A Tale of Two Cities....Lisbon and Barcelona
I almost dropped my basket in Tesco when I saw on the book shelves a blue volume entitled ‘To Barcelona and Beyond: The Men Who Made Rangers Champions of Europe.’ Had I missed something? Had I been in a coma for a few years and failed to register that Sir Minty had indeed conquered Europe with his now defunct team? On closer inspection it turned out some Journalistic license had been taken by the author, Paul Smith. It seems winning Europe’s third rated trophy in 1972 allows the former Rangers FC to claim the title of ‘European Champions.’ This will no doubt come as a surprise to that magnificent Ajax team of the era who were the actual European champions in 1972. So how are we to rate the Cup Winners Cup victory of 1972 in the pantheon of great Scottish European results and how are we to gauge the status of the Rangers team who played that night in riot torn Catalonia? Well, firstly, Rangers qualified for the tournament via the back door after Champions Celtic, who beat them in the 1971 Scottish Cup Final, obviously elected to play in the European Champions Cup. Celtic were in good form in 1971-72 season and would stroll to the title.
Season 71-72 began with the big two drawn in the same league cup group and that August Celtic played their great rivals twice at Ibrox, as Celtic Park was in the midst of building the new South Stand. A convincing 2-0 win for the Hoops on 14th of August was followed by a resounding 3-0 drubbing for Rangers a fortnight later and these results had alarm bells ringing in the Blue Room. Rangers morale was in tatters as the League campaign began and by late September they sat in 14th place having lost again to Celtic at Ibrox. Indeed 3 out of their opening 4 league games were lost. Europe offered some respite from a dire league campaign that would see them lose 11 league matches and finish 16 points behind Celtic. Remember these were the days when it was 2 points for a win, in today’s terms it was a 24 point deficit! Celtic would complete a whitewash over them with a 2-1 victory in the New Year’s game of 1972 giving them an impressive statistic of 4 victories in 4 Old Firm games for the season. Both Clubs progressed in Europe and found themselves facing home European semi-finals in the same city on the same evening. A combined crowd of 155,000 watched these unique matches and Rangers defeated a strangely subdued Bayern Munich side to reach the Cup Winners Cup Final in Barcelona. Their players celebrated by watching Celtic lose a penalty shoot-out with Inter Milan on a TV in the dressing room. Former Ibrox player Alex McDonald recalled his team mates cheering each Inter penalty as it hit the net. Celtic lost out to Inter but would go on to defeat a very good Hibernian team 6-1 in the Cup final to record a double for the season. For Rangers, the domestic disasters would be forgotten if they won in Barcelona wouldn’t they?
Much has been written about the behaviour of the Rangers fans before, during and after the game in Barcelona. Rangers won 3-2 although a resurgent Russian team complained that field invasions in the last few minutes when they were pressing for an equalizer had affected their players. Rangers kicked off after losing a second goal, and within a few seconds a long ball had found Johnston in an offside position. To waste time he belted the ball into the stands, at which hundreds of Rangers fans had a better idea for running down the clock and poured onto the pitch. "The majority of them were drunk," Russian player Pilguy remembers, "They had mad faces, with bulging eyes.' They had to be cleared from the field and although they didn't really do us any harm, it meant the game was held up, and that was a big advantage for our opponents. They were exhausted by that stage and could hardly drag their legs, and I'm sure in that final four minutes we'd have scored a third." The pitched battle after the match with the riot Police brought shame on Scotland as did the brawls and rioting involving Rangers fans in other Spanish resorts that evening. Rangers received the Cup in a small ante-room under the stands. The Rangers manager on that day, Willie Waddell, didn’t mince his words when he said of his club’s fans...
“It is to these tikes, hooligans, louts and drunkards that I pinpoint my message – it is because of your gutter-rat behaviour that we are being publicly tarred and feathered.’
When one contrasts Barcelona in 1972 to Lisbon in 1967 there is simply no real comparison. One was a festival of football during which wonderful attacking football overcame the defensive stranglehold of Inter. In Barcelona, a grim battle of attrition ensued as Rangers held on for dear life in those closing minutes. The intervention of the worst elements of the Rangers support meant the final is seldom remembered for the football. Aberdeen’s Cup Winners Cup Victory of 1983 was achieved by a talented young team attacking and defeating more illustrious opponents. Celtic and Aberdeen fans at those games were good ambassadors for Scotland and came home victorious and perhaps more importantly with their reputations enhanced. As if in a grim action replay, the behavior of Celtic fans at the 2003 UEFA Cup Final in Seville was in stark contrast to the disgraceful scenes in Manchester in 2008 when Rangers fans once again brought shame on their club.
But what of the Rangers team of 1972? Were they the greats of Rangers folklore? The honest truth is that on their day they were a fairly good team and beat some top names on their way to Barcelona. However, four whippings from Celtic that season suggests the Hoops were still far superior. To finish the league campaign 16 points adrift of Celtic says it all. Rangers of Barcelona in 1972 join the likes of Slovan Bratislava, FC Magdeburg, Mechelen and Dynamo Tibilisi as forgotten winners of the third rated European trophy. Who outside their own fans or immediate opponents (and perhaps Spanish Police force) will even remember their achievement? The Rangers team of 72 were certainly no Lisbon Lions and the six or seven Lisbon veterans still at Celtic Park that season mauled them regularly to remind them of that fact.