From all over Scotland they came with their Union Flags and Scottish standards. Soaked to the bone from the torrential rain, 10,000 of them paraded through the streets of Wolverhampton. Despite the weather, many were without coats, but they didn’t care. All they wanted to do was enjoy their day away from home and see their team win. Their red, white and blue flags and banners that brightened the grey skies protected them from the elements anyway. The locals – bemused and amused in equal measure – may not have recognised the songs and chants, but they would surely have appreciated the passion with which they were delivered.
The battle cry of ‘We are the people’ echoed off the red-brick buildings as the procession wound its way through the town centre. It had started early in the morning as the first trains rumbled into the station. By lunchtime, office workers were abandoning their desks and lining the streets to watch the show. In return, the Scots bellowed their anthems: ‘There’s not a team like the Glasgow Rangers’ and ‘We will follow on’. They broke into The National Anthem, and were met with spontaneous applause from the bystanders.
It may have resembled an army, but there was nothing hostile about this invading force. There was alcohol consumed of course, and plenty were in high spirits, but no-one embarrassed themselves or their compadres. It was simply a display of passion and devotion to a football team that was then, and remains to this day, more than a just a club. On the streets of this industrial Midlands town, they were celebrating a way of life. ‘The supporters were parading up the streets about ten abreast, waving flags and banners,’ Rangers defender Harold Davis recalled. ‘It was fantastic. They stopped the whole city; there were thousands of people there.’
April 19th 1961. That was the day The Rangers came to Wolverhampton town.
Three weeks earlier, Wolves had visited Glasgow for the first leg of the battle for a place in the European Cup Winners Cup final. Interest in this cross-border clash of the giants was phenomenal. Rangers had sold out 80,000 tickets and, such was the demand, could easily have sold at least half that number again. The Wolves fans weren’t quite so keen to wander north, though, with less than a thousand making the trip.
That night’s Evening Citizen devoted its entire broadsheet front page to the match. The headline ‘Guardians of Ibrox’ was emblazoned above a montage of pictures of the expected Rangers line-up that had been superimposed over the stadium’s famous iron gates. Injuries to key players like Jimmy Millar, Ian McMillan and Max Murray had hampered Scot Symon’s team selection and he was forced into naming an experimental front line, featuring Doug Baillie at centre forward instead of his usual position of centre half.
FA Cup holders Wolves were considered to be a strong, physical team more than capable of holding their own in a battle. In many ways they were similar in style to Rangers. But they too were under strength, with England international Peter Broadbent injured and the Scottish press predicted a win for the Scots.
After just 10 minutes of a tough tackling encounter, Rangers suffered another injury blow, although it was purely down to bad luck. Harold Davis overstretched and pulled a muscle in his leg. After lengthy treatment, he returned to the pitch with his right thigh heavily strapped but in those days of no substitutes, Davis had to soldier on. He was moved to the right wing to keep him out of harm’s way and the Rangers front line was reshuffled again.
Davis performed out of his skin to help the cause. ‘In those days you had no substitutes so you either finished with ten men or with 11 and the injured player remained on the park. Even if you had a twisted ankle or something, you were better out of the way than actually in the middle of the park.’
At this stage, even the most optimistic home supporter must have doubted whether a Rangers victory was likely. But 30 minutes into the first half, the Ibrox crowd erupted as Alex Scott scored a superb goal.
After the break, the game flowed back and forth as one team then the other gained the upper hand. Davis refused to remain a passenger on the wing and on more than one occasion tracked back to help out the defence as well as getting involved in attacking moves for Rangers. Wolves exerted more pressure on the Scottish defence as they sought the equaliser and Ritchie justified his selection by pulling off a string of saves. Then with just six minutes to go, Ralph Brand pounced on a mistake by Wolves and smashed home a low, hard shot past the goalkeeper to give Rangers a two goal lead to take to the Midlands.
The Rangers players and supporters were delighted at the win, especially as it had come in such difficult circumstances. Not everyone appreciated the efforts of injury victim Harold Davis, though. ‘There was a comment made at the speeches after the game,’ Davis remembered. ‘The opposition manager Stan Cullis said something like, ‘If that guy who got injured and played on the wing was seriously hurt then I’m a bloody Dutchman.’ I ended up on the wing and I made a contribution and he didn’t like it.’
The second leg was to take place four days after the annual clash between Scotland and England in the Home International championship. This year the match was being played at Wembley, and as usual thousands of Scots travelled to London for the match. Many planned to return home via Black Country and take in the Rangers game at Molineux.
Wembley was a disaster. Scotland suffered a humiliating 9-3 defeat. It was now down to Rangers to restore some pride in the Scottish game. Despite the huge prize at stake – the finalists would make at least £20,000 from their appearance in the final – there were warm words from the English club towards their Rangers before the match. The programme notes for the game showed the respect they had for their Scottish visitors.
‘Since we qualified for one of the comparatively new international cup tournaments we have been privileged to receive on our ground some distinguished clubs from other countries. None of them however have been more welcome visitors to Molineux than the famous Rangers whom we see here tonight. Rangers are among the elite in Scottish football and all of us at Molineux are eagerly looking forward to seeing them.
‘What we can promise is another 90 minutes of hard football in which this time the roars from the terraces will be urging the English side into action just as the tremendous crowd at Ibrox sought to inspire their favourites three weeks ago. Those who were privileged to be there on that occasion will not hurriedly forget either the scene, or the sound, as the crowd roared Rangers into action.’
Molineux was barely a stone’s throw from the town centre and, after congregating for some time for a singsong outside the hotel where Rangers had based themselves, the Scots fans marched to the ground to claim their spot on the terraces. From the start of the match to the end, the Rangers supporters roared on their team, to the amazement of the local fans. The local Express and Star newspaper said the thousands of visitors ‘helped give the scene an atmosphere that has not been matched since the famous floodlit specials of ‘54.’
In their famous old gold jerseys, Wolves had the better of the opening exchanges, with Rangers were limited to breakaways. But as the half progressed the Scots managed to gain more of a territorial advantage. Davie Wilson, one of three Rangers players who had appeared against England, was out to make amends for the Wembley fiasco and put in a man of the match performance. Just before half time Alex Scott and Ralph Brand combined to score and send the Rangers fans into delirium. Latching onto a long clearance from the Rangers penalty area, Brand managed to evade the challenge of defender Bill Slater and broke away, before laying it onto the path of Scott, who carefully placed it beyond the ‘keeper.
The cheers of the travelling fans were still reverberating around Molineux when Billy Ritchie was forced to pull off a magnificent diving save from a long range shot. The save, which was greeted with almost as big a roar as the goal, broke English hearts. Wolves eventually found a way through with a goal midway through the second half, but they would have needed another two to take the tie to extra time and, despite wave after wave of attack, that never looked likely.
Finally the final whistle blew, and Rangers were in the final. Their fans spilled onto the pitch to celebrate their victory. The tolerant Wolverhampton constabulary stood back and let the delighted Scots enjoy their fun as hundreds of fans hugged their triumphant heroes and carried them shoulder-high down the tunnel. Others danced with joy in front of the main stand before lining up in formation and starting a victory parade back through the streets to the town centre, where the late trains were waiting to carry them back north. ‘We had a fantastic result,’ said Harold Davis. ‘Wolves were a great team in those days and that was one of our really good results. We were definitely helped by the fans. The backing of all those supporters was really super.’
The victory took Rangers into the final of the Cup Winners Cup, the first British club team to reach a major European final. Birmingham City had played in the previous year’s Fairs Cup final, but technically they were a representative team appearing in a competition that was only open to cities that hosted trade fairs. Having overcome teams from Hungary, Germany and England, Rangers now faced their biggest test against the Italians of Fiorentina.
Taken from Follow On: 50 Years of Rangers in Europe