Rangers icon Peter McCloy on beating Germany's best, European fates and a special Allan McGregor award

Peter McCloy has already worked out the logistics for May 18, a day when he would happily interrupt his holiday in Portugal.

Dave Smith (right) - captain of Rangers in place of the injured John Greig - shakes hands with Bayern Munich legend Franz Beckenbauer before kick-off at Ibrox in the second leg of the Cup Winners' Cup semi-final in April 1972. (Photo by SNS Group).
Dave Smith (right) - captain of Rangers in place of the injured John Greig - shakes hands with Bayern Munich legend Franz Beckenbauer before kick-off at Ibrox in the second leg of the Cup Winners' Cup semi-final in April 1972. (Photo by SNS Group).

“It’s a two-and-a-half hour drive to Seville from where I’m staying in the Algarve,” says the man who was a towering presence in Rangers’ greatest achievement half a century ago. “I’d love to be making that journey next month”.

McCloy is full of admiration for the Europa League odyssey undertaken by the current Rangers side this season, one which next sees them heading to Germany for the first leg of their semi-final against RB Leipzig on Thursday night.

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He may not be naturally inclined to believe in omens, but goalkeeping legend McCloy cannot help feeling the stars may just be aligning for the Ibrox club in the 50th anniversary year of when he was part of Willie Waddell’s side which won the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

Rangers goalkeeper Peter McCloy is mobbed by jubilant supporters at the end of the 1972 Cup Winners' Cup Final in Barcelona. (Photo by SNS Group).

Just as in 1972, when Rangers beat Bayern Munich in the last four, the prize for beating German opponents will be a place in the final in Spain where McCloy & Co had their finest hour when they overcame Dynamo Moscow 3-2 at the Nou Camp.

“I must admit, I’m feeling pretty optimistic about their chances,” says McCloy. “Rangers have got the away leg first in the semis, just like we did against Bayern, and that should help them.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for them and one they have earned with some superb performances in Europe this season. It reminds me a lot of 1972 and it would be amazing if they could do it in Seville at the time we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Barcelona.”

If RB Leipzig will start as favourites against Rangers next week, Giovanni van Bronckhorst and his players may take inspiration from the manner in which their esteemed predecessors upset the odds against a far more formidable Bundesliga outfit.

Peter McCloy and his Rangers team-mates celebrate at full-time after beating Bayern Munich 2-0 at Ibrox to reach the 1972 European Cup Winners' Cup Final. (Photo by SNS Group).

It’s difficult to overstate the quality of the Bayern team Rangers memorably defeated 3-1 on aggregate in 1972.

Six of their players – goalkeeper Sepp Maier, peerless skipper and sweeper Franz Beckenbauer, defender Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck, midfielder Paul Breitner and forwards Uli Hoeness and Gerd Muller – all played in the West Germany side which would win Euro 72 in Belgium that summer and would all be in the starting line-up again when their nation won the World Cup on home soil two years later.

Bayern had beaten Bill Shankly’s fine Liverpool side in the second round of the Cup Winners’ Cup that season as they embarked on a golden era which would see them win the European Cup three years in a row from 1974 to 1976.

Yet in April 1972, they more than met their match in a Rangers team who dug deep for a 1-1 draw in Munich before running out comprehensive 2-0 winners in a second leg watched by a frenzied crowd of 80,000 at Ibrox.

Members of Rangers 1972 Cup Winners' Cup winning squad returned to the scene of their triumph in Barcelona when the Ibrox club played a Champions League group stage match at the Nou Camp in 2007. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

“What we did over the two legs against Bayern Munich was absolutely as good as anything we achieved in that campaign,” reflects McCloy.

“People in Germany will still tell you that the Bayern team of the 1970s was arguably their greatest club side of all time.

“In the first leg, we got hemmed into our box at the start and couldn’t get out. They just kept coming at us in waves and waves.

“We stood up to it and defended really well to only go 1-0 down. In the second half, we really came into it. After we got the equaliser through an own goal, we finished the game just as strongly as them.

Allan McGregor, who has now played 101 European games for Rangers, saves a penalty from Aleksandar Katai during the Europa League last 16 tie against Red Star Belgrade in March. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

“Bayern were a top, top side with some exceptional players. But in those days, our team was as fit – if not fitter – than any we came up against. We knew that if we could match them on the physical side of the game, then it gave us a chance.

“We also had some very talented players of our own, of course, and it was a combination which served us well in Europe that season.

“The second leg against Bayern would be up there with anything I experienced at Ibrox in my career.

“We got off to a flier with Sandy Jardine sticking one away with his left peg. The noise was incredible and when we went 2-0 up through Derek Parlane, we were in a really commanding position.

“I wouldn’t say Bayern gave up but they looked totally distraught with the start they had to the game and never really threatened to recover or give us too much to worry about for the rest of the night.

“Bayern were certainly considered favourites to win the tournament. We had played them in the first round of the Fairs Cup the previous season, losing 2-1 on aggregate, so we knew enough about them.

“We didn’t go into the tie with any fear of them. By that stage, we really believed we could win the trophy.

“It was actually before the quarter-final against Torino that Willie Waddell first spoke about the prospect of going all the way.

“He called us into a meeting in the hotel in Turin and said ‘This is the one’. He felt that if we could get to the last four, it was anyone’s tournament to win.

“I feel it’s the same now for the current Rangers squad. Having got to the last four, I really believe they’ve got as much of a chance as any of the other three teams left of picking up the trophy.

“They have been absolutely unbelievable in Europe this season. Some of the results have been outstanding.

“The 4-2 win away to Borussia Dortmund in the first round of the knockout stages really made people sit up and take notice of Rangers and consider them contenders.

“Obviously RB Leipzig will be aware of what Rangers did in Dortmund. They won’t be treating it lightly. Maybe Dortmund did that in the first leg, I don’t know. They maybe thought they would have an easier game than they got.

“It’s a marvellous achievement for Rangers to get this far, when you consider the quality of the teams in the tournament.

“Unlike when I played, there are now multiple teams from the big leagues like Germany in the European competitions.

“You have to play a lot more games to reach a final, albeit in the group stage – which we didn’t have – you get more opportunities to recover from a poor performance or bad result. But Rangers deserve every bit of credit coming their way and hopefully there is more to come.”

No goalkeeper in Rangers’ history has played more games for the club than the 535 appearances McCloy racked up during a 16-year playing career at Ibrox which saw him earn 11 major honours and be a part of two domestic treble-winning squads.

His longevity at the highest level is mirrored by Allan McGregor who continues to deliver match-influencing moments of breathtaking quality for Rangers at the age of 40. The veteran goalkeeper, the club’s record European appearance holder with 101 and counting, is out of contract this summer and may be poised to call time on his playing days.

McCloy would like nothing better than to witness a fairytale ending to the former Scotland goalkeeper’s career.

“It’s been a bit lonely being the only Rangers goalkeeper with that European winners’ medal for 50 years, so I hope Allan McGregor can get his hands on one too,” he says.

“He has been unbelievable in Europe. He produces incredible saves at key moments of games and the big stage just seems to bring the best out of him.

“In some of the Premiership games this season, he hasn’t been himself and he’s taken some criticism for that. But he must be the goalkeeper of the tournament in the Europa League.”

McCloy was among those taken aback by Rangers manager van Bronckhorst’s decision to replace McGregor with his deputy Jon McLaughlin for last Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic at Hampden.

Although McLaughlin has played in every round of the tournament this season, McCloy feels McGregor deserves to be between the sticks when Rangers face Hearts in the final on May 21.

“That’s a bit of a strange one for me,” he says. “Because you are bringing someone into the team who has not been playing regularly and is short of match practice.

“Training is all good and well for goalkeepers but no matter how well you train every day, it’s a totally different thing to playing every week and developing an understanding in matches with your defence.

“I know a lot of clubs do it these days, put different goalkeepers into the team for some cup competitions. It’s a big thing down in England.

“Don’t get me wrong, I think McLaughlin is a good goalkeeper in his own right. But my own inclination is that you should stick with your established number one for the big games.

“If this is to be McGregor’s last season, he will be hoping to finish his career with a winners’ medal. If it doesn’t come in the Europa League, I feel it would be harsh on him if he doesn’t get the opportunity to play in the Scottish Cup Final.”

For McCloy and his fellow ‘Barcelona Bears’, meanwhile, the fresh recognition of their own storied triumph continues on Tuesday night with the premiere of Rangers72, a feature-length documentary of the Cup Winners’ Cup campaign narrated by actor James Cosmo.

“There was a dinner held for us in February and now this film is coming out,” he says. “It’s always great when we get the opportunity to get together again.

“I’m 75 now, some of the other guys are older and, of course, we have lost some too. When we won the trophy, I don’t think any of us would have expected it to have such a long-lasting impact in terms of still being invited to functions down the years to celebrate and commemorate it.

“People treat us so well and it is fantastic that the achievement still means so much and is held in such high esteem by the Rangers supporters. That’s what the current team is now so close to experiencing. I just hope I’m jumping in the car to go and see them do it.”

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