Tommy McLean was desperately trying to claim a major European scalp for Rangers in Porto 36 years ago just as the club’s powerbrokers were negotiating to make his brother, Jim, the new Ibrox boss.
With the clubs set to renew rivalry this week, former Ibrox defender Craig Paterson has recalled the extraordinary circumstances of that 1983 Cup Winners’ Cup clash during one of the most tumultuous periods in Rangers’ history.
McLean, the former Ibrox winger, had been put in temporary charge after John Greig had quit at the end of October, 1983, but Greig’s former assistant knew he wasn’t going to get the job.
The Ibrox board had already tried and failed to lure Govan’s finest Alex Ferguson, who played at Ibrox in the 1960s, after his achievements with Aberdeen who had famously just won the Cup Winners’ Cup.
The Dons quickly rewarded Fergie with a new five-year contract and the Ibrox board – which was also in revolution with John Paton trying to take over as chairman from Rae Simpson – turned to Dundee United miracle worker Jim McLean.
He had just delivered the Premier Division title – a remarkable achievement – having also won the League Cup twice.
Paterson said: “It was an incredible time at the club because of the turmoil after John Greig’s departure and it was tough for Tommy as he tried to keep us going on the park.
“We all knew that the club had tried to get Fergie, which was completely understandable because of what he had done at Pittodrie.
“The other obvious candidate was Jim McLean for the same reasons – the incredible job he’d done at Tannadice. We’ll never see the likes again of Aberdeen and Dundee United dominating Scottish football and European football.
“However, as we were trying to complete what would have been a fantastic European victory against Porto, we had no idea that the board was now actively trying to convince Jim to take the job.
“The interesting question is, would Jim have made Tommy his assistant if he had taken it? We knew they were close, but I’m not sure we’ll ever know now.”
Rangers had been leading 2-1 from the first leg at Ibrox which was a success in contrast to their miserable league form that had them sixth in the table.
It was the concession of a late goal to Moroccan-born striker Jacques that proved costly. Paterson recalled: “We were leading 2-0 at Ibrox, but I have to say there was a stage in the game where we just couldn’t get the ball.
“They were a top-class side and their main man was Fernando Gomes – what a striker he was. He had won the Golden Boot the season before and won it again.
“It was torrential rain in Portugal but there were 60,000 at the game so the atmosphere was volatile.
“Tommy had set us up well and the game plan was working but Gomes produced a bit of magic in the second half and that put us out on away goals.
“Porto went on to beat Aberdeen home and away in the semi-finals and were narrowly beaten by a brilliant Juventus side in the final.”
McLean had to try to rally his troops for an Old Firm game on the Saturday against the backdrop of talks with his brother but Rangers lost 2-1 at Ibrox.
The following day Jim formally rejected Rangers and on the 10November Jock Wallace was brought back for a second spell.
Paterson added: “That spelled the end for Tommy at Rangers but, of course, he went on to become one of the best managers Motherwell have ever had.
“Davie Cooper, Bobby Russell, Ian Ferguson and I all went to play for him and we won the Cup in 1991.”