The mad run of Rangers' 'Barcelona Bears' 50 years on from Euro win

Lifting the Cup-Winners’ Cup in a Nou Camp dressing room and being told by Sportsmail they had won a tie on away goals after losing on penalties! 50 years after Rangers’ only European title, a new film celebrates the mad cup run of the ‘Barcelona Bears’

  • Rangers won sole continental trophy in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1972
  • New film called Rangers 72 has been made to showcase the outstanding triumph
  • The cup run carried much drama right up until the final and beyond
  • Rangers current stars will feature in a Europa League semi-final this week 

Every classic movie takes it main characters on an epic journey. Former Rangers defender Willie Mathieson believes a new film about the Barcelona Bears has few equals on that score.

Fifty years after the Ibrox side beat Dynamo Moscow 3-2 at the Nou Camp to lift the European Cup Winners’ Cup, their remarkable achievement has been captured for posterity in Rangers 72.

As well as the thrilling final itself, the new release chronicles every step along the way, including famous victories over Rennes, Sporting Lisbon, Torino and Bayern Munich. Each of which generated enough stories of their own to fill several Hollywood blockbusters.

Rangers’ only continental triumph came in the 1972 European Cup-Winners’ Cup

‘It was a remarkable campaign and every European game was different,’ recalls 78-year-old Mathieson, who played in all nine matches for Willie Waddell’s triumphant side and is one of several Ibrox legends interviewed for the film alongside skipper John Greig, Dave Smith, Derek Johnstone, Derek Parlane, Peter McCloy, Colin Stein Alex MacDonald and Willie Johnston.

‘The final was obviously the pinnacle, but the journey to it was incredible as so much happened with so many great stories,’ said Mathieson. ‘It was emotional being interviewed and I’m sure there will be a tear or two when I watch the film.’

In this 150th anniversary year of the Ibrox club, Leeds-based film company The City Talking Studios have breathed fresh life into the story by talking to not only the men who made it happen but many of the fans who were part of a 25,000-strong army of supporters which descended on Barcelona on May 24, 1972.

The poignant 100-minute movie, narrated by Scottish actor James Cosmo, features archive match footage and contributions from those who witnessed Rangers capture their only European trophy to date. 

But the film-makers, who have also made features about Leeds United’s 1992 title success under Howard Wilkinson as well as an acclaimed docu-series on the Elland Road club’s recent resurgence for Amazon Prime, quickly realised when they embarked on the Rangers project that one man was central to their story. 

Dave Smith (left), Jock Wallace, Colin Stein and Willie Mathieson celebrate with the European Cup Winners’ Cup trophy after Rangers’ victory over Dynamo Moscow Dynamo

The late Waddell showed enormous reserves of strength in continuing to lead the club after the Ibrox disaster of 1971 and, just 16 months later, steered them to the Cup Winners’ Cup triumph.

Lee Hicken, founder and chief executive of The City Talking Studios, explained: ‘We knew how important Willie Waddell was to Rangers but, of course, we had the challenge of him not being here (he died in 1992) any more, so we couldn’t get his first-hand account.

‘What I think we do well in the film is take Waddell to the screen through what the players said about him, and we have also used his actual handwritten notes and tactics from Rangers’ 1971-72 European campaign.

‘From a creative point, we take his words and use them in the film so, even though he’s not here, he’s still a really important voice in the story. The way the players talk about Waddell in the film says everything about the respect they had for him.’

Writer and director Giuseppe De Luca spent hours interviewing many of the team at their homes and in social settings. He says: ‘We went to the pub with Willie Johnston, had a couple of beers poured by the man himself, and also spent time with Colin Stein at his local bowling club.

Rangers manager Willie Waddell masterminded the Scottish side’s mad cap European run

‘Interviewing Willie Mathieson and Alex MacDonald was particularly emotional. When Alex MacDonald talked about the impact Willie Waddell had on his career, he became quite tearful. It’s powerful stuff which Rangers fans of all generations will love. This is a story which deserves to be told.’

The events of that campaign bordered on make-believe at times. After seeing off Rennes, Waddell’s men lost on penalties away to Sporting Lisbon in the second round, only to be hastily reinstated when it emerged the referee had failed to realise Rangers should have progressed on the new away goals rule. Just getting to Lisbon had been a nightmare.

‘That tie against Sporting Lisbon was epic,’ Mathieson told Sportsmail. ‘We were three-nil up at half-time in the first leg at Ibrox and then lost two stupid goals to make it 3-2.

‘For the second leg, the journey to Lisbon was incredible. We normally travelled by scheduled airlines in those days and were on a British Airways flight to London when the captain said: “Sorry, but there’s a strike at Heathrow, so we’re not sure if we can get your baggage off the plane”.

‘When we got to Heathrow, we virtually had to go airside and collect our bags from the flight. Willie Waddell then had to run about trying to get a charter flight for us.

Two hours later, ‘Deedle’ came back and said: “Right, we’re flying tomorrow morning from Stansted’’.

‘We got the bus to the airport and there’s this twin turbo, purple aeroplane, sitting there. I thought: “This thing will never reach Lisbon” and when they started the engine the cabin just filled with smoke! It took us about four-and-a-half hours to get to Lisbon. We arrived in the nick of time.’

Colin Stein celebrates after scoring against Dynamo Moscow in the final held at the Nou Camp

High drama barely does justice to the events which unfolded on the pitch as Rangers lost 4-3 after extra time and the tie ended 6-6 on aggregate. The Ibrox side lost a penalty shoot-out before Scottish Daily Mail journalist John Fairgrieve informed Waddell the referee had forgotten about the new away-goals rule prompting a reversal of the result.

Mathieson added: ‘Waddell spoke to the UEFA representative after the game. They had to go back to UEFA headquarters to make a decision and I think it was about 48 hours later before it was confirmed we were through.’

Torino were next to be dispatched before Rangers took on the mighty Bayern Munich, featuring Franz Beckenbauer Gerd Muller, Sepp Maier et al, in the semi-finals.

Once again, Waddell’s team proved too strong, this time against a side comprising men who would be World Cup winners two years later. After a 1-1 draw in Germany, goals from Sandy Jardine and Parlane sealed a 2-0 home win before a crowd of 80,000 to book a final spot.

That second leg is regarded as one of the greatest-ever nights at Ibrox and saw Johnston mischievously sit on the ball during the second half, later earning himself a fine from Waddell. Rangers were utterly dominant, as Mathieson recalled: ‘We had a corner and Maier and Beckenbauer were arguing with each other. As a team, Bayern were shattered and they just couldn’t come back from us going two-nil up.’

So to a glorious crescendo in Barcelona where, incredibly, two goals from Johnston and another from Stein put the Scots 3-0 up over Dynamo Moscow before they withstood a late fightback by the Russians. Alas, the trophy presentation was anything but conventional.

Rangers fans congratulate Stein (9) on scoring, which prompted a massive pitch invasion

At the final whistle, hundreds of Rangers fans invaded the pitch and infamously clashed with police, then under the rule of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, casting a dark shadow over the club’s finest hour.

While Waddell’s team should have been on the pitch hoisting the cup aloft, Greig was handed it deep within the bowels of the Nou Camp and told by officials: “Here’s your trophy, now get out”.

Rangers were subsequently banned from European competition for two years, with the punishment later reduced to one year following a vehement appeal by Waddell.

Mathieson added: ‘Of course there was the big pitch invasion and I was trying to make my way back to the tunnel because I was at the furthest point away. Two guys grabbed me and they helped me get through the fans to the tunnel. ‘I asked them where they were from and they said: “We’re from Glasgow, but we live in Australia”. They’d been in Australia for four years and had flown in on the morning of the final and were flying straight back to Australia the following day.

‘The support we had that night was just incredible but it was a shame we couldn’t celebrate properly with the fans afterwards. Instead, we went back to the hotel and drank the place dry. It was a fantastic night.’

Rangers captain John Greig gets a traditional Scottish welcome after returning home with cup

There was a homecoming at a soggy Ibrox the following day when Waddell’s squad were carted around the perimeter track on a coal lorry amid scenes of jubilation.

Mathieson has only happy memories of one of the greatest days and campaigns of the club’s history, and is proud to say that the surviving members of the 1971-72 squad remain close today.

Currently writing his memoirs, he said: ‘The bond has stayed throughout the whole team since 1972 and we’re still in contact with each other.

‘It never leaves you and a lot of the guys are still involved with the club — Greigy, Bud (Johnston) and Steiny. Dave Smith has a season ticket and I go whenever I can. I’m just so proud to have played for such a world-famous institution.’

Half a century on, as Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side continue their own bid for glory in the Europa League, Mathieson declared: ‘For Rangers to go all the way again now would be unbelievable.’

Rangers 72 will be released exclusively on DVD and BluRay on April 27. The film and accompanying coffee[1]table book is available to pre-order at Details of digital release will be announced next month 

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