There was only ever going to be one title for this article. A Rangers Thursday night, May 5th, Ibrox Stadium. Well, I just don’t know where to begin in attempting to describe what I witnessed in that beautiful old stadium.
It wasn’t just the most ferocious, spine tingling atmosphere I’ve ever had the privilege to experience; I can’t begin to explain what went on. To describe it as a cauldron doesn’t do it justice, not in any way.
I got out of work a bit early, headed down the Paisley Road West and parked up in my usual place on Mosspark Boulevard.
My son had a job interview beforehand and nipped over to my work after it instead of the pre-planned agreement that we would hook up at the ground.
Both of us were nervous, tense and excited obviously. Well, why wouldn’t we be? We were only going to a European semi-final, after all.
It doesn’t happen very often; it occurs so rarely that no one expects it. We are Rangers, a massive club, and we fans have expectations. Trophies are a must, and the demands are there on the players, management and staff every single day. But getting to a European final isn’t one of those demands placed on our team.
We are a realistic support; we’ve watched this group of players outdo themselves over and over again, surpass themselves on a stage where top level outfits turn up time after time.
This Rangers team have done exceptionally well at this level. In Gerrard’s first season, they progressed to the group stages, where they were slightly unfortunate not to move into the knockout stages. Next season, they advanced to the round of 16 as they did last season.
This season has seen that progress culminate in what can only be described as a miracle. Yes, a miracle indeed. Scottish clubs are simply not supposed to reach these heights.
Football is not a level playing field these days. A financial disparity so huge, along with UEFA’s coaxing of their competitions to suit the big five leagues with all their riches, makes it nigh on impossible for any club from outwith England, Italy, Germany, Spain and France to reach the latter stages of European competitions.
For Rangers to have reached the final of UEFA’s second tier competition is absolutely miraculous, there is simply no debate about that. It just shouldn’t happen in modern football as it now plays.
Yet, on Thursday night, we were hoping and praying that we could get a positive result against yet another top level German outfit. Having disposed of Borussia Dortmund in the Play-Off round, I think we all had a realisation that this tie was going to be super close.
That’s the confidence Rangers fans have in this superb football team currently at Ibrox. Going toe to toe with a football club that, by its entire design, are destined to reach the latter stages of European competition, just as they did only two seasons back when they reached the Champions League semi finals.
That’s what Rangers were up against on Thursday, May 5th. A modern day football club owned and run by a corporation. Everything they do is geared toward success. They have a squad of players they’ve spent nearly a third of a billion euros on. They appear regularly in the Champions League while competing and challenging for the Bundesliga.
My son and I discussed how difficult this would be on the way down to the ground. Having watched the first leg, a game where Giovanni Van Bronckhorst got his tactics spot on while only losing the one goal late on, gave us a fighter’s chance in this game.
We felt Ibrox could play a part. I mentioned (yet again) that I thought Red Bull’s celebrations at the end of the first leg were premature and how I genuinely felt they’d underestimated Rangers. I’d listened to Dominico Tedesco’s comments after the game and thought, “you’ve got no idea what’s about to happen next week”.
I believed he reckoned his team were so superior to ours that we had to sit in and hope to nick something and that we would play exactly the same way at Ibrox….
We did our usual and grabbed a bite to eat outside the ground, had a walk about the place as we always do and then I had a quick cigarette before we made our way into the stadium. What I did notice was there was tension in the air outside Ibrox. Not too much noise, more of a quiet belief that this could be our night.
We got inside just after 7 o’clock, which was stupidly early. I sat with the coffee I’d bought at the kiosk (well, I asked for coffee, as I always do. It looks like coffee, it smells a bit like coffee, but I’m honestly not quite sure what it is), then off wee toddled up the stairs to take our seats.
There were more people already in than I thought there would be, and by half seven, it was fairly rocking. Then just like that, five minutes later, the place was packed.
You could tell even then that this was going to be a special night, but by the time the Jimmy Bell tribute video came on and a spontaneous round of applause happened, well, I was already overwhelmed.
You could see the RB Leipzig fans were completely taken aback; they applauded as we did, which was a lovely touch from them.
I’m not going to give much of a match report here as everybody knows exactly what went on on the night, but the noise was deafening. When the teams came out, it cranked up yet another notch.
Leipzig actually started well, but Rangers were well in it, then boom, lovely work from Ryan Kent to get past his marker and a low driven cross to the back stick where our captain rams it home. One nil Rangers, five minutes later a tremendous move, a great first touch and lay off from Scott Wright to the edge of the box for Glen Kamara to guide a sensational pass come shot into the bottom far corner, two nil to Rangers.
I have to say, the noise when that Kamara shot went in was like nothing I’ve ever heard in a football stadium before. The entire place was as one; Leipzig didn’t have any earthly idea what had hit them. They were in the eye of a tornado with a tsunami of noise rushing over them.
You could tell the German team didn’t like it, they had started quite well, but just twenty five minutes in and Rangers were ahead in the tie.
As had happened in the previous knockout ties in this competition, Rangers had scored early and settled quickly. They were ahead in the tie, and if Joe Aribo had scored with his chance, I actually think the tie would’ve been over within half an hour; such was the quality of Rangers’ performance.
As I said, there’s no real need for a match report, the game will live forever in the memory of every single person that had the privilege to be there, but I’ll mention that Rangers looked as good on this night as I think I’ve ever seen a Rangers side.
A European semi final, and we had the game by the scruff of the neck. Half time came and went, and yes, sure enough, RB Leipzig began to come into the match.
That’s what happens when you’re up against top sides. You can’t really stop genuine quality from doing what they do best, and sure enough, the Germans got themselves back level in the tie.
Rangers, for the first time in this competition, looked leggy. Around ten minutes before Leigzig scored, there was a sense of trepidation inside Ibrox. Everyone knew the Bundesliga side were beginning to turn the screw.
McGregor had made a tremendous save moments before Nkunku brought Leigzig back into the tie. Then a world class ball into the box and a top drawer finish from the young Frenchman brought silence… for a few seconds. Then a roar, the whole stadium was back in full voice, encouraging Rangers to keep going. The tie was only level; our team were very much still in this.
With around ten minutes left, the silky Scouser smashes home from terrific work yet again from Ryan Kent, who sent a high cross to the back post. Sakala’s challenge on the keeper causes him to push it into the middle of the area, where Lundstram strokes it into the bottom corner away from the flailing legs of the German defenders.
What. A. Noise. If Ibrox has ever heard an explosion of emotion like that, then I haven’t heard it in my lifetime.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen the Dinamo Kyiv game, the Leeds Utd, Marseille, Parma twice, PSV, Braga twice, Dortmund and countless Old Firm games, as well as being lucky enough to have been at World Cups, games in England, Germany and elsewhere but I’ve never seen anything like that, nor do I ever expect to again.
The old place erupted on a level I imagine Krakatoa did back in May 1883. In all my days of watching football, that is the highest of highs I’ve ever experienced. My son and I were euphoric, as was the entire stadium. Rangers were on their way to Seville if they could hold onto this lead.
As we all know, they did just that. That three minutes of time added on, well, I’ve never willed anything to disappear so much in all my life.
The scenes at the final whistle will never leave me. The most sensational experience I’ve ever had. People were in tears all around me. My heart was pounding at around 150bpm, and if anything, the noise levels just cranked up a notch.
The sheer disbelief, the raw emotion, the tears, the joy, hugging everyone and anyone around you. That will live with me till the day I die.
Even watching the highlights now (after the loss to Eintracht Frankfurt in the final) gets to me. The pride and admiration I have for those players and the manager is infinite. That group of players took us to a European final, and for that, I’ll never be able to thank them enough.
For a full twenty minutes or more, the celebrations were sensational. Leaving the ground was like nothing I’d seen. Everybody sang, danced, celebrated and cried.
So off my son and I went to head back to the car, and on at least three occasions, he simply said that this was the best night of his life.
That’s what this team did for us. It gave us hope, it made us dream, and although the final ended in despair, even on that night, we didn’t lose the game. The cruellest of defeats on penalty kicks will never be able to take that experience away from any of us.
The thing I would say about the final is that I think that was the night where not having a fit striker finally caught up with us because I genuinely believe if Alfredo Morelos were in that team that night, then Rangers would have won.
This might be an odd article to read as ultimately Rangers left the tournament empty handed, but I wanted to write and thank the players and management at Rangers for making us believe, for allowing us to dream and for getting within millimetres from bringing that trophy back to Glasgow.
This Rangers team deserve special mention, and the memory bank has been added to and then some.
Those wins against Dortmund, Red Star, Braga and Leipzig will live forever and go down in Rangers folklore. Special nights, astonishing performances and magnificent atmospheres culminated in the greatest night I’ve ever had following Rangers in all my life.
Despite the disappointment in Seville, this team and our support will be able to look back in time and recall this run with the fondest of memories.
To Gio and the Rangers players, a huge thank you. The pleasure and the pride I have in being a Rangers fan watching them rampage through Europe, beating all before them with panache and style that makes you proud, will always be there.
The loss in the final hurt like hell, but it will never take from the pride it gave us. From where we were to where we are now is truly something I never thought I’d see again, so thank you, Rangers. For everything.
Editorial Note: I have a favour to ask you. Did you know this article was published first on our exclusive Patreon page? If you love Scottish football while sick and tired of the same old biased MSM coverage, this is for you. The 4th Official needs your support. Due to the unprecedented situation as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic, the digital media space has been completely devastated. There has been a massive shortfall in revenue (even while viewership is up) as we scramble how to make sure that we go on with our daily job. We are proud to put up exclusive stuff on Scottish football as well as an early release of our podcast interviews with relevant personalities of the game (recent guests have been Andy Firth, Marvin Bartley, Matt Polster, David Martindale, Greg Docherty, Daniel Stendel and a lot more) on our Patreon account and hope you would support us in these tough times. We have supporters from at least 14 countries, and you can be too by chipping in just £2.99/month (or become an annual supporter). Become a proud Patron of The 4th Official!