When the Galactico’s came to Glasgow

Zidane scores THAT goal. Hampden Stadium, Glasgow, 15 May, 2002.

The Union Canal, which runs from Edinburgh to Falkirk, would seem an odd place to start a piece which is focused on the most glamorous game in football – the Champions League Final – but if you run with me on this then I can assure it’s relevant to the story.

The canal was first conceived in 1793 as a direct route for people in Edinburgh to access cheap coal from the west. Its construction was approved in parliament in 1817 and it officially opened five years later in 1822.

The canal was an essential lifeblood for nearly 100 years, transporting goods from east-to-west and back again.

The rise of the railways saw the canal’s importance fade and by 1921 the first part of the canal – the eastern terminus – was closed. By 1965 the entire canal was consigned to history as I was formally closed to navigation. By the mid-80s – and by the time I had moved to Falkirk – the canal was a dumping ground for supermarket trollies and cars and was not a pretty sight at all.

However the canal was reopened in 2001 thanks to the Millennium Link project, £83.5m of funding and the greatest canal restoration anywhere in Britain. Then the opening of the Falkirk Wheel in 2002 reconnected the canal to the Forth and Clyde canal for the first time in 70 years and its rebirth as a community asset was confirmed.

It was in 2002, during the substantial activity to regenerate it, that the canal became a symbolic part of my route to the Champions League Final, because it was whilst out running along the canal with my best mate Allan that I realised I had a ticket to the glamour game which was being played in Glasgow at Hampden Stadium.

Allan had secured tickets through Alex Smith, who is his step-dad and was Dundee Utd manager at the time. He informed me as we ran along the canal that we were on our way to see the mighty Real Madrid take on Bayer Leverkusen.

I have to say it was a huge surprise – and a very pleasant one. I had already decided to head into Glasgow for the final and find a decent pub somewhere to take in the game and the atmosphere of the big occasion. But now I had secured a ringside seat to see the Galactico’s of Madrid make their much anticipated return to Hampden – a stadium that already had a serious significance in their history.

That was the thing about the Real coming to Glasgow in 2002 – there was already a serious amount of history between Madrid and Glasgow. So much so, in fact, that it almost felt like a homecoming.

Alfredo Di Stefano scores in the famous 7-3 win against Eintracht Frankfurt in Glasgow in 1960.

 

Real famously won the trophy at Hampden in 1960 in what is widely regarded as the greatest final of all time. The might of Madrid was too much for Eintracht Frankfurt – who had demolished Rangers 12-4 on aggregate in the semi-final – and they romped home to a 7-3 victory with four goals from Ferenc Puskas and three from Alfredo Di Stefano in front of 120,000 enthralled supporters – mostly locals.

Real also travelled to Glasgow in 1963 to take on Rangers in the European Cup, winning 1-0 at Ibrox. The visit of Madrid on this occasion was probably most famously remembered for Jim Baxter taking Puskas to a party in Drumchapel where, it is alleged, that Puskas continued his penchant for scoring – this time with a local lass in the scullery of a tenement flat!

The Rangers v Real Madrid

It was undeniable that Glasgow and Madrid went together like Glasgow and deep fried Mars bars. This would be an occasion to remember.

On the day of the game, I finished my work in Cumbernauld early and headed to Glasgow for about 3pm. There was already a real feel of anticipation – the place was buzzing.

I sank a couple of beers at Bonapartes in Queen St Station, sitting at one of the chairs outside savouring the atmosphere awaiting Allan’s arrival. Loads of Madrid fans were filtering off trains as they arrived in the city and their chants of “Madreed! Madreed!” echoed around the age old station giving their shouts of support an air of intimidation.

Once Allan arrived we headed around a few pubs and then to the bookies where I stuck a fiver on Raul to score first and Real to win 3-1 at 33/1. Then it was off to Hampden for the big game.

Our seats were in the East Stand – or the traditional “Celtic end” – and as we arrived you could have been mistaken for thinking we has turned up on the day of a cup final that Celtic were actually playing in, given the amount of hooped jerseys doing the rounds. This led to a tense exchange of words between Allan and one of the hooped brethren. Allan suggested that – just for one day – would it not have been a good idea to leave traditional rivalries aside and enjoy the big occasion without the usual Glasgow window dressing. The response he got was not what I would describe as pleasant, and tempers had to be calmed as we headed in through the turnstile to avoid things escalating to a more physical plane.

Once in, my anticipation levels rose. The main reason for this is that I knew I was about to witness in the flesh the man who I considered then – and now – to be the best player of all time: Zinedine Zidane.

Zidane had been pivotal in France winning the World Cup in 1998, but it was his performances in Euro 2000 that had left me in awe at what the man was capable of with a football. I had never seen a player create or find space the way Zidane had in that tournament. He was a joy to watch. And now I was going to see him in the flesh.

The game kicked off and very quickly Real took the lead through Raul. My bet was officially on. The goal was Raul’s 34th in the competition – and it made him the top goal-scorer in the history of the Champions League at the time. Of course he now lies third in that particular race behind Ronaldo and Messi.

Leverkusen struck back, however, through Lucio after he met a Bernd Schneider free-kick. My bet was now even more officially on and the game was shaping up nicely.

And then it happened. That moment. That goal.

It is probably the most iconic goal in Champions League history – and I nearly missed it.

The beer had weakened my bladder and I made my way to the toilet just before half-time. On the way up I heard a guy refer to Zidane as a “donkey”. I protested at the outrageousness of this statement – but he insisted “he’s a donkey mate” in a rather obnoxious tone. Stunned, I continued on my mission to relieve my bladder.

It was on the way back it happened. If I’d timed my visit to the toilet just thirty seconds later then I would have missed one of the greatest goals ever scored. And not only did the footballing gods decree that I wouldn’t miss the goal, the decreed that I would be walking past the man who referred to Zidane as a “donkey” when it went in.

Santiago Solari sent a pass down the left-hand channel, Roberto Carlos put in a high looping cross, Zidane set himself, awaited the ball’s arrival from the sky and then unleashed a thunderous left-footed shot into the top corner of the net.

It was thing of beauty, an act of outrageousness even for a man as skilled as Zizou. The stadium, the nation, the continent united in sheer awe at the mastery of it. Well, all except for Mr Donkey. As Zidane turned to celebrate his wonder strike, I turned to Zidane’s constructive critique and bellowed “there’s yer donkey mate”. He didn’t reply.

Half–time arrived with Madrid 2-1 up and my 33/1 bet still on. Allan and I were sat next to Maurice Malpas and Paul Heggarty – a consequence of our tickets coming through the Dundee Utd manager. I showed Heggarty my bookie slip and he raised an eyebrow and commented that I was in with a chance.

The second-half was a bit of a non-event. Leverkusen tried to break down Madrid, Madrid tried to hit them on the counter. As the minutes ticked away I started to shout on Madrid as if they were my own team. After all, I was on for £165 – but it was not to be. Despite seven minutes of injury time Madrid couldn’t find a third. In fact, were it not for Iker Casillas, who had come on for the injured Cesar, then Leverkusen would have equalised in injury time. The final whistle went, Madrid had conquered Glasgow and Europe again and it was all about watching “Los Blancos” celebrate in the very substantial Glasgow rain.

Zidane celebrates his strike and Real’s win in the Glasgow rain.

The following day it was all about rubbing my workmates’ noses in it as they had watched the game on TV. To aid in this I walked in with my match ticket stuck to the lapel of my jacket. It had been a historic occasion with a very historic moment and I had been there. I had witnessed it.

Just like those 120,000 punters in 1960 who had spent the rest of their lives telling anyone who had been prepared to listen that they “were there” the day Puskas, Di Stefano and Genko had rolled into Glasgow – I could now say the same for the time Raul, Figo and, most importantly, Zidane had retraced the steps of their peers from 42 years previously.

Hala Madrid!

Hala Glasgow!

Ticket to Ride: Following in the Footsteps of Giants

Kenneth Mathieson Dalglish, boyhood Rangers fan, runs through to score the winning goal in the 1978 European Cup Final – a cast member from Boys from the Blackstuff looks on in the background.

It is fair to say that, despite a previous incarnation as a baker, I am not a morning person. So it would be fair to admit that dragging my more than ample arse out of my pit at half-five on a Sunday morning left me feeling distinctly un-enamoured.

But there was a special reason for this early Sunday morning rise as, for his birthday treat, I was taking the boy to Anfield to watch Liverpool take on Southampton. With a 1:30pm kick-off, we had to set off at around half-six to make sure we were down the M6 in plenty of time for the kick-off.

Taking the journey from Scotland down to Merseyside meant we were following in the footsteps of many a Liverpool legend. Indeed it was only a few days prior to our visit that Liverpool announced they were naming their stonking new stand – and it is stonking – after Kenny Dalglish, arguably the clubs greatest ever player.

But Dalglish is not the only Scot to have served the club with distinction. In my childhood years, as well as Dalglish, there were the likes of Alan Hansen, Graeme Souness, John Wark and Stevie Nicol at Liverpool. It is worth noting that all bar Hansen grew up as Rangers supporters – including Dalglish until he turned to the dark side.

It was this contingent of Scots that made adopting Liverpool as your “English side” was almost mandatory in the 80s – and I was no different. It seemed everyone at school had a preference for Liverpool in this period and it felt that most adults at the time did too.

Not only was there a contingent of Scots in the side but Liverpool as a city seemed to connect politically with Scotland also – with both displaying a large resentment towards Thatcher and the Tory government of the time.

Even culturally there was a lot to like about Liverpool. The Beatles were an obvious one in my house due to my dad being daft on them, but TV programmes like ‘Boys from the Blackstuff’, ‘Scully’ and even ‘Brookside’ – particularly young football scally Damon Grant – all made Liverpool as a club, and city, resonate with many of us north of the border at the time.

Yosser Hughes and Souness continue the friendship between Scots and Scousers.

However around the late 80s/early 90s I started to drift away from Liverpool – put off by the seemingly increased link between them an Celtic. It had not always seemed that way. In my school in the mid-80s those of us who were Rangers fans wore the Rangers/Liverpool ski hats, with Celtic fans wearing a similar tea cosy-esque bunnet sporting Celtic and Man U on them. But a few years later it seemed our separated brethren from across the city were claiming the Scousers as their own too. And so I slowly became disinterested in Liverpool as a club.

That all changed about five or six years ago around the time my boy’s interest in football was starting to increase. Luis Suarez was starting to hit his peak at Liverpool and so we started a ritual known as “Suarez Sunday” anytime Liverpool were on Super Sunday. A Coke for him, a beer for me, a shared family bag of Monster Munch and we were away. He made a connection with Liverpool and adopted them as his preferred English team, and I reconnected with them. Since then, whenever they’re on the telly, we usually sit down to watch them and cheer them on.

That reconnection led to arranging for tickets for the weekends game for my boy’s 12th birthday with John Gibbons from the Anfield Wrap. John kindly agreed to help and I had arranged to meet him in the Glenbuck Hotel prior to the game to pick up the tickets. With arrangements confirmed, the boy and I headed off in the early morning sun for our first visit to Anfield to take in a game.

I must admit I went a bit overboard and tried to make the day all about Liverpool – including the soundtrack for our journey. So the CD collection was raided for albums by The Beatles, The La’s, Cast, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Coral. Part of this ploy coincided with my continuing vain attempts to get the boy into music – so far without any success – and I have to admit there was little sign that my plan paid any dividend on Sunday either. Still it did feel good to have “There She Goes” blaring out of the car stereo as we pulled out of our street on the start of our journey.

The La’s: best played very loudly, in the car and at 6:30am.

Four hours later – with a swift stop at Southwaite services included – we were heading into Liverpool city centre, where the plan was to park the car at Albert Docks and take a bus to Anfield.

However at this point I took a wrong turn and suddenly I realised I was at Stanley Park – which separates Anfield and Goodison – and before you know it I was pulling into car park right next to the stadium. Stroke of luck number one!

The second stroke of luck came as I went to pay for the parking. As I went into my wallet I was asked how many times I had visited Anfield by the steward. “First time for a game”, I informed him.

At this point another steward introduced himself as Chris and informed me that he wanted to create “good memories” of our trip to Anfield and that I would not need to pay for parking today – and indeed that I would be upgraded to VIP parking. He then directed me to drive to the top of the car park right next to the stadium. I did wonder at this point why I was picked out by Chris for preferential treatment, but not so much that I felt I needed to protest at his decision.

With the car safely parked in its VIP mooring, we made our way to the Glenbuck Hotel to meet John and pick up the tickets. John was there with a few mates and his dad, and he introduced us all and made us feel very welcome. They were all really friendly and there is some good banter doing the rounds. During the chat John’s dad asked me why Scotland doesn’t produce players good enough to play for Liverpool anymore – I was unable to provide him with an answer.

With the tickets secured we headed to the game. John had arranged for us to sit in his and dads seats in the top tier of the Centenary Stand. As we take our seats I get talking to the guy next to me, who is also really friendly. I inform him about the VIP parking stroke of luck, and my observation that there are a great deal of tourists doing the rounds. He informs me that there is an increasing amount of Chinese, Malaysian and Americans attending games at Anfield – and that they, as well as other nationalities, get preferential treatment compared to the locals. He cites my experience at the car park and informs me that a Scouser would never had been given that kind of treatment and that he has to park over a mile from the ground.

James Milner’s spot kicks secures the 0-0 draw.

I can’t help but feel guilty. Here is a guy who pays his money every week to the club he loves, and yet he is treated shabbily compared to me – a first timer. I say to him that it feels like a lot of Premiership clubs are going the same way as the energy suppliers and Sky etc: don’t care if you’re a loyal and current “customer” of ex amount of years; more interested in throwing all the love at attracting “new customers”. He agrees.

The matchday experience compared to Ibrox is undoubtedly superior. There is a fan zone, a bar and toilets all located outside the ground for fans to use prior to entering the stadium. The concourse in the Centenary stand is similar to the rear of the Govan stand, but the toilets are much cleaner compared to the disgrace the toilets there have become in recent years. They also have big screen TVs in the concourses showing Sky Sports with updates from the other games being played. At half-time many fans mingle down there to do exactly that – and they can do so whilst enjoying a beer!

The game itself is a disappointment. Liverpool look a million miles away from the entertaining and dynamic team of the early part of the season and now resemble Rangers under Mark Warburton: loads of possession and passing almost exclusively in front of the opposition, no real cutting edge whilst looking nervy at the back. Early in the second-half it looks like they have caught a break when they are awarded a penalty, but James Milner decides that today will be the day he will miss his first penalty since 2009 and the game ends in a goalless stalemate.

The boy meets Head & Shoulders legend Jason McAteer

 

After the game we head back to the Glenbuck to meet John and pass back his tickets to him before heading for some food and back to the car. As we arrive back at our VIP space Jason McAteer, who used to advertise Head & Shoulders, is chewing the fat with some guy at the car next to us and so the boy gets his photo with him.

And then, just like that, it is time to head home. Our stay at Anfield feels almost as fleeting as Danny Wilson’s, but it was still very enjoyable. If you get the chance to do it, I strongly recommend it.

Just remember to tell Chris in a non-Scouse accent it’s your first visit!

Do You Remember the First Time?

For non-football fans the irrational behaviour that affects many football supporters can be a puzzler. They simply don’t get why we invest so much energy into a game that involves 22 men running around a grass park chasing a leather ball.

I have had many discussions trying to explain it without ever really successfully convincing the non-believer that my reasons are valid. Who knows, maybe they’re right. But either way there is no denying I am infected when it comes to football, I’m a carrier of the most severe strain of the football virus – someone who can be completely irrational when it comes to football and specifically Rangers FC.

I have followed the club for over thirty years and have enjoyed many highs and many lows. My knowledge on certain aspects can border on encyclopaedic. Games, scorelines, players…etc. There is a fair amount of knowledge tucked away after many years of love for Rangers.

It now looks as if my son has also picked up the strongest possible strain of this virus. Initially non-fussed for football, his interest picked up a year or two back both in terms of playing and watching. Now our weekends are basically made of watching football together.

His interest in Rangers has increased too, quite dramatically at that. He has become quite adept in terms of knowing facts and stats also. This had been on the increase anyway but there is little doubt that the Scottish Cup semi-final clash against Celtic at Hampden last year – his first game against Celtic – had an huge impact in firing his thirst for all things Rangers.

The opportunity for him take in the game arose out of a bit of luck. My usual partner in crime for these games was in his 70s. We had attended the 2011 League Cup final and he had been disgruntled at the fact that the fans stood during the game. He had found it physically demanding to stand for 90 minutes plus extra time. When Rangers came out of the hat against Celtic for this game he was never going to attend – and when the tickets came through the post he handed both of them to me.

The next conundrum was whether, at the age of ten, I should be taking him at all. There is of course an unsavoury element to these games and I feared for the possibilities that may lie ahead. After all, a young Rangers supporter the same age as my boy had been bottled at the last game at Hampden between the sides.

I was 13 when I took in my first Old Firm game – the 4-4 draw in March ’86 –-although my dad had tried to take to a game previously. We had made our way to Ibrox in May ’83 to see Ranger play host to their most bitter rivals. We had queued outside for tickets that were being sold literally from a caravan. The process took longer than anticipated and by 40 minutes in to the first-half we were still there. We had heard the cheers go up for Rangers two goals that had put them into a commanding 2-0 lead. My dad, unwilling to pay full price for 45 minutes of football, chucked in the towel and we headed home. We entered the living room of our house in Cumbernauld just in time to see the full-time score of 4-2 to Celtic come in on Grandstand. Rangers had capitulated in the second-half and Celtic had secured a famous win, although still lost the title to Dundee Utd. Bullet dodged in terms of a first Old Firm game!

Back to 2016 and I thought about the pros and cons of taking my son, and eventually decided that I would take him. Firstly, he knew I had a spare ticked and the thought of telling he couldn’t go was going to prove beyond my capabilities as a dad. Secondly, I have been to countless of these games and never encountered any issues. Why, I asked myself, should this be any different?

On the morning of the game we set off to support our club in its biggest match of the season so far. Both nervous, although with the elder statesman of the party feeling quietly confident. I just had a feeling that this was going to be our day. We had been to the national stadium the week before for the Petrofact Cup Final – which was his first cup final – and we had enjoyed it hugely. This, however, was going to be a different experience entirely.

The nerves look like they’re taking hold on the train journey to Glasgow.

 

At periods on the train journey to Glasgow he was very subdued. Obviously nervous and obviously unsure of what to expect. We walked from the city centre to Hampden savouring the atmosphere as we went. Just as we went to enter the stadium I gave him a hug and said: “Good luck, son. I hope they get a result for you” – and then we were in.

The game kicked off and Rangers settled quicker, playing some very stylish football into the bargain. It wouldn’t take long for my boy to experience his first Old Firm goal.

On sixteen minutes, Halliday sent in a weak cross, “Broony” stuck out a lazy leg in an attempt to block it and directed it straight to Kenny Miller who slotted it home. Bedlam! The boy experienced first-hand what it was like to score against them. Embracing me, having total strangers hug him – it was chaos as usual. As the celebrations died down he turned to me and asked: “It’s like that every time we score against them?” I just nodded and a smile wider than the Clyde crept across his face.

King Kenny puts Rangers 1-0 up.

It was game on now. The lower league side were skelping the champions of Scotland. There had to be a reaction and there was. Celtic crept a little more into it and should have equalised when Patrick Roberts missed an open goal of Van Vossen proportions. But despite Celtic’s efforts there was definitely a feeling that Rangers were the superior side. We got to half-time with our lead intact and we were 45 minutes away from reaching our first Scottish Cup Final since 2009.

But these games are rarely routine and sure enough Celtic came back. Five minutes after the re-start, and a after a series of corners, Celtic equalised through a Sviatchenko header.

It was now anyone’s game and the action swayed from one end to the other in what was an enthralling encounter. In terms of entertainment, the boy had landed on his feet for his first experience of the Old Firm – now all he needed was a result.

Roberts reacts after missing an open goal. No laughing at the back!

The 90 minutes ended with the teams still level and extra time would be required. Some of the punters around us asked the wee fella how he was coping and if he was enjoying it – without looking entirely convinced that they were coping with proceedings or enjoying it themselves!

The first-period of extra time kicked off and within minutes we had the defining moment of the game – Barrie McKay’s screamer into the top corner of Craig Gordon’s net. The ball went out for a throw-in, which should have gone Celtic’s way. Craig Thompson pointed the other way and from the quick throw Rangers worked the ball out, got it to McKay, who skipped past “Broony” and fired an unstoppable shot to put us 2-1 up and looking at a final place once again.

Wee Barrie celebrates after his screamer puts Rangers 2-1 up.

The scenes of joy at this screamer maybe actually surpassed the scenes for Miller’s goal, probably because of the nature and the quality of the strike. We we’re right behind McKay when he hit and you could see almost immediately that it was away – so much so that someone shouted “That’s in!” as the ball was still travelling. .

But Celtic came back again in similar circumstances to earlier in the game. Five minutes after the re-start of the second-period of extra time Rogic fired home and Celtic were level again. The sides couldn’t be separated in the remaining ten minutes and so it was penalties.

As all fans know these are nerve shredding, but I have a relatively good record in these situations – and it would continue. But not before we were put through the wringer again.

Rangers were the first to blink in the spot-kicks with Tavernier sending his effort wildely over the bar – only for Calum McGregor to instantly miss Celtic’s next effort to even things up again.

Each time someone stepped up the nerves jangled and the tension increased. On the fourth kick Nicky Clark produced Rangers’ second miss of the kick-out – only for Scott Brown, who hilariously had a dismal day – to also miss his and preserve parity. With no further misses it was onto sudden death.

Zelalem and then Nicky Law ensured that when Tom Rogic stepped up he had to score to keep Celtic in it. He ran up, swung his left foot at it and as it rose over the bar the stands at the Rangers end erupted with joy. I grabbed the boy and hugged him with all my might, He had done it – he had gotten a win in his first Old Firm game. Others sitting around us also embraced him and congratulated him, it was a few minutes of pure joy – and I will remember the celebrations until my last breath. The players came to our end to celebrate and so he ran down to see some of them. With too many fans there, however, he couldn’t get near any of them. But it didn’t matter. We had won – and won well. All the pain of the last four years could, for now anyway, be put in storage and replaced with a level of happiness that hadn’t visited for some time.

Dad and son celebrate a famous win!

We wandered back into the city centre with a feeling of gleeful contentment, raising our fists in the air at the celebrating Rangers supporters busses as they passed us along Victoria Rd.

It was obvious that this was a big moment in my boys Rangers supporting life. He looked as if he was on the trip of a lifetime – unable to keep the smile off his face, asking questions about previous Old Firm games and just generally displaying a mood that could only be described as hyper.

I can’t lie, it was truly magic to have this experience with him. I’ve enjoyed victories against Celtic so many times before with friends and family members, but this was different. It mean so much more to me because it meant so much to him. And even now a year on, he is regularly seen watching it on his i-Pad with his headphones on and that wider than the Clyde grin on his face.

I’ll never forget the look on his face during the Miller celebrations – his first proper experience of celebrating a big goal in a big game. He couldn’t believe it, couldn’t take in the level of ecstasy on display. But once he had experienced it he was hungry for more – he was hooked, and I suspect that he has now been infected with the same strain of the irrational football supporting virus as I have.

But you know what, he may have a lifetime in front of him of letting the results of a football team having too much of an impact on his mood, but all of us who have had similar days to this know that it’s worth it. Both of us will remember this day for the rest of our lives – and is that not what shared experiences are all about?

15 April 1989

Picture courtesy of @OldRangersPics

There are few dates that are more entrenched on the British footballing psyche than 15 April, 1989. The events of that horrible day would have an impact on all football supporters. It was a definitive date that would have a lasting impact on the game as a whole, not to mention the city of Liverpool and 96 families.

Like so many that day I headed out to support my team, who were playing in a Scottish Cup semi-final – a competition they had not won in eight years. I was sixteen, was about to leave school and, for the first time in a long time, benefiting from a period of relative financial prosperity after a few years of hardship under Thatcher’s brutal leadership.

By 1989 both my parents had found work. This had not always been the case during the 80s, and there had been long periods of financial hardship. The first sign that a corner had been turned was the fact that we managed holiday to Blackpool in 1988 – although even that was part-subsidised by my dad getting a fairly decent win on the Rangers Pools. So even if it wasn’t quite champagne and skittles, things had definitely started to look a bit brighter.

By the age of 15/16 my parents had agreed that I should receive a tenner a week from each of them in pocket money. Not bad going. This money would see me attend more and more Rangers games. Having reached a certain age where I no longer relied on my dad to take me to games, and having a decent disposable income for a boy my age meant I was in a position to follow my team more. So I joined the supporter’s bus in Camelon and made my way to most games home and away. My increased disposable income would also go on clothes, trainers and music – but football was my first love.

So I woke up on the morning of 15 April, 1989 in a jovial mood. As mentioned earlier Rangers had struggled badly in the Scottish Cup since winning it in 1981, and even the arrival of Graeme Souness and his expensive signings had not improved things, with embarrassing defeats to Hamilton and Dunfermline representing his efforts in the tournament to date

This season had been different, however, and getting past Dundee Utd at the quarter-final stage – at the second attempt – and being handed a semi-final draw against St Johnstone, who were at that time in the old First Division, had led to many feeling that a final berth was inevitable and that once there we would do the business and bring the cup back to Ibrox.

The morning of 15 April was a gorgeous one and I made my way to the Mariner Bar in Camelon from my home – a three mile trek – by foot, only stopping at a shop on the way to pick up a can of juice, some carbohydrate (most probably a packet of Monster Munch) and a paper for the journey. Once at the Mariner Bar, and with my ticket secured, I boarded the bus and set off for my first Scottish Cup semi-final – ironically being played at Celtic Park.

The journey to Glasgow was more interesting than usual, as we took a different route in order to come in at the east-end of the city – a part of the city I had little knowledge of at that time. This being the case, little things like passing Glasgow Zoo provided the odd “ooh” moment on the road in to Celtic Park. Apart from that it was a case of the usual stuff; the banter, the songs, Radio Clyde blaring in the background and cans of lager etc being passed about. All good natured, all as you would expect.

On arrival at Celtic Park I made my way to the old West Terracing – the opposite end from where the Rangers support would usually be located. But given we had almost all of the ground that day it made little odds. This felt like it was going to be a good day – our day. It was all set for up for us; virtually a home tie, lower league opposition, a feeling of underachievement in the competition in the last few years…we couldn’t fail

As this was my first game at Celtic Park – and I was in the traditional Celtic end – I had decided to take along a thick permanent marker in order to scribe “Rangers 5 Celtic 1” on as many of the crush barriers on the terracing as possible. I thought I was being quite daring until I went to the toilet and saw the serious guys in there with their cans of spray paint giving it a bit more than reminding the usual patrons of this privy of the 5-1 game!

The sunshine was splitting the sky as both teams took to the park just before 3pm, with Rangers looking extra resplendent in their Monaco style away top. The game kicked off and we were away.

Football in the 80s had a breed of fan that you don’t see so much of nowadays; the guy standing with their tranny radio listening to results coming in from around the country. I suppose the advent of smart phones etc has rendered this type of fan redundant. Nobody needs to look to these guys for updates now, so they have been cruelly consigned to the annals of footballing history. But on this day it was one of these guys who very early on in proceedings informed all who were prepared to listen that there was an issue at the Liverpool game.

But that was it. Nothing more was said and we continued to watch the game – a game that Rangers were making severe heavy weather of.

By about the 30 minute mark murmurs started amongst the crowd that what had happened at the Liverpool was serious. The first reports around us suggested Liverpool fans had caused bother similar to what had happened at Heysel and the game had been called off. By half-time, the first mutterings were being raised that people had died.

As the teams came out for the second-half the mood in the crowd had obviously changed. Yes, we were all supporting our team as normal – but more and more there were conversations about events in Sheffield. The sun was shining, but there was definitely a feeling of a cloud hanging over proceedings.

The second-half came and went; Rangers were abysmal, St Johnstone fans celebrated – quite rightly – their team’s achievement in securing a replay and we left the ground and headed back to the bus despondent, but with the feeling that there were bigger issues going on elsewhere.

On arriving back at the bus it became obvious that events in Sheffield were extremely serious. Stern faces, little, if any conversation about the game, the radio playing louder than usual bringing live updates on proceedings and a feeling that the guy who organised the bus just wanted everyone on it ASAP and get it on its return journey.

As we travelled back along the road the confirmed number of deaths at Hillsborough went up about three or four times – every time drawing groans and an exasperated “for fuck sake” from more than one. The usual laughter, banter, songs…all that stuff you associate with travelling on a supporter’s bus was gone. Instead it was silence, despondency and feeling of wanting to get home to loved ones.

18 April 1989 – Both sets of players and fans stand in a minutes silence for the victims of the Hillsborough disaster prior to the replay.

When the bus dropped us off I walked the three miles home, getting the occasional nod from people who, noticing my shirt and scarf, realised I had attended a football match on the most horrible of days.

When I got home I found my mum sitting in the living-room in tears, having watched events unfold live on Grandstand. She had returned from work just after 3pm to hear a reporter on the radio announce there had been a major incident at “footballing stadium in Britain”. Knowing where I was she had got into a panic.

But even on realising that Celtic Park was free of a major incident, the pictures and images coming out from Hillsborough were enough to remind her of the events of 2 January, 1971 – when 66 Rangers fans had died on stairway 13 after the traditional Ner’day Old Firm derby.

She had three brothers – and a brother-in-law – at Ibrox that day, and they had been caught up in the crush. Managing to get out of it relatively unscathed, and not realising that people were dying in the crush, they had followed their usual post-match ritual and had gone for a pint. In an age prior to 24 hour news and mobile phones, many left Ibrox that night unaware that there was any issue – and therefore many families watching and listening to updates at home had a long wait to find out if their loved ones were ok.

The events of Hillsborough had brought all those memories back and I was welcomed back home as if I returned from a tour of duty in some god-awful warzone.

Over the following days the events at Hillsborough would dominate the papers. I would make my way to the replay against St Johnstone on the following Tuesday night where Rangers would ease past their opponents 4-0 and reach the final. But there was an eerie feeling to proceedings, the events in Sheffield the previous Saturday hung heavy in the air. Rangers supporters chanted Liverpool’s name in a show of solidarity with a club that was facing something similar to what our own club had faced 18 years previously, and all-in-all it felt particularly low-key for a Scottish Cup semi-final – and one that we had won. Even Gary Steven’s peach of a goal that put Rangers 2-0 up couldn’t raise spirits to the levels you would expect of such an occasion.

All in all it was a strange and uncomfortable time to be a football supporter attending games that week. All those things I done on the day of the game; walked the three miles to get my bus, stopped at the shop for refreshment and a paper to read the latest football news, bantered away on the bus – things that football fans do up and down the country whilst following their team. Well 96 Liverpool fans done similar things to me on that day but never made it home, and I think the overall feeling at the time from most of us standing on the terraces that week was one of “there but for the grace of God”.

That disaster happened at Hillsborough but it could have been any ground in the country. It could have been any one of us. Indeed there was an incident at the first game that involved overcrowding – with fans spilling on to the trackside and paramedics attending the scene in scenes not too dissimilar to what happened at Hillsborough. But taking that aside, all of us at that time had been in situations on the terraces where we had felt the swaying was getting out of hand, that there were too many in the part of the ground we were standing. I even remember leaving Hampden after the Skol Cup Final in 1987 and for a short period literally being carried along with crowd – to the extent of my feet not touching the ground. I’m sure all fans who stood on the terraces have had similar moments – moments where they didn’t feel in control of the situation. That they were at the mercy of a greater power.

Luckily, I never had to face what the supporters in the Leppings Lane end that day had to face. But there is every chance it could have been me. That’s what made that day scary and that’s why I will always remember where I was on 15 April, 1989.

 

Ticket to Ride: A Dire Day at Dens

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A Bad Day at the Office: Jim Leighton smothers the ball to defy Stuart McCall as Rangers lose a seven goal thriller. They would go on for 44 games without defeat after this game. (Photo courtesy of Old Rangers Pics)

There is nothing like a good away day. Over the years I have had a fair few, not as many as probably should have, but there have been seasons when I made my way to most games home and away.

An away day is a different experience to a home game. It somehow feels more tribal by virtue of the fact that you are the interlopers, temporarily invading some town or city in some far corner of the country – or further – in order to support the Teddy Bears.

On the 15 August, 1992, I made such a journey to Dundee, and specifically to Dens Park to cheer on Rangers in that glorious 1992/93 season.

1992 was a good year for me. I was young – 19 – and had a job which provided me with enough disposable income to most things I enjoyed. I had just had my first foreign holiday the month before when myself and three mates partied in Magaluf for a fortnight, and overall I felt fairly happy with my lot.

So I headed to Dundee on the Grangemouth supporters club – which I believe at one point was the biggest supporters club in the country – with a work colleague called Colin Runcieman. Colin was as good a Rangers man as you could meet. He travelled every week – home and away – on the Grangemouth bus and he had asked me to join him on this day.

Colin was a few years older than me – 28 – but his marriage had recently ended and so he had sought the company of my mates and I on nights out to stave off the cabin fever of sitting in the house all alone. A thoroughly decent guy, his prowess with the ladies should not go unnoted, despite being bald and sporting a rather unimpressive moustache. On more nights than not, Colin left nightclubs early with a girl – whilst us young guns displayed as much scoring ability as a blindfolded Sebo!

For some reason, we had tickets for the Dundee end. My memory is too hazy to remember why that was, but we sat behind the goal – with colours safely tucked in the jacket – amongst the Dundee support. You can actually see us in the video footage provided. When Dundee score their two goals in the first half, we’re the two sad looking souls towards the corner flag whose arses are sat firmly on the wooden benches during the celebrations!

The game itself was a cracker – if somewhat poor in the result department. Dundee boasted some big hitters in their side including former Everton star Kevin Radcliffe, former Aberdeen keeper Jim Leighton and future Rangers star Billy Dodds. They were managed at the time by Simon Stainrod, who had made a name for himself in Scotland at Falkirk, and who decided for reasons that only he can explain to wear a rather ridiculous looking hat whilst he stood in the dugout that day.

Dundee took an early lead through Dutchman Ivo den Bieman, much to the visible disgust of Colin and I, in the 16th minute from a corner kick. Rangers hit back quite quickly though through an Ally McCoist free-kick. Rangers were to go behind again, however, in the 33rd minute when Ian Gilzean, son of Spurs legend Alan Gilzean, scored a header after Ally Maxwell, making his Premier League debut for Rangers in place of the injured Andy Goram, failed to clear his lines with a weak punch.

Rangers came back again, however, through McCoist after Stuart McCall worked a nice one-two and put a danger cross across the face of Jim Leighton’s goal which McCoist met and put away.

The teams went in at half-time level at 2-2 and Colin and I felt we should move as our non-celebration during Dundee’s two goals had aroused the suspicions of the Dundee young team who had been looking over and pointing at us. So we made our way to a more discreet spot towards the back of the stand.

It didn’t take long in the second-half for Dundee to regain the league through Billy Dodds. It was starting to look like this was not going to be Rangers’ day. No matter how many times we came back – Dundee just scored again.

Walter Smith made a change, bringing on Ian Ferguson for Stuart McCall, and within a few moments the move paid off. Some good work on the flank by Ally McCoist set up a header for Hateley, who knocked it back across the face of goal for Ferguson to come rushing in and hammer the ball into the net. With only ten minutes remaining, it looked like we had saved the day yet again – showing the battling qualities that would epitomise the team that season.

However this would be one day when Lady Luck would shine the other way, due to a bizarre penalty award against Richard Gough for a “foul” against Gilzean. Gough remained remarkably calm in accepting this bizarre decision – Ian Ferguson less so who talked himself into the book for his protests.

Billy Dodds dispatched the penalty for his second goal in the game and a fourth comeback was beyond Rangers in the remaining six minutes and we succumbed to our first defeat of the season.

Incredibly, however, it would be a full six months before we lost another game as the club went on a 44 game unbeaten run – which included a ten game run in a Champions League campaign that saw us come within a goal of the final. The next defeat would come in March at Celtic Park – a game I also attended, but that’s a story for another day!

On the bus home we dispensed with the usual radio phone-in and tuned into Radio One where Dave Lee Travis was interviewing Michael Hutchence of INXS to discuss their new album Welcome to Wherever You Are. At that time I was a huge INXS fan, so this seemed a decent way to deal with an unexpected defeat.

On arriving home Colin and I changed and headed out for a night on the town. I can’t quite recall how it went, but I’m pretty sure Colin left our chosen nightspot early with a young lady, and I left alone to jeers of Sebo! Sebo! Sebo!