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10:00 - 26 August 2006

As the latest clutch of mostly uninspiring European matches found their way onto our screens this week, a radio phone-in debated one of football's mysteries: how is it that Glasgow Rangers have won just a single European trophy? That victory arrived on May 24, 1972, at Barcelona's Nou Camp, when Rangers produced a glorious performance in the first hour of the Cup Winners' Cup final to lead Moscow Dynamo 3-0.


Although the Russians rallied and scored two late goals, it wasn't enough to deny a group of players whose names were to be etched into the club's folklore.


Author and journalist Paul Smith had a distinct advantage in his quest to interview Rangers' 11 European heroes in his entertaining To Barcelona and Beyond, for his father Davie was widely regarded as the man of the match on that epic night. Smith has written an intimate and, at times, moving portrait of the lives of the eleven before, during and after their European experience.


Unlike the current Rangers team, as cosmopolitan a bunch as there is in British football, the 1972 vintage were all Scots.


Most played for their country and, in an era when Scotland produced a good proportion of Britain's finest footballers, players such as John Greig and Colin Stein remain legends for club and country.


Smith's stories of lesser lights including goalkeeper Peter McCloy and full-back Willie Mathieson highlight the strength of an unusually loyal team bond which has lasted more than three decades.


Of course, there were also mavericks. Alfie Conn moved to Tottenham soon after the European triumph having been deemed surplus to Ibrox's requirements.


Despite playing fewer than 40 games for Spurs, he became a cult hero, fondly remembered as the player who sat on the ball during a particularly fraught encounter with Don Revie's Leeds.


Conn played in the North American Soccer League, as did Willie Johnston, two-goal hero in the final.


Johnston's career post-Barcelona included one of the most notorious episodes in World Cup history.


He failed a drugs test following the embarrassing 3-1 defeat to Peru in Scotland's opening game of the 1978 World Cup. Despite his protestations of innocence and his exemplary career, it's a millstone which he has had to carry around with him for nearly 30 years.


On reflection, there seems to be too little recognition for the team that won Rangers' only European trophy, which seems bizarre considering the quality of opposition they had to overcome.


In addition to Moscow Dynamo, effectively the Russian national team, they dispatched Rennes and Sporting Lisbon in the opening rounds before defeating a very strong Torino outfit in the quarter-finals.


Yet perhaps their greatest victory was the 3-1 aggregate win over Bayern Munich in the semi-finals.


Bayern were about to embark on a hat-trick of European Cup triumphs and half the side, including Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller, were to become part of the West Germany team that won the 1974 World Cup.


Poignantly, Rangers' triumph arrived little over a year after 66 supporters died in the Ibrox Disaster and it became a fitting memorial.


Nevertheless, Uefa deemed the exuberant celebrations of Rangers' supporters on the Nou Camp pitch a suitable case for punishment.


The club was banned from defending its trophy the following season. Meanwhile, that second European success has yet to arrive???


What memories!!! Dave Smith one of my schoolboy heroes. I wish we had him and Tom Forsyth in the team today.

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