Meetings between Belgian sides and Rangers have been sporadic, but the Ibrox side have a positive record to defend on Thursday night and into next year.
On each of three previous Belgian trips, silverware followed later in the season. Any triumph over two games has also paved a way to the penultimate round of European competition too.
Club Brugge were quelled into third place of the inaugural Champions’ League sections by a 2-1 win at Ibrox after the 1-1 draw in Belgium; Anderlecht eliminated in the preliminary round, en route to the semi-final of the 1959-60 European Cup.
The only defeat was from Thursday night’s opponents Liege, who knocked Scot Symon’s side out of the European Cup in the quarter final of 1961-62.
What happened the last time Rangers faced Liege?
In a 4-1 defeat at Les Rouches’ Stade Sclessin home, a double from Johnny Crossan either side of half-time and then, ultimately, a deflected free-kick was what did for Rangers’ hopes in the quarter final of the European Cup, a year after they’d reached the Cup Winners’ Cup final of 1961.
Footage shows local police heaving to keep the 35,000-strong crowd from spilling over the heavy uneven pitch twinkling on a grainy black and white film that fails to capture Davie Wilson’s first half equaliser. A 2-0 win back at Ibrox for the second leg of the knock-out stage wasn’t enough to overturn the deficit incurred a week earlier.
More than double that attendance shunned Valentine’s Day romance to watch the return on February 14, 1962 and though Rangers won on the night it was a heart-breaking exit 4-3 on aggregate exit despite goals from Ralph Brand, and Eric Caldow’s penalty.
Liege would progress to the semi-final, defeated by eventual winners Real Madrid, Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo di Stefano, Paco Gento and all.
Back to Liege – with 2020 crowd restrictions
Now, instead of 35,000 packing their terraces, Liege simply hope the stands of their 27,000-seater Stade Maurice Dufrasne can be a quarter full, subject to local authorities lifting coronavirus restrictions – to see the fourth placed team in the Jupiler League take on Steven Gerrard’s SPFL Premiership league leaders.
Regardless of the restriction decision, no visitors will be backing the Light Blues on Thursday night and it is not the first time the build-up to a crucial Rangers European fixture in Belgium has been planned without fans, only for a crowd to be admitted later.
More than a quarter of a century has passed since the club last made the trip across the Channel – Club Brugge were one of three opponents in the inaugural Champions League group-stage format of the European Cup 27 years ago – but UEFA initially closed the doors. Brugge supporters had been involved in incidents at an earlier fixture in Marseille, leading European football’s governing body to place a ban on fans for their next gate – the March 3 visit of Rangers.
The decision was later overturned, instead both French and Belgian clubs were fined for the ugly scenes on matchday two of the campaign and fans of both Rangers and Brugge were allowed in to see Pieter Huistra’s goal seal a 1-1 draw for Walter Smith’s side which happened to be the club’s third, and most recent visit to the country.
How does Rangers’ record against other Belgian teams look?
The first time Rangers had played competitive football in Belgium, two and a half years prior to their only defeat in Liege, Rangers hammered Anderlecht 7-2 on aggregate in the preliminary round of the 1959-60 European Cup.
Victory, 2-0 away and a resounding 5-2 scoreline at Ibrox, was the platform for a run through the competition, past Bratislava and Sparta Rotterdam and only halted at the semi-final stage by German giants Eintracht Frankfurt, 12-4 on aggregate, and before the Germans were vanquished by the magnificent Madrid side in Hampden’s most memorable final.
But on the seldom occasions Rangers have travelled to Belgium, their success has signalled progress to the semi-final stage and domestic success.
When Rangers got the better of Club Brugge in 1992-93 they were already at the penultimate round of the tournament. Walter Smith’s team was one step from the final when grouped with CSKA Moscow, eventual winners Marseille and the Belgian champions in the new-look Champions League sections, and Pieter Huistra scored in a 1-1 draw at Belgium’s Olympique Stadion. Few who witnessed the return in Govan will forget defender Scot Nisbet’s swirling cross floating over Danny Verlinden for a 2-1 victory after Mark Hateley was earlier sent off.
Whilst Rangers wouldn’t manage the final, and finished second in the group, their run past a Belgian side to the penultimate stage of Europe again was matched by a clean sweep of domestic honours, specifically the fifth title in a row.
Indeed, come the end of every season they’ve visited Belgium on competitive duty, Rangers have managed at least one trophy. In 1960 after defeating Anderlecht in the European Cup, the Scottish Cup was placed in the Ibrox trophy room. Two years later after defeat to Liege in the same competition, the Scottish Cup would be joined by the League Cup.
It may be the secondary European competition this time, but Liege is in focus again, and Steven Gerrard would welcome even a slice of such domestic dominance again on the back of this latest Belgian visit.