By Alistair Aird
Since our first European match in September 1956 up to and including the first leg of the Europa League semi-final against RB Leipzig, Rangers have played in 367 ties in major European competition (that’s either European Cup, European Cup Winners Cup, Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, UEFA Cup, Champions League and/or Europa League).
T he breakdown is as follows:
We have a far better record at Ibrox than we do away from home which bodes well for Thursday. Of the 157 victories, 108 (68.79%) have come under the lights at Ibrox, while only 30 of the 116 defeats have come on our home turf.
THE SYMON ERA
The man in the dugout for that inaugural match against OCG Nice was one James Scotland Symon.
Taking over the reins from the totemic Bill Struth must have put considerable pressure Symon when he became the Rangers manager in 1954. He had previous managerial experience with East Fife and Preston North End, though, and over the next 13 years, he established a Rangers team that could compete both domestically and in Europe, leading the club to one of the most successful eras in their history.
Also in Europe, he was the first Rangers manager to take the club to the semi-final of a major European tournament – the European Cup in season 1959/60 – and he remains the only manager to have led Rangers to two European Finals. He’s the only manager to take Rangers through to the next round on the toss of coin too.
His European Record reads:
The data suggests that supremacy in away matches was some way off. Rangers won just three of their first nine away matches, and under Symon lost 13 times on their travels. This adds weight to the argument that Symon was tactically naïve in Europe, often playing the same way he would if Rangers were playing a match in a domestic competition.
Note those stats don’t account for the four matches played at ‘neutral’ venues under Symon, the 3-1 play-off defeat to OGC Nice at the Parc de Princes, the 3-2 win over Sparta Rotterdam at Highbury, the 4-1 ‘home’ win over ASK Vorwarts in Malmo, and the 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich in Nuremburg.
WHITE, WADDELL AND WALLACE
From November 1967 until September 1977, three managers, White, Waddell and Wallace, took charge of Rangers in European ties. Of course, this was the era in which we lifted, to date, our only European trophy – the European Cup Winners Cup in season 1971/72 – but except for that and a couple of runs in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, that spell wasn’t exactly startling.
The record between those dates reads:
THE EARLY TO MID 1980’s
John Greig had shown he was tactically astute at European level when, during his debut season as manager, he masterminded victories over Juventus and PSV Eindhoven. But thereafter his teams enjoyed limited success on the European stage. There was a fine performance against Borussia Dortmund at Ibrox in 1982, but that was followed by a 5-0 hammering against 1FC Cologne in West Germany. And a year earlier his side had succumbed 3-0 away from home against Dukla Prague.
Between 1981 and the arrival of Graeme Souness in 1986, our European record read:
It should be noted that the data is skewed somewhat by the thumping wins over the Maltese minnows, Valletta, in 1983. That accounts for 18 of the 47 goals scored (38.3%).
NINE IN A ROW
During one of the most unforgettable epochs in our 150-year history, between 1988 and 1997, Rangers were almost untouchable domestically. Nine successive league championship titles were the result, but aside from going to within a goal of the inaugural Champions League in season 1992/93, we didn’t hit the same high notes in Europe.
Our record in the NIAR years reads:
Admittedly we faced some big hitters. Bayern Munich beat us 3-1 at Ibrox to eliminate us from the European Cup in 1989/90, and the following season, we were torn apart by Red Star Belgrade, the eventual winners of the tournament scoring a comprehensive 3-0 victory in Belgrade. And in season 1995/96 we lost 4-1 and 4-0 to Juventus in the Champions League group stages.
LAUDRUP & GASGOIGNE
Rightly regarded as being two of the most gifted footballers to pull on a Rangers jersey, Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne gave us supporters a multitude of memories during their time with the club. But our form in Europe in the four seasons from when Laudrup signed (1994/95) until they both departed (1997/98) was simply awful.
Our overall record in that timeframe reads:
Between the 2-0 defeat in Athens in 1994 and the 2-1 reverse in Strasbourg early in season 1997/98, Laudrup made 17 appearances in Europe and scored three goals. Gascoigne’s appearance tally stood at 15 with two goals netted.
Incidentally, the wins came against Anorthosis Famagusta, Alania Vladikavkaz (2), GI Gotu (2) and Grasshopper Zurich.
Walter’s last season was instantly forgettable in Europe too. Rangers lost heavily to IFK Gothenburg in the qualifying rounds for the Champions League then lost home and away to RC Strasbourg in the UEFA Cup.
The arrival of Dick Advocaat brought some continental flair to Rangers’ play, although his time at Ibrox got off to an inauspicious start. Facing Shelbourne at Prenton Park in Tranmere in the UEFA Cup, Advocaat’s expensively assembled side trailed 3-0 at half time before eventually turning the match around to win 5-3. But it soon became obvious that that had been a blip, as Advocaat’s side established a European pedigree over the next few seasons.
Bayer Leverkusen were beaten 2-1 in their own backyard – our current manager netted one of the goals – and there would be a memorable win over the UEFA Cup holders, Parma, and emphatic victories over PSV Eindhoven and Sturm Graz too.
However, although we came close to making the knockout stages and played some fantastic football, it was Alex McLeish that was at the helm when Rangers made history in season 2005/06. A draw at home against Inter Milan was enough to take Rangers through, becoming the first Scottish club to make the Champions League knockout stages in the process.
McLeish is also the only manager to have successfully taken us into the next round in Europe by winning a penalty shoot-out. That came against CS Maritimo in 2004. Perhaps Giovanni van Bronckhorst will join him on Thursday should we need ‘kicks from the penalty mark’ to get past RB Leipzig?
Under Advocaat, Rangers’ record in Europe read:
WALTER (2nd SPELL)
Looking at the numbers for European games during Walter’s second spell as the Rangers manager, it didn’t come as a surprise to see so many drawn matches! He set his side up to play to their strengths, which at that time at that level was obdurate and stoic defence. It was, of course, successful, the run to Manchester in 2008 being built on this foundation.
But there were some memorable victories too. Beating Lyon 3-0 in France sticks out as do the 2-0 wins over Werder Bremen and Sporting Lisbon. There were some chastening defeats, though, and few will wish to be reminded of the 4-1 loss at home to Unirea Urziceni or the 2-1 defeat against Zalgiris Kaunas in Lithuania.
PROGRESS SINCE PROGRES
The genesis of the idea for this article came when someone commented that our record in Europe since Steven Gerrard took over as manager must rank at the top end of our achievements at this level. They weren’t wrong!
Rangers have played in 62 European matches since the humiliating defeat against Progres Niederkorn in 2017. The record in those matches is:
It’s interesting to note that seven of the 13 defeats have come this season, four under Gerrard (Malmo (2), Lyon and Sparta Prague) and three under van Bronckhorst (Red Star, Braga and RB Leipzig).
We’ve made the knockout stages every season bar Gerrard’s first in charge and have established ourselves as a formidable opponent. And here we are on Thursday night at our Temple of Dreams inn with a shout of making what would be our fifth European final.
Make no mistake, RB Leipzig are a good side, one to be respected but not feared. Indeed, if our opponents take time to look at the stats then they may well be the ones who have some trepidation coming to Glasgow. Our home form since the exit at the hands of Progres has been magnificent:
That comes to a win percentage of 66.67%, and an average of 1.9 goals per game. And in the 30 homes games we’ve only failed to score in four of them (13.33%). Add to that that our manager is yet to taste defeat at Ibrox in a European tie then things are stacking up in our favour.
The match on Thursday is arguably the most eagerly anticipated European match at Ibrox since we faced another German giant, Bayern Munich, at the semi-final stage of the European Cup Winners Cup. That was 50 years ago as we were about to celebrate our centenary. Now as we celebrate 150 years of this wonderful institution, it’s time score a similar result and give us the opportunity to bring another European trophy home.