All roads led to Barcelona...

Last updated : 24 May 2002 By LITTLE BOY BLUE

Cars were sold, jewellery was pawned (with or without the wife's permission), the Provy was inundated with customers old and new. Our team was finishing the domestic season on a big downer but the song ringing out from the terracing was 'Barcelona Here We Come'.

And we would come in our droves. The first newspaper estimates reckoned 15,000 would make the trip but they quickly revised their figures,quoting 20,000, then 25,000 as the extent of our exodus became clear. Official UEFA figures have given the attendance at the Nou Camp at the Cup-Winners' Cup Final as 35,000 and anyone who was there will testify that all but a few thousand were decked out in red, white and blue so I reckon there were at least 30,000 FFers strutting their stuff...and how!

Arriving in Spain two nights before the game, the drive from the airport to our hotel was a very emotional experience. Rangers banners, Saltires, Lion Rampants, Union Jacks, Ulster flags (tut tut!) were draped from every hotel balcony and it was the same story all along the coast. Santa Susanna, Lloret Del Mar and Callela were populated almost exclusively by Rangers supporters and, as you do, each and every Bear was having a ball.

And we all had a tale to tell about how we raised the dosh. If my memory serves me rightly, my own trip, five days in Callela cost forty-two quid and, as I worked in a bank at the time, I reckoned I'd have no trouble in shuffling my cheque around the system until pay day at the end of the month. Wrong! One of my colleagues at the bank suddenly found herself due to clatter out a bambino, a hurry-up wedding was arranged and, being at the wrong end of the pecking order, LBB's holiday plans had to be put on hold while she went off to get herself hitched.

The bank manager pretended he was doing me a favour by stopping my cheque, he spoke to the travel agent whom, he assured me, was very understanding and twelve days before the big game my name was off the flight list. If the travel agent was very understanding to my boss, he was less friendly to me when I called him at his house and let him know in no uncertain terms that I was definitely going to Barcelona, no matter what he and the bank manager said. One of my mates came across with the dough to cover my cheque, I was rebooked on to the flight and on the Monday morning before the final my old man, or somebody who sounded strangely like him, phoned the bank to tell them that his little boy was sick, unable to work for that week.

Now if the bank manager had been a human being, instead of a robotic it's-more-than-my job's-worth shite, he would have left it at that. But an hour or so later he pulls up outside our close just as me and the troops were on the move and he gave a self-satisfied sneer, asking: "Off to Barcelona I take it?" He was a real smart cookie. Put it this way, I wasn't dressed in my banking togs. Maybe the Rangers - Barcelona 72 banner gave him a step for a hint.

Never mind, we were off to sunny Spain and Monday night and all day Tuesday in Callela were real heavy duty sessions. There were one or two problems with the local polis but they tended to pick on stragglers, rather than face up to any of us who were team-handed, so we all stuck together and everything was tickety-boo. Instead of waiting for a bus to take us from our hotel to the ground on the night of the match, we headed into Barcelona at the crack of dawn and suddenly our Sash-it-up parties at our resort were like a Wee Free prayer meeting.

If you ever experienced Wembley in the good old days, before the Flower Of Scotland numpties hijacked the fixture, you might be able to picture how good it was. Not even the Shankill on The Twelfth could compare with the atmosphere in the city that day. It was hard to believe we were so far from home and, contrary to what subsequent Press commentators have said, the locals loved it. The cafes, bars and restaurants did a roaring trade, everybody wanted to have their photo taken with a visitor from Escocia and, at that early stage, the polis were quick happy to sit back and let the party rock.

It all started to turn sour at the stadium. It had been a swally-swally day and I'm afraid some of us just couldn't handle it. While the great majority of Bears were content to belt out our anthems from the stands, half-an-hour before kick-off one or two numpties decided to go walkabout on the pitch, yet it all seemed to be no big deal with the polis again content to let it happen. Somebody then produced a ball and a kickabout ensued, with more and more Bluenoses strolling on to the pitch to join in, so much so that there was no way the pitch was going to be cleared in time for Rangers and Moscow Dynamo to emerge from the dressing room.

The first batons appeared and there were one or two skirmishes, but nothing too serious. After all, we'd come to Barcelona to see a game and the realisation that their presence on the pitch was holding things up prompted most to return to their seats. But the mood had changed. Instead of the blue uniformed police, the paramilitary Guardia Civil were now on the scene and I certainly sensed that a confrontation was inevitable.

Mind you, that was the furthest thing from my mind when the game got going. Colin Stein hammered us into the lead and a Bud Johnston header just before half-time had us all turning cartwheels. And when Bud made it 3-0 early in the second half there were tears streaking down my cheeks. But having taken the foot off the pedal in the closing weeks of the season, saving themselves for Barcelona, Rangers then found themselves running out of puff and two late goals had us shitting ourselves.

Then the ref blew the whistle and made a gesture which looked like it was all over. Yahoo, we'd done it, and we hurdled the barrier wall to celebrate. Oops! The silly bastard had just awarded a free kick and we had to get back to where we came from for another minute or so. It was the longest wait of my life before the final whistle at long last went and, of course, it was party time. Thousands of Bears invaded the pitch but there wasn't an ounce of malice in one of us. We were celebrating, just as the Other Mob had done in Lisbon five years earlier, but for us there was to be no carnival.

Without warning, batons were drawn and the polis charged us off the pitch. At that point there was no problem but one or two zealots in uniform started taking liberties with some fans who were a little slower than the rest to move. And when they showed no sign of letting up, some fans went back onto the pitch to help out their mates, a bit of a fight started and suddenly everyone was pouring back over the wall and into the action. I've seen a few nasty incidents in my time and I've witnessed police backing off an angry mob but never in my natural have I seen them turn and run like the Guardia Civil did that night. Charge and countercharge ensued and what should have been a party turned into the riot. Never one to miss a trick, 'The Shame In Spain' screamed the headlines of the Daily Rebel when they really showed have focussed on heavy-handed policing and, of course, a great performance from our team.

Returning to Callela after the match, we were welcomed as conquering heroes by the locals. Remember, back then Spain was a Fascist dictatorship, with Franco ruling by terror, and nobody dared say boo to the polis, certainly not in Catalonia. So it was drinks all round, we are the people, and while wary of any polis hit squads looking to ambush us, we had the sort of night the occasion deserved. John Greig collected the trophy from a brush cupboard somewhere in the bowels of the Nou Camp but, in the wake of after-match events, there was talk of UEFA taking the cup back. My Ibrox mole tells me that, as soon as the trophy arrived at the stadium, Rangers' name was engraved on it. They could take it back if they wanted to but nobody could deny who had won it.

My own personal delight was tinged somewhat when I returned home to find a letter from the bank, advising me that, in view of my conduct, they were giving me the opportunity to tender my resignation. Gee thanks! I refused. If you want to bag me, I'm not going to make it easy for you!!! So they did. I'll never forget the sad bastard's immortal line. "Well, was it worth it?" he asked. An ear-to-ear grin gave him his answer... and as we anxiously wait for another European triumph more than 28 years down the road, I still rate my decision to dump the bank and go to Barcelona as one of the best I've made in my life.