While many mostly associate the early development of the sport of soccer with England, Scotland has equally played a critical role. The country boasts dozens of soccer clubs across multiple levels of competition with a total of 42 battling it out in the top four – the Scottish Premiership, Scottish Championship, Scottish League One, and Scottish League Two. Scotland has the most popular and widely-followed clubs in Europe and the world at large with the likes of Celtics, Rangers, Aberdeen, and Dundee United topping the list. However, one team has distinguished itself from the multitude by the sheer volume of accomplishments it has amassed over the years.
Who is the most successful team in Scotland? Rangers Football Club, also known as Rangers FC, or simply Rangers, is the most successful team in Scotland with 117 major honors across multiple domestic and international competitions to their name – an equivalent of just over 34% of all titles won by Scottish soccer teams. The Gers edge out their closest challengers and long-time rivals Celtic, who have four less with 113.
A Brief History
Rangers are not only one of the oldest clubs in Scotland but in the world at large having been founded in March 1872 – at least half a decade ahead of other household names like Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea, a year before the formation of the Scottish Cup competition, and a decade and a half before their fiercest rivals, Celtic.
The club’s four founders were brothers Peter and Moses McNeil and compatriots Peter Campbell and William McBeath. Former Scottish winger David Hill is also credited with being one of the founding members of the club, though the former four played the largest role.
After reaching and losing the final of its first major competition – the Scottish Cup – by forfeit to West Dunbartonshire side Vale of Leven in 1877, the club bounced back to win its first trophy – Glasgow Merchants Charity Cup – the very next year.
The Light Blues subsequently built on their success by jointly winning the inaugural edition of the Scottish Football League in its 1890-91 season alongside former top-flight side Dumbarton. Rangers’ first-ever match against their archrivals and fellow Glasgow club Celtic was held in late May 1888 – a match they lost 5-2. They however repaid their Old Firm peers in kind by besting them 3-1 to win their first Scottish Cup in 1894.
The Defining Eras
After their maiden Scottish Cup victory, Rangers built on their success to clinch two consecutive Scottish Cup titles in 1897 and 1898. The club then went on a tear to win four consecutive Scottish Football League titles from 1899 to 1902 – a feat that had not been achieved to that point.
Rangers then went on to win four more league titles in the 1910s before doubling the number in the 1920s alongside another two Scottish Cups. The following decade saw more success with the club clinching six League trophies and four Scottish Cups
The Gers continued their winning ways in the 1940s and 1950s winning seven League titles and four Scottish cups in the process. The team also added two Scottish League Cups including the maiden title of the competition in their 1946-47 campaign.
The 1970s and 1980s proved to be more challenging for the Rangers thanks to the superior play of their rivals Celtics who dominated the top flight. Rangers nevertheless managed to clinch five League titles, five Scottish Cups, and an awe-inspiring 10 Scottish League Cups.
The late 1980s and 1990s are undeniably the club’s golden era as they managed to win nine consecutive League titles. Most of Rangers’ success in the 2000s was in the Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup competitions where they won five titles each. Their four league titles in that decade are viewed by historians as the calm before the storm that shook the club to its core and threatened to fling it into oblivion.
After starting the first two seasons of the 2010s on a high note with two league titles and just as many Scottish League Cups, Rangers entered into administration after failing to pay debts estimated to be upwards of £134 million.
The resulting fallout rendered the club unfit to remain in competitive soccer. They were however handed a lifeline when they were offered a chance to re-enter the Scottish Professional Football League through its fourth tier.
The newly-reconstituted Rangers took the challenge in stride and won the fourth, third and second tiers in 2013, 2014, and 2015 respectively to regain their place in the top flight where they quickly re-established themselves as top contenders for the league’s top prize.
In their absence, Celtic won nine consecutive league titles for the second time in their history with the likes of Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, and Hibernian fighting to fill the void the 1971-72 European Cup Winners’ Cup winners had left.
Resurgence and Return to Glory
Upon their return to the top flight in their 2016/17 season, Rangers had to fight to re-establish their place as a top club in Scotland as a number of clubs, especially Aberdeen, had significantly improved in their absence.
The Teddy Bears finished in third place in that campaign – a full 39 points behind their nemesis Celtic, who had run away with the league title that season. The club put up a better fight the next season but could still only manage another third-place finish behind Celtic and Aberdeen, albeit with a 12-point gap between them and the Bhoys.
A much-needed change in management from then boss Pedro Caixinha to former Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard ahead of their 2018/19 season injected new life into the team, which finished in second place – nine points behind that season’s champions, Celtic.
Looking to take a step forward the next season, Gerrard oversaw a revamping of the Rangers squad that included a £7m transfer of winger Ryan Kent from Liverpool. The club started its campaign off on a high note only to lose its form in early 2020.
After the suspension and subsequent resumption of sporting activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March of the same year, the league called an end to its season in May and awarded the title to Celtic. Rangers yet again finished as runners-up – 13 points behind their Glasgow neighbors.
Their journey back to the top finally came full circle in their 2020/21 season when they dominated the rest of the field to clinch their first league title in a decade, finishing 25 points clear of Celtic to prove that they are still in the fight. Though Celtic recaptured the title in 2021/22, Rangers will surely be looking to give them a run for their money for the foreseeable future.