By Steven Harrigan.
Rangers: Klos, Porrini, Moore, Amoruso, Ferguson, Van Bronckhorst, Mols, Wallace, Vidmar, McCann, McInnes. Subs: Charbonnier, Kanchelskis, Albertz, Amato, Adamczuk, Wilson, Johansson.
PSV: Kralj, Faber, Heintze, Van Bommel, Khokhlov, Van Nistelrooy, Niles, Vogel, Nikiforov, Stinga, Wielaert. Subs: Lodewijks, Dirkx, Bruggink, Kolkka, Van Der Doelen, Addo, Rommedahl.
Referee: Pierluigi Collina (Italy)
Following on from all the pain, heartache and misery we as a fanbase had endured in the mid to late 1990s this was seen as our coming of age party, finally, we were a force to be reckoned with among Europe’s elite sides. Little did we know that as we left Ibrox that crisp October evening that like a comet shooting across a cloudless night sky, capturing peoples imagination as it cuts through the moonlit night it would be so short, so fleeting, but then for that albeit brief moment in time it was sheer perfection and utopia.
The result that October night meant us (Rangers) sat proudly at the summit of Group F with just two games to go, in a group that included the likes of our opponents that night, Dutch Champions and former winners of old big ears PSV, German and world football giants Bayern Munich and a Valencia team that would go on to make two finals appearances in successive seasons, a side so technically advanced from anything we as a collective fanbase had witnessed since Red Star came to town eight years previously in what turned out to be Graeme Souness’s last European games as Rangers manager. We could see it, almost taste it even, Champions League football after Christmas, the later stages, the group stages were for mere mortals. It’s where we always felt we belonged, even more so at this time with our squad packed full off internationals made up from more nationalities than your local Star Wars cantina bar, this was the promised land, this was our destiny, the door that had been cruelly slammed shut in our faces for so long, had not so much slid open to reveal the light, no, the door had been blown off his hinges and what was behind was the land of milk and honey, of riches, prestige a pathway to better players and who knew, maybe even a seat or at least an invitation to dine at the top table once again, god it had been so long since we are there, we were starving and the crowd that cold Govan night like a hungry pack of wolves could smell the blood.
History will ultimately show that like many times before and so many after, this would be yet another false dawn, this group of players and the little general that presided over it would never make it to the land of milk and honey, quite how not can be in some ways attributed to a mixture of bad luck or even misfortune but the stark reality is we failed to take any points from our remaining two group games, with that this game played at home to PSV would serve ultimately as the pinnacle for us in Europe under Advocaat.
Now, I know many will rate the victory over Parma in the qualifying round for that season’s Champions League as a far better result, maybe even a better performance. I’m not going to argue or dispute that, however, I think you have to factor in that game into the equation when thinking of this night. The Parma game can, and in many ways should be viewed in isolation such was the enormity of the task that we had to overcome just to get into the dance, the thing is in the two matches with the Italians we only managed to win one game, and it was still very much thought of at the time as the outlier, The PSV game, on the other hand, was about us showing to the watching world that was no fluke, this was supposed to be a statement of intent, Rangers were back, and back to stay on the big stage.
Two weeks earlier we had travelled to Eindhoven, in the third group match, not losing was vital if we were to stay alive in this, the toughest of groups. We had lost our opening game rather convincingly in all honesty to a Valencia side who at the time was struggling for form domestically, but as we know form is temporary, class is permanent. A home match then followed with the previous year’s beaten finalists Bayern Munich, this time we were on the front foot, taking the lead and passing up a host of decent chances to extend our lead, then lady luck deserted us, a free kick for the Germans would take a wicked deflection into the Rangers goal, with it denying us three vital points that our performance deserved. The away encounter with the Dutch champions on matchday three was a nervous game for both sides, played out like a midnight game of poker, neither side wanted to show their hand, neither could afford to lose. Then with the swing of an Albertz trademark thunderbolt we threw all our chips into the centre of the table, we were all in, we had gambled and won, this time the three points were ours and matchday four and the return fixture awaited.
As we entered the stadium, the word was spreading like wildfire, Dick Advocaat the current Rangers and former PSV boss had made the strangest of selections in his team, Derek McInnes would start, a player who was used sparingly and didn’t possess the skill level of many of his peers in the squad, his role that evening would be a specialised one, sitting at the base of the midfield just in front of the back four, sounding out any danger, stopping the Dutch playing dangerous through balls. This was like something from Mars to us fans at the time, we had been brought up on a diet of a strict 4-4-2, for many, it was the first glimpse into a new world of tactics and formations. Bringing a player out of the cold to play in a massive game, just wasn’t heard of before, in fact, McInnes’s was so out in the cold he could have been cryogenically frozen. This move coupled with the result only served as further evidence to the fans that we had a genius now in charge of us, a man who could see things no other manager could and take action, this was a brave new world and we were all aboard the train, full steam ahead.
PSV arrived unbeaten in their domestic league, desperate to prove what happened a fortnight ago was nothing more than a fluke, a lucky hand if you like. The squad came accompanied by a host of big names, most notably in the forward areas. Nilis, the silky Belgium striker, who loved to drop deep into pockets of space he was the perfect foil to Manchester United player in waiting for Ruud Van Nistelrooy, a player who even then carried with him a reputation as one of the worlds greatest penalty box strikers. The battles were everywhere, on the field and in the dugouts, Dutch vs Dutch in large part thanks to what seemed like our signing policy at the time to only buy from Holland, winger vs winger, traditional Striker vs one who loved to come deep twisting and turning with all grace of John Travolta in Saturday night fever, cultured midfielders vs British skill and grit and the old guard vs the new man in town on the benches, it had it all.
To say we dominated the match in every area would be like proclaiming Mike Tyson had a good punch in his early career, we gave them a beatdown the likes of which lets face was usually reserved for us in this competition, we didn’t just steal their lunch money, by punching them in the face, we knocked them clean out then danced around them letting them know that this is the kind of treatment you get when you arrive at our house. Two games played against a formidable opponent in the Dutch champions, two wins, top of the group, no more discussion or debate, no more one-game flukes or lucky breaks, this was the real deal and we felt it.
Now, with the aid of history, we view this game very much in the same bracket as the Parma one the served as the precursor for this one, a one-off, but it wasn’t then, it was more than that, much, much more, for as fleeting as it was for that one night we certainly partied like it was 1999.