Rangers’ dramatic win over Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League has set up a last 16 clash with old foes PSV Eindhoven. The last time the two clubs faced each other was in 1999 when Rangers manager Dick Advocaat masterminded a 4-1 Champions League victory over his fellow countrymen at Ibrox and a 1-0 win in Holland. But their rivalry goes way back to 1978, when unfancied Rangers secured a memorable European Cup victory over the Dutch side and a young midfielder made his mark on club football’s greatest stage. Here is the story of that historic triumph, adapted from Follow On: 50 Years of Rangers in Europe.
Bobby Russell earned himself a place in Rangers folklore when his superb goal secured what is arguably Rangers’ best ever win in the European Cup.
His curling shot in the dying moments of a thrilling clash with PSV Eindhoven in 1978 gave Rangers a dramatic 3-2 victory – the first time the Dutch side had ever lost a European match on their own ground.
More than 30 years later the goal is still considered by many fans to be the best they have ever seen scored by a Rangers player in Europe. And the fact that it sealed a win over one of the best teams on the continent at the time makes it all the sweeter.
But the famous strike might never have happened if Russell had done what he thinks his boss John Greig would have wanted.
With two minutes to go and the game tied at 2-2, Rangers were under siege, desperately trying to hold on to their away goal lead. A defensive header from Derek Johnstone found Gordon Smith, who laid the ball off to Tommy McLean, wide on the right. McLean spotted a run being made by Russell and from inside the Rangers half, he played a perfectly weighted ball into the midfielder’s path. Russell carried it forward towards the PSV area before coolly curling the ball round the onrushing goalkeeper into the corner of the net.
‘It was one of those situations where a manager would have been having kittens at me getting as far forward as that,’ said Russell. ‘Normally in those circumstances you would just sit back, not venture beyond the halfway line and concentrate on defence. But we broke their move down and it just happened. It was nice to see it go in’
Despite knocking Juventus out in the previous round, few pundits had given Rangers and their rookie manager John Greig much hope when they were drawn against the champions of Holland. Rangers had been treble winners under Jock Wallace the season before but, with former captain Greig at the helm, had suffered a poor start to the 1978/79 campaign. Not only were PSV one of the best club sides in Europe – virtually invincible on their own territory – but they also formed the backbone of the magnificent Netherlands team that came so close to winning the World Cup in Argentina.
The season before, PSV had won the UEFA Cup while their inferior countrymen Twente Enschede had knocked Rangers out of the Cup Winners Cup. Holland had reached the World Cup final in the summer, eventually losing out to the hosts. The national squad contained six PSV players – more than Ajax and Feyenoord combined- including twin brothers Rene and Willy Van der Kerkhof, Ernie Brandts, Harry Lubse, Adri Van Kraay and Jan Poortvliet. In addition, Jan Van Beveren, who did not travel to Argentina, was considered to be Holland’s best goalkeeper, while Willy Van der Kuylen played in World Cup qualifying but did not appear in the final squad.
The first leg at Ibrox – Rangers’ 100th appearance in Europe and 40th in the Champions Cup – was a night of missed chances and excellent goalkeeping. Rangers failed to score but the disappointment was lessened somewhat by the fact that they had also prevented PSV from securing a vital away goal. But the Dutch were without three key players on the night and few commentators gave Rangers much of a chance for the return in Eindhoven.
As usual, the Scots took a big travelling support to Eindhoven, and they filled one end of the Philips Stadium. Despite the optimism of the fans, Greig knew his team faced one of their most difficult European tests. They had to score at least once in Eindhoven, and somehow shackle the attacking threat from the Dutchmen. The fact that the home team were undefeated at home in Europe and had had only ever lost two European Cup goals at their own ground – in games when they scored six and seven goals themselves – showed the magnitude of the task Rangers faced.
Greig had planned meticulously for the clash with PSV. He identified their strengths and weaknesses and drew up a game plan, designed specifically for the task in hand. Rather than the defensive approach that had worked well against Juventus in Turin, Greig instructed his team to push up the field as much as possible and prevent the Dutch from taking the game to Rangers. The players were given all the information they needed about the opposition players. More than anything, an early goal was seen as vital to Rangers’ chances.
What transpired was certainly not part of the game plan. With just 34 seconds gone, PSV had taken a stunning lead. Teenager Willy Jansen crossed from the right and Lubse sent a thundering drive past Peter McCloy. The blow of losing a goal less than a minute into the game could have destroyed Rangers, but they showed tremendous character to fight their way back into the game. Inspired by Russell, the Scots played superb, controlled football, and repeatedly found gaps in the PSV defence.
Russell explained why Rangers had not been downhearted at the loss of such an early goal. ‘It was a tremendous goal they scored,’ he said, ‘a great strike. But I think if we had gifted them a goal through slack play then we would have been more down. We just accepted it and got on with it. We showed a bit of spirit and character.’
In ten minutes, Eindhoven’s reserve goalkeeper Van Engelen made a brilliant save from a Derek Parlane diving header and four minutes later he threw himself across the goal to stop a 30-yard drive from Kenny Watson. A header from Johnstone went just past the post and a shot from Alex Forsyth had to be scrambled away by the goalkeeper.
Still the vital goal would not come and when Gordon Smith had another shot saved by Van Engelen, the Rangers fans began to doubt whether they would make the breakthrough. But after 58 minutes, Rangers finally got the goal their play deserved. Tommy McLean brought the ball down on the edge of the area and chipped it into the path of Alex MacDonald, who sent a diving header high into the net. Russell had missed a good chance with a header moments earlier and Doddy had given him some stick. Russell recalled, ‘After he stuck his header away, he said to me: “That’s the way you do it son” which was fair enough.’
The Rangers fans were still celebrating when PSV took the lead again within three minutes. The defence failed to clear and Deijkers stepped in to score with an overhead kick. It looked like it was going to be another Rangers hard-luck story in Europe, but there was a quiet confidence within the Rangers camp that they were capable of getting a result. In the 66th minute, the Scots were back level on the night, and ahead on away goals. With the PSV defence awaiting a cross, Tommy McLean slipped a free kick to Kenny Watson who drove the ball into the penalty area for Derek Johnstone to head home.
There was barely a break in the excitement. Two minutes later PSV had the ball in the net again, but it was disallowed for offside. Then with the game nearing its conclusion, Bobby Russell ensured Rangers’ place in the quarter-final and sealed a historic win with his famous goal.
Amid the celebrations, there was a moment that brought the young midfielder crashing back to earth. His luggage had gone missing on the outward trip, leaving him without a change of clothes for his entire stay in Holland. As he savoured the adulation of his team-mates and the Rangers fans, Alex MacDonald shouted over, ‘Well done smelly!’
For the 1,000 Rangers fans, the celebrations continued long into the night as the supporters, used to seeing their team fall short on many such occasions in the past, hailed one of the best ever performances by a Scottish team on foreign soil. John Greig went onto the pitch to receive his first – and unfortunately, last – standing ovation as Rangers boss.
He later revealed that he had taken a huge gamble in picking Peter McCloy, as the man nicknamed the Girvan Lighthouse had been ill for the 24 hours before kick-off. The gamble paid off, and the Glasgow Herald called it Rangers’ Greatest Triumph. Given the quality of the opposition and the way the game had unfolded there was certainly a strong case to be made. The paper’s Jim Reynolds wrote, ‘Rangers weren’t just brave – they were courageous against a side rated one of the favourites for the tournament.’
Russell revealed, ‘It’s only when you get home and people are waiting for you off the flight and you see the papers that it begins to sink in that you have created a bit of history.’
Adapted from Follow On: 50 Years of Rangers in Europe by Iain Duff, published by Fort