IAN Redford was driving up from Norfolk on Wednesday night and although he had the car radio switched to commentary of Barcelona versus Bayern Munich, he was not aware that history was unfolding before his ears.
Joining him on the trip home to Fife was his golf professional son, who had been competing in a PGA EuroPro Tour event at Wensum Valley, near Norwich. As they journeyed north, Redford turned to tell Ian junior that he felt Bayern Munich would likely post the second victory of their Champions League semi-final tie against Barcelona, which they duly did.
Little did Redford know that he was part of the side who last achieved the historic feat of defeating the Spanish giants both at home and away in a knock-out European tie. To be fair to various English-based broadcasters, this snippet of information was quickly and generously flagged up, mainly because it is such a remarkable statistic, and on two counts.
It has been an incredible 26 years since Barcelona last had such ignominy heaped upon them. And, perhaps more remarkable still, is the identity of the club who claimed this notable previous scalp.
Bayern Munich have finally emulated what Dundee United achieved in the Uefa Cup in 1987. Even then, Jim McLean’s side were only doing what came naturally to United, since the Tannadice side also inflicted two defeats on Barcelona in the Inter-City Fairs Cup, in 1966.
It was pleasing to manage to get in touch with Redford yesterday evening, since although he did not score, he was identified, along with John Holt, as the best performer on the night at the Nou Camp, when United added a 2-1 victory to their collection of wins against Barcelona. John Clark scored from Redford’s free-kick to equalise on the night, and all but guarantee United a passage to the semi-finals. Iain Ferguson applied the coup de grace a minute before the end, leaving some well-known players a little embarrassed, although the gap between the teams was not what it is now.
“Mark Hughes was having a difficult time of it at Barcelona and Gary Lineker was not setting the heather on fire either,” recalls Redford, with reference to two of Terry Venables’ supposed star signings. “I remember discussing it in the dressing-room afterwards. After we scored the first goal, Gary turned to some of the United lads, and said: ‘That’s it, this lot will chuck it now. They won’t want to fight.’”
Redford was surprised to learn yesterday about the enduring nature of United’s achievement. “It underlines and emphasises the standard of Scottish football at the time,” he says. “I think we took it for granted sometimes; the media, players and supporters. Mind you, many of the fans who follow me on Twitter don’t take it for granted – they appreciate what happened over the two legs, and the enormity of it all, and are always asking me about it.”
It was a surreal night from start to finish. Later in the bar, Holt was overheard asking teammate Jim McInally for advice. “Jim tells the story,” says Redford. “We had just beaten Barcelona and John was telling Jim about this chance to join Forfar, and whether he should take it or not.” The carrot Forfar had dangled in front of him was a car, and though he did not accept the offer on this occasion, Holt did eventually end up at Station Park. “John had been singled out by the Spanish press for his performance and there he was, telling Jim: ‘I have just had an offer from Forfar – what do you think?’”
Redford is too modest. He, too, was praised in the Spanish papers the next day. One of the words used to describe him was “magnifico”. The midfielder relished playing away from home in Europe. He describes it as “suiting my style”, and Redford sealed United’s place in the Uefa Cup final, scoring the second goal in a 2-0 win over Borussia Moenchengladbach, after the sides had drawn 0-0 at Tannadice.
“I always seemed to do well in games in Europe away from home,” he says. “It allowed me to play to my strengths. That game in the Nou Camp and against Borussia came as near to me playing to my potential as I was able to get. I was allowed to get on the ball and make the play. I remember in the second half at the Nou Camp sensing that the game was turning our way, and I couldn’t get on the ball enough.”
These were different times. Redford also recalls feeling confident even before the first leg, which United won with a cross-cum-shot from Kevin Gallacher that still inspires debate about whether he meant it or not today.
A fortnight later in Barcelona, United were intent on completing their mission to humble these European aristocrats yet again. “It felt very gladiatorial, emerging from the dungeon-style dressing-rooms, which were underground,” says Redford. “It was quite a steep climb. I think we had to wait for Barcelona, and I remember looking around, and thinking: ‘Look how calm everyone is, especially Dave Narey.’ He was just standing there, looking like the coolest man in the stadium.”
United’s time had come, and yet it would take nearly 30 years for anyone else to follow in the Scottish club’s distinguished footsteps.