"I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it."

(Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch)

"It would be completely irresponsible of our supporters to turn up," so said Alister Hood, the Operations Executive at Ibrox in 1992. With it only being three years since the Home International between Scotland and England was abolished due to crowd trouble, the decision to ban both sets of away fans from the ‘Battle of Britain’ clashes, the matches that would determine the first-ever British entrant into the Champions League, was unanimous. These were to be exclusively the preserve of the home support. Travelling was strictly prohibited.

Fat chance. Such plans were almost certainly never designed to keep everyone away, just enough to manage the situation in a controlled fashion. Anyone who believed otherwise, that some fans would simply sit tight and say, "oh well, it’s STV for me then," doesn’t know football fandom at all. For some, it is simply not an option to miss any game, let alone the big ones. Missing big family moments because Rangers happen to be up in Dundee that day is just shrugged off as an occupational hazard for a job that they don’t actually have. Annual leave allocation is dependent on European runs. And, when the other kind of love raises its head, decisions have to be made. As one friend put it, "you just have to be up front about your addiction from the start. Other things can come and go but following the bears isn’t negotiable." And it is a genuine addiction for some. Being so close to the heart of the action, the feeling of being enveloped by it and sharing this collective identity with a large group of people means that testosterone levels can increase and decrease by up to 20 per cent depending on how the game is going, leading to rapidly fluctuating levels of euphoria and stress. It is the psychological impact of this continual chemical change that many believe to be ‘the bug’. For some fans, you have to be there.

"We were always going to make it," Barry McNeil told me. "I was 20 years old at the time and my old man was working with a company that was based down in Leeds so he managed to sort us four tickets. There were actually eight, but four went elsewhere. There was never any dubiety about it happening. There was no hassle either. I was down with my pal Cammy [Gordon Cameron] who is sadly no longer with us, and two other boys that I didn’t know too well. We ended up befriending a Leeds fan in a pub in the afternoon and he made sure we were ok near the ground. We were just there to watch our team." 

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If there was ever a game that season to sneak your way into, it was this one. Perfectly poised after the first leg at Ibrox, it didn’t need the inevitable media hype that it got. The English press pack believed the tie to be all but over, with Gary McAllister’s sensational away goal the key that they believed Leeds United needed to take away with them. Much of that was famously pinned on the Rangers dressing room wall but any sober analysis should have been able to pierce the hyperbole and bluster. Leeds had already lost four times in the league by this point and had conceded 23 goals, only scoring 25 in reply. Andy Goram’s goal, meanwhile, had only been breached 11 times, in contrast to the fireworks at the other end as Ally McCoist was warming up for another Golden Boot-winning season, his hat-trick at home to Motherwell on the Saturday another contribution to the 38 Rangers goals already. Howard Wilkinson remained bullish, however, that his side would be able to do to Rangers what they did to Stuttgart in the last round. 

"It’s no secret we have been conceding goals this season and it is a problem, but we will certainly score against Rangers and we will win the tie."

Although Walter Smith seemed to shrug, with a confidence that his side would do their talking on the park, Richard Gough met Wilkinson’s challenge in his pre-match conversations with the press, which were realistic and eerily prescient.

"I think it looks as though we will have to get a goal to go through and I would love to see how they would handle it if we were to score very early as they did against us at Ibrox." 

"We were there relatively early," recalls Barry. "About 20 minutes before kick-off we were in our seats, which were four rows behind the Rangers dugout. The whole game plan was to be as quiet as we could possibly be, but I had enjoyed a few beers and as soon as I saw Archie Knox I shouted, 'ARCHIE!' and he looked at us as if to say 'what the fuck are you boys doing here?' That brought a wee bit of attention to us, I must admit." 

Smith had kept the media, and Wilkinson, guessing about who would replace Trevor Steven, an injury blow from the first leg. In the end, he opted for the industry and mobility of Dale Gordon to slot into a very established XI, instead of the flair of Pieter Huistra or Alexei Mikhailichenko. This was a night for battlers as well as ball players, but the former would have to come first. The Rangers side that night, who were on £20,000 a man to get through, was Andy Goram in goal, Dave McPherson, Richard Gough, John Brown and David Robertson, Dale Gordon, Ian Ferguson, Stuart McCall and Ian Durrant, with Mark Hateley and Ally McCoist up front. No natural width but a trusted set of players for the biggest night of the season so far. Leeds were without David Batty, who was stretchered off during the 2-2 draw with Coventry City at the weekend. He was replaced by the late David Rocastle, the only change to the side that lined up at Ibrox. It was a side that included John Lukic, not only under fire for his performance that evening but for his start to the season in general. Despite Gary McAllister’s public defence of him – "We are all right behind John. He makes great saves week in, week out and if it had not been for him we might not have been in the European Cup" – there was no hiding from the fact that he could only point to one clean sheet in 16.

This may have been a step up in terms of tests, but it is always foolish to write off a side that are in a winning groove and doing so under pressure. This match arrived near the end of a busy 17 days for Rangers, where they faced Leeds United home and away, won the Skol League Cup against Aberdeen, gave an exceptional performance in a convincing 4-2 defeat of Motherwell at Ibrox and would finish on the Saturday with a trademark 1-0 win at Parkhead. It was a side that was firing. It was a side that was ready.

Rangers would rely on their rearguard in this game, but you wouldn’t have predicted that from the very first exchange when Leeds could have driven a bus through the backline as Rocastle released Eric Cantona, but Goram stood up well. Brown probably did enough to put off the Frenchman, still considered a bit of a liability in his adopted land, but Gough was nowhere to be seen. It was an inauspicious start but any nerves dissolved straight from Goram’s clearance. The long kick upfield was flicked on by Ian Durrant, beating Chris Fairclough to reverse the traditional roles and set up his target man. Hateley let it bounce once and then, bang. Inside two minutes the Leeds away-goal advantage, the platform on which this siege would be based, had disappeared in the most spectacular fashion. "People were still taking their seats as it was the first few minutes and so even though we stood up, it wasn’t really noticed. We didn’t bring attention to ourselves thankfully because there was still a lot of milling around." If Rangers took on the Leeds role from the first leg, then the hosts responded in a similar fashion too, with much of the first half being an onslaught on the Rangers goal. Within the first ten minutes, Andy Goram was demonstrating why he would be such a key part of that night and that season, twice more denying Cantona when he managed to find space in behind the Rangers defence. He would continue to go long when he had the ball, the goal of course coming that way, but all it did was hand the initiative back and the same pattern would repeat itself. Rangers were clearly more comfortable dealing with the creative threat from that Leeds midfield once they had reorganised their shape, rather than be caught on the back foot by trying to play through them. A Strachan free kick caused all sorts of mayhem, but neither Fairclough nor Chapman could guide the ball home. Rangers were 3-1 ahead in the tie but there were clear signs of nerves at only 12 minutes on the clock.

Rangers won their first corner on 18 minutes and therefore the first opportunity to put Lukic under pressure, which Gough duly did but the goalkeeper managed, just, to get his hands on the ball. Rangers gradually looked more comfortable on the counter, Durrant on a bursting run before finding Hateley who couldn’t gather cleanly and was eventually smothered out. The Leeds United route was more direct, Cantona getting some space just after the half-hour, which Goram did well to stop, and then Stuart McCall heading off the line from a Chris Whyte header, before the siege continued without losing pace. Cantona claimed a David Robertson handball, then saw an over-head kick of his own and a Gary Speed volley blocked before a Rangers breakaway suggested a sign of things to come as Durrant set up McCoist, whose first-time shot was well saved by Lukic. As the interval approached, it was becoming clear that Eric Cantona and Andy Goram were having their very own personal duel. Goram closed him down after a Dave McPherson calamity allowed more space and then he saved very well from a great effort from outside the box that rounded off a more intricate midfield move from Leeds involving Strachan and McAllister.

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With a midfield including those two in addition to Speed and Rocastle, it is still surprising that they didn’t continue to try to play through the middle more often, instead of the direct cross balls, by which time Gough and Brown were dealing with ease, be they high-floating deliveries or low-fizzing drives. Leeds had responded with the same kind of heart and courage that Rangers had shown in adversity the fortnight prior, they were just missing the goals.

There was no let-up in the pace and intensity once the second half got underway, this British derby ignoring continental mores, regardless of the name on the trophy. Gordon Strachan nearly matched McAllister’s famous goal in the opening exchanges but the shot was fired just wide. Rangers perhaps sensed a danger in holding too deep a line and started to force the issue themselves, with Hateley causing Jon Newsome some issues and Lukic having to get his body behind an Ian Ferguson volley. It was soon time for the Goram v Cantona show to resume when the Frenchman breezed past Brown, after a slip by Gough, but still couldn’t beat Scotland’s number one. Goram was soon called in to deny Cantona’s strike partner, Lee Chapman, whilst Gough suffered a second head knock of the match, the first resulting in him refusing to leave the field after he cut his eye in the first half, the quick clean up on the field perhaps not even meeting the standards of the day.

Leeds United, getting more and more frustrated, tried the intricate route just before the hour mark with some nice triangles between Speed, McAllister and Chapman before John Brown robbed Cantona, fed Ian Ferguson, and so one of the greatest Rangers goals got underway. An exchange between Hateley and Durrant left the Englishman rampaging down the left flank on the break, taking the ball and two Leeds players with him. This left Chris Whyte in no man’s land when Hateley bypassed them all by delivering a sumptuous cross for McCoist, loitering at the back post, to head home. For all the power of Hateley’s opener, nothing that happened in either leg could match the beauty of this perfect counter-attacking goal. Voted the fourth greatest Rangers goal in the Heart and Hand poll of 2018, the only thing more mesmerising is the fact that McCoist wasn’t broken in half when Dale Gordon came rushing in to celebrate when he was already on his knees.

There was a recognition in the home support behind the goal that they had just been knocked out of the European Cup by another piece of Rangers brilliance. In the Main Stand, however, the reception was less gracious. "By the second goal, we were well-known," said Barry. "Cammy and I were chatting to those in the row immediately behind us and they were broadly fine, except this one big beast of a bloke who was sat directly behind them. When McCoist scored we couldn’t help ourselves. Cammy shouted 'Yes!' I then shouted 'Yes!' We stood up and then … bang! This guy booted the boy behind us. Stewards then got involved and, sadly, Cammy got an early bath that night!"

Rangers Review:  (Image: Rangers Review)

 Leeds responded gamely, even though the atmosphere had been sucked out of a stadium already diminished by reconstruction work. Steve Hodge and Rod Wallace were thrown on by Wilkinson and indeed it was Wallace who brought the save of the night from Goram as he reacted well low down to stop a typically instinctive bit of Wallace play following a poor header in the box by Gough. The Rangers game management after that killed enough time to thwart any hope of a comeback, indeed Brown himself nearly grabbed a third with nine minutes to go when he popped up at the back post with a header, but Lukic did well to keep him out. Smith said later that as he grew more relaxed in the stand perhaps his side did on the field, and eventually Cantona broke through Goram with a low-drilled shot across the Rangers goalkeeper for a consolation. Rangers were very scrappy in the last ten minutes, the effects of the competitive edge disappearing, with Wallace nearly scoring an equaliser that would have spoiled the night a little, but Goram was once again equal to it and then Ian Ferguson picked up a needless booking that would see him suspended for the opening game of the Champions League, one where Walter Smith could have done with him.

Rangers had proven their critics wrong at Elland Road that night, ironically the season in which things were to change significantly in terms of disparity across the border. Andy Goram delivered a world-class performance and, certainly at that time, was the best stopper on these islands. It really was the last line that saved the day in a game which doesn’t entirely support the popular narrative that it was a solid defensive unit as a whole that proved ultimately decisive. Wilkinson was his honest self in the aftermath, with a little dry humour too, when he said, "In virtually every respect, I cannot see how my team could possibly have done better, and after tonight, right now I find it difficult to understand how Scotland ever lose football matches." The overall shape might not have been as resolute as we tend to remember it being on this evening but the spirit and confidence most certainly was and, with such quality at either end of the park, it is not hard to understand where it came from. It was, of course, the kind of character that endears a Rangers side to the support in a way that won’t be forgotten as long as those who were around to see them shall live. It was the kind of Rangers team that drove some fans to find whatever solutions were available to ensure that they got to see them play.

John Brown summed up that spirit years later: "Nothing scared us. When you are involved in Old Firm matches and you can play in those games without being overawed then you can play in any game. Leeds United’s stadium was like our backyard, it didn’t intimidate us at all. They played Eye of the Tiger, the Rocky tune, beforehand and we turned round to see Ian Durrant shadow-boxing their centre-half, Chris Fairclough, in the tunnel. We were laughing because we could see they had fear in their eyes, even in the tunnel at Ibrox. It was something Walter [Smith] and Graeme Souness had said. He said, 'stare them out and if they can’t hold your gaze then that is half the battle.'" The Battle of Britain was a battle of sorts but it had magic as well as machismo, charm as well as brawn. The kind of attributes, after all, that make people fall in love.