When Manchester United and Glasgow Rangers walk out of the tunnel on to the Old Trafford turf tomorrow night the two giants of British football will write another chapter into what UK-based journalists always refer to as the “Battle of Britain”. There have been many such occasions in UEFA club competition over the years where English and Scottish clubs have been paired against each other and these matches are, more often than not, truly memorable occasions in which passion and emotion run high as clubs from rival nations try to outdo each other with national pride at stake. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks back at some of the famous clashes.
It is very surprising that the European Cup or Champions League has only ever seen seven fixtures of this type in its fifty five year history. More surprising is that there were only two such contests before the competition became rebranded in 1991-92. The first Battle of Britain to grace Europe’s elite competition was a famous two-legged semi-final in the 1969-70 season which saw the great Glasgow Celtic side of Jock Stein overcome Don Revie’s Leeds United. George Connelly’s lone strike for the Bhoys was the decider in the opening leg played in Leeds whilst United’s Billy Bremner opened the scoring in the return leg at Parkhead to restore parity overall in the tie. Celtic, who were in the middle of a nine year reign as Scottish champions, went through with two second leg strikes from John Hughes and Bobby Murdoch to reach their second European Cup final in three years. A little over a decade later in the 1980-81 season saw English champions Liverpool FC easily overcome the challenge of Aberdeen FC winning 5-0 on aggregate in the 2nd round. Terry McDermott scored the only goal in the first leg at Pittodrie whilst goals from Phil Neal, Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen and a Willy Miller own goal completed the rout for the Reds from Anfield. Maybe it was this experience more than any other in his career that made the then-Aberdeen coach Alex Ferguson want to “knock the Scousers of their f***ing perch”…..
Since the UEFA Champions League came into being in the early nineties there have been five such contests in the competition. In 1992-93 there were two knockout rounds before the group stages came into play and it was in the 2nd round that English champions Leeds United met up against another Scottish club who were in the process of a nine-in-a-row title procession, namely Glasgow Rangers. Once again the Yorkshiremen would be on the losing side as the Scottish champions won both legs with a 2-1 scoreline and, thus, 4-2 on aggregate. The first leg at Ibrox Park saw Leeds take the lead through Gary McAllister (it’s ironic that, up until this point, many a Scotsman has featured prominently for the English team in these “Battles”) before a John Lukic own goal and an Ally McCoist goal just before half-time give the Gers the advantage going into the second leg at Elland Road. Any hopes that Leeds had of a glory night at home were dashed when Mark Hateley (for once an Englishman doing the Scots a favour) gave Rangers the lead after two minutes before McCoist would increase the lead further, putting the tie beyond doubt before Eric Cantona scored a consolation for Howard Wilkinson’s men.
In the last decade Manchester United were paired against both of the Old Firm in the Champions League group stages and pretty much enjoyed the lion’s share of success losing just once in six games. In the 2003-04 season the Red Devils made easy work of Glasgow Rangers with a 1-0 win at Ibrox Park complemented by as one-sided a 3-0 win as you’ll ever see in football. The former tie was decided by Phil Neville with a fifth-minute goal whilst the latter tie saw Diego Forlán and Ruud van Nistelrooy (2) and those wins aided United’s progress to the top of their group whilst Rangers finished bottom propping up Panathinaikos and VfB Stuttgart as well as United.
The 2006-07 and 2008-09 seasons saw United take on the other half of the Glasgow with four matches against Celtic. The 2006-07 season saw home success for both teams as United won the first game 3-2 in a topsy-turvy game in which both teams lead at some stage before United sealed the deal. The other game at Parkhead saw a late strike from Shunsuke Nakamura lift the roof of the stadium as Celtic gained revenge for the Old Trafford defeat with a 1-0 victory but, in any case, both teams progressed from the group only to suffer the anguish of elimination by that season’s champions AC Milan. Manchester United would gain four points from six in the 2008-09 group stages against Celtic winning the first game at Old Trafford 3-0 thanks to goals from Dimitar Berbatov (2) and Wayne Rooney whilst in the return leg Ryan Giggs saved United from defeat with a late equalizer six minutes from time having been behind since the 13th minute through Scott McDonald. Celtic would end up bottom of their group with Villarreal and Aalborg also finishing above them whilst United would go on to reach their second consecutive Champions League but were put to the sword after a classic FC Barcelona won a complete set of trophies in that year.
The final contest took place in the Play-Off stage of 2009-10 in what was a return back to two-legged knockout football as Celtic and Arsenal FC met in order to try and qualify for the Champions League proper. The Gunners would eventually see off the Celts with a 5-1 aggregate victory but after winning the first leg 2-0, Arsenal gained the first goal in the return leg in controversial circumstances when Eduardo dived in the box – the resulting penalty would see off the challenge from Celtic much to their fans annoyance.
There have been many more matches between English and Scottish teams in European competition throughout the years. The very first meeting came in the now defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup in the 1960-61 season when Glasgow Rangers defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-1 over two legs. Overall there have been 58 matches played between clubs from these two historic rival nations with English clubs enjoying double the number of victories that Scottish clubs have – England has 28 wins compared to Scotland’s 14 with 16 drawn matches – with many memorable games along the way (e.g. 2002-03 Liverpool v Glasgow Celtic in the UEFA Cup) and some not very memorable ones (does anyone out there really have any memories from the 1968-69 Cup Winners Cup quarter-final between Dunfermline FC and West Bromwich Albion?) Nevertheless one can only guess that the match-ups to come in this year’s UEFA Champions League will live up to their billing and will add another glorious chapter to these most fascinating of fixtures.