The last Battle of Britain

The last Battle of Britain

There have been frequent clashes between English and Scottish clubs in European competition since, and there were many before. However, few were as keenly anticipated or as evenly matched as Leeds United against Rangers in the 1992-93 European Champions Cup. This tie, taking place during the inaugural season of the English Premier League, was the last time a truly level playing field existed between English and Scottish clubs, before the untold riches of the newly created breakaway league kicked in.

Prior to the pulsating ties, in October and November 1992, both clubs had varied histories against foes from the other side of the border. In 12 matches, Leeds had won four, drawn six and lost two, scoring 11 and conceding seven in the process and, despite a seemingly unimpressive record, managed to progress in five of the six ties.

Interestingly, the 1967-68 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup saw Leeds face Scottish opposition in three consecutive rounds. Hibernian were defeated 2-1 on aggregate in the third round, then came Rangers and Dundee in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, who Leeds defeated 2-0 and 2-1 respectively over two legs. Leeds went on to win the trophy that year, defeating Hungarian side Ferencváros in the final, with a team containing the likes of Johnny Giles, Peter Lorimer, Billy Bremner, Jimmy Greenhoff and Eddie Gray.

The season before, and in the same competition, Leeds defeated Kilmarnock 4-2 in the two-legged semi-final, before losing to Dinamo Zagreb in the final. In the 1969-70 European Cup semi-final, Leeds faced Rangers’ great rivals Celtic, who won 3-1 on aggregate before losing the final to Feyenoord of Rotterdam.

Leeds’ final game against Scottish opposition before facing Rangers came in the 1973-74 UEFA Cup. In a drab affair against Hibernian, both games finished 0-0 before Leeds triumphed on penalties. Their journey wasn’t to last long, however, as they were knocked out in the next round against Portuguese side Vitória.

Rangers record pre-1992 against English clubs is not as impressive as Leeds’. The Glaswegian club only progressed in one of four ties, which all came in the 1960s. In the semi-final of the 1960-61 Cup Winners’ Cup, Rangers beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-1 on aggregate and in the same competition, in 1962-63, lost to Tottenham Hotspur in a goal-laden affair, 8-4 on aggregate.

The London side put the tie to bed in the first leg, winning 5-2 at White Hart Lane before repeating the trick at Ibrox, beating Rangers 3-2 in their own back yard. Spurs, containing Jimmy Greaves, would later win the competition, destroying Atlético Madrid 5-1 in the final. As mentioned, Leeds knocked Rangers out of the 1967-68 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and the following season in the same competition Rangers lost 2-0 on aggregate to Newcastle who would go on to win the trophy.

Nights such as Leeds versus Rangers were awaited more eagerly, especially given the abolition of the British Home Championship eight years prior. Contested between the United Kingdom’s four national sides (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) the Home Internationals formed the oldest international football tournament in the world, beginning in 1883-84 and ending a century later in 1983-84.

It was competed for every year, except during the first and second World Wars, and at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland when the tournament was abandoned. Predictably, England were the dominant force winning 34 titles outright. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland followed with 24, seven and three triumphs respectively, with the trophy shared on 21 occasions.

The British Home Championship was permanently abandoned during the early ‘80s for a number of complex and intertwining reasons. The increasingly popularity of the European Championships and the World Cup meant that appetite for the oldest international tournament declined as football started to become a global game.

Players, managers and paying fans tired of the fixture congestion, as well as the hooliganism that seemed to define British football during this era. The most famous image of the Home Internationals surely must be that of the Scottish fans invading the Wembley pitch in June 1977, following a 2-1 victory over the Auld Enemy. The celebratory mood saw the Tartan Army tear up the pitch and even break the crossbar of the goal frame.

To set up the mouth-watering all British clash between Rangers and Leeds, both sides had negotiated their first round ties, against Lyngby of Denmark and VfB Stuttgart of Germany, respectively. Walter Smith’s men beat the Danish champions by three goals to nil over the two legs. A relatively comfortable 2-0 victory in the first leg at Ibrox, courtesy of goals from Ally McCoist and Pieter Huistra, was followed up by a 1-0 win in Denmark. The second leg, in front of only 4,000 fans, was settled by a late Ian Durrant goal.

If Rangers’ first round tie was largely uneventful, Leeds’ was quite the opposite. The Elland Road men looked dead and buried after the first leg in the Swabian city, which they lost 3-0. They returned the favour on home soil, beating VfB 4-1, although it appeared the away goal would see the German champions through. Controversially, the tie was later awarded to Leeds as a 3-0 victory as the Germans had fielded an illegible player. This left the tie at 3-3 and now a settler was required to see who would progress.

Curiously, this one-off, winner-takes-all match was to take place on neutral territory at FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou. Leeds saw off their opponents with a 2-1 victory, with Carl Shutt notching the winner in the 77th minute in the legendary Catalan cathedral of football.

Rangers hosted the first leg at Ibrox, welcoming Leeds on 21 October 1992 in front of 43,000 hostile fans. The home side lined up with nine Scots and two Englishmen: Andy Goram, Richard Gough, John Brown, David Robertson, Dave McPherson, Ian Ferguson, Ian Durrant, Trevor Steven, Stuart McCall, Ally McCoist, and Mark Hateley. In what may have passed as cosmopolitan at the time, the visitors named a team featuring seven Englishmen, two Scots, a Welshman and a Frenchman: John Lukic, Chris Fairclough, Tony Dorigo, Chris Whyte, Jon Newsome, David Batty, Gordon Strachan, Gary Speed, Gary McAllister, Lee Chapman, and Eric Cantona.

Corners were king in this game, with all three goals coming directly from the set piece. Leeds, playing in all yellow, took the lead in the first minute to silence the partisan Ibrox crowd. Fittingly, it was a Scottish connection that caused the initial damage. Gordon Strachan whipped in an out-swinging corner from the right-hand side, which was headed clear by the Rangers defence, but only as far as Gary McAllister, who struck a beautiful volley from the edge of the box into Andy Goram’s top corner, past his outstretched right hand.

Twenty minutes later and Rangers were level when a looping corner from the left-hand side was met by Leeds goalkeeper John Lukic, who inadvertently fisted the ball into his own net. Tony Dorigo attempted to prevent the ball going in but it was deemed to have crossed the line, leading to pandemonium from the home supporters and embarrassment for Lukic.

Rangers’ winner came in the 37th minute of an action packed first half as a Trevor Steven corner from the opposite side was headed towards Lukic’s goal by Dave McPherson. The ‘keeper could only palm the ball into the path of the prolific predator Ally McCoist, who prodded home what would prove to be the winner.

Fourteen nights later, on 4 November, the two sides went to battle in the return fixture at Elland Road. Rangers made one change from the side that triumphed in the first fixture with Dale Gordon replacing Trevor Steven. Leeds also made only one change, with expensive summer acquisition David Rocastle coming in for injured home-grown midfielder David Batty. Rangers were once again decked out in blue, and Leeds reverted to their more traditional all-white kit, signifying proudly the colour of the Yorkshire Rose.

With 25,000 fans in attendance, Leeds needed one goal to progress to the next round on away goals, assuming they could keep a clean sheet and prevent Rangers from breaking their defence. In what was almost a mirror image of the first leg, the away side drew first blood, this time an Englishman doing the damage on behalf of the Scots.

Andy Goram saved from Eric Cantona after two minutes before launching a long goal-kick deep into Leeds territory. A flick-on from McCoist was met by Mark Hateley, who bettered McAllister’s first leg effort by lashing in a stunning half volley over the head of John Lukic from outside of the 18-yard box. Unlike the first leg, this time there was nothing Lukic could do about Hateley’s strike.

Rangers put the tie to bed almost on the hour, going 4-1 up on aggregate with two away goals in the bag, meaning Leeds would have required four goals to progress to the next round. A Leeds move broke down on the edge of Rangers’ box as the hosts pressed, and the visitors ruthlessly counter-attacked.

Durrant fed Hateley down the left, who linked up again with McCoist, crossing the ball from the left for him to nod in a diving header from within the six-yard box. Leeds did eventually breach the goal of the inspired Andy Goram with five minutes to spare, from an Eric Cantona header, although it was too little too late and would prove to be nothing more than a mere consolation. Rangers were through at the expense of Leeds, and Scotland had triumphed over England in a tie that was dubbed the Battle of Britain.

Following the second round, the remaining eight teams were divided into two groups of four. Rangers were drawn in Group A, pitted against Marseille, Club Brugge and CSKA Moscow. Unfortunately for the Glaswegians, only the group winners would qualify for the final.

They gave a good account of themselves, remaining unbeaten in the six games and finishing only a point behind eventual champions Marseille. Despite not losing, Rangers drew too many games (four out of six) but to lose to the eventual champions was no shame. Frustratingly, however, the controversial Marseille faced match-fixing allegations and were prevented from defending their continental trophy the following year, although they weren’t stripped of their title. Rangers may have been thinking “what if?” and how they would have fared in the final against Fabio Capello’s legendary Milan side which featured the likes of Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten.

Since those nights in 1992 Leeds have not come up against Scottish opposition again, yet Rangers have faced English foes, playing Manchester United on four separate occasions. In the four matches, in the Champions League group stages, Rangers failed to register a single goal, picking up a mere one point from an available 12 in the process. In 2003, United won 1-0 at Ibrox through a rare Phil Neville goal, before easing to a 3-0 win in the return at Old Trafford. It was a little tighter in 2010 as Rangers held United to a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford before losing 1-0 again at Ibrox, courtesy of a Wayne Rooney penalty.

Rangers won the Scottish championship in 1993, their fifth in a row, with McCoist and Hateley bagging 78 goals between them. The ‘Gers would add eleven more league championships to their honours list before the meltdown of 2012, which saw them demoted to the fourth tier of Scottish football. After four seasons out of the top flight Rangers will return in time for the 2016-17 season. Despite dominating in the absence of their great rivals, Celtic have clearly missed Rangers.

The standard of the league has dropped, as has Scotland’s UEFA coefficient which was tenth in 2005, 15th in 2011 and 25th in 2016. The tool sharpening Old Firm games haven’t been occurring and as such Celtic’s form has dipped. Rangers and Celtic need each other, and Scottish football needs them both.

Leeds’ early Premier League history was fairly unremarkable and Howard Wilkinson was sacked in 1996, four years on from their title triumph. During the same season as they were facing Rangers in the European Cup Leeds finished 17th and only avoided relegation by two points. Astonishingly for the defending champions, they only managed to win one game away from home all season, and that was against lower league Charlton Athletic in the cup.

Selling Cantona to arch-rivals Manchester United two days after the second Rangers game would prove to be a watershed moment, as the Red Devils would go on to win the Premier League and relieve Leeds of their title, with the Frenchman in particular an inspiration.

Then came the Peter Risdale and David O’Leary days, punctuated with thrilling highs and painful lows. During O’Leary’s reign as manager, Leeds never failed to finish outside the top five in the league, enjoying runs to the semi-finals of both the UEFA Cup and the Champions League. However, the foundations were built on sand with chairman Risdale taking loans out against the prospect of future Champions League revenue.

Leeds’ failure to qualify for the competition for two successive seasons saw the project begin to unravel. Mirroring the exit of Eric Cantona, Rio Ferdinand was sold to Manchester United and O’Leary was shown the door. The club were relegated to the third tier and entered administration in 2007. Leeds currently lie in the second tier and haven’t played Premier League football since 2003-04, and don’t look like returning any time soon.

The riches of the Premier League era would widen the gulf between Scottish and English football to a level that it is hard to see it recovering from. It also ushered in an irreversible trend of globalisation, which saw a deluge of foreign talent flooding in both on the pitch and in the dugout. The Leeds side that won the English championship in 1991-92 were the last to do so with an English manager at the helm, and a squad consisting almost entirely of British talent. Since then only foreign managers have lifted the Premier League trophy, and the top players are often deemed to be those coming from overseas.

North of the border the issue is even graver with the national team suffering, clubs regularly failing in European competition and the grinding to a halt of the conveyor belt of talent that churned out stars such as Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Gordon Strachan.

It is unlikely that we will ever see English and Scottish teams facing off in European competition with English and Scottish managers in charge, a core of Scottish and English players, and without guessing the outcome of the tie beforehand. Rangers may be back in European competition sooner than Leeds but it is unlikely we’ll see them facing off anytime soon as they did back in 1992.

Times changes but sometimes memories never fade, so for now all we have are the abiding memories of what was the last true Battle of Britain.

By Dan Williamson

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