In the beginning God created the Heavens and the stars
There are eight stars on the Champion’s League logo. One for each team represented in the inaugural tournament. One of those teams was Rangers, or to give them their full name – The Famous Glasgow Rangers. In the very definition of irony, it was a director of a now, second class European football team who was behind the creation of the most illustrious trophy in World football.
Campbell Ogilvie, Rangers’ Secretary at the time, was the man who proposed the original Champion’s League. The man with the original plan.
As your Dad would say:
“In the good old days when it was a proper Champion’s League with just the Champions!”.
When I think of football in the Nineties, I think of Rangers dominating Scottish football. I think of Scotland qualifying for major tournaments. I think of the Champions League and of one fixture in particular.
Battle of Britain
It was season 1992/93 and Rangers were undoubtedly the most influential, nay, biggest club in Britain. There was also a simple way of ratifying this claim. A Battle of Britain. A game between reigning Scottish Champions, Rangers and English Champions, Leeds United. Leeds appearance in this round is a story in itself via a one-off play-off against Stuttgart in Barcelona which they won 2-1.
How it all began
My “journey” as a Rangers supporter started pre-Graeme Souness. I loved football but didn’t really have any local allegiance living in the Scottish Borders where rugby is King. Then I saw Davie Cooper and I had found a club to follow and I became obsessed. The only reason I can use my left foot, as well as my right (which is average at best), is because I wanted to be like Cooper. Ruud Gullit hailed him as one of the finest players of his generation, high praise indeed. Cooper’s highlight reel is genuinely the stuff of Pele’s meandering dreams!
The Rangers team of the Nineties was forged in the spirit of Graeme Souness. The team spirit reeked of his qualities as a winner. They never knew when they were beaten, very much like Souness in his playing days. Famously, “No one likes us, we don’t care”, was the mantra of the time. And now that Walter Smith was in charge, the players were left in no uncertain terms about the consequences of any slip in standards.
Rangers were getting progressively better. In 1989/90, they won the league. Season 1990/91 saw the league and league cup with Walter Smith seeing out the final few league games. Then in season 1991/92 Rangers won the league and cup double, scoring 101 goals in the league. They had just completed four league titles in a row. With Ally McCoist and Mark Hateley up front, in an era where 4-4-2 was dominant, they were as good as any pairing in Europe. You just had to give them the service. In 1992/93, they scored a combine 78 goals in around 50 games together. Before a ball was kicked McCoist and Hateley almost guaranteed 1.5 goals per game, it was like having Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez up front, but better…
David Robertson and Gary Stevens were full-backs twenty years before their time, athletic and adept at attacking but also exceptional defenders. Trevor Steven and Alexei Mikhailichenko were wide men of the highest pedigree. In today’s money, you are looking at upwards of £75m for players of their calibre. Trevor Steven went to Marseille for £5.5m in 1991, a British record fee. For perspective, in 1990, the world transfer record was broken when Juventus paid £8m for Roberto Baggio from Fiorentina.
Added to this, you had Rangers greatest ever goalkeeper in Andy Goram. The greatest Captain and centre half in Richard Gough and the clubs record and most prolific goalscorer in the aforementioned Ally McCoist. We, as Rangers fans, were truly blessed. In short, this was some team.
The Nineties for Rangers fans couldn’t have been much better, ten-in-a-row would’ve been nirvana but that’s for another day. We were signing top international players and broke the British transfer record when we sign Duncan Ferguson in the summer of 1993. Our most bitter rivals, Celtic, were a shambles, a laughing stock and only began to challenge in the latter seasons of the decade.
There was, however, one issue. Our European form was stinking. Except for 1992/93. So, I’ll do what all good football fans do, ignore the bad times and concentrate on the good. I watched every game of that campaign in my bedroom on ITV. It took for Rangers to be 4-1 up on aggregate against Leeds for the commentators to concede that Rangers might actually be a decent side. I had to suffer the English commentary on ITV Border until we progressed to the group stage.
Both games were played with no away fans (allegedly). The stunned silence when Leeds went in front at Ibrox was only equalled in the brilliance of current Rangers Assistant Manager Gary McAllister’s stunning volley. The game was only a couple of minutes old. Rangers, as we know recovered to win the game then in a twist of fate, repaid the compliment. This time it was Mark Hateley volleying early doors, almost Mark van Basten-esque to put Rangers 3-1 up and instantly nullifying Leeds’ away goal.
Hateley’s goal v Leeds
Only a few times have I celebrated a goal as much as Mark Hateley’s opener. Helicopter Sunday, Peter Lovenkrands’ diving header, Arteta’s penalty and Novo’s penalty. You remember these moments like your first kiss, the first time you were drunk (first hangover) and the first goal you score for your football team.
Admittedly we carried our luck in that Champions League campaign. Watch Scott Nisbet’s goal v Bruges and if you say you’ve seen anything, literally anything, more bizarre, you’re lying!
Nisbet’s goal v Bruges
Rangers also had quality in abundance. Injuries prevented the McCoist and Hateley partnership from playing every game in the group stage but this allowed the likes of Dale Gordon and Ian Durrant to support whoever was fit. Durrant had lost a yard of sharpness following his horrific injury in 1988, he hadn’t lost anything “upstairs” though. The Champions League was his stage. Post-injury, this was easily his best season. His ability to find space either with his movement or with the ball at his feet was one of Rangers’ most valuable assets.
There was one small issue. Marseille were cheating. Allegedly. Probably. That they were not allowed to defend their title the following year gives an indication of the “we know but we can’t prove” scenario UEFA found themselves in. Several CSKA players admitted being offered money to throw games. Mark Hateley was approached on more than one occasion during the campaign and asked to “underperform”. CSKA, the same team that knocked out the previous European Cup winners Barcelona also lost 6-0 to Marseille, after already securing a 1-1 draw at home. The same CSKA team that drew 0-0 with Rangers at Ibrox. Again, Marseille 1992/93 is a whole different story all to itself!
What makes it even more galling is that they probably didn’t need to cheat. Fabian Barthez, Basile Boli, Jocelyn Angloma, Franck Sauzee, Marcel Desailly, Alen Boksic, Didier Deschamps, you get the picture. Oh aye, and Rudi Voller. Not a bad squad. They couldn’t get past Neil Murray, Scott Nisbet and Gary McSwegan though!
When will we see your likes again?
Rangers played sixty-four games this season (losing just four) and came so close to perfection. At the time we were gutted, there was the belief, however, that we would go again the following year or the year after. It never materialised though. This is genuinely the last season that Rangers fans will be able to say they had a chance of winning the Champions League, it won’t happen again. It was the last time we dined at the top table as an equal.
This will always be my favourite season as a Rangers fan (if we’d won the league in 2008 things might’ve been different), which is why I had to start with this one on a journey through the Nineties as a Rangers fan. It’s not like much happened in 1989/90, other than former Celtic player and high profile Roman Catholic, Maurice Johnston signing after being paraded by Celtic. Or in 1990/91 when Graeme Souness had his departure to Liverpool accelerated with four games of the league left to go. Incredibly, Souness also had a year of his two-year touchline ban still to serve. Walter Smith winning the league with a team made up of virtual cripples on the last day of the season against Aberdeen. I spent most of 1991/92 in a huff after we sold Mark Walters and Chris Woods to adapt to the three -foreigner rule.
This is what football is all about, moments, memories, emotions. Being able to remember where you were and how it felt. The season after this one Rangers signed Duncan Ferguson. I remember where I was and (pre-internet) how I found out. It’s only logical that next week I take a look at Big Dunc and his eventful time on and off the park at Rangers. He was a quiet lad if I remember rightly.