Later this month, Rangers will travel to Germany to play FC Nuremberg in a pre-season friendly at the Franken Stadion. It won’t be the first time Rangers have played there, though. In 1967 it was the scene of one of the biggest matches in the club’s history, a European Cup Winners Cup final against Bayern Munich.
Thousands of Rangers fans travelled to Bavaria for the game and this extract from my book Follow On: 50 Years of Rangers in Europe, tells the story of one dedicated supporter’s epic journey across the continent to see his heroes.
They arrived in Nuremberg by plane, train and automobile. Some even made the journey by foot. It started with a trickle on the Monday and by Tuesday it had become a flood. Many had taken a week off work, while others simply headed off to Bavaria without telling their boss, and without knowing if they would have a job to return to. In an era when package holidays were still in their infancy and foreign travel was something of a luxury, for some it was the first time they had ever been abroad.
Rangers were in the final of the European Cup Winners Cup, with Bayern Munich the opponents, and thousands of dedicated fans were determined to be there to see if their heroes could finally win a European title.
Getting to the south of Germany was not easy. The straightforward option for those who could afford it was to fly. Glasgow-based travel firms had laid on charter flights and even as late as the Monday before the match, one company was offering fans a final chance to make the trip. The advertisement for Holiday Enterprises of Partick Cross even said planes could be laid on at one hour’s notice if there were sufficient numbers. A fleet of coaches also left Scotland for the trip to Bavaria. Nuremberg is approximately 1,000 miles from Glasgow, which would be bad enough in the luxury coaches that are available today, but in the late 60s a bus journey of that distance was a test of endurance.
Then there were those who hitchhiked their way across Europe to see their team, only spending money on the cost of a cross-channel ferry ticket at Dover. They arrived looking bedraggled, with barely a pfennig to their name, but clutching their flags and flutes and proudly wearing their red, white and blue scarves round their necks.
Bobby Sorbie was a 17-year-old apprentice commercial artist from East Kilbride, who followed Rangers home and away in Scotland. Going to Germany for the most important match in their history seemed like the logical thing to do. So he got his first passport and set off with his pal Malky on an epic journey across Europe, with just a few pounds in their pocket and no real plan. They were dropped off in Hamilton by the side of the main road south and started looking for a lift.
Bobby, now a Lanarkshire businessman, said, ‘We got to Beattock where we went into the transport caff. A lorry driver saw us walking in with our Union Jacks and scarves and asked us where we were going. We replied Nuremberg! Luckily he was able to give us a lift right down to London and my pal had worked for British Rail so we got cheap tickets to Dover and then a ferry to Ostend.’
On the boat they befriended a Belgian student who, it turned out, was going to Germany and he gave the pair a lift all the way through Belgium and as far as Munich, less than 100 miles from their destination. ‘What an experience that was,’ remembered Bobby. ‘He was a nutcase! He was driving through the night, steering with his knees and playing the mouth organ. We were teaching him all the songs and he was playing along.’
After being deposited in Munich, Bobby and Malky fell foul of the local police who issued them with an on the spot fine of five marks for hitchhiking. The police apparently didn’t appreciate the fact that they were standing at the side of the autobahn with their Union Jack on prominent display as cars raced past at 100 mph. Having escaped the attentions of the authorities, the duo then managed to get lost in a wood, which later turned out to be the Black Forest.
‘Next we jumped on a log train, even though we had no idea where it was going!’ said Bobby. ‘We ended up coming across a shop somewhere that had a statue of a British policeman inside so we assumed they could speak English. It turned out to be a tourist agency and amazingly they all had a whip-round when they heard out plight. They pointed us in the right direction and told us where to stand so we wouldn’t get done by the police again.’
The final leg was completed with the help of a German Scout master – ‘We told him we were Scouts, which was why we had a big Union Jack’ – and they arrived in Nuremberg around 30 hours after setting off. In the city they bumped into a journalist from the Evening Times called Gair Henderson. ‘We gave him our story and they gave us money so we could spend a night in a hotel,’ said Bobby. ‘The night before we had slept in a ploughed field with the flag to keep us warm.’ When the article hit the papers, the lads became minor celebrities with Scottish and German newspapers desperate to tell their story. They happily agreed – for a small fee of course.
They used Nuremberg’s grand railway station as a base during the day, passing the time in the bars where they drank beer from giant steins. Dozens of other Rangers fans in the same position also descended on the station and turned it into an unofficial HQ. The people of Nuremberg took the young supporters to their hearts and delivered them food and beer. Some were even invited back to family homes and presented with traditional Bavarian tankards as mementos of their trip.
With its chocolate box houses, beautiful churches, cobbled squares and medieval city walls, Nuremberg looks like a picture postcard Bavarian town. But its very name is enough to conjure up images of the darkest period in Europe’s history. The city was the site of the notorious National Socialist Party rallies of the 1930s and the municipal stadium where the final was to be played was part of the rally grounds. It was also used as a parade ground for the Hitler Youth.
During the war, Nuremberg was a centre for the production of aircraft and tank engines and as a result large parts of the old centre were destroyed in Allied air raids, only to be rebuilt in almost identical form in the post-war years. Between 1945 and 1949, Nazi officials who took part in the Holocaust were tried in what became known as the Nurenberg Trials. In the late sixties, these events would still have been painfully fresh in the minds of those who travelled from Scotland, yet there were no reports, either in the media or from the local police of it being an issue in any way.
Bobby, Malky and a few other early arrivals went to the airport on the Monday morning to meet the team as they arrived. After chatting at length to players like Willie Johnston and Kai Johansen they managed to get precious tickets for the game from John Lawrence and Scot Symon, a wonderful gesture. That night, they were among a group of around 30 fans who ended up in bunks at a local Catholic mission, of all places.
‘The people there were really nice.’ Said Bobby. ‘All the people in Nuremberg were fantastic in fact. They fed us and gave us gifts. One young family took about eight of us back to their home and fed us. It was amazing and I don’t think it would happen here.’
There was not a hint of trouble from the Rangers fans, although the local chief of police did find it necessary to issue a warning following the pitch invasion by Celtic fans at the National Stadium in Lisbon the previous week. He said, ‘There will be no repeat here.’
As Wednesday, the day of the match, arrived, the scramble for tickets began in earnest. The Nuremberg Stadium could hold a crowd of 70,000 but with Munich less than 100 miles away, the vast majority of the fans would be backing the Germans. For the 5,000 or so Rangers fans in town it was going to be difficult to get in. Touts were selling briefs for four-times their face value on the main thoroughfare Konigstrasse.
As expected the Nuremberg Stadium was a sell-out and it was a magnificent scene. The terraces were almost full an hour before kick-off and they were covered with the red and white flags of the Bayern fans, who took up the vast majority of the stadium. Exploding fireworks lit up the overcast sky, and the small band of Rangers fans among 65,000 Germans did their best to be heard. But the cacophony of shouts and whistles coming from the home support was deafening. Shortly before the game started there was the bizarre sight of a Rangers fan being carried round the track on a stretcher, doing his best to get away from the ambulance men who were escorting him. Then, a German band in full traditional dress took to the field to provide a fanfare for the trophy, and the stadium erupted again as the teams appeared, Bayern in their change strip of white tops and red shorts, Rangers in light blue and white.
Sheer weight of numbers might have meant the Scots were outperformed on the terraces but on the pitch it was Rangers who were on top, throughout the first half. Chance after chance went unclaimed as the Scots took the game to the home team. The best chance of the first half fell to Roger Hynd after half an hour. Dave Smith evaded Beckenbauer and cut the ball back from the goal line into the path of the temporary centre forward, stabbed it left-footed towards goal. Maier managed to get a hand to the shot and as the ball rolled agonisingly towards the net he dived on top of it for a second time to save the day. The Rangers pressure continued but they couldn’t find a way of putting the ball in the net.
After a gruelling 90 minutes the match remained goalless and moved into extra time. Two minutes into the first period, Roger Hynd had a back-post header tipped over the bar by Maier. Four minutes later, the Rangers players and fans thought they had finally got the breakthrough. Hynd rose in the penalty area with Maier and the ball broke. The Rangers man was first to react and rolled it into the net. Before the celebrations could begin, the Italian referee had blown for a foul on the goalkeeper. There was definitely contact between the two, and in the current era there is no doubt it would have been a foul, but in those days it was a highly contentious decision.
The incident seemed to kill the game stone dead. The exhausted players slowed down to walking speed and seemed content to play out for a replay. Then, in the second period of extra time, disaster struck for Rangers. A long ball into the penalty area looked harmless enough, but as the ball dropped, Franz Roth, ‘The Bull’, managed to twist his body and stuck out a leg to hook it past Martin into the net.
Rangers desperately tried to get an equaliser but it was too late. After a brave battle they had lost, and what made it all the more difficult to take was that they had been the better team. On the final whistle, thousands of Germans invaded the pitch to celebrate, and many of them even joined the players on their lap of honour. There was no disgrace in losing to Bayern but the sense of disappointment was amplified by the thought of what could have been and tears flowed as the players left the pitch. Roger Hynd, unfairly branded the scapegoat, hurled his runners-up medal into the crowd such was his despair.
For the fans, the result was a huge disappointment after a wonderful trip. ‘The whole game went by in a flash but we should have won,’ said Bobby Sorbie. ‘There was about 6000 of us in there but the majority were Bayern Munich fans. Afterwards the German fans were brilliant too, they had never seen anything like us and wanted to swap scarves as souvenirs. The whole trip was a great experience although getting home was a nightmare and even worse than coming over, because there were so many of us looking for a lift’.
It was a sombre Rangers party that arrived home at Glasgow Airport the following afternoon. At Ibrox, a small band of supporters were present to welcome the team bus home. It was a sad end to what could have been a glorious trip.