Alistair Murdoch McCoist, MBE (born 24 September 1962) is a Scottish former footballer who has since worked as a manager and pundit.
McCoist began his playing career with Scottish club St Johnstone before moving to English side Sunderland in 1981. He returned to Scotland two years later and signed with Rangers. McCoist had a highly successful spell with Rangers, becoming the club’s record goalscorer and winning nine successive league championships between 1988–89 and 1996–97. He later played for Kilmarnock. McCoist was inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. He is also a member of the Scotland Football Hall of Fame, having gained 61 international caps. A prolific striker, he is currently ranked as the fifth highest goalscorer in the top tier of the Scottish football league system all time, having netted 260 times for Rangers and Kilmarnock between 1983 and 2001.
Born at Bellshill Maternity Hospital and raised in East Kilbride, McCoist attended Maxwellton Primary and Hunter High School. His high-school team coach, and chemistry teacher, was former Clyde and Scotland forward Archie Robertson, who was acknowledged by McCoist for his guidance and influence, but who died in 1978 just as his protégé’s career was taking off.
McCoist’s first professional club was St Johnstone, having signed from Fir Park Boys Club in 1978. He had been denied a move to St Mirren because Alex Ferguson thought he was not good enough. “When I was 14, 15, Sir Alex used to pick me up from school. I used to go to Hunter High in East Kilbride and he stayed up in Greenhills, I think it was, in East Kilbride. And he used to pick me up – myself and another lad, Stevie Cowan, who he did sign at St Mirren and went to Aberdeen with him. We’d train with the S-forms, and Sir Alex would take the training with the first team and the reserves. And then Stevie and I would wait, and Sir Alex would give us a couple of quid and we’d nip round to the chippie in Love Street. We’d go back and wait for Sir Alex finishing, and then he would drop us off at the house.”
He made his debut for St Johnstone on 7 April 1979 in a 3–0 win over Raith Rovers. McCoist didn’t score his first goal for the club until netting the third against Dumbarton in a 3–0 win in August 1980. He went on to score 23 goals in 43 appearances that season, including a consolation against Rangers in a 3–1 defeat in Scottish Cup replay.
With several English clubs interested in his signature due to his form with both St Johnstone and the Scotland under-18 side including Sunderland, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Middlesbrough and Tottenham Hotspur, he started the 1981–82 season with four goals in five League Cup games including the opening goal in a 2–0 win over Celtic at Muirton Park and the consolation in a 4–1 defeat in the corresponding fixture at Parkhead.
Sunderland manager Alan Durban signed McCoist in August 1981. The £400,000 transfer fee spent on McCoist made him Sunderland’s record signing. His time at Sunderland was unsuccessful: McCoist scored only nine goals in 65 appearances for a side struggling at the foot of the English First Division. He only managed two goals during the 1981–82 season, his first coming against Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest side and his second a spectacular curling effort from the edge of the box against Southampton.
Three goals in three pre-season games against Dundee, Dunfermline Athletic and former team St Johnstone followed by a goal against European Champions Aston Villa on the opening day of the 1982–83 in a 3–1 win looked to point towards big things to come. He followed this up with a goal against Brighton & Hove Albion meaning he had matched his previous seasons tally midway through September.
October 1982 proved to be the highlight of McCoist’s spell with Sunderland as he scored five goals in as many games against Norwich City, Southampton, Manchester City, Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers. With seven goals scored by the end of October big things were expected but McCoist failed to score another goal in a Sunderland shirt. Despite this he finished third top scorer for Sunderland in 1982–83, one goal behind Nick Pickering.
In early 1983, Durban pulled McCoist into his office and said Rangers’ John Greig had called him with an interest in signing the player. “He said, ‘Do you fancy it?'” recalled McCoist. “And I said, ‘Aye. I’ve got to be honest with you.’ He said, ‘I think you should go, for the simple fact that I don’t think I’ll be here in three or four months.’ Sure enough, he got the sack relatively soon after that.”
At the end of the 1982–83 season he returned to Scotland and joined Rangers for a fee of £185,000. On his dream move, McCoist recalled: “I met John Greig and Tommy McLean at the Crest Hotel, at the roundabout in Carlisle. I went to a payphone and phoned my wee grannie in Thornliebank. First person I phoned. I can still hear her – obviously not with us now – but I can still hear her voice down the phone. You could have given her a million pounds and it wouldn’t have meant just as much.”
During his fifteen years with Rangers, McCoist achieved an array of honours, including ten league championship medals. This began with a title in the 1986–87 season and included the whole “Nine in a Row” period between 1989 and 1997. McCoist also won a Scottish Cup winners’ medal and nine Scottish League Cup winners’ medals. He was the first player to be Europe’s top goalscorer twice in a row (in 1992 and 1993), as well as being named Scotland’s “Player of the Year” in 1992.
McCoist made his competitive début for the Ibrox side on the opening day of the 1983–84 season against St Mirren and scored twenty goals that year. Nonetheless, he got a tough time from the supporters. “When I look back, do I regret it? No, because it actually made me stronger. If I didn’t handle that at all, I wouldn’t have stayed at the club and I would have been away down the road. At that time, Jock Wallace probably would have sold me.”
McCoist scored a hat-trick in the 1983 Scottish League Cup Final victory over Celtic.
With Rangers still a team very much in the doldrums, McCoist managed 18 goals the following season as he began to endear himself to the club’s fans.
McCoist scored 24 goals in season 1985–86. He made his international debut against the Netherlands in 1986, the same year Graeme Souness arrived at Rangers to begin the Ibrox revolution. “He certainly transformed Rangers Football Club, but he also transformed Scottish football,” said McCoist of Souness’ time at Ibrox. “Two of his first three signings were Terry Butcher, the England captain, and Chris Woods, the England goalkeeper. The whole place just erupted into a new level.”
McCoist scored another hat-trick in the Glasgow Cup final against Celtic to bring further accolades his way, and he was an ever-present in Rangers’ title-winning side of 1987, scoring 34 goals along the way.
In September 1987 McCoist was convicted of assault and fined £150 at Hamilton Sheriff Court. This followed an attack on a 19-year-old outside an East Kilbride nightclub in the early hours of 5 December 1986. A verdict of not proven was returned against Ted McMinn and Iain Durrant in relation to the incident. McCoist and Durrant were each fined £1,500 by Rangers.
His tally of 31 goals in 1987–88 could not prevent Celtic regaining the league title and, although Rangers recaptured their crown in 1988–89, McCoist played only 19 games. That title win was the first of nine-in-a-row, but McCoist found himself in and out of the first team for the first three of those successes.
When Walter Smith took over from Souness in April 1991, McCoist returned to the fore and won both Players’ Player of the Year and the Sportswriters’ award after scoring 34 times in the league during season 1991–92 as Rangers completed a domestic double; those goals won him the European Golden Boot – the first time a Scot had won the award – ensuring his position with two long-range strikes in the final fixture of the season away to Aberdeen, a match he later admitted he had barely been in a condition to play, having spent the previous night drinking with students in the team hotel. He had scored the only goal of the Scottish Cup semi-final, an Old Firm meeting where Rangers played 85 minutes with only 10 men, and rounded off the season with the decisive goal in the 1992 Scottish Cup Final. Regarding the Golden Boot, McCoist joked: “There was some wee Romanian guy; you know what it’s like. I think he needed to score nine in the last game of the season to beat me. I think he got eight. It was one of those ones. I think he scored his seventh in the 98th minute and scored his eighth in the 114th minute. You’re never sure with that mob.”
He repeated that scoring feat a year later with the same goal tally in the Premier Division, despite missing the last seven matches of the season after breaking his leg playing for Scotland against Portugal in April. He also missed the 1993 Scottish Cup Final (having scored the winner in the semi-final to put Rangers through) but still scored a career-best 49 goals from 52 appearances overall for the campaign.
After a six-month absence he returned from the injury by coming off the bench to score an overhead kick to win the 1993 League Cup final against Hibernian.
His appearances were limited over the next two seasons as a result of other niggling injuries (37 games and 12 goals, less than his typical output for one campaign), and also had to compete with a string of new signings between 1993 and 1995, including Gordon Durie and Brian Laudrup, for the forward positions. McCoist did, however, manage to outlast unsuccessful new signings at Ibrox, namely Peter van Vossen and Oleg Salenko.
After recovering his fitness, he played more regularly in the 1995–96 season, scoring 16 league goals including in the Old Firm semi-final victory (as he had done in 1992 and would again in 1998), though he missed another Scottish Cup final at its end. A tenth Premier Division winner’s medal (the completion of nine-in-a-row) and a ninth League Cup win (scoring twice) followed in 1996–97. His last appearance in a Rangers jersey came in the 1998 Scottish Cup Final when he scored in a 2–1 defeat by Heart of Midlothian.
At Rangers, McCoist became the club’s record goalscorer of all time, netting 355 goals in all competitions. In addition to this, he holds the club records for number of league goals scored, number of Scottish League Cup goals scored and the most goals scored by a player in European competitions with 251, 54 and 21 respectively. McCoist is also third in the all-time appearance table for Rangers, having made 581 appearances for the club.
Reflecting on his time at Rangers in 2018, McCoist said: “My extended family was those boys that I worked with and played with and coached and managed and worked under. It was the greatest experience of my life and I was very, very privileged to play there, coach there and manage there. It was a dream come true.”
McCoist finished his career at Kilmarnock, where he spent three seasons alongside long-time Rangers teammate and friend Ian Durrant. After recovering from another broken leg in 1999 (sustained in a match against Rangers) during the last months of his Killie spell he was an unused substitute in the 2001 Scottish League Cup Final defeat to Celtic, then had a penalty saved by Stefan Klos at Rugby Park in what proved to be his final match against his old club, being denied a cameo appearance from the bench at Ibrox by his manager Bobby Williamson a few weeks later as Kilmarnock were already losing heavily – instead he received an ovation from supporters on the field after the final whistle.
His final game at the age of 38 was at home to Celtic on the last day of the SPL campaign on 20 May 2001, a 1–0 win which enabled Kilmarnock to qualify for the following season’s UEFA Cup. Coincidentally, McCoist was substituted off in that match while fellow striker Kris Boyd came off the bench to make his debut; he too went on to be a prolific goalscorer for Rangers.
McCoist appeared 10 times for the Scotland national under-18 football team. He made his debut in a European Under-18 Championship qualifier against Iceland netting the only goal of the game after 19 minutes. He followed this up by scoring in the return leg, a 3–1 victory which secured Scotland’s qualification for the following summer’s European Under-18 Championships.
He found the net again in his third appearance, a 3–1 victory over Northern Ireland. His next three appearances came in the prestigious Monaco Youth Tournament, a 1–0 defeat to West Germany, a 2–0 victory over Switzerland and a 1–1 draw with France taking his tally to five goals in six appearances.
McCoist was then selected for Scotland’s semi-professional side for a four team tournament in the Netherlands however he failed to make an appearance.
At the European Under-18 Finals Scotland found themselves in a group with Austria, Spain and defending Under-18 Champions England. McCoist started all three games, as Scotland defeated both Austria and England 1–0 with McCoist netting the winner against the Auld Enemy meaning the final group game against the Spanish would decide the group. McCoist scored with a free-kick in a 1–1 draw. This result saw Scotland eliminated on goal difference.
McCoist made his Scotland debut aged 23 on 29 April 1986 in a 0–0 friendly match against the Netherlands.
He started only one game at the 1990 World Cup in Italy (coming on as a late substitute in the other group games) after being an integral part of the qualification bid.
In March 1993 he broke a leg against Portugal in a disastrous qualifying match for the next World Cup (Scotland lost 5–0 and failed to progress).
McCoist captained Scotland once, against Australia on 27 March 1996. He went on to score the winner after 55 minutes in a 1–0 win at Hampden Park.
He scored one major tournament goal: a spectacular long-range drive at UEFA Euro 1996 against Switzerland, which was also his last goal for his country; he had started all three of Scotland’s matches at UEFA Euro 1992 but failed to score, and was not selected in the squad for the 1998 World Cup despite having scored 16 goals during the preceding season. “I was devastated. It broke my heart. It really did. I remember getting the news down in London that [Craig Brown] wasn’t taking me and I greeted my eyes out. I still think it was a massive mistake. I certainly don’t think I would have played ninety minutes in all the games, but if we’d needed a goal, I was still probably our best chance. That was the biggest disappointment in my career, not going. Obviously I have spoken to Craig since, and he admits it was a mistake now. And I do appreciate him for saying that. It doesn’t soften the blow that I didn’t go, but it backs my own theory up that I should have gone.”
He made his last two appearances for Scotland after moving from Rangers to Kilmarnock in summer 1998, with his final outing a 3–2 victory over Estonia in October of that year. McCoist is Scotland’s fifth-highest scorer, with 19 goals from his 61 caps.
McCoist joined the Scotland coaching staff under his former manager at Rangers, Walter Smith, in 2004. He turned down the managerial position at Inverness Caledonian Thistle in 2006 as he wanted a job nearer his Glasgow home.
McCoist returned to Rangers as an assistant manager to Walter Smith in January 2007. After Rangers’ victory over Queen of the South in the 2008 Scottish Cup Final, Smith revealed that McCoist had been in charge of the team for the entire cup campaign. “Obviously, Walter had me in mind for the manager’s position when he stepped down, and for a couple of the Scottish Cup runs he let me take the team. I’d do the preparation and the training, but obviously he’d be there. I’d do the team talk, all that kind of stuff.”
The duo also guided Rangers to the final of that year’s UEFA Cup, in which they lost 2–0 to Zenit Saint Petersburg.
On 22 February 2011 he was announced as the new Rangers manager, with effect from June 2011.
Businessman Craig Whyte bought out Sir David Murray as Rangers’ majority shareholder in May 2011. Whyte said he was proud to be the owner of Rangers and pledged to invest £25 million into transfers, over five years.
McCoist’s first competitive game in charge of Rangers came on 23 July 2011, a 1–1 draw at home to Hearts on the opening day of the 2011–12 SPL. After the game McCoist complained to BBC Scotland about a report that he argued misrepresented his view on violence after Old Firm derbies and the cost of policing the matches. The BBC stood by the report but upheld the complaint about the way the piece had been edited. On Tuesday 26 July 2011, the BBC issued an apology to McCoist and he, in turn, dropped his ban on speaking to them. In April 2011, McCoist had called for Rangers supporters who sung offensive chants to be arrested.
McCoist took charge of his first European game on 26 July 2011 at home to Swedish side Malmö FF in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League third round qualifier, losing 1–0 to suffer his first defeat as Rangers manager. His first win came on 30 July, away to St Johnstone with a 2–0 scoreline, goals coming from Nikica Jelavić and Steven Naismith. McCoist’s first Champions League campaign ended at the first hurdle after drawing 1–1 away to Malmo in the Third qualifying round second leg, losing 2–1 on aggregate and having Madjid Bougherra and Steven Whittaker sent off. Despite dropping into the Europa League, McCoist’s first European campaign as Rangers manager ended early after another defeat over two legs in the play-off round by NK Maribor.
McCoist made a promising start to his first SPL campaign as manager, with Rangers topping the SPL after the first five fixtures and conceding only one goal. His first Old Firm match as manager was a 4–2 win over Celtic at Ibrox, but his side were shocked by First Division side Falkirk in the League Cup a few days later. McCoist suffered a fourth cup competition exit of the season on 5 February 2012, in a 2–0 defeat at home to Dundee United in the Scottish Cup fifth round.
Despite being within four points of Celtic at the top of the table in February, having been fifteen points clear of their arch rivals at one stage, Rangers’ SPL title challenge was virtually ended after the club entered administration on 14 February 2012 and was docked ten points as a consequence. McCoist was able to see out the season with Rangers finishing in second place despite the points deduction.
Following the rejection of a company voluntary arrangement by HM Revenue & Customs, the business and assets of the company running Rangers were sold to a consortium led by Charles Green. McCoist decided to stay after talks with Green. McCoist then worked alongside Green as the club were placed in the Scottish Third Division.
Rangers won the Third Division championship and promotion to the third tier. Rangers exited the Scottish Challenge Cup by losing to Queen of the South in a penalty shootout. They defeated Motherwell in the League Cup, but lost 3–0 to Inverness in the quarter final at Ibrox. Rangers also suffered a 3–0 defeat in the Scottish Cup, against Dundee United at Tannadice.
Rangers won the Scottish League One championship and promotion to the second tier, as they became the first Rangers side in 115 years to go an entire league season unbeaten. They also progressed to the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup, but lost 3–1 to Dundee United at Ibrox. Rangers reached the 2014 Scottish Challenge Cup Final, but lost 1–0 after extra time to Raith Rovers at Easter Road. They suffered a first round defeat in the Scottish League Cup at Forfar Athletic.
Rangers fell behind Hearts in the 2014–15 Scottish Championship, as they lost 2–1 at home and 2–0 away to the Edinburgh club. Rangers progressed to the semi-finals of the 2014–15 Scottish League Cup, but suffered an embarrassing defeat in the 2014–15 Scottish Challenge Cup against Alloa Athletic. McCoist submitted formal notice of his intention to resign as manager in December 2014 and began serving a 12-month notice period. Later in December, McCoist left his position with Rangers and was placed on gardening leave. This continued until September 2015, when McCoist and Rangers agreed to terminate his contract.
McCoist is also known for his television work. He was a team captain on the BBC’s A Question of Sport from 1996 to 2007, making a record 363 appearances on the show. He also co-presented a late night chat show McCoist and MacAulay for BBC Scotland from 1998 to 1999 alongside comedian Fred MacAulay. In 2001, McCoist won Sports Presenter of the Year at the TRIC Awards.
In 2000, McCoist also starred in the film A Shot at Glory alongside Robert Duvall, playing Jackie McQuillan, a fictional legendary ex-Celtic player. McCoist wore a Rangers jersey under his Celtic one to keep the material off his skin.
McCoist, along with John Motson, appeared as commentators for the FIFA video games series by EA Sports. They were replaced by Clive Tyldesley and Andy Gray for FIFA 2006.
McCoist has been a regular pundit for ITV Sport’s football coverage. In 2010, he was a regular co-commentator for ESPN at the 2010 World Cup. McCoist worked for ITV during the 2018 World Cup, and his partnership with main commentator Jon Champion was praised by various media sources.
From the start of the 2017–18 season McCoist worked as a studio pundit for BT Sport’s coverage of the SPFL and the Scottish League Cup, appearing regularly on their coverage alongside Darrell Currie, Chris Sutton and Stephen Craigan. From the 2020–21 season, Sky Sports earned exclusive rights to the SPFL, and McCoist continued to feature as a pundit on their coverage.
Since the 2019–20 season he has also been a pundit and commentator for Amazon Prime Video’s coverage of English Premier League matches.
On 10 June 1994, McCoist was awarded an MBE for services to football. He was inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 and is also a member of the Scottish Football Hall of Fame. McCoist was inducted into the Scotland national football team roll of honour in March 1996, when he was awarded his 50th international cap.
A lifelong Rangers fan, McCoist attended his first Old Firm fixture as a ten-year-old on 5 May 1973. It was Rangers’ 3–2 Scottish Cup Final victory in front of 122,714 at Hampden Park.
McCoist’s first wife was Allison. After meeting in 1981, they married in 1990 and divorced in 2004. The marriage produced three children, all boys: Alexander, Argyll and Mitchell. He has two more sons (Arran and Harris) with his second wife, Vivien.
McCoist had an extramarital affair with the actress Patsy Kensit that was cited in divorce proceedings from his first wife, Allison. It is said the affair developed from a pre-existing friendship when McCoist was in London filming ITV’s The Premiership football highlights show.