The Commercial & Marketing chief spoke highly of the development of football in the country and the Scottish champions’ future plans.

It’s a wonderful time to be a Rangers fan. The Scottish giants lifted a record 55th Scottish Premiership title a few weeks ago and were superior to the rest by a margin. As the club heads into its 150th year of existence, the Gers are certainly in dreamland.

Yet, a lot is on the cards for next season, as club officials now look forward to jam-packed stadiums once again. In a candid conversation with Khel Now, Rangers’ Commercial and Marketing Director, James Bisgrove touched upon several interesting stories about their title triumph, manager Steven Gerrard’s influence, rise of youngsters, international partnerships and so on. He spoke a great deal about the association with Indian Super League side Bengaluru FC and the Gers’ future plans in India.

Title triumph

Rangers have won the Scottish league title 55 times, a domestic league joint-world record

“It was a phenomenal effort from the players, the management team and the staff. But, it was particularly special because of the backing of the Rangers supporters. We’ve got an incredible fanbase with about 5000 season-ticket holders. They couldn’t be with us in the stadiums, so they followed us on Rangers TV even from the USA, Asia and Australia,” James Bisgrove began with a tone of delight on the title win.

For a club that won the league after a decade-long hiatus, the absence of fans has been a disappointment. Nevertheless, the Gers’ faithful found ways to support the team and did so with utmost passion. Season tickets were bought, thousands of Rangers TV subscriptions were sold off, along with lots of official merchandise too. So, fans stayed connected with the club, despite the odds and that paid dividends in the end for everyone. More importantly, the team delivered with some fabulous performances on the pitch.

Steven Gerrard as manager

Under Gerrard, Rangers finished the 2020-21 league season unbeaten, with 32 wins and six draws

With someone of Steven Gerrard’s stature at the helm, the quality of play the team displayed was excellent. Gerrard’s presence not only had a positive impact on the team, but from a commercial perspective too, the club received a big boost ever since his arrival. Shedding light on the same, James Bisgrove mentioned, “What Steven achieved as a player, from that perspective, he stands a football icon. But also, from a coaching point of view, he joined in as an experienced coach. We’re delighted that he chose Rangers as part of the journey and now he has achieved that success.”

He added, “As an individual, he is very driven and knows what success looks like. Moreover, what we’ve achieved, be that with the youth team, the girls’ academy, the U-10 level or the commercial department, we know there’s a certain standard. That standard comes with the presence of Steven Gerrard as manager and what he represents.”

Young talents

The season also saw the rise of some exceptionally talented youngsters like Nathan Patterson and Ianis Hagi. While the former received a Scotland call-up for his brilliant displays, the latter, a Romanian talent has grabbed the attention of many. Infact, the duo’s emergence reflects Rangers’ policy to scout for youngsters across the world.

In Bisgrove’s words, “Global talent can have a pathway to European football at the highest level with Rangers. Our scouting network is very vast and is run by Ross Wilson, the Sporting Director who joined us from Southampton two years ago. Making use of that international network and bringing young talent to Rangers is an integral part of our football strategy.”

Partnership with Bengaluru FC

The partnership between Rangers and Bengaluru FC was formed in 2019

Having mentioned international network and strategy, the Scottish outfit has tie-ups with Orange County in the USA as well as Bengaluru FC in India. Formed in 2019, the latter was a particularly interesting association. James Bisgrove examined the details of the deal, saying, “It’s an important strategic partnership for Rangers. For us, it is multi-faceted. By that, I mean it touches all areas of the club. The soccer academies, youth development, coach education is equally important as our commercial activities. How we grow the profile of Rangers in India.

“As much as it is about supporters’ engagement,” he continued. “We’ve developed and are now about to launch a Rangers Supporters’ Club in India. We’ve flown the Rangers supporters out to India to experience the atmosphere at an ISL game.”

During this time, it was also announced that Bengaluru FC will play a friendly against Rangers’ first-team at the iconic Ibrox Stadium. Unfortunately, it had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, Bisgrove emphasized on the strategic importance of the partnership for the two clubs. He explained how Rangers are doing their bit by helping Bengaluru as a club.

“We’ve actually spoken with Mandar (Tamhane, CEO of Bengaluru FC) and have a strong plan for the next season. It is a very rich plan across four-five pillars of the partnership, in terms of what we’re going to achieve with BFC in the seasons ahead.”

Signing Bala Devi

At Rangers, Bala Devi became the first Indian woman to score in a top European league

Interestingly, the Director also expressed his opinion on the influence of Bala Devi, who is currently plying her trade with the Rangers Women’s side. The 30-year-old recently scored an outrageous 30-yard screamer against Spartans FC. “We’ve watched it back many times!” exclaimed James Bisgrove.

“She has had a fantastic influence in terms of the inspiration, on and off the pitch. Bala has also helped us develop that connection with Indian football and Bengaluru FC. Everyone at the club is really impressed with her contribution and we hope that will continue.”

Future activities in India

Having already established a rapport with Bengaluru, Rangers are now looking forward to engaging more with the Indian audience. Apart from the supporters’ group, the club also aim to introduce viewing events in India in the upcoming months. The Gers will take on Arsenal in July in celebration of their 150th anniversary. The club are planning to create an experience of the same, along with the iconic Old Firm Derby against Celtic for Indian fans.

“We’re sure that there are other elements in the partnership where we identify the youth talent in Indian football and bring them over to Rangers. Individuals – 10-11-year-olds, who might have the opportunity to play in European football in future. Telling stories like these is as important as anything,” revealed James Bisgrove.

Speaking of youth football, he also spoke about participation in various age-group tournaments. More importantly, he mentioned of discussions with Martin Bain, the CEO of FSDL, with whom the club share a good camaraderie. “Martin has introduced us to a number of stakeholders that we think can open up additional opportunities. Whether that be in grassroots football or the academy teams competing in competitions like Next Gen Mumbai Cup. However, we don’t have anything agreed or to announce. But, we are certainly looking at opportunities that we are very excited about.”

“Watch this space because there’s certainly some plans down the pipeline!” he stated.

Indian football

There has been a lot of talk about the development of football in the country in the past few years. In the final part of the conversation, James Bisgrove expressed his views on the growth of Indian football and the potential it holds. Additionally, hosting tournaments like the FIFA U-17 World Cup and plans for the U-17 Women’s World Cup, along with the AFC tournaments has been quite influential.

“We see huge potential (in Indian football), be that at the grassroots level or the elite game. We want to participate in that and we want to contribute. In global terms, our focus is very strategic and that’s why the activation in India is very important to us. We think the landscape of football in India will be very different in five years or 10 years in future. Rangers as a club, we want to participate in that,” he concluded on an optimistic note.

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