Down Memory Lane: Ibrox’s Battle of Britain will stir passion
Ibrox Park, a shrine to all Rangers fans — or Blue Noses as they are labelled in Scotland.
And tonight it will be an amphitheatre of passion and fervour, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of a Euro match between the two clubs in 2003, described as “the Battle of Britain.” Let’s hope it can be a repeat in a football sense.
Ibrox, with its lovingly preserved Edmiston Drive façade, which is a mark of Rangers’ mystique and a symbol of Scottish football, holds many memories for me from those boyhood days of the late Thirties.
And it was the scene, too, of one of the most tragic assignments as a sports writers, the January 2, 1971 disaster when 66 fans were killed and 145 injured after a collapse on Stairway 13.
Rangers and Manchester United have always had an affinity from the era of Bill Struth and Sir Matt Busby, while Sir Alex Ferguson is, of course, a former Rangers player and at one stage almost became their manager before joining United to write numerous glorious chapters as the all-conquering guru of Old Trafford.
Tonight’s match will no doubt take him back to 2003 when United and England defender Phil Neville struck to give United three points and move ahead of Rangers in the Champions League Group E qualifier.
Not only did Neville score the goal, but commented at the finish: “I have never experienced an atmosphere like that from any football crowd. It was something special.”
That was the first time Fergie, so proud of his Scottish — or should I say Govan — roots, came face to face with Scottish opponents in a competitive match.
“It had everything — a superb pitch, total commitment and two teams playing aggressively with flowing football from start to finish,” he said.
Police made 50 arrests before and during the game for minor breaches of the peace, but security authorities’ verdict was “all passed off peacefully.” There were no real casualties in this battle, except Rangers manager Alex McLeish, who said: “I was pleased with the performance — not the result.”
Ironically the Rangers line-up didn’t include a single Scot. What a contrast from those days of yesteryear when even the smallest of boys with a Rangers or Celtic background could ream off the names of all their players — Dawson, Gray and Shaw ... Kennaway, Hogg and Morrison.
Neville’s early goal momentarily silenced home fans. He picked up a pass from Ruud Van Nistelrooy, was given a free passage into the box, evaded a half-hearted challenge and then beat goalkeeper Stefan Klos.
Rangers commanded the first-half, Shota Arveladze almost equalising with a volley which United keeper Tim Howard only kept out with his finger-tips.
The second-half was all action too with each side creating chances in a cauldron of sound, but ultimately that Neville strike won the day.
Now, tonight, the teams hope to provide a sell-out crowd with a repetition. No goals were scored in the current first leg at Old Trafford, ensuring there could be no more appropriate setting for yet another Battle of Britain.
Rangers: Klos, Khizenishvili (Ross 86), Berg, Moore, Ball, Ricksen, Arteta, Vanoli (Nerlinger 67), Lovenkrands, Arveladze, Mols. Subs not used: McGregor, Emerson, Ostenstad, Capucho, Hughes.
Manchester Utd: Howard, G Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, O’Shea, P Neville (Butt 85), Keane, Scholes, Fortune (Djemba-Djemba 90), Van Nistelrooy, Giggs. Subs not used: Carroll, Ronaldo, Bellion, Forlan, Fletcher.
Referee: Anders Frisk (Sweden).