Moments of the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup – Part 2: The Barcelona Bears — Rangers 1971/722

This is part two of a series on the best moments of the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. To read “Part 1: Slovan Bratislava 1968/69,” click here.


Glasgow’s two main football teams, Celtic and Rangers, share a long-standing rivalry going back over a century. Rangers may have more league titles (55), but when it comes to Europe it is Celtic who hold the bragging rights, as they were the first Scottish (and British) club to win a European trophy when the Hoops beat Inter 2-1 in Lisbon to lift the European Cup in 1967.


Celtic’s historic achievement was a tough pill for Rangers to swallow for two reasons. Firstly, they had reached the final of the inaugural Cup Winners’ Cup in 1960, losing 4-1 to Fiorentina over two legs. Secondly, Rangers reached the final of the 1967 edition, losing to Bayern Munich 1-0 after extra time, just six days after Celtic’s historic European Cup victory. 


As the 1970s arrived, tragedy would strike with the Ibrox disaster, when on Saturday 2nd January 1971 in an Old Firm derby between Rangers and Celtic, 66 people were killed in a crush as supporters tried to leave the stadium. The Ibrox disaster overshadowed the 1970-71 season for Rangers, finishing 4th in the league, their lowest finish for six years.


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The only bright spot was winning the Scottish League Cup against Celtic, but the Hoops got their revenge against Rangers in the Scottish Cup. However, because Celtic’s league title made them qualify for the 1971-72 European Cup, their Cup Winners’ Cup slot from winning the Scottish Cup went to the cup finalists Rangers.


Under William Waddell, manager since early December 1969, he had slowly built an experienced side. In goal was Peter McCloy, chosen by Waddell as the club’s first choice keeper ahead of Gerhardt Neef. John Greig captained the team from centre back, an experienced player steeled in determination, a veteran of the club since 1961. Partnering him was Willie Matheson, another veteran who had been at Rangers since 1964. 


Sandy Jardine at right back represented the modern full back, a player that made galloping runs forward that had the pace to make sure he wasn’t exposed defensively. At the club since 1964, Jardine had played in several positions prior to Waddell’s arrival as manager but had settled at right back come the 1970-71 season. Rangers had other defensive options in Colin Jackson and Ronnie McKinnon. 


Midfield had a mix of skill in Alfie Cohn, experience in Dave Smith, guile in Tommy McLean and the heart of Alex MacDonald. But it was upfront where Rangers had a wealth of firepower. Willie Henderson may have been 5’4 but his pace terrified full backs and was a menace on the right.


Another winger of considerable talent was Willie Johnston, a player with an eye for goal. From the seasons 1967/68-1969/70 the winger scored 65 goals from 137 games. Though he could produce game winning moments, like his cross for the winning goal in the 1970 Scottish League Cup final, Johnston had moments to frustrate coaches. In the same League Cup final, Waddell fined the winger for showboating when he sat on the ball.


Rangers’ main goal threat at the time was striker Colin Stein. Acquired from Hibernian in late 1968 ahead of English clubs like Everton, the £100,000 paid was the first six figure sum to be paid between Scottish clubs. Stein was a threat infront of goal in the last two seasons under Waddell – top scorer with 27 in 1969-70 and 20 in 1970-71. Waddell also had backup in two young strikers – 20-year-old Graham Fyfe and then 18-year-old Derek Parlane.


With a mix of stern defenders, precocious wingers and an informed striker, Rangers entered the 1971-72 Cup Winners’ Cup by facing French side Rennes in the first round. The first leg was played in Rennes on the 15th September 1971 and Rangers went behind after 11 minutes through Philippe Redon. Yet the Scottish club would get a vital away goal on 68 minutes when Willie Johnston scored at the far post from a corner. With the first leg ending 1-1, Rangers defended their away goal in the second leg at Ibrox 13 days later infront of 40,000 fans. The game was tight, scrappy, but the game was decided by Alex MacDonald’s 37th minute winner.


With Rennes dispatched, Rangers would face Sporting Lisbon in the second round. The Portuguese side had experience in goalkeeper Vítor Damas, centre back José Carlos and left back Hilário da Conceição. While Chico Faria was an exciting forward, Sporting’s aces lay in goalscoring midfielder Nélson Fernandes and Héctor Yazalde. Recently signed from Independiente, the Argentinean had won two league titles in 1967-68 and 1969-70, winning Argentina Footballer of The Year in 1970.


Rangers’ Remarkable 2008 UEFA Cup Run


The first leg would be played at Ibrox on the 20th October and would soon take control of the tie within 30 minutes. Colin Stein opened the scoring just five minutes into the game and then doubled the lead five minutes later. Rangers’ fans were sent into dreamland when Willie Henderson made it 3-0 on 30 minutes. Though stunned by their terrible start, Sporting began to gain a foothold into the game by scoring an away goal on 67 minutes through Chico Faria. They went one better with two minutes to go, Sporting getting the second away goal through Wágner.


Come the second leg on the 3rd November, Sporting flew out of the blocks and took the lead through Yazalde on 25 minutes. Yet Rangers immediately struck back less than a minute later when Stein equalised. Sporting quickly got in front 12 minutes later through centre back João Laranjeira and by half time had good reason to think they could build on their lead in the second half.


Those thoughts were quickly curtailed when Stein equalised less than a minute after the restart. As the second half wore on, Sporting searched for an equaliser to take the game to extra time and soon capitalised on their pressure when Pedro Gomes scored on 87 minutes.  It seemed the Portuguese would be spurred on by their fans yet it was Rangers who got their second wind as Willie Henderson put Rangers ahead on aggregate on 100 minutes.


But Sporting was tenacious, as with just five minutes to go, winger Peres made it 4-3 and importantly 6-6 on aggerate. Based on the scoreline, Rangers should have won the game on the newly introduced away goal rule, but Dutch referee Laurens van Raavens declared there would be a penalty shootout. Sporting would win and Rangers were knocked out of the Cup Winners Cup.


Or so they thought.


Van Raavens had forgotten about the away goal rules. Rangers’ Waddell had pointed out the error and UEFA concurred with the Scottish club. The match delegate, Andres Ramirez, met with Rangers and Sporting officials after the game to inform them it would be Rangers going through by away goals.


Sporting was furious, especially after the fans did a pitch invasion and hoisted Damas on their shoulders after he saved multiple spot kicks. Nevertheless, the Portuguese club’s appeals were waved away and it was Rangers who progressed to the quarter finals. As Willie Henderson recollected to the Daily Record in March 2008: 


“One minute we thought we were dead and buried after losing a penalty shootout and the next we were hitting the roof. Mistakes had been made and we were through.”


Though their victory over Sporting did come at a cost, the experienced Ronnie McKinnion had suffered a serious leg break in the second leg that would keep him out for a year. It would be his final ever appearance for Rangers. Their opponents in the quarter final were against Torino – a side that had good players such as Gianni Bui, a young Paolo Pulici and were going strong in Serie A where they would finish 3rd.


The first leg was played in Turin on 8th March 1972 and Rangers got the all-important away goal on 12 minutes through Willie Johnston. Torino equalised in the second half through Pulici yet Rangers felt confident for the second leg with an away goal in the bank. Playing at Ibrox two weeks later infront of 75,000 people in attendance, it was Alex MacDonald who got the winning goal less than a minute into the second half to put Rangers into the semi-finals.


With Celtic runaway champions of the Scottish league by late March, Rangers’ focus was now on the Cup Winners’ Cup, yet the semi-final draw pitted them with European giants Bayern Munich. Their team was a who’s who of German legends – Sepp Maier in goal, Franz Beckenbauer as sweeper, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck at centre back, Paul Breitner at left back, Uli Hoeneß in midfield and Gerd Muller upfront where he would score 40 league goals that season – a Bundesliga record that was broken by Robert Lewandowski back in May.


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The first leg was to be played at Bayern’s Grunwalder Stadion on the 5th April and the West German side quickly took the lead on 21 minutes when Breitner played a one two with Muller and then poked the ball past the onrushing McCloy. Bayern Munich tried to find the second goal, but Rangers held firm and soon found their own luck just two minutes into the second half. 


When Stein was put through on goal, he managed to go round Maier yet the goalkeeper had forced him into a tight angle. Realising that going for goal was unfeasible, the forward unleashed a venomous ball across the face of the six-yard box and Bayern’s midfielder Rainer Zobel headed the ball into the net. Rangers brilliantly held firm for a priceless draw to take back to Ibrox for the second leg on the 19th.


Bayern were one of the best teams in Europe during the 1970s, going on to win back-to-back European Cups a few years later, but they would face a maelstrom at Ibrox for the second leg and Rangers set the tempo in less than a minute. When Jardine received the ball from Johnstone, the right back cut inside and unleashed an inswinging curling shot that left Maier flatfooted and into the bottom corner. 


Buoyed by such a brilliant start, Rangers would go in for the kill twenty minutes later. With a corner on the left-hand side whipped in, Maier could only punch the ball towards Parlane, with the 18-year-old rifling into the net on the half volley. With the crowd energised by such a fast start, a shellshocked Bayern had no response and Rangers held on to progress to the Cup Winners’ Cup final. Yet they would be without Willie Henderson, falling out with Waddell and never playing for the club again.


Rangers’ opponents were Dynamo Moscow, who by reaching the final were the first Soviet team to do after a penalty shootout win against East Germany’s Dynamo Berlin in the semi-finals. However, Dynamo were coming into the final without two of their best attacking players, prolific forward Vladimir Kozlov and talented 19-year-old winger Anatoly Kozhemyakin. Furthermore, manager Konstantin Beskov decided to start two forwards in Aleksandar Makhovikov and Gennady Yevryuzhikhin. 


The final was to be played in Barcelona’s Camp Nou infront of 24,701 fans on the 24th May 1972. Beskov’s tactics of sitting back to contain Rangers went awry for Dynamo Moscow within 24 minutes. When Dave Smith collected the ball just inside his own half from Jardine’s crunching tackle on Makhovikov, the midfielder launched a searching ball over the top that found Colin Stein and the striker instinctively lashed a fierce shot past goalkeeper Vladimir Pilguy.


Rangers crucially doubled their lead five minutes before half time, with Smith yet again playing a key presence, his cross into the box was met by Willie Johnston craftily slipping inbetween two defenders and heading it past a static Pilguy. Rangers would be in dreamland four minutes into the second half when McCloy’s hopeful punt down the field led to defenders Oleg Dolmatov and Vladimir Dolbonosov missing the ball entirely and Johnston capitalised by putting the ball past Pilguy to make it 3-0. 


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Being embarrassed in the final of a European club competition led to Beskov taking off Andrei Yakubik for Vladimir Eshtrekov on 56 minutes. The change had the desired effect four minutes later when Willie Mathison’s weak pass to Jardine outside the eighteen-yard box was cut out by Yevryuzhikhin. The forward drove into the box and squared the ball to an open Eshtrekov to make it 3-1.


The goal quickly galvanised Dynamo and Beskov put on Mikhail Gershkovich for Dolbonosov on 69 minutes. He did not take long to make his presence felt as McCloy had to make two saves from the substitute. Dynamo put on intense pressure for a second goal, as Rangers were slowly being pushed back.


Yet with just four minutes remaining, the Soviets halved the deficit to one when Makhovikov exchanged a one-two with the influential sub Gershkovich and struck a shot firmly past McCloy. Now it was Rangers’ turn to be nervous. But instead of exhorting their team to hold on, hundreds of their fans invaded the pitch. As Pilguy recollected to The Guardian in 2008:  


“The majority of them were drunk. 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 leg, and I’m sure in that final four minutes we’d have scored a third.”


The pitch invasion allowed Rangers to regroup and once the fans were cleared off the pitch managed to navigate the last four minutes of the game. Once the final whistle blew, the Rangers’ fans exploded in celebration by going on another pitch invasion. The Spanish police, notorious under the time of Franco, wielded their batons furiously and a riot soon exploded as Rangers’ fans fought back. Such was the chaos the trophy presentation had to be conducted in an office below one of the stands. 


Dynamo were angered by the actions of Rangers’ fans, feeling their pitch invasion during the game was calculated. They appealed the result, much to the backing of then UEFA president Gustav Wiederkehr. However, the result was upheld, but Rangers would be banned from European club competitions for two years, later reduced to a year on appeal. They did play in the UEFA Super Cup – losing to Ajax. 


Despite the sour scenes at the end, winning the Cup Winners’ Cup is seen as one of Rangers’ best achievements, their squad being labelled the Barcelona Bears. Colin Stein summed up their efforts when speaking to the Glasgow Times in June 2015:


“Rangers had previously reached the final twice and a few players had played in 1967, so it meant a lot to them to win it. We made history that night and we’ll always be remembered for 1972 in Barcelona.”


By: Yousef Teclab / @TeclabYousef

Featured Image: @Juanffrann – SNS Group