GORDAN PETRIC spent such a large chunk of his playing career in Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh that he jokes that he still feels almost half-Scottish now.
The defender joined Dundee United in 1993, helping them win their first ever Scottish Cup in his debut season, and his third and final stint in the country took him to Tynecastle where he spent 14 months as a Hearts player between 1999 and 2001.
In the middle of that, though, came his most influential period as a Rangers player. Joining from United in 1995, Petric would play a key part in delivering history to Ibrox as Walter Smith’s men clinched their eighth and then ninth successive championships.
The Serb will forever have his place in Rangers folklore as one of the 11 players who started the critical match at Tannadice on 7 May 1997 when Nine in a Row was delivered.
As well as two league titles, the defender also had a Scottish Cup and a League Cup medal among his possessions when he moved on to Crystal Palace in November 1998.
The history books show he made more than 100 appearances during his time as a Rangers player but he modestly waves away the importance of his individual contribution.
Arriving at a time when Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne were the leading players in a very talented squad, Petric insists he was merely just one cog in a well-oiled machine.
Everyone was given a role to play by Smith and his assistant Archie Knox and made sure they carried it out to the letter. It was that group ethos – rather than individual brilliance – that was the key to Rangers’ success according to Petric.
He said: “I was lucky to win some trophies as I was playing with a lot of good players. I was just one part of a very strong team.
I still had one year left on my contract at Dundee United in 1995 but Celtic and Rangers both wanted to sign me. But I chose to go to Rangers and I am really pleased that I did because I had some very special times there.
“Laudrup had signed the year before and then Gascoigne signed a few weeks before me and Oleg Salenko. So they were signing some big names – and also me!
“Every game is important as a player. But if you have to pick one memory then of course I would say going back to Dundee United to win Nine in a Row.
“I remember the great cross from Charlie Miller and Laudrup scoring – I had never seen him score with a header before!
“That was a difficult game for us because there were a few players who couldn’t play because of injury. So we had some younger players come in and they produced when we needed them to.
“That was a very emotional moment in my career, especially as it happened at the stadium of my old club.”
Petric still considers the Rangers dressing room at that time as the best he was ever a part of, thanks mainly to the crux of Scots who knew what it meant to play for the club. And the big defender soon found out that half-measures were never acceptable.
He recalls: “At the heart of our squad at Rangers was all the Scottish guys. Players like Andy Goram, David Robertson, Richard Gough, Stuart McCall, Ian Ferguson, Gordon Durie and, of course, Ian Durrant and Ally McCoist. That was so important for our success.
“They were all good professionals and great players. But they were also very big personalities. Over the rest of my football career I never experienced a dressing room atmosphere like in those days at Rangers.
“We had world-class players like Gascoigne and Laudrup but they had to fit in just like everyone rest. Everyone looked after each other and helped each other. But the message was clear that every single moment you must produce.
“I remember one day we were playing Partick Thistle and we were winning 5-0. It was the last minute of the game and we got a throw-in. I was just walking over slowly to get the ball as the match was over. But Goughie ran past me quickly and threw the ball in to start the game. And soon after the referee blew the final whistle.
“Richard was the captain and after the game he said to me, ‘At Rangers you must play every minute the same. The referee will decide when the match is over, not us.’ That was an important lesson for me.
I learned at Rangers you could never ever let your standards drop. You had to play at the same level and with the same intensity all the time. It was tough as a footballer but it was the best attitude.”
There was Champions League football, too, for Petric, including a 2-1 win over Grasshoppers in November 1996 – the last visit of a Swiss side to Ibrox before this season’s game with Young Boys.
But, in the eyes of the supporters at least, nothing mattered more in those first two seasons than ensuring domestic success continued.
He revealed: “We really wanted to win 10 in a row but unfortunately we couldn’t get the last one. But it was so important to get the eighth and then the ninth titles. That was always the most important thing, especially to the fans.
“I remember we played Juventus in the Champions League. We were in the airport waiting to come home from Italy and we met some supporters. And they just said, ‘Never mind about Europe just make sure you get Nine in a Row.’
“So we knew how important it was to get that. And we did it.”
His experiences at all three clubs has left Petric, who is now a coach with a UEFA Pro License, with a special affinity to Scotland. His son Filip has even more of a bond given he was born in Dundee– giving him an aptitude for drinking if not football, his dad jokes:
If I was able to have my playing career all over again and play anywhere in the world then I would choose Scotland. I had such a really good time there with Dundee United, Rangers and at Hearts.
“I actually spent more time playing in Scotland then I did playing here in Serbia. I actually still feel half-Scottish. And my son was born in Dundee so he is a typically Scottish guy, like Braveheart! I’m not sure if he will ever play football for Scotland but he can drink like a Scotsman!
“Because of my son – and because of all of my football memories – Scotland is like a second home to me. And I would love to come back some day.”