Each classic movie takes the main characters on an epic journey. Former Rangers defender Willie Matheson believes a new movie about the Barcelona Bears has little to do with that score.
Fifty years after the Ibrox beat Dinamo Moscow 3-2 at the Nou Camp to lift the European Cup Winners’ Cup, their remarkable feat was recorded for posterity at the Rangers 72.
In addition to the exciting final itself, the new edition lists every step along the way, including famous victories over Rennes, Sporting Lisbon, Torino and Bayern Munich. Each has produced enough stories of its own to fill several Hollywood films.
Rangers’ only continental victory came in the 1972 European Cup Winners’ Cup
“It was a fantastic campaign and every European game was different,” Mathieson, 78, who played in all nine games for victorious Willie Waddell and is one of the many Ibrox legends interviewed in the film alongside captain John Gregg, recalls Dave. Smith, Derek Johnston, Derek Barlin, Peter McCloy, Colin Stein, Alex MacDonald and Willie Johnston.
“Obviously the final was the pinnacle, but the trip to it has been fantastic with so much happening with so many great stories,” said Mattison. The interviewing has been emotional and I’m sure there will be a tear or two when I watch the movie.
On the 150th anniversary of the Ibrox Club, Leeds-based film company The City Talking Studios breathed new life into the story by speaking not only with the men who made it happen, but with the many fans who were part of the 25,000 people. An army of supporters descended on Barcelona on May 24, 1972.
The touching 100-minute film, narrated by Scottish actor James Cosmo, features archival footage from matches and contributions from those who watched Rangers win their only European Cup so far.
But the filmmakers, who also featured features on the success of Leeds United in 1992 under Howard Wilkinson as well as a popular documentary series about Elland Road Club’s recent return for Amazon Prime, soon realized when they embarked on Project Rangers the man was central to their story.
Dave Smith (left), Jock Wallace, Colin Stein and Willie Matheson celebrate the European Cup Winners’ Cup after Rangers’ victory over the Moscow Dynamo Dynamo.
The late Waddell showed enormous reserves of strength in continuing to lead the club after the 1971 Ibrox disaster, and only 16 months later, he led them to victory in the Cup Winners’ Cup.
Lee Heiken, founder and CEO of The City Talking Studios, explained: “We knew how important Willie Waddell was to the Rangers but, of course, had the challenge of not being here (died 1992) anymore, so we couldn’t get his live account .
I think we do a good job in the movie of taking Waddell to the screen with what the players said about him, and we also used his handwritten notes and tactics from the Rangers campaign in Europe 1971-1972.
From a creative point of view, we take his words and use them in the movie, 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 movie says it all about the respect they have for him.
Writer and director Giuseppe De Luca spent hours interviewing many of the team members in their homes and in social settings. He says: ‘We went to the pub with Willie Johnston, the same guy poured a few beers, and we also spent some time with Colin Stein at the local bowling club.
Rangers coach Willie Waddell was the mastermind of the Scottish team’s crazy European hat
Willie Mattison and Alex MacDonald’s interview was particularly emotional. When Alex MacDonald talked about the impact Willie Waddell had on his career, he fell into tears. They’re powerful stuff that Rangers fans of all generations will love. This is a story that deserves to be told.
The events of that campaign were close to imagination at times. After beating Rennes, Waddell’s men lost on penalties to Sporting Lisbon in the second round, but hurriedly returned when it emerged that the referee had failed to realize Rangers should have been ahead on the new away goals rule. Just getting to Lisbon was a nightmare.
“That showdown against Sporting Lisbon was epic,” Mattison told Sportsmail. We went ahead by three goals in the first half in the first leg at Ibrox and then lost two stupid goals to make it 3-2.
The trip to Lisbon was amazing in the return leg. We were normally traveling by scheduled airlines in those days and were on a British Airways flight to London when the captain said, “Excuse me, but there’s a strike at Heathrow, so we’re not sure if we can get your luggage off the plane.”
When we got to Heathrow we actually had to go to the airport and pick up our bags from the flight. Then Willie Waddell had to run around trying to get us a charter flight.
Two hours later, Didell came back and said, “Okay, we’re flying out tomorrow morning from Stansted.”
We’ve got the bus to the airport and there’s a twin-turbo jet, purple, sitting there. I thought: “This thing will never get to Lisbon” and when they started the engine the cabin was filled with smoke! It took us about four and a half hours to get to Lisbon. We arrived just in time.
Colin Stein celebrates after scoring a goal against Dinamo Moscow in the final at the Nou Camp
The high drama hardly does justice to the events unfolding on the field as Rangers lost 4-3 after overtime and the confrontation ended 6-6 on aggregate. Ibrox lost the penalty shootout before Scottish Daily Mail journalist John Fairgrieve Waddell told the referee the new away goal rule had been forgotten, reversing the result.
Matheson added: “Waddell spoke to the UEFA representative after the match. They had to go back to the UEFA headquarters to make a decision and I think it was about 48 hours before it was confirmed that we passed.
Torino was set to go before Rangers faced the great Bayern Munich, with Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller, Sepp Maier and others participating in the semi-finals.
Once again, Waddell’s team proved to be very strong, this time against a team made up of men who would be World Cup winners two years later. After a 1-1 draw in Germany, goals by Sandy Jardine and Parlin secured a 2-0 home win before a crowd of 80,000 spectators to book the last place.
That second leg is considered one of Ibrox’s greatest nights ever and saw Johnston sitting on the ball mischievously during the second half, later earning himself a fine from Waddell. The Rangers were quite dominant, Matheson recalls: “We had a corner and Meyer and Beckenbauer were arguing with each other. As a team, Bayern were broken and they couldn’t get us back on the climb twice.
So it was a fantastic escalation in Barcelona where, unbelievably, two goals from Johnston and another from Stein put the Scots ahead 3-0 at Dinamo Moscow before they withstood a late encounter from the Russians. Unfortunately, the trophy presentation was not traditional.
Rangers fans congratulate Stein (9) on scoring, which led to a massive pitch invasion
At the final whistle, hundreds of Rangers fans stormed the pitch and clashed with police, then under Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, casting a dark shadow over the club’s best hour.
While Waddell’s team should have been on the field holding the trophy high, it was handed to Greig deep in the bowels of Nou Camp and told by officials: “Here’s your trophy, get out now.”
Rangers were subsequently banned from European competition for two years, with the ban subsequently reduced to one year after a severe appeal by Waddell.
Matheson added: “Of course there was a big invasion on the field and I was trying to get back into the tunnel because I was at the furthest point. Two guys grabbed me and helped me get the fans into the tunnel. I asked them where they came from and they said ‘We’re from Glasgow, but we live in Australia.'” They stayed in Australia for four years and traveled on the morning of the final and flew straight back to Australia the next day.
‘The support we got that night was amazing, but it was a pity we couldn’t celebrate properly with the crowd afterwards. Instead, we went back to the hotel and drank the place dry. It was a great night.’
Rangers captain John Gregg received a traditional Scottish welcome after returning home with a trophy
There was a homecoming in a wet Ibrox the next day when Waddell’s band was hauled around the perimeter track on a coal truck amid scenes of jubilation.
Matheson has only happy memories of one of the greatest days and campaigns in the club’s history, and is proud to say that the remaining members of the 1971-1972 squad are still close today.
Currently writing his memoirs, he says: “The Association has been throughout the entire team since 1972 and we are still in touch with each other.
“It never leaves you and a lot of players are still associated with the club – Greigy, Bud (Johnston) and Steiny. Dave Smith has a season ticket and I go whenever I can. I am very proud to play for such a world-renowned organization.
Half a century later, as coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side continues their quest for glory in the European League, Matheson declared: “It would be incredible if Rangers could get this far again now.”
Rangers 72 will be released exclusively on DVD and BluRay on April 27. The movie and accompanying coffeeThe schedule book is available for pre-order at www.rangers72.com. Details of the digital edition will be announced next month