CHRIS Vinnicombe was one of the hottest prospects in British football when Rangers beat off the biggest clubs in the country to land his signature in 1989.

Graeme Souness was an avid admirer of the then 19-year-old and did everything in his power to land the highly-rated youngster.

However, Souness’s departure for Liverpool in April 1991 ultimately ended Vinnicombe’s hopes of becoming a Light Blues hero.

The arrival of David Robertson from Aberdeen would effectively kill off any aspirations he had of cementing himself as a first-team regular.

Vinnicombe burst onto the scene as a fresh-faced 16-year-old with his hometown club Exeter City. He was described by former Grecians boss Terry Cooper as one of the best young players he had ever seen and it led to a glut of interest from many of the top clubs in the country including Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal... and Rangers.

Vinnicombe was mesmerised by Ibrox and the lure of playing for the Scottish champions was too great an opportunity to turn down.

“Graeme Souness himself came down with Kenny Dalglish, who was at Liverpool, to watch me," he said.

READ MORE: Rangers reserves with 15k fans, telling Souness the 'hate' truth, and an opportunity missed - Stephen Watson interview

“It was just a case of playing and doing well in front of them when they were there and hopefully get a move which I did.

“I went up to Glasgow for a couple of days just to have a look at the club and everything to do with Rangers and then came back down and played for Exeter for a few more weeks and then the move happened.

“I think there were around 21 clubs that were looking at me and were interested but it was the fact that Graeme Souness came down to watch me in person, speaking to him when I went to Glasgow for a few days and looking around the club that persuaded me to sign and become part of their nine in a row squad.

“It certainly takes your breath away when you walk in through the doors at Ibrox and you see that marble staircase facing you.

“Just walking out onto the pitch and seeing the stadium, especially when it’s full, it’s something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life and it’s something I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren that I’ve been able to experience.”

It was a huge step up for the young Vinnicombe - on and off the pitch - as he traded Fourth Division football in England for paying in a side littered with superstars where winning is absolutely everything and living in the goldfish bowl of a city that is Glasgow.

Rangers Review: Vinnicombe (centre) celebrates with his Rangers teammates after a Gary Stevens goal against St Mirren in April 1992 Vinnicombe (centre) celebrates with his Rangers teammates after a Gary Stevens goal against St Mirren in April 1992

“I stayed in a hotel to start with," Vinnicombe said. "I took my girlfriend at the time, Paula, and we stayed at the Holiday Inn hotel right in the centre of Glasgow and then we found a place to live in Shawlands.

"Being so young and moving away from home for the first time, it was certainly an eye-opener for both of us but it certainly made for a great experience of being a footballer because all the international players that were at Rangers at the time and even the Scottish players as well, it was such a great place to be and great people to learn off.

“With the quality that was out on the training pitch and on the pitch on a Saturday or a Tuesday or a Wednesday night, whenever we played, everything was intense. You couldn’t really take your foot off the pedal and relax in training, you had to give your maximum to put yourself forward for a spot in the team. With me being so young it was twice as hard.

“Everybody wanted to beat each other in training and Graeme Souness wanted that, he didn’t want anybody to take their foot off the pedal because he wanted to be the best and to beat Celtic was the main aim at the end of the season.”

“I didn’t expect to get many games and if I did I hoped to take my chance and show people what I could do.”

Vinnicombe was one of eight English players in the Rangers squad with the lure of European football one of the big attractions given English clubs were banned from playing on the continent.

For a teenage Vinnicombe, training and playing alongside some of the biggest names in the British game was invaluable and helped him get to grips with the demands of playing for a club like Rangers.

“The English players looked after me but even the Scottish players did as well.

“Ally McCoist, Ian Ferguson and Ian Durrant looked after you and sort of said ‘If there’s anything you need or any advice just pull us to one side and speak to us and we’ll help you.’

“Even the likes of Richard Gough and Terry Butcher, for me to say I’ve got the Scottish and English captain playing centre back for Rangers was fantastic because they were two great leaders.

“Once they’re out on the pitch they don’t want to lose and that rubs off on you. Whether you’re playing or you’re on the bench or in the stand, you can sense that, you can feel that. Having those sort of players and expecting Rangers to win every time you went onto the pitch, that got instilled into you quite quickly.”

Vinnicombe would make nine appearances in his debut season with the club and sample the unique Old Firm atmosphere in February 1990 as Rangers lost 1-0 to Celtic in their Scottish Cup clash at Parkhead. Vinnicombe came on as a first-half substitute for Mark Walters.

READ MORE: Fraser Aird explains Rangers lessons from McCoist, how Tavernier finished him and THAT Celtic Park celebration

Despite the defeat, it was a game like no other he would experience in his 24-year playing career.

“Obviously being at the other end of the country you hear of Rangers and Celtic," he said. "But until you’re actually experiencing it yourself when you’re there at one of the games or playing in one of the games, you don’t realise just how much of a battle it can be both on and off the pitch.

"In those sorts of games, everyone is desperate to win and the fans are desperate to beat each other on the terraces.

“There was something like 52,000 at Parkhead and you just can’t hear yourself talk to each other on the pitch. It was deafening in the stands but it was a great experience.

“There’s a lot of pressure on those games because you’re desperate to win for your set of fans. You’re in a hostile stadium that doesn’t like you and you’ve got to try and shut that noise out and all the aggression that the fans have towards you and just try and focus on winning the game."

Of all the stars he had the fortune of calling his team-mates, Vinnicombe says the forward line comprising of Ally McCoist, Maurice Johnston and Mark Hateley was frightening and likened them to one of the greatest front three’s in world football today.

“Mo Johnston was in the same mould as Ally McCoist, those two together were unstoppable," said Vinnicombe.

“Then you had the likes of Mark Hateley when he came to Rangers as well, you had those three players who could score a goal out of nothing, that was a potent strike force. It’s just like Liverpool having Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.

“Back then Ally used to score the goals and get all the credit but football is a team game - if Ally hadn’t got the service to score a goal then he wasn’t going to score. Even if we were playing badly, if you got him the ball he would score and win us the game 1-0.”

In season 1990-91, Vinnicombe would make 11 appearances for the first team but Souness’s surprise departure to former club Liverpool in April would prove detrimental to his future Ibrox career.

“From my point of view, Graeme Souness signed me so I was sad that he left," he said.

"Walter Smith took over and managers have their own players that they want to bring in. He signed David Robertson after Souness left and with Stuart Munro there as well I was basically put back a notch down the ladder.

"It made it a little bit harder - but that’s football, you have your ups and downs and you have to deal with it.

“The three-foreigner rule in Europe also made it harder with all the English contingent and the likes of Russians Alexei Mikhailichenko and Oleg Kuznetsov. But I look back on it as a great experience to play with great players who were internationals at the time and I’m thankful that I had the chance.”

Despite representing and captaining England Under-21s during his time in Govan, Vinnicombe would muster just seven more games in the Rangers first team over the next three seasons.

An opportunity to join Chelsea in 1993 was kyboshed by Smith, who wanted Vinnicombe to stick around. It was a decision he still struggles to understand.

“I had a trial down at Chelsea, Glenn Hoddle was the manager at the time and he wanted to sign me," Vinnicombe recalls. "Walter Smith turned it down and said he wanted me as part of his squad.

"He could’ve let me go because he had Robertson and Munro that could play left-back but it didn’t happen for whatever reason.

Rangers Review: Vinnicombe is brought down by St Johnstone keeper Lindsay Hamilton during a league match at Ibrox in 1991 Vinnicombe is brought down by St Johnstone keeper Lindsay Hamilton during a league match at Ibrox in 1991

“But football’s changed, nowadays you can bang on a manager’s door and say you want to go and there’s nothing that he can really do but back then he wanted me to be part of the squad for whatever reason and it didn’t happen.”

Vinnicombe would eventually depart for Burnley the following summer but despite only featuring 27 times he harbours no regrets over his Ibrox stint.

“I had been at Rangers for four-and-a-half years and my contract was coming to an end anyway," he said. "I wasn’t getting much game-time with Walter wanting his own squad and players so Burnley came in for me and it was a case of a fond farewell to Rangers and thanking them for the time that I was there.

“It was part of my football career that I can be thankful for and one that I can tell my grandchildren and great-grandchildren that I played in an Old Firm derby, got a league winners medal and experienced the nine in a row team.”

Vinnicombe hasn’t been back to Ibrox since leaving over 27 years ago but, like many players who have passed through those grand doors, he very much still bleeds blue.

“I always look out for their results and whenever they’re on the telly I watch the games," he added. "There’s always a space in my heart for Rangers.”