James Sands embraces tales of Rangers past glories ahead of shot at Europa League history

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James Sands
James Sands

JAMES SANDS took a tour of the Trophy Room at Ibrox and saw the medals and mementos, the trophies and the trinkets, that mark Rangers out as one of the most successful clubs in the game.

But the American reckons there is still room for one more piece of silverware as Giovanni van Bronckhorst's side look to lift the Europa League and return to Glasgow with a winners medal.

The showdown with Eintracht Frankfurt gives Van Bronckhorst and his players a chance to become legends and to leave a legacy that would put them alongside the most revered names in Ibrox folklore.

Sands has embraced the chance to learn about past glories and greats since making the move from New York in January and taking his first step into European football.

Now he is just 90 minutes away from conquering the continent as Rangers attempt to follow in the footsteps of the Barcelona Bears and put the sought-after silverware in one of the packed cabinets.

"I wasn’t too familiar with the history of the club," Sands said. "You know it is an old club, there is a lot of history, and speaking to the guys in the team or some of the staff, you hear about all the stories they have.

"Then you start to realise how important it is to be playing in a European final. Hopefully it all goes well.

"A lot of the staff members [told me about the club]. Jimmy Bell, for one, he always liked to share a story with me and Disco (Davie Lavery) has been here a while. All the guys have got good stories for me.

"One of the first days I was here I toured the Trophy Room. There is not much space in there but I think they could make room for a couple more.

"It is special and there are not many clubs in the world who have that. For me to be playing for one of those clubs has been pretty unreal.

"My friends and family who watch on TV, they see what a big deal it is to play for this club and it is a big step up from your average MLS game. I have really enjoyed it so far.

"I do not [have any friends or family going to Seville]. But they have been over a couple of times to see the Old Firms so they have had a taste of it."

The switch across the Atlantic has been a steep learning curve for Sands and there is an obvious disappointment at missing out on the Premiership title this term.

A Europa League win would more than make up for that, though, and Rangers still have the Scottish Cup to aim for against Hearts at Hampden.

Sands set out to test himself when he chose to leave the bright lights of New York. Life under the spotlight in Glasgow has fulfilled that ambition.

Sands said: "It has definitely been a tough time coming over here, it is my first time living alone and in a different country. That part of it has been new and the league is very different to where I come from.

"Scottish teams play very quick and physical and MLS is a little slower and a bit more technical.

"That has been an adjustment but I have enjoyed it, I always enjoy learning and playing in new cultures. It was always going to be a learning process for me

"The plan for me was always to have an 18-month loan here because six months or 12 months, I didn’t feel that was enough time for me.

"Being my first time in Europe, I wanted to have that adjustment period with the hope that next season I could start to become more of a regular.

"On the pitch, it is the physical nature of a lot of the teams. Especially for Rangers, we have a lot more quality than a lot of the Scottish teams and they know that and try and make the game ugly, difficult.

"That has been an adjustment. Off the field, it is learning to live by myself, cooking, all of those things. I have enjoyed it."

The challenges on both sides of the white line will stand Sands in good stead as the 21-year-old seeks to impress and progress under Van Bronckhorst's guidance.

He is likely to start the final on the bench on Wednesday evening but could still have a part to play on what is poised to be a historic night for everyone connected with Rangers.

Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig have been beaten already this term and Sands has called on some of the American contingent on the continent for an insight into Frankfurt.

"I am quite close with a couple of the guys who are in the Bundesliga," Sands said. "I have known Gio Reyna for a while so playing against him and Dortmund was pretty cool. It was even better to beat them.

"Tyler Adams is at Leipzig so it is nice to get one over on those guys. For them, playing the games at Ibrox they recognised how special it is and a lot of them say they want to play here because of it.

"I have talked to a couple of my friends and they have said that Frankfurt are a good side, counter-attacking and have some quality up front. It is nothing we haven’t faced already in this competition.

"For sure, I think he (Reyna) is definitely pulling for us. When we played them, I actually got a chance to see his whole family and all of them have such fond memories of Rangers.

"Gio is too young but his mum and dad have special memories of this place. I don’t know if he is going. I haven’t spoken to him about that."

Rangers will have little time to celebrate or commiserate in Seville as attentions quickly turn to the Scottish Cup final with Hearts on Saturday.

The run to a European final has been a dream come true for the Light Blues and Sands is relishing the opportunity that now lies ahead as silverware is sought at home and abroad.

"I can’t say I would have expected it but I realised very quickly coming here the talent level that is here and the hunger that all the guys have," Sands said. "I think playing in two finals next week speaks to the quality of the group.

"It would mean the world. I have come on in a couple of the Europa League games and those are a big deal whether you play 90 minutes or one minute.

"Any time the manager puts me on I will be ready and it is something I will remember for the rest of my life."

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