The Europa League will soon return to the football calendar and Dublin seems like a realistic target for the 32 clubs left in the competition. Rangers and Sporting Lisbon lock horns in one of those ties and both have came to blows on more than one occasion in recent history. The tie of 2007/2008 will be fresh in the memory for Rangers fans but there’s another meeting between the clubs that will go down in folklore for years to come.
There were talks of a ‘crisis’ down Copland Road way in the autumn of 1971 after a series of terrible domestic results and after a 2-1 away defeat at Hearts, a Daily Express journalist described their display as “The pathetic performance I can ever remember”. Going into the home leg with the Portuguese side, writers for A Bola decided to ridicule Scottish Football and even described Rangers as ‘A bunch of big horses’ which followed “anti-football” claims by the Rennes manager Jean Prouff.
It would have been interesting to see the faces of these Portuguese journalists as Rangers launched into a three-goal lead by half-time. Colin Stein netted a double in the first 20 minutes before Willie Henderson fired a superb shot into the top corner just 8 minutes later. It looked a forgone conclusion by half-time but Rangers could not replicate their first-half form and Sporting fought back towards the end leaving the Gers slightly disappointed after the nights events. Rangers manager Willie Waddell summed things up beautifully post-match by stating “We’re in front and they still have to catch us”.
Little did either side know that the events of a fortnight later would go down in Rangers history and become famous for Dutch referee Laurens Van Raven’s understand of the rules.
Before the football even begun, Rangers were facing another potential crisis when an air-traffice controllers strike in Glasgow meant that the flying party arrived in London too late to catch their flight to Lisbon. Rangers finally flew out the next morning and only arrived in Lisbon 3 hours before the UEFA deadline.
In the intimidating Estadio de Alvalade, there was a sense of belief about Sporting who were urged on by a fanatical following. Rangers could only weather the storm for 25 minutes until Yazalde put the home side ahead but there was hardly enough time to celebrate before Colin Stein rammed home an equaliser just 2 minutes later. The second half had barely kicked-off when Colin Stein equalised for the second time to make it 2-2 and Rangers were just 7 minutes away from progressing to the next round until Gomes made sure the game was heading for extra-time.
The resilient Rangers side under Willie Waddell would never surrender and they equalised for the third time in extra time through their wing wizard Willie Henderson. The Portuguese side proved they would never give up either and made it 4-3 just 6 minutes from the end of extra time. Referee Laurens Van Raven’s instructed the players to line up for a penalty shoot-out after the game ended 6-6 on aggregate.
The subsequent shoot-out was a bit of a nightmare for Rangers as Waddell’s men missed four of their five spot-kicks. Sporting’s goalkeeper Damas lead the celebrations on the shoulders of his team-mates and the fans spilled over the barriers on to the pitch to join in the ecstatic celebrations while Rangers headed back to the dressing room assuming they had lost the tie. Rangers fan John Miller listened to the match on the radio and recalled “I went to my bed on a downer thinking they were out”.
The confusion that followed the match would go down as one of the bizarre moments in European Football as referee Lauren van Raven had failed to spot that Rangers had in fact won on away goals. UEFA delegate Andre Ramirez had been aware of the referee’s mistake as Willie Waddell notified him of Van Raven’s mistakes. Ramirez then gathered both teams directors and the match officials that the referee has wrongly interpreted the rules which left the Portuguese side absolutely fuming.
Sporting’s president even wanted both teams directors to fly to UEFA’s headquarters in Switzerland to ‘defend the prestige of football and sporting ethics and to avoid serious moral and material damage to the clubs’. The Portuguese club sent out two telegrams to UEFA claiming the referee’s decision should be fine but it was no avail as Rangers were handed the victory by UEFA. Portuguese newspapers got behind Sporting’s fight by running with a front page headline screaming “Victory to Sporting or Repetition of the game”.
The extraordinary events of that night would be talked about for years to come and the lady luck continued to shine on Rangers who then went on to leave Torino, Bayern Munich and Moscow Dynamo in their wake and clinch their first European trophy in Barcelona.
Whatever happened to referee Lauren Van Raven, we’ll never know.