By David Herd
Rangers welcome Hamburg to Ibrox this weekend, for what should be the friendliest of pre-season friendlies. But the sight of German opposition at Ibrox is also a reminder of the five European finals in our great history, as each of these five seasons featured a memorable home win over teams from Germany.
The first of these must rate as the most remarkable scoreline any Scottish side has achieved against rivals from a country who have won four World Cups and provided the winners of Europe’s biggest club competition eight times. In 1960/61 Rangers competed in the first-ever European Cup-Winners Cup tournament, and in the last eight were drawn to play a relatively unknown West German team called Borussia Monchengladbach. They were a team playing in European competition for the first time after recently winning their first ever national trophy.
After a bad-tempered match in Rhineland saw Rangers win 3-0, the second leg looked a formality. Nobody could have predicted the final score, however, as a ruthless Rangers team mercilessly took apart a team who in future years would win five Bundesliga titles and two UEFA Cups. Ralph Brand scored a hat-trick in front of almost 40,000 fans, with the others coming from Jimmy Millar (2), Jim Baxter, Alex Scott and Harold Davis to complete an 8-0 rout. After a legendary semi-final win over Wolverhampton Wanderers, Rangers came up short in the competition’s only ever two-legged final against Fiorentina.
Rangers reached a second European Cup-Winners’ Cup final in the 1960s, which again ended in final heartache. Season 1966/67 is not one those of an older vintage will remember with any fondness, the Berwick debacle in January 1967 and the cruel treatment of Jim Forrest and George McLean preceding a 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Nuremburg final at the season’s end. But the tournament had seen a famous triumph over even more highly rated German opposition in an earlier round.
Borussia Dortmund were the holders, having defeated Liverpool at Hampden in the previous season’s final. They had a star-studded squad, with 3 players in the West German squad who had just reached the World Cup final at Wembley. They were favourites to beat Rangers in the second round, but goals by Kai Johansen and Alex Smith carved out a 2-1 win at Ibrox in a controversial match in front of a big 65,000 crowd. Dortmund were confident they could overturn this slender deficit at home, but despite playing for more than half the game with ten men after an injury to Bobby Watson, Rangers heroically held out for a 0-0 draw to progress. There’s a decent argument that Dortmund were the best team Rangers had knocked out of Europe up till that point in our European history.
1972 was the year of Barcelona, Colin Stein and Willie Johnston. The greatest night in the 151 years of Rangers FC. And in the semi-finals, arguably Rangers achieved the greatest result that any Scottish club side has managed before or since. Bayern Munich were formidable opponents, with genuinely world class players such as Beckenbauer, Muller, Maier, Breitner and Hoeness. They provided half the West German team who won the Euros that summer, and went on to lift 3 successive European Cups at club level as well as most of the German team who lifted the 1974 World Cup. They faced a Rangers team who had achieved some impressive results in Europe that season, but who were dismal domestically. A fighting and perhaps fortunate 1-1 draw in Munich meant the 80,000 who packed Ibrox for the return leg had hope.
Without injured captain John Greig, and with two 18-year-olds in midfield in Derek Johnstone and the untried Derek Parlane, Rangers were magnificent. Early goals by Sandy Jardine and Parlane gave the team a two goal lead to hold on to, and the Germans were well beaten long before the final whistle. There are many, myself included, who rate that night at Ibrox right up there amongst both the best performances and the best Ibrox atmospheres of our lives.
Our next European final took a while to come around, and it took the managerial genius of Walter Smith to achieve it. 2007/08 was a marathon season at home and abroad, with the ridiculous fixture burden in the final weeks of the season a big reason why it is remembered with as much anger as pride. The journey to Manchester was a long one, and the knockout rounds didn’t provide much in the way of excitement in the Ibrox home matches. 3 of the 4 ties ended 0-0, as Walter perfected the art of not conceding at home then grabbing the decisive goal on our travels. The exception was the last-16 tie against Werder Bremen.
A packed Ibrox saw a tense match with decisive goals scored either side of half-time. Striker Daniel Cousin, whose presence was badly missed in the final due to suspension, struck the opener with a 30 yard shot that deceived goalkeeper Tim Wiese, who fumbled it into the net to send the home fans wild. We’ve always liked seeing a Tim have an embarrassing moment. Then loanee Steven Davis struck just a few minutes into the second half to give Rangers a 2-0 first leg lead. It was a lead that was needed, Bremen pounding the Rangers goal in the return, but they could manage just a solitary goal to leave the aggregate at 2-1. That was, of course, in no small part due to one of the most miraculous saves in the career of Allan McGregor.
So to the most recent European final run, the road to Seville in 2021/22. Rangers had already enjoyed an incredible aggregate win over the German giants of Dortmund in the first knockout round, the 4-2 first leg win surely up there amongst the greatest away wins we have ever achieved. The 2-2 home draw had the old stadium rocking, but even that amazing atmosphere was topped in the semi-finals. RB Leipzig stood in the way of a trip to southern Spain, and they held a 1-0 lead from their home game thanks to a late long-range effort. The second leg, for me, became the greatest Ibrox atmosphere I’ve ever enjoyed.
The stadium was already bouncing before the game started, but early goals from skipper James Tavernier and midfielder Glen Kamara had the place vibrating. A brief silence in the 70th minute when Christopher Nkunku scored an excellent goal to level the tie was then followed by a last 20 minutes that will live forever with everyone fortunate enough to have been there. The Ibrox crowd lifted the team to greater heights, and when “silky scouser” John Lundstram buried the ball in the Leipzig net with 10 minutes left, the noise could surely have been heard in his Liverpool homeland. We survived the inevitably heart-stopping last few minutes and the Ibrox stands shook when the final whistle sounded. It all ended in penalty heartache in Spain, but what a night and what a journey.
These five great European wins, and five great European seasons, are a long way away from a July friendly. But Hamburg are a proud club who share a great affection for Rangers, our fans and our heritage. They are also a club who have enjoyed the greatest of glories by winning The 1983 European Cup, and who have now fallen on harder times. They also share a city with rivals whose affiliations are the polar opposite of ours, and there is a mutual bond which stretches the 949 kilometres between their Volsparkstadion home and Ibrox stadium. Of course, there is also a very famous and well-loved former player we share too. “The Hammer” Jorg Albertz joined Rangers from Hamburg, and returned there after a Rangers career of 228 games, 82 goals, and countless amazing memories.
We have welcomed other German sides for friendly matches in the recent past. Late last year, Michael Beale’s first match in charge of Rangers was a home win over Bayer Leverkusen in such a match. That day, the away side received a polite welcome. I expect the welcome given to our friends from Hamburg will be very much noisier and very much warmer.
The game is really about preparing for the new season, and giving the manager another 90 minutes to gel a team with several new faces. Perhaps it will be a first chance to see Cyriel Dessers up front, a player I am very much looking forward to watching. It could also be the latest comeback for Kemar Roofe, a man whose injury problems have seemed endless. Both look more suited to being the central striker than those who were available in midweek against Newcastle, Lammers and Sima look to me to be more like support forwards than the leader of the line.
In midfield, Raskin looked hugely impressive in his second half cameo, and with Cantwell, Hagi and Dowell we look to have plenty options in the creative side. The defence is where it appears the manager still has new faces to introduce, but surely Yilmaz gets the left back start this time.
Win, lose or draw it should be a great occasion against popular opposition. It is just a friendly, but of those 3 options I’m definitely preferring the idea of a win.