“We created a bit of history” – Rangers v PSV, 1978

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.

Goal hero Bobby Russell

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.’

Derek Parlane heads the ball towards the PSV goal

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

First Blood – Rangers 3 Celtic 1, February 18th 1893

It is a day that normally merits little more than a footnote in the long history of the Old Firm. But February 18th, 1893, is actually one of the most significant in the Rangers story. It was on that date that Rangers recorded their first ever competitive win against Celtic – no less than five years after the two teams first met.
To mark the anniversary, here is an edited chapter from my book Follow, Follow: Classic Rangers Old Firm Clashes which focuses on that momentous first win for the Light Blues 118 years ago.
The rivalry between Rangers and Celtic today is so strong and so deep-rooted that it’s difficult to imagine that the clubs have ever been anything other than the bitterest of enemies.

So, as the two juggernauts prepare for yet another head-on clash this weekend, it may come as something of a shock to modern day followers of the Old Firm, that in the early years of their existence they were actually best friends.

Indeed, when Rangers beat Celtic in the final of the Glasgow Cup  in 1893, the losers were full of praise for their conquerors. During the post-match banquet at a Glasgow hotel the two clubs swore loyalty to one another while Celtic president John Glass agreed that there was no other team Celtic would rather have seen win the competition than Rangers.

Rangers secretary William Wilton with the Glasgow Cup

Newspaper reports at the time recorded the “fine spirit of kinship” that prevailed between the two. The Scottish Referee sports paper highlighted “interchanges of mutual good behaviour” and praised the teams for not resorting to “rough play”. The paper declared: “Not a regrettable incident occurred on the field to mar the reputation of any player or spoil the harmony which characterised the play.”Such reports of mutual respect and appreciation are a far cry from the headlines we see after most Glasgow derby matches these days. Cynics might be inclined to suggest that Celtic could afford to be magnanimous in defeat on this occasion. Although they had been in existence for 16 years longer than Celtic, Rangers were in many ways the plucky underdogs of the Glasgow football scene.After a successful first decade, the 1880s had been a difficult time for the club. The Glasgow Cup victory in 1893 was the first time they had ever won the prestigious trophy and it was their first cup win of any kind since they lifted the Glasgow Charity Cup 14 years earlier. Even more significantly, the 3-1 victory marked Rangers’ first ever win over Celtic in a competitive match.

Celtic had hit the ground running since their formation in 1888. The club was set up by the Marist priest Brother Walfrid with the laudable aim of providing assistance to poor Roman Catholics in Glasgow’s east end. With the backing of wealthy businessmen, Celtic were able to poach players from other Scottish teams, most notably Edinburgh-based Hibernian. The tactic may have been morally questionable, but it had the desired effect, allowing Celtic to quickly establish themselves as a major force in the game.

In contrast to Celtic’s instant affluence, Rangers had been formed in 1872 by a handful of young football enthusiasts, all under the age of 18, with little more than a leather ball to their name. Given their poverty of resources, their early success was remarkable. Within five years the fledgling club had seen several of its players represent the national team, had moved into its first ground at Kinning Park on Glasgow’s south side and reached the final of the Scottish Cup. But after winning their first major trophy, the Charity Cup, in 1879, the next decade proved to be a struggle for the Light Blues.

Despite the lack of on-field success, Rangers had grown to be one of the most popular clubs in the country and in 1887 moved to a new, bigger ground at Ibrox. The inaugural Scottish League championship was jointly won with Dumbarton in 1891, and although it would be another seven years before they would be champions again, there were signs that good times were on the horizon.

John McPherson, Rangers' star striker

Gradually Rangers were assembling a line-up that would be capable of competing for the major silverware every season. Kilmarnock-born John McPherson was undoubtedly the star of the team, an inside forward who would serve the club as a player for 12 years before becoming a director. He has been described as the greatest player of the club’s first 50 years, one early history of the club saying of him: “He delighted in dribbling up to a defender, feinting and swerving round him, before delivering his shot.”

Although both teams were fighting it out for the league title, Celtic went into the final as strong favourites, with some pundits confidently predicting a walkover. They had some justification; Celtic had won seven of the 10 previous encounters between the teams, with the other three being drawn. The Scottish Referee analysed the strengths and weaknesses of both teams and concluded that, despite having a stronger half-back line (Bob Marshall, Hugh McCreadie and David Mitchell), Rangers were generally weaker and would have to rely on the condition of the pitch to restrict Celtic’s “parlour passing”.

The predictions of a one-sided final appeared to have an impact on the attendance. With inclement weather forecast and controversy raging in the press over the cost of admission to football games, it seemed that the anticipated lack of competition persuaded many fans to stay away. It was a lower than expected crowd of 10,000 that gathered for the match at Third Lanark’s ground Cathkin Park, on what turned out to be a mild February afternoon. But what the spectators lacked in numbers they made up for in enthusiasm. As the Scottish Referee recorded: “Enthusiasm prevailed, especially among the Ibrox contingent, who seemed imbued with exhilarating feelings of confidence in the ability of the Light Blues to win.” And if newspaper reports are to believed, those who stayed at home missed “a hard and at times brilliant” game.

With the clock approaching 3.30pm, Celtic appeared first from the pavilion, headed by their captain James Kelly. A minute later, the Light Blues’ skipper Mitchell led his team onto the field. Both sets of players were given a hearty welcome, according to the Glasgow Herald, although the Scottish Referee indicated that the reception for Rangers was rather more vociferous. It had been so long since Rangers had last won a cup competition, it was no surprise that their followers were excited at the prospect of picking up some silverware.

The anticipated bad weather hadn’t materialised, so as Neilly Kerr kicked off the match for Rangers exactly on the half-hour, it was Celtic who had reason to be happier with the conditions. Although the pitch was a little softer than they would have liked, the Herald opined that the playing surface was probably the best of any club in the city. In theory the conditions should have been ideal for Celtic’s passing game, but Rangers’ half-backs refused to allow the opposition forwards any time or space to indulge themselves, paralysing the Celtic attacks with their dogged defence. Marshall in particular was singled out by Scottish Referee for his “strong, legitimate blocking and tackling”.

In attack, Rangers were “cool, clever and confident” and once they won the ball ensured that they wasted no time in getting it into the danger areas. The contrast in styles was stark. While Celtic apparently wanted to paint pretty pictures, Rangers adopted a far more pragmatic approach. Get the ball, move it forward quickly and test the goalkeeper. That’s not to say that they resorted to some sort of prototype Route One approach; the Herald reported how fans cheered their “capital passing” and were treated to the best play the Rangers had produced all season.

John Barker, Rangers goalscorer

It was a combination of powerful tackling and speedy passing that saw the Light Blues gradually impose their will on the final and after a string of near-misses, it was no surprise when they took the lead after half an hour through a long-range shot from John Barker. Two more goals were added in the second half by Kerr and McPherson as Rangers continued to dominate the game. It was only in the very final moments that Celtic were finally able to breach the resolute Rangers defence, but McMahon’s strike was no more than a consolation, and the final whistle brought scenes of celebration for those in blue.

Fans piled onto the Cathkin pitch to hail their heroes, carrying the players shoulder high in triumph. The celebrations didn’t stop there, as the Scottish Referee reported. “On the road back to the city, car, brake, cab and other vehicles were eagerly seized upon by enthusiastic Ibroxonians, hundreds of them sported the colours and frantically waved the favourite ‘blue’ to and fro in the evening breeze.”

While the supporters enjoyed their evening, the trophy was presented to Rangers officials at a post-match dinner attended by both clubs at the Alexandra Hotel in Glasgow. Before the banjo band of the Minerva Club began their after dinner entertainment, Bailie John Ure Primrose, a Glasgow councillor, urged City Fathers to encourage the development of the game of football. 

The Scottish Referee was fulsome in its praise of Rangers victory, enthusing over their “daring, dashing, play”. In an editorial after the match, the paper wrote: “Perseverance has had its reward and no-one will grudge the Rangers nor will a solitary voice seek to diminish or detract from the play by which this signal triumph was achieved. Pluckily the club has fought against and borne with the knocks of misfortune these 14 years and now that those who defend its honour on the field and those who loyally follow its fortunes round the ropes both rejoice in all the glory that a cup brings in its train, none will deny them enjoying to the fullest measure the fruits of victory. The fact that it was thoroughly deserved adds an additional spice of interest and pleasure to the win.”

The Glasgow Cup victory was something of a coming of age for Rangers on the field. The club’s players and supporters had in the past been characterised as having a supreme confidence in their own team’s abilities, that sometimes appeared misplaced. Now with this triumph, they had something tangible to back up their self-belief. At last they had bettered Celtic and, by lifting the Glasgow Cup, were now, officially, the best team in the city

Rangers team: Haddow, Hay, Drummond, Marshall, A. McCreadie, Mitchell, H. McCreadie, Davie, Kerr, Barker, J. McPherson.

Rangers goals: Barker, Kerr, McPherson

 
 

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