Football: Wilkins relishes return to Rangers

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The Independent Online
Ray Wilkins returns to Ibrox tonight with a tribute from Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, ringing in his ears. The former England midfielder, who celebrated his 40th birthday on Saturday, will be playing for Hibernian against the Scottish champions in their Coca-Cola Cup quarter-final.

Smith yesterday labelled Wilkins as the perfect role model for today's professionals. "Ray was a terrific signing for us during his period here," said Smith, who was assistant to Graeme Souness when Wilkins arrived for pounds 250,000 from Paris St-Germain in November 1987.

"I am sure he will be given a warm welcome by the Ibrox crowd. He is a great advert for the game and an example to any young player at a time when we probably need that."

Wilkins returns almost seven years after he left Scotland to go south to Queen's Park Rangers. He made an emotional departure on 25 November 1989, after a 3-0 win over Dunfermline at Ibrox completed his two-year stay.

Wilkins is relishing the prospect of another meeting with Paul Gascoigne - who is sporting yet another new hairstyle, dreadlocks - even though England present gave England past the runaround on their last meeting at Highbury in May.

"I played against Gazza in the Paul Merson testimonial and he gave me a torrid time," Wilkins said. "If he does that to me again, I'll rip his hair out! I don't have the privilege of having hair to grow deadlocks - so he can't do it to me.

"It's a long time since I played in a quarter-final, so I am delighted to be back up here. I had a couple of wonderful years at Rangers, but I want to upset them for one night only."

Rangers, who have injury doubts over Brian Laudrup and Stuart McCall, yesterday revealed record profits of more than pounds 7m for the year ended 31 May 1996. Turnover was up 55 per cent on last year to pounds 30,708,000 and there were record trading profits of pounds 7,108,000. In 1995, trading profits were only pounds 1,655,000.

Hibs, of course, can only dream about such figures and the Edinburgh side travel to Ibrox with Alex Miller, their manager, determined his side give a better showing than in recent games against the Old Firm. Hibs suffered a 7-0 defeat on their last visit to Ibrox last December, while Celtic beat them 5-0 at Parkhead only 10 days ago.

"The most important thing against Rangers is to think positive," Miller insisted. "The players must believe we can win at Ibrox."