ON THIS DAY, 26 years ago, Rangers recorded, arguably their most impressive European away result.

In a story first published this time last year, Derek Clark spoke to Archie Knox, Stuart McCall and a Rangers supporter who ventured to Vladikavkaz as the Light Blues produced one of the greatest European performances of all time.

Rangers travelled to deepest, darkest Russia to face Alania Vladikavkaz in the second leg of a Champions League qualifier.

No one could’ve predicted what would happen at the Republican Spartak Stadium on the evening of the 21st of August 1996.

Two weeks earlier, Walter Smith’s men came from behind to beat the Russian champions 3-1 in the first leg with Ally McCoist, Gordan Petric and Derek McInnes sending Ibrox wild.

Alania were a bit of an unknown quantity at the time, they had won their first Russian championship in 1995 and had narrowly been put out of the UEFA Cup by Liverpool that season.

Archie Knox was assigned the role of scouting the opposition prior to the clash and says it’s a trip he’ll never forget.

“I actually went to Vladikavkaz to watch them in a pre-season tournament, it wasn’t far from Chechnya where all the troubles were," he said.

“Auxerre were in it, Vladikavkaz and someone else, but I was there the whole week on my own and watched them play a couple of games in that tournament.

“Even though it was a poor place, you want to have seen their training ground, it would’ve matched some of the big clubs’ training grounds now either down in England or Celtic or Rangers’ training ground - it was of that standard.

“It was absolutely incredible and they looked after us well.

“When I first went out to see them, I got to the airport in Moscow and that was the international airport but for the domestic airport you had to go right across Moscow so it was about an hour of a trip.

“When I got there, all the signs are in Russian and I’m thinking, ‘Jesus Christ! How am I supposed to know where I need to go here?’

“So I eventually got a hold of a guy who spoke English, he was a journalist for the New York Times and he was going to Vladikavkaz, nothing to do with football or anything like that so he said, ‘I’ll keep you right.’

“I got on the plane with him. I had baggage but they didn’t take your baggage off you. Right behind where the pilot was, there was a big storage box and you just threw your bag in there.

“I then try to get my seat of which I thought was my seat number and there’s someone sitting in it.

“So I’m saying, ‘Oh for fuck sake, where am I going to sit?’

“I was telling the boy, ‘Look, you’re in my seat,' and he was having none of it.

“Eventually I’m walking up and down the plane and I got a spare seat.

“There are three seats on either side of a table in the middle, like being in a bus, so I’m sitting there minding my own business and this boy comes out with a bottle of brandy.

“He’s toasting people so he’s handed me this brandy in a paper cup. I said, ‘No, no, no, it’s ok,’ the boy from the New York Times says 'You're better to look as though you’re taking it!' So I take the brandy and off we go.

“It’s that bloody tight and I didn’t want to collide my feet with anybody. So I get stiff and I’m trying to move my feet and I’m thinking, ‘Oh Christ I’ve stood on that guy’s foot!' So I looked under the table in the middle and it’s a big bloody dug!

“You couldn’t have believed it.

“On the way back, I’m sitting up the back this time and they started to put this vapour through the system, you could hardly see so I’m sitting there and all of a sudden this big truck arrives at the side of the plane and they change the two wheels at the back, you couldn’t make it up.

“They jack it up and change the two wheels at the back, I was like, ‘Whit?’ “The plane then starts to taxi then stops again, the stairs go down again and I see two guys running across the tarmac with their bags and they come on the plane.

“The plane was packed so they put their bags between their legs, held onto the racks and they stood the whole way.

“People might say, ‘Ah, you’re talking a load of shite’ but that’s exactly what went on, it was scary.

“I went to the hotel where Auxerre were staying, it wasn’t salubrious I’ve got to say and I was there for five or six days doing nothing.

“During the day you just wandered about once the training was finished with absolutely nothing to do.

“Auxerre had their own private plane, they weren’t stopping to pick people up on the way!”

Stuart McCall remembers the game well having played in both legs.

And the midfielder says confidence was high heading into the game in Russia.

“I remember the home game, we were 1-0 down at half-time so to score 10 goals in a game and a half is incredible.

“We come in at 1-0 and because they’re the Russian champions and we’ve never heard of them, it’s not like a Dynamo Kyiv or Moscow but when you look back, they had a good result against Liverpool in a previous campaign so they were obviously decent.

“We went back out and Petric and McInnes scored. I thought if them two can score, we’ve got a right chance over there,” he joked. 

Rangers set off on their 6,000-mile round-trip to the Republic of North Ossetia–Alania city at the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains.

Vladikavkaz nestles just a few miles from Georgia in the south and around 90 from then war-torn Chechnya to the east.  And the trip would provide yet more drama in the air.

Knox explains: “When we went over with the charter with Rangers, the flight between Moscow and Vladikavkaz was about two-and-a-half hours away and they were worried they might run out of fuel.

“They announced this, ‘We think we’ll be ok but we might have to stop to refuel'.

“Honest to god, see when you went to the domestic airport there were hundreds of planes there, bits hanging off some of them, that was a scary journey I’ve got to say.

“I’ve had some belters on trips, you were just happy to be on the ground.”

As always, Rangers supporters follow their team far and wide and Vladikavkaz was no exception as a number of diehards made their way over to southern Russia.

Dougie Dick was one of them, then residing in London, he travelled up and down to Ibrox and far beyond since 1986.

Having taken in the first leg, he wasn’t going to miss this one.

“It was one of the most memorable away games I’ve ever had.

“The home leg was one of the drunkest I’ve ever been at a game, I was rolling my eyes at one point because I thought I was seeing double,” he joked.

“I think it was the next day we had to travel to the Russian Embassy in London to get visas.

“We landed in Moscow and I remember flying with Aeroflot the next day from a different airport.

“Everyone was a bit nervous, well I was certainly nervous because of the stories you heard about Russian internal flights crashing and stuff like that.

“The next day we flew from a domestic airport, the only thing missing was sheep and cattle running about, it was just chaos.

“When we took off eventually, you know on a bus you get the bits where you put your luggage but they’re open however in planes they normally shut the cabins down.

“They never had them there so when we took off the bags are falling off, you’re a bit nervous about the flight anyway and you’re thinking, ‘For fuck sake!’

“I remember falling asleep on the flight and then waking up and we had landed. I tell you now when Pope John Paul used to kiss the floor when he landed somewhere, he must’ve flown Aeroflot because that’s what I felt like when we landed.”

To the game itself, Rangers knew the tie was slightly precarious given the Russians only required a 2-0 win to progress.

Fortunately, Knox had done his homework.

“They had a boy who played left midfield and he liked to switch the play to this right-winger and that was a big part of their game, getting this right-winger on the ball and causing havoc against the opposition.

“So, when we played them, we just kept the full-back out on that side, it would’ve been Jorg Albertz.

“They were the top team in Russia at that point and had some really top players.

“We found this way of playing against them that suited us. Building up through our midfield and keeping somebody out on that side of the pitch so the guy couldn’t get a chance of getting started.

“It really hampered the way they were setting about and how they were going to play.”

The night before the game, Dougie and his fellow bluenoses checked into their hotel alongside Rangers officials and media.

He recollects: “We were drinking with Archie Knox that night and I think Davie Dodds was there. We were telling them, ‘Don’t play one up front with McCoist, it doesn’t work, he’s not that good, he needs someone to play alongside him.’

“We were going to go out into town and the hotel staff said basically, ‘Don’t go out there you’d end up getting mugged.’

“Chechnya was a war zone next to it. They’re not used to tourists and told us we might not be safe so we took their advice and just drank around the hotel.

“Anyway, the next day we get to the ground, we were a bit nervous because we knew if they win 2-0 we’re in trouble and you know what Rangers are sometimes like in these qualifiers, especially then. We always found a way of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

But Dougie needn’t have worried.

Rangers lined up that night: Goram, Cleland, Albertz, Gough, Petric, Bjorklund, McCall, McInnes, McCoist, van Vossen, Laudrup.

The Ibrox giants would get off to a dream start as Ally McCoist nodded home an Alex Cleland cross after 36 seconds.

McCall says it settled everyone’s nerves: “I think, like anything, when you go away, you’ve got a 3-1 lead but obviously they only need to win 2-0 and they weren’t mugs so it was important to keep the volatile crowd quiet and obviously we had Super Ally in our ranks and after 30 seconds I think he rammed one in.

“We got off to a fantastic start because if it had been the other way and they had got an early goal and with the crowd behind we could’ve been in trouble.

“We got three inside 18 minutes but it was soon 3-2. It ended quite comfortable but in the beginning, the crowd were quite hostile because they still fancied their chances.

“To get an early goal as we did just settled everybody down but it was an absolute dream start, we couldn't have wished for anything better.”

McCoist would net an 18-minute hat-trick, his second in as many games after bagging three in a 5-2 demolition of Dunfermline four days earlier.

Knox reckons the early goals meant Alania played into their hands.

“McCoist scored early and scored a hat-trick then you were in a position where the game is beyond them after winning 3-1 at home.

Rangers Review: Hat-trick hero Ally McCoist blows a kiss to the Rangers fans.Hat-trick hero Ally McCoist blows a kiss to the Rangers fans.

“It was a good performance in both the games although they were hard to break down at home. Getting ahead early and them having to try and change the way they play a bit - we got goals on the break.”

The Rangers front three of Peter van Vossen, Brian Laudrup and McCoist tore the Russians apart.

McCall says they couldn’t cope with their forward line.

“I think because we got the goal so early that made them open up more so they’re thinking they’re going to have to get three just to level it.

“So it did become super open, we went with Coisty, van Vossen and Laudrup and we tried to hit them on the counter-attack. Peter was quick, Laudrup was obviously quick and Coisty just stayed in the middle of the box and tapped them in so it worked well.

“Listen, I think what was key is getting the goal after 30 seconds, no matter how they would’ve approached it, their approach had to change because they had to get three goals then so they probably did come at us a bit more which opened it up and made it slightly easier for us to pick them off on the counter-attack.”

Rangers Review:

Any pre-match nerves Dougie had about reaching the Champions League were obliterated and he was surprised at how easy it turned out to be.

“The game was unbelievable, it was like a park game. The Russians were so naive in the way they played and obviously Ally scores a hat-trick.

“It was sensational but looking back to the first leg we should’ve pumped them more than 3-1.

“Obviously they were a decent side to have won the Russian championship but I thought they were tactically naive.

“They should’ve maybe kept it tight and tried to nick a goal but they made it an open game of football which suited us. But nobody expected to win 7-2 away.”

Rangers went in at the break with a 4-2 lead before coming out and blitzing Alania with three goals without reply after a double from Laudrup and a Charlie Miller strike.

It prompted angry scenes outside the ground with many Alania supporters venting their frustration at boss Valery Gazzeyev.

The small contingent of travelling Rangers fans were held back by police, Dougie says both fans and players were in jubilant mood which almost resulted in a spot of bother for Andy Goram.

“At the end of the game we went into a lounge area, I don’t know how we got in but it wasn’t anything fancy, it was very basic.

“There was a bar and we were buying our drinks.

“Andy Goram comes in and grabs a load of beer to take on the bus. We get on the bus going back to the hotel when the guy comes out and tells us to stop singing because the Russians were raging. He said, ‘Well the beers haven’t been paid for.’

“I said, ‘Well we’ve paid for them all,' and then it clicked what’s happened.

“Goram was probably thinking it’s like Ibrox or away games where you just get beers. The guy behind the bar didn’t think Goram was one of the players and thought we’d nicked the beer so they were going to arrest him!

“We got back to the hotel and because I said the night before about McCoist to Archie Knox and Davie Dodds, both of them said, ‘What were you saying last night?’

“It summed Ally up, give him space and he’ll score.”

McCall almost got into a spot of trouble himself on the way home.

“We didn’t need a plane home, we were that high, we could’ve flown ourselves!

“I had a newspaper column at the time with Roger Baillie and he was on the trip.

“I had a couple of beers and was that high after such a great result, I was comparing the gaffer with all the Scottish greats, I’m saying, ‘Who can come over here and beat the Russian champions 10-3?’

“Walter’s glaring at me and he said to Roger, ‘Don’t you dare print that or you’ll never be back at another game,’ because he was dead modest the gaffer.

“What could’ve been a really difficult game ended up being comfortable and probably one of our, in terms of scorelines, greatest results because we beat the Russian champions 10-3.

“To go into their own back garden and beat them 7-2 is quite incredible really.”

It was a view echoed by Smith who spoke to the press afterwards: "I would never have expected that we would pull off such a big win here.

"Vladikavkaz have pushed Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool close in European competition in recent years and I expected it might be the same.

"We went with three forwards in Van Vossen, Laudrup and McCoist and thought we would give them problems but not as many as we did. We took all out chances in the first half and I was delighted with that.

"I would say it's my best ever result in my management.

“It's not as if they were not a good team.

“They have been building up over a couple of years to win the title last season in Russia and I felt it would be a tough time.

“It has taken one and a half marvellous performances by us to reach the Champions League.”

It was a result that had supporters dreaming of another European glory run, Dougie included.

“We started actually thinking, ‘Shit, we could do something in Europe this year!’

“But sadly we were brought down to earth at Grasshoppers.”

Unfortunately, Dougie was right, Rangers would finish bottom of their group containing Ajax, Auxerre and Grasshoppers with just one win and five defeats. The less said about that the better.

But as a stand-alone game, the result in Vladikavkaz will forever be remembered fondly.