“It might be the biggest fluke in Europe all season, but who cares?”
These, my friends, are the words uttered at Scott Nisbet’s “wonder strike” vs FC Brugge in the March of 1993.
With the Champions League returning this week, I thought I’d focus on a game and in particular a goal that I’m sure still retains a special place in many people’s memory.
It was a time before the Champions League as a competition had eaten itself, a time where only a small number of advertisements were permitted, no side that had finished, second, third or fourth in their respective leagues, only 8 sides in two groups, no shirt sponsors and weirdly of all away tops worn at home when clashing, how the competition has changed. Not for the better I feel.
Going into the game Rangers were on an incredible run of games home and abroad. Something still yet to be beaten to this day. This match would prove the last in this fantastic achievement, the 44th game in ALL competitions without defeat. Coming off the back of a 3-0 home victory against Hibs, sitting top of the Premier Division and with the League Cup already in the trophy cabinet, Rangers set their eyes on an assault on Europe.
A win was vital for the Gers in order to keep up the pressure on the star-studded Marseille side. As expected it was a tense affair from the off with both teams trading blows. Andy Goram was in inspired form, even more so considering this was his first match back from injury.
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Then the breakthrough, on 39 minutes, when after a fine ball by Trevor Steven, Ian Durrant slotted home. At that point, I’m sure the fans inside Ibrox, along with those like my good self watching at home, on a 10-inch tv (my dad took my ticket, not that I hold a grudge still) expected the Ibrox side to kick on. That all changed just before the half when after a nothing tangle, jumping for a header with a Brugge player Mark Hateley was sent off, in a decision that still arouses a hint of suspicion to some, including the big target man himself.
Brugge started the second half strongly, then on 55 minutes after a great passage of play it must be said, they got the equaliser through Lorenzo Staelens.
What followed was a slog of a game, played out on a pitch showing all the scars of the amount of games played on it that season.
Then with just 15 minutes to go, the game eerily heading for a stalemate, magic happened. Trevor Steven made an attempt to cross the ball from the right-hand side, he could only find the back of his teammate Stuart McCall, striking off his back the ball fell at the feet of the onrushing Nisbet, who proceeded to take a swing at it. Call it luck, call it poor goalkeeping, aided by the swamp of the Ibro turf, the ball took one almighty bounce right over the advancing Brugges keeper Danny Verlinden.
The dream was on.
Rangers’ Champions League dream ultimately ended in the following game, the penultimate one in the group. A hard fought 1-1 draw away to the French side, having to make do without the injured strike force of Ally McCoist, and the suspended Mark Hateley, it proved a tall order, leaving us all wondering what if?
As for the scorer of the memorable goal. I’m sorry to say this was the beginning of the end, a pelvic injury forced the versatile player to retire at the season’s end. Not before the bit of turf, the ball bounced on was auctioned off, when the Ibrox turf was relayed at the season’s end. Or until he was given a testimonial match played between Rangers and Rangers legends (also a trialist called Andy Gray).
It was a season, a game, a goal that will long live in the memories of all that saw it, and a run of games that is testament to all involved at that time, 44 games unbeaten in all competitions is a truly remarkable record in any era.
It serves as a reminder of where we will get back to one day, even if a wicked bounce is needed along the way.
RANGERS – Goram, Gough, McPherson, Brown, Nesbit, Steven, McCall, Durrant.