Date:16th November 2021 at 10:39am
Written by:

By Alistair Aird

There have been a few tomes written over the last half a century about the glorious night in Catalonia on 24 May 1972 when Rangers won the European Cup Winners’ Cup. Each has done their bit to paint a picture of arguably the greatest achievement in Rangers’ 150-year history, but few have painted it as vividly as Tom Miller in his recently released account, Barcelona – The Greatest Day in the History of Rangers FC.

Brought onto the shelves a few months ahead of the fiftieth anniversary of the triumph, Tom has timed it well, and his short, snappy chapters cataloguing the glorious run make it very easy to digest and then reflect upon each match played. And Tom leaves no stone unturned.

He sets the scene ahead of the midweek fixtures by pondering Rangers’ topsy turvy, inconsistent form domestically that season. He makes mention of the painful start that saw us lose three times to Celtic before we had even played a European tie. One can only imagine the hullaballoo that such a sequence of results would have in today’s hyper-critical social media society!

The fact that all three Old Firm defeats came at Ibrox – Parkhead being in the throes of some reconstruction at the time – is the perfect way to illustrate where confidence must have been at ahead of the opening fixture away to Stade Rennes. Yet that team found their niche in the European arena, and the backdrop of domestic despairs serves to highlight just how fantastic an achievement it was for that group of players to annex what to date is our only piece of major silverware in European competition.

I also enjoyed the fact that it isn’t ‘all about the Rangers’ to coin one of the Rangers TV commentator’s favourite phrases. Tom takes time to look at the form of the opposition leading up to their head-to-head with Rangers and this gives the reader a better understanding of what obstacles lay in front of us as we beat a path towards the Final. He also analyses the strengths and weaknesses of the teams, highlighting players in each squad that were likely to present a threat to any desire Rangers had to embark on a lengthy run in the competition.

Tom also looks at the tactical approach Rangers adopted in each of the ties, and this is another element that helps the reader understand how we adapted our approach to more than match what we were up against. There is emphasis too on the controversy that followed the Final, and the subsequent ban that was imposed on Rangers.

Rhetoric such as this is all well and good, and there is no doubt that it makes for a good read. But books like this come alive when you get first-hand accounts from the main protagonists, the players. Getting into that inner sanctum is key, and Tom once again delivers here. There are quotes and testimonials from the likes of Alex MacDonald, Peter McCloy, Willie Henderson, Derek Johnstone, Colin Stein and Willie Johnston. Even Billy Semple, a fringe player who didn’t make any appearances in the tournament, puts his tuppence worth in. Why is there value in that some may ask? The answer is that Billy’s input gives a perspective of the European adventure bred positivity not just in the first team but also the reserves.

Tom also transcribes an interview he conducted with the two goal heroes, Stein and Johnston, that is funny and insightful in equal measure. And in addition, Tom draws on the experiences and memories of others – for example, our greatest-ever goalscorer, Ally McCoist, gives his recollections of the campaign – although perhaps a few more testimonials from the red, white and blue army that invaded Barcelona for the match would have enhanced this section.

The book concludes with a comprehensive stats section. Therein lies data on the Rangers careers of each of the 18 players who played some part in the nine games that encompassed the campaign. Even Jim Denny, who made only one appearance as substitute in the first game, is included. If you need to know anything about our Cup Winners’ Cup-winning campaign, this is the place to go. And this builds on the chapter earlier in the book where Tom provides synopses packed with wee factoids on the life and times of each of the players, including Gerry Neef and Alex Miller, neither of whom made an appearance but were part of the squad during the tournament.

But the piece de resistance for me is ‘The Last Word’.

As you would suspect, John Greig is mentioned many times in the book, but Tom clearly felt it prudent to give the Greatest Ever Ranger the platform to provide the closing remarks. He was the first man to lay his hands on the trophy, had been a colossus as we sought a way to gazump Celtic and end their supremacy at that time, and had been one of only four players in the starting XI at the Camp Nou – Jardine, Smith and Johnston were the others – to have had endured the bitter taste of defeat at the final hurdle five years earlier against Bayern Munich. It’s a fitting way to draw to a conclusion the finest achievement of the many that Rangers have enjoyed since their birth back in 1872.

And Tom’s book is a fine achievement as well, one I would highly recommend to Rangers fans of all generations.



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