As Rangers skipper James Tavernier may discover tonight, the heaviest of UEFA silverware has no handles to begin with.
But that’s not the only reason Scottish clubs have struggled to lift a trophy weighing up to 15kg.
Although it was once seen as a competition that also gave managed clubs a chance to compete in Europe, the Europa League – its current name dates back to 2009 – has evolved into an unwieldy, convoluted competition in which you are just as likely can hit a big cannon as well as ran. In fact, also-rans will most likely be ejected in the qualifying rounds, assuming they even get that far.
Even by the time Dundee United came so close to winning the trophy – then called the UEFA Cup – against IFK Göteborg in 1987, having already eliminated Barcelona and Borussia Mönchengladbach along the way, the competition had risen to become Europe’s second most important tournament, the European Cup.
When Celtic succumbed to a single goal in five defeats by Porto in 2003, the two-legged format that saw United lose 2-1 on aggregate to Gothenburg had turned into a one-off final. While this afforded an appropriate climax, it potentially made things more awkward.
The same was true in 2008 when Rangers lost 2-0 to Zenit St. Petersburg after prevailing after a series of two-legged duels.
The recent abolition of the away goals rule means teams are more proficient at winning on the evening. Even when it comes to the awkward method of taking penalties, that’s up to Rangers tonight against Eintracht Frankfurt, who are trying to scratch an itch that stretches back almost 40 years for Scottish football.
The photo of Billy McNeill hoisting the European Cup Winners’ Cup on a balcony in Lisbon is etched in the memory of even younger Scottish football fans, as is Willie Miller’s signature one-handed handling of the European Cup Winners’ Cup the last time a Scots club won a European Cup in a knockout tournament (the same team won the Super Cup later in the year). The silhouette of the Aberdeen captain with arms outstretched is still used today to sell goods.
However, you have to be at least in your late 40s to really remember this famous game in Gothenburg in 1983.
It’s all I can remember, and I’ll be – gulp – 50 on my next birthday. What I vividly remember is the joy it brought to the then 10-year-old boy. Although I learned to love football about 60 miles south of Pittodrie in a dream cathedral called Dens Park, I was delighted to see the famous Real Madrid sent home by a Scottish team. On top of that, you can’t rely on the support of the old company.
These times are over now. Even the old company cannot expect to exert the same influence in Europe. You’re rans too. Or maybe they should be.
That is why this evening could be of such importance. Graeme Souness, the former Ibrox manager, believes that even reaching the final “is the greatest achievement of a Rangers team since I’ve backed them.” Meanwhile, former Ibrox midfielder Kevin Thomson argued that winning the trophy due to Rangers’ predicament just ten years ago would surpass Celtic’s European Cup victory in 1967.
However anyone chooses to contextualize it, the fact is that Rangers are on the verge of doing something that only three Scottish teams have managed to do in the past.
Alongside Celtic and Aberdeen, Ibrox’s side are of course the other Scottish side to have won a European trophy. The image of John Greig raising the Cup Winners’ Cup after beating Dynamo Moscow in 1972 isn’t quite as ingrained in our collective consciousness. However, there is a picture of him with the mug in the bath while fans ran amok above him.
The cup presentation in Barcelona was canceled due to a pitch invasion. Rangers received a two-year ban, which was later switched to one year. Greig was presented with the trophy in a room deep in the bowels of the Nou camp. It was highly unsatisfactory.
The lessons of half a century ago, as well as the fresher memories of 2008, when Rangers’ defeat by Zenit St Petersburg took place against a backdrop of severe disorder on the streets of Manchester, must be heeded. It is understandable if the Ibrox club are overly cautious – as some have interpreted – ahead of another event that will see Europe’s eyes on them. There is clear unease about what could unfold in Seville tonight.
The club should be commended for recruiting a number of Ibrox legends to record clips urging fans to behave.
If Rangers beat Eintracht Frankfurt, it will be a victory for eternity. In this particular time, when social media is such a constant consideration, an image of Tavernier raising the mug without a handle quickly becomes iconic. Unlike Miller, unlike McNeill, it is reproduced within seconds on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and other platforms.
Unlike in the case of Greig, it is hoped that the setting will be the pitch surrounded by blue, red and white ticker tape, unlike elsewhere.
Of course, that depends on the commitment, skill and temperament of the players at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan. But the fans will also have their share in the heat of the Seville night.
https://www.scotsman.com/sport/football/rangers/rangers-in-seville-memories-of-1983-a-win-for-the-ages-clear-unease-despite-clubs-messages-3698221 Rangers in Seville: memories of 1983, a victory for eternity, clear uneasiness despite club messages