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Echoes of 1972

By David Sharp

Rangers legend Colin Stein holds aloft the European Cup-Winners' Cup
A delighted Stein holds aloft the European Cup-Winners' Cup

Portuguese, Italians and Germans were ousted en-route to Rangers' 1972 European Cup-Winners' Cup success.

A crack Russian outfit awaited the Glasgow club in the final.

Accusations of 'anti-football' were levelled at Wille Waddell's resilient side.

Tens of thousands of Rangers fans made the pilgrimage by plane, train and automobile to the match venue... and made quite an impact.

Does any of this ring any bells?

The similarities between Rangers' run to this season's Uefa Cup final and the heroes of 1972 - the last time the Ibrox club appeared in a European final - are striking to say the least.

Rangers legend Colin Stein scored the first goal in the Ibrox side's 3-2 win over Dynamo Moscow in Barcelona 36 years ago and he has drawn parallels with the current Rangers team who take on Zenit St Petersburg in Manchester.

"There are a lot of similarities in the two cup runs," Stein told BBC Sport.

"If you look at it, we also beat Sporting Lisbon on the way to the final.

"Bayern Munich were beaten in the semi-final in 1972, although by us, this time it was Zenit.

"And a Russian team were waiting for us in the final too. It's maybe coming together for Rangers."

The stars certainly seem to be aligned in an eerily similar fashion as Manchester braces itself for a red, white and blue invasion.

With the venue for the final only four hours down the M6 from Glasgow, the Lancashire city will find itself acting as a makeshift set for a Cecil B DeMille Hollywood epic.

On this occasion, the cast of thousands will be bedecked in Rangers bunting rather than sandals and togas. Although you never know. This particular production will be directed by a Scottish Salvador Dali.

Stein says the vast Rangers support in Barcelona in 1972 played a huge part in inspiring the team to a memorable victory over the highly-touted Russians.

And he reckons with 100,000 fans of the Glasgow club descending on Manchester (13,000 officially in the stadium) a similar buzz and energy can transfer to the Rangers players and elevate them to emulate the herculean feats of 1972.

"It will be like a home game for Rangers," he said. "I don't know how many Russian fans will be there, but they'll certainly be outshouted down at Manchester.

"It will be like playing at Ibrox which is almost as good as getting a goal of a start."

Jubilant Light Blues fans, who, in their giddy over-excitement, had spilled on to the pitch several times during the '72 final, clashed with General Franco's heavy-handed militia at the end of the match, souring the momentous occasion.

Rangers legend Colin Stein wheels away to celebrate his opening goal in the 1972  Cup-Winners' Cup final
Stein opened the scoring for Rangers in the Nou Camp in 1972

Rangers' captain John Greig was presented with the trophy deep in the bowels of the Nou Camp and the players were prevented from returning to the field to take the acclaim of their supporters, who were still engaged in a running battle with a battalion of Spanish police.

The ugly scenes saw the Ibrox club banned from European competition for two seasons, later reduced to one on appeal.

"Barcelona seems a long, long time ago," Stein continued.

"My abiding memory of the game is scoring my goal. I remember Sandy Jardine, for once, tackled the Dynamo Moscow winger and got the ball and Davie Smith pushed it forward and I just ran onto it and hit it and that was it - it was in the net.

"I turned around and all I could see was a tidal wave of red,white and blue running towards me on the park. It wasn't my team-mates, it was the supporters!" Stein chuckled at the memory.

"There were about 30,000 Rangers fans in the Nou Camp that night.

"Winning the cup was a tremendous thing. The only downside was not being presented with the trophy on the park, what with the fans' invasion.

"But to win a European cup was absolutely brilliant."

The similarities between the style of football played by Waddell's 1972 Rangers and Walter Smith's 2008 team are similarly striking.

MY SPORT: DEBATE

There were no real stars in Waddell's side, who were characterised by an aggressive pressing game allied with a fabulous work-rate. The remit was to close the opposition down when they had the ball and counter at devastating speed.

For bustling striker Colin Stein and speedy winger Willie Johnston, read Jean-Claude Darcheville and Nacho Novo.

The fulcrum of a rock-solid defence was Colin Jackson and Derek Johnstone. Carlos Cuellar and David Weir fulfil a similar role for the current team.

And the spooky parallels don't end there.

Walter Smith has been slammed for his cagey-yet-highly-effective 4-1-4-1 formation - the so-called 'Watenaccio' - which has seen the Ibrox side triumph over more illustrious opponents on the long road to Manchester.

Following Rangers' stuffy 1-1 draw with Rennes in the away leg of their first round tie of the competition back in 1972, the unimpressed French manager described the Scots' play as 'anti-football'! Rangers went through 2-1 on aggregate following a 1-0 win at Ibrox.

'Anti-football'? I'm sure I've heard that mentioned somewhere before. The comparisons are now verging on the freaky.

Stein eagerly pooh-poohs those who have heaped scorn on Smith's winning formula.

"So many people that are saying this and that about Walter Smith's tactics, they're not in the competition now, but Rangers are so I think that's accolade enough for Smith and his staff," he said.

Rangers legend Colin Stein shows off a picture of his famous goal on a return to the Nou Camp in 2007
Stein shows off a picture of his famous goal in the Nou Camp

Stein's side were allowed a clear run to prepare for their European final by dint of it being the last game of the season - an underachieving one at that, with Jock Stein's all-conquering Celtic once more sweeping all before them domestically.

By contrast, Walter Smith's over-achieving campaign-weary troops take the field on Wednesday for their 64th game of a marathon season.

But despite all this, Stein thinks the heightened occasion of a European final will be enough to soothe any thoughts of leaden legs and carry Rangers on to a historic victory.

"My adrenaline is flowing and I'm not even playing!" Stein exclaimed.

"I don't know the fitness of the players, I'm sure it's good, but it's a big, big ask for them. It will take its toll I think.

"But I don't think Walter will need a team talk on Wednesday."

And so the scene is set. The big question is: can history repeat itself?

Let's not even go into the fact that Rangers' opponents have a former Ibrox boss (Dick Advocaat) at their helm and a former player (Fernando Ricksen) in their squad. Karma, kismet, chance, destiny, fate...superstition?

Call it what you like, but apparently the great prophet Nostradamus himself was laughed out of the bookies back in August 2007 when he inquired about the odds on a Rangers-Zenit St Petersburg 2008 Uefa Cup final.

Whatever those gargantuan odds might have been, Stein reckons Rangers can buck them.

"It's a one-off game, a European final and to play in that is maybe once-in-a-lifetime," he said.

"And I think Rangers have a great chance of winning the cup. I'm 100% sure they can do it."




see also
Uefa Cup final tactics
14 May 08 |  Europe
Zenit aim to rattle Gers defence
13 May 08 |  Rangers
Zenit St Petersburg v Rangers
12 May 08 |  Europe
Rangers convoy hits road to final
13 May 08 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West
Rangers player profiles
13 May 08 |  Rangers
Advocaat's Rangers legacy
13 May 08 |  Rangers


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