a 1-1 draw with Queen of the South that saw Rangers win the tie 3-2 on aggregate. His side would make it to the finals in which they were defeated by Motherwell on a 6-1 scoreline over two legs. A heart-breaking result, but perhaps a fated one given the turbulent time that was the 14/15 season for Rangers.

The conclusion of the playoffs saw the departure of McCall from the club with former Brentford boss Mark Warburton being appointed in his place. Prior to the kick-off of the new season, Warburton strengthened his side primarily through English and Scottish talents, with key arrivals including Martyn Waghorn and James Tavernier, both from Wigan. This too was the season that Lee Wallace, one of the longest-tenured of the Light Blues, assumed captaincy upon the departure of former skipper Lee McCulloch to Kilmarnock.

Perhaps it was the captaincy that spurred him as well as the thirst for promotion, but Warburton’s first season saw Wallace produce his best statistical output since his arrival in 2011. With seven goals and ten assists to his name, Lee Wallace guided his side to the Championship title, their 81 points sealing their return to the Premiership after a four-season absence. Wallace’s patience and commitment had finally, truly paid off. He was captain of a club he loved, with his immense adoration of his side matched by the fans towards him and his abilities rewarded with being recalled to the Scotland side.

By the end of a season that saw Rangers lift not only the Championship title but the Challenge Cup also, Lee Wallace signed an extension to tie him down to the club until 2019, noting that it was an easy decision to make and further reiterating his desire to stay at the club, especially now that he would be guiding them in the top flight. In their first season back, the 2016/17 season, Wallace would, understandably, retain his starting spot as well as his captaincy, appearing in over 25 league games whilst adding seven assists and three goals to his tally, a seasonal stat line that fans had grown to expect from their skipper. Wallace missed the final eight games due to surgery, including a 5-1 defeat to bitter rivals Celtic in an Old Firm at Celtic Park. Regardless, his side had done enough to ensure a spot in Europa League qualifiers.

Whilst an overall solid season from the skipper, Rangers’ poor form in the first half of said campaign saw Mark Warburton depart the club, replaced by Pedro Caixinha (with Graeme Murty taking charge in a caretaker role prior to the appointment of the Portuguese manager). Wallace had recovered from his surgery in time for the Europa League qualifiers, in which Rangers memorably (and embarrassingly) lost to Luxembourgian side FC Progres Niederkorn who, through a 2-0 victory in the second leg, won the tie 2-1 on aggregate. In a tie against Partick Thistle, Wallace sustained an injury that would result in him being out for a sizeable amount of the season.

An unfortunate turn of events, the injury was perhaps the beginning of the end for Wallace at Rangers, however unknowingly it may have been. During his time on the side-lines, Caixinha had been replaced by Graeme Murty, with Murty being given a deal until the end of the season and Caixinha having been sacked in October 2017, becoming the shortest-serving boss in the history of the club. In the Scottish Cup semi-final, Rangers were beaten 4-0 by Celtic, a result that spurred a confrontation involving Kenny Miller, Graeme Murty, and Lee Wallace.

The particular details of the confrontation are unknown, but it resulted in the duo being suspended and eventually fined. Wallace, who had essentially almost fully recovered from his injury, went on to not feature again for his side. Upon the end of the season, Graeme Murty was replaced by Steven Gerrard as manager. No doubt, hopes were high amongst fans that they would get to see their skipper return to the side, with Wallace presumably holding faith that he would be restored to the starting eleven.

As Gerrard’s time at the club grew, it became clear that the former Liverpool man had preferences at left-back that did not include Lee Wallace, who at that point had entered his early thirties. Gerrard had placed Borna Barisic, Andy Halliday, and Jon Flanagan above the former skipper who had won his appeal at a tribunal in regards to his and Miller’s dispute with Murty. Lee Wallace would make only ten appearances in all competitions in his final two years at the club he had once captained before he left as a free agent upon the expiration of his contract.

The exit of Lee Wallace was, by all means, undignified for a man of his stature. Wallace had wholeheartedly given himself to the rebuild of the Glasgow Rangers, plying his trade in leagues that were vastly inferior to the trajectory his potential positioned him on. Kenny Miller believed that the impending fine against the club that stemmed from the successful appeal against their own fine and suspension resulted in a gradual isolation and margination from the club. Regardless of the truth in such, Wallace was limited to a number of games in a move that seemed entirely unfair given his past contributions to the club.

Lee Wallace, as of 2021, plays once more under Mark Warburton, only now for QPR in the Championship in England. Wallace will most likely go down as an unsung hero of the Glasgow Rangers. A player who gave everything he had for a return to the Premiership, a player who through sheer skill and reliability had become one of the most adorned captains of recent years. A player whose passion for the club shone more so than any other aspect of his game, and a player whose cult hero status may sadly be lost in time.