PENALTY shoot-outs are hard enough for any goalkeeper to prepare for without being bothered with the nagging feeling that it shouldn’t be taking place at all.
That was the fate that faced Peter McCloy back in 1971 when Rangers took on Portuguese opposition for the first time in the club’s history.
Having dispatched of the French outfit Stade Rennais in the first round of the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, the draw then saw Willie Waddell’s men paired with Sporting of Lisbon.
What would unfold in late October and early November were two incredible legs of knock-out football. McCloy would end up making 56 appearances for Rangers that season but few were as dramatic as what took place in these matches in Glasgow and Lisbon.
The first leg took place at Ibrox in front of an expectant full house who were soon heartened by the sight of their heroes cruising into what appeared to be a comfortable lead.
A double from Colin Stein and another from Willie Henderson had the Light Blues well in control. But Chico Faria got one back after 67 minutes for the Portuguese and then Vagner grabbed a second two minutes from time.
Rangers walked off the pitch stunned and knowing they would still have a job to do in the second leg a fortnight later.
McCloy recalled: “We were winning by three goals and looking good. But then Sporting got two goals and that turned the tie on its head. It was in the balance after that. We knew we could no longer just go to Portugal and sit on our lead. We know we would probably have to go there and score at least once.”
If anything, however, the return was even more frenetic with Sporting getting their noses in front four times only for Rangers to haul them back on three occasions. There was also the sorry sight of stalwart Ronnie McKinnon suffering a terrible leg break that effectively ended his playing career.
Hector Yazalde put the hosts ahead after 25 minutes but Stein cancelled it out just a minute later. Laranjeira then gave Sporting a half-time lead that only lasted until the first minute of the second half when Stein got his second of the match and fourth of the tie overall.
With Rangers on course to claim a 5-4 aggregate victory, up popped Pedro Gomes three minutes from the end of the regulation 90 to break their hearts and take the tie into extra-time.
When Henderson again equalised after 100 minutes it looked like the Light Blues were finally through to the quarter-finals. Peres’ late strike gave Sporting the win on the night but it was Rangers who would be sailing into the next round courtesy of the away goals rule.
Or so everyone thought. The one person in the stadium who hadn’t realised – or had perhaps miscounted – was Dutch referee Lau Van Ravens who ordered a penalty shoot-out.
Rangers protested loudly but they fell on deaf ears. Understandably shaken by the mistake, Sandy Jardine, Alex MacDonald and Stein all missed their spot kicks. Sporting, buoyed by this unlikely lifeline, scored all three of theirs. It looked as if the Ibrox side were somehow heading out.
Thankfully, the misunderstanding was quickly cleared up. One of the travelling media pack made his way to the Rangers dressing room with a copy of the UEFA rule book in his hand.
The away goal rule had been in play for six seasons by that point so it was barely fathomable that Van Ravens wasn’t aware of it.
Waddell quickly chapped on the referee’s door and the Dutchman finally acknowledged his mistake, allowing Rangers to take their rightful place in the next round. McCloy admits they players could hardly believe what had transpired.
He added: “We were surprised to say the least when the referee called for penalty kicks. And we protested against it strongly and pointed out to him that there was no need for it because we had scored more away goals.
“But he seemed to think that didn’t apply after extra-time which was of course wrong. So we had to go ahead with the shoot-out under protest. And of course we end up missing all of our kicks and they scored all of theirs!
We feared that was it for our European campaign. But John Fairgrieve of the Daily Mail was at the game and he appeared with the rulebook. Willie Waddell then went in to see it and thankfully explained it all to the referee who conceded he was right. But he ended up chucking it not long after.
“Everyone knew about the away goals rule. It was a common thing by then. But the addition of extra-time seemed to throw him. But he never came in and apologised or anything like that. Neither did anyone from UEFA. But it was nice leaving the ground that night having had it all sorted out and knowing we were safely into the quarters.”
Van Ravens retired as a referee at the end of that season although, inexplicably given the high-profile nature of his error, was still allowed to bow out by taking charge of the second leg of the UEFA Cup final between Wolves and Tottenham Hotspur.
But the mistake in Lisbon weighed heavily on him. “I had to admit afterwards that I was wrong,” he said later. “Everyone was critical of me; the UEFA board, the press. I was ashamed of myself. I cried in my hotel room that evening.”
Had he not belatedly acknowledged his arithmetical error, then the course of Rangers history would have been changed forever.
But Torino were then beaten in the quarter-finals and Bayern Munich dispatched in the semis, paving the way for the greatest night in the club’s history when Dynamo Moscow were beaten in the final in Barcelona as Rangers claimed their first piece of European silverware.
Had Van Ravens not put his hands up after his mistake in Lisbon, that would never have happened.
“Of course, back then it was a straight knock-out rather than a group stage,” added McCloy. “So you didn’t get a second chance to make up for a bad result.
“Luckily the error was picked up on time. When you think of how massive Barcelona is in the history of Rangers and for all of us who played in that final, it’s hard to think how close it came to not happening at all.”