THE year 1967 in Scottish football is celebrated above all for Celtic's European Cup victory. The first British club to lift the trophy, Jock Stein's side also won the League Championship, the Scottish Cup, the League Cup and the Glasgow Cup.
That haul proves Celtic's pre-eminence, but Scottish sides in general were doing well in Europe at the time. Kilmarnock, for instance, reached the semi-finals of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, where they lost 4-2 on aggregate to Leeds United. In the same competition, Dundee United recorded memorable home-and-away victories over Barcelona in the second round before going out to Juventus in the last 16.
And then there was Rangers. Six years on from their last appearance in the Cup Winners' Cup final, they were in the competition again thanks to a 1-0 win over Celtic in the 1966 Scottish Cup final. The first match had been goalless, but in the replay a goal from Kai Johansen made the difference between the sides.
Rangers would come nowhere close to mounting a successful defence of the domestic trophy, as they were sent crashing out of the competition by Berwick Rangers in January 1967. By that time, however, they had embarked on a European run which would again take them all the way to the Cup Winners' final – and again end in disappointment.
The adventure began in low-key style for the Glasgow club when they were handed a first-round meeting with Glentoran of Northern Ireland. The part-timers emerged with a more than creditable 1-1 draw from the first leg, but their hopes of causing an upset were dashed in the return at Ibrox, when Rangers won 4-1.
The second round was far tighter for the Scottish club, who were drawn against Dortmund. Their 2-1 victory in the home leg meant there was still a lot of work for them to do if they were to go through, but they dug in well in Germany to earn a goalless draw.
This season's European campaign, which began in the Champions League and is about to culminate in the UEFA Cup final, has been one of the longest ever mounted by a British club. In the days of three European competitions, however, things were far simpler, and those victories over Glentoran and Dortmund were enough to take Rangers into the quarter-finals, where Real Zaragoza awaited.
The teams were evenly matched. Very evenly, in fact.
Rangers won 2-0 at Ibrox, Zaragoza won 2-0 in their stadium, La Romareda. The tie having finished 2-2 on aggregate, with neither side having scored more away goals, there was only one thing for it: a coin toss.
Penalty shootouts, today's preferred means for breaking a deadlock, are sometimes criticised for the supposedly random element they introduce into a game, but they do at least showcase some footballing skills. The toss of a coin, on the other hand, reduces a sporting contest to a game of chance.
In those days, however, it was all part of the fun, and fortunately for Rangers they were the ones laughing after the game in Spain. Their good fortune took them through to a semi-final against Slavia Prague, who proved to be less formidable opponents than Zaragoza had been. Rangers won the first leg in Czechoslovakia 1-0, then made sure of their place in the final by winning at Ibrox by the same score.
Victory took them through to a final against Bayern Munich, the team they might have been playing in Manchester tomorrow evening but for Zenit St Petersburg's storming performance in the second leg of their semi-final. Bayern are now recognised as one of the biggest and most consistently successful teams in Europe, but in 1967 they were only beginning their rise.
At that time, for example, they had won only one German league title – and that was way back at the start of the 1930s. Even so, in Sepp Maier, Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller they had a particularly strong spine to their side, and in retrospect at least can be seen as a more balanced team than their opponents. John Lawrence, the Rangers chairman, summed up the shortcomings of his own side rather well on the eve of the final in Nuremberg. "At the moment there are three half-backs in the forward line," he said, showing why that particular Rangers line-up would come to be known on occasion as 'the team with no strikers'.
"We have the best defence in Britain," Lawrence continued. "But we realise that we need two new forwards and we are looking for them."
That need became painfully evident in the final. Bayern began fiercely, but the Rangers defence, marshalled by John Greig, first withstood the onslaught and then helped their team gain the upper hand. But Willie Henderson and Willie Johnston, the two wingers, found it hard to make inroads. And, apart from an incident in which Roger Hynd had the ball in the net but was ruled to have fouled the goalkeeper, the 'half-backs' up front proved themselves to be playing in the wrong position.
The 90 minutes came and went without a goal – no surprise given the strength of the Rangers defence and the ineffectiveness of its attack. As extra time wore on, it was increasingly clear that one goal would settle the game – and it went Bayern's way in the 109th minute, when Franz 'The Bull' Roth beat Ron McKinnon to a speculative ball then slammed it into the net.
The script is surely one which many Rangers supporters will dread seeing re-run tomorrow evening – a defence which holds out and holds out but in the end is broken down, and an attack which is then unable to fulfil its end of the bargain.
Given Lawrence's comments and Celtic's unprecedented domination domestically, it was no surprise that Rangers began rebuilding in the summer of 1967. They held on to the key players who had taken them to Nuremberg, however, and those players would repay their employers' faith five years later, when the club lifted their one and only European trophy.