‘The noise was absolutely phenomenal. It was like winning it out there that night.’ (Ally McCoist)  

Rangers 2-0 Dynamo Kiev, European Cup First Round, Second Leg, Wednesday 30 September 1987  

At the impressionable age of 11, the experience of the Marseille game in 1992 was overwhelming. It was pretty much all I talked about the whole way home as I had never known Ibrox to be like that. The noise, the passion, the wild celebrations and the communal growth in belief during those last 15 minutes alone. Surely, I asked my Dad, that was the best atmosphere that there had ever been in that famous old stadium. He agreed that it had been a special night but ultimately dismissed my suggestion with one word: Kiev.  

For Rangers fans of many generations, this still appeared to be the benchmark for what we consider to be the greatest of all nights at home, before the visit of Leipzig of course. This is the level that needs to be matched, a charge of energy that is impossible to quantify but we know when we’ve been close to reaching it again. Ibrox has often been loud of course. The loudest nights have sometimes been those which have ended in disappointment but where there was a clear need to try and generate a response from first-leg adversity, against all odds – Steaua Bucharest in 1988 or AEK Athens in 1994, for example. Noise and atmosphere are different, however. Much of the tiresome discussion about modern football is around the plethora of new stadia and their homogenous uniformity. Acoustic design is a big consideration for new projects so that teams end up with something like the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and not the new London Stadium that has been bequeathed to West Ham United. Specific group sections, safe standing and other contrivances are toyed with to improve atmosphere. All of those things can raise the noise levels. That is something that can be measured. Sound is a slightly different, more ethereal concept, which struggles to be. It is the latter that makes your hairs stand on end. It is the latter that we still search for.

 The latter will always need sporting context. One can bang a drum for the entire 90 minutes but if there is no jeopardy around the result or if the competition itself doesn’t turn the heart rate up a few clicks then it’s just noise. Atmosphere is dependent on the result not being a foregone conclusion either way and the prize being worth the world to you, especially one that you’ve not been involved in for some time. That is where this game comes into its own, like a kind of Goldilocks zone for football fans.

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Rangers hadn’t been in the European Cup for eight years. The Souness Revolution had delivered the league title back and a League Cup for good measure but, with the money spent and the European ban still in force in England, there was always an assumption that this was the competition that the manager saw as being the real test of our mettle. If the excitement about being back in the big time had been building since the Pittodrie hangovers had worn off in May, it would have been checked back by the first-round draw. The same unseeded process that locked together the champions of Spain and Italy paired Rangers with Dynamo Kiev, at the time one of the most feared sides in Europe. Semi-finalists the year before after disposing of Celtic on the way, this Kiev team contained eight of the players that the USSR would use in the European Championships at the end of the season, where they would reach the final. The side boasted two Ballon d’Or winners in Igor Belanov and Oleg Blokhin, the former picking up his award only the previous year. Their manager, the legendary Valeri Lobanovsky, had a duel role in charge of both Dynamo and the Soviet national side. This was both a well-drilled but very flamboyant footballing machine.  

"We’re out," recalls Rangers fan Ross Hendry, when he first heard news of the draw. "That was the instant reaction: one of deflation. But the performance in the first leg gave us a bit of buoyancy going into the home leg. There were some things that happened, Kuznetsov’s treatment of McCoist, for example, that just gave us a bit of fire in the belly." The away game, a match played in front of 100,000 people in Kiev and beamed back on a screen to thousands at Ibrox on a Wednesday afternoon, was better than many first feared. A 1-0 deficit lacked an away-goal threat but was still something that could be overcome and the performance itself was one of maturity and resolve. All the perfect ingredients for setting up a magical night for the return.  

"I didn’t appreciate how long we’d been away from the big cup," says Ross. "That’s what accounted for that special buzz that had been in the air. The pace walking to the ground was quicker than usual and I remember getting into the ground a lot earlier than we normally would. Ibrox was just buzzing from the moment that we stepped foot in there. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up whenever I see that game now. We knew that we were in a fight. It wasn’t a lost cause. It’s the magic sweet spot in football when you go into a fixture knowing that you can get a result but also knowing that you won’t get steamrolled."  Ibrox instantly felt a little different. A packed stadium for a European Cup tie for the first time in a generation. It also looked a little different too. "It was one of those things that we didn’t all notice at the same time. It was a gradual realisation as to why Ibrox didn’t look right. Why the Copland seemed further away from the East Enclosure, which was the beating heart of the support at the time. There was no forewarning, no rumours that he might do it. He had pulled it from nowhere. No one had heard the likes of it before." 

Graeme Souness, wary of the Dynamo threat from wide areas, had narrowed the Ibrox playing surface, already the largest in the country, by eight yards and did so at the last minute so that it was a different pitch than the one Kiev had trained on the night before. "There are no gentlemen at Glasgow Rangers," complained the club secretary Mikhail Oshenkov after the game, whilst Lobanovsky refused to comply with the mandatory post-match press duties. It was perfectly legal, however, and, given the travel difficulties Rangers had suffered behind the Iron Curtain in the first leg, it would be a stretch to argue that Dynamo had any kind of moral high ground.  

Graham Roberts was a late call-off with a groin injury, whilst Davie Cooper’s absence was known well in advance. The Rangers team that night read Chris Woods in goal, Jimmy Nicholl, Terry Butcher, John McGregor and Jimmy Phillips in defence, a midfield four of Avi Cohen, Souness, Durrant and Trevor Francis and a strike pairing of Ally McCoist and Mark Falco, a summer signing from Watford, who had both notched up a hat-trick each in the 7-0 demolition of Morton the previous Saturday. Throughout his time as Rangers manager, Souness was very adept at bringing in experienced players for short-term roles, but there does seem to be an imbalance there throughout this particular starting XI. One or two old heads have a great value but when they comprise half the team, it limits the dynamism that so characterised the championship-winning side from the season before.

Souness would rectify that the following Friday when he signed Richard Gough from Tottenham Hotspur and later in the season, when Ray Wilkins, Mark Walters, John Brown and Ian Ferguson arrived, all of whom were integral parts of future Rangers success. Notable names in the Kiev line-up included the goalkeeper Viktor Chanov, who would have a memorable evening, captain Sergei Baltacha, later of St Johnstone, Oleh Kuznetsov and Alexei Mikhailichenko, later of Rangers, star of the 1986 World Cup Vasili Rats and the world-class strike force of Belanov and Blokhin.  

The frenzy in the stands perhaps led to the false start when Kiev kicked off before the referee’s whistle, but when the action did get properly underway it was Rangers who were fuelled by the energy coming at them from all four sides. The pattern of consistent but controlled home pressure and dangerous counterattacks by the visitors was set early as Falco, McCoist, Nicholl and Francis all had efforts in the first 20 minutes, McCoist in particular was lacking the composure in front of goal that he had shown so often that season already. Kuznetsov clearly fancied his chances from range, as he would go on to demonstrate on his Rangers debut three years later, and Belanov was unlucky not to get a free kick on the edge of the box when he was clearly fouled by Butcher. Rangers concluded that first quarter with a great move between McCoist and Falco which left the former with the chance to drill it straight across goal but, under pressure, he instead shot straight at Chanov.

 The altered dimensions become more and more obvious to the viewer as Kiev, so used to a wide-open pitch at their own Central Stadium, struggled to break out of the claustrophobia and perhaps the lack of such a wide out-ball played some small part in the curious opening goal on 24 minutes. It came from an inauspicious Jimmy Philips high cross that Chanov collected with ease. He looked around at his options but where his intended target was we shall never know as the ball comically spilled out of his hand like some aborted overarm delivery, and hit Baltacha’s rear end as he walked away completely unaware. McCoist was very much aware and he poked into the path of Falco, who rolled it into the empty net to level the tie.

"The noise I still maintain is like nothing that I’ve ever heard before,’ recalls Ross. "I don’t know if it’s just me being misty-eyed but I’ll maintain to my dying day that this is as loud as I’ve ever heard Ibrox. The place was literally bouncing. The structure was moving. The best thing that happened after we scored was that we just kept piling it on."  Durrant and McCoist had chances to put Rangers in the clear before half-time but both showed a very uncharacteristic loss of poise. That’s the trade-off with having such an atmosphere. There is often an incompatibility between passion and aplomb and both Rangers stars appeared to be over the level when presented with their opportunities. McCoist’s, however, should arguably have led to a Rangers penalty. As Chanov saved from the close-range effort, the ball spun into the air and appeared to be punched over the bar by the chasing Besanov. Archie Macpherson was incandescent with rage but referee Ulf Eriksson from Sweden remained unmoved.

If some fans thought that they could finally enjoy a breather for 15 minutes, they were mistaken, according to Ross. "Half-time got swallowed up in this visceral memory of Ibrox just heaving. This thing of steel and bricks, an inanimate object, became alive. It started to have a heart and the East Enclosure just wouldn’t let anyone have a rest." Kiev responded to the noise and pitch conditions early in the second half through the sheer class of Rats, driving and probing from midfield and eventually creating a half-chance for Blokhin, but Woods got down well to smother the danger. However, any immediate resurgence was short-lived as on 50 minutes Rangers were two ahead.

Some patient midfield passing eventually led to the ball going out to Trevor Francis on the right. His control was instantly nonchalant as if a local child had rolled the ball towards him as he was casually talking to a neighbour about hedge trimmers. His cross was deep to the back of the box where Falco, an experienced target man and a UEFA Cup winner with Spurs, headed the ball back across the Kiev line where McCoist had expertly worked his way in behind. His header was less than expert – it was a mistake – but it bamboozled the hapless Chanov and Rangers were now in control. McCoist’s joy at the goal was visceral. He would, of course, later explain that he meant exactly that and was "just testing the goalie out with my eyes" as the ball came off the opposite side of the head to where he directed it!

The threat from the Ukrainian side was not extinguished by the McCoist header, deliberate or not. One more goal and they would be back in control, and Blokhin was soon on a one-man mission to get it. With perhaps the only slack bit of Rangers play all night, this time by Butcher as he collected a pass on the edge of his own box and dawdled on the ball, Blokhin was in direct range. The last line of defence, however, was in top form and Woods simply ushered him out wide to relative safety and the chance was eventually blasted high and wide. He could do nothing but watch Blokhin’s second effort as he breezed past McGregor before unleashing a shot that left Woods well-beaten but thankfully flashed wide.

Rangers didn’t sit back and invite trouble as Durrant and Souness probed away for openings, and when they weren’t on Durrant was prepared to try from distance. Robert Fleck, a substitute for the tiring Francis, was also unlucky as he badgered the Kiev defence, who were having a very different evening compared to having just McCoist to deal with in the first leg. As the clock ticked on, Ibrox was cheering the most mundane of passes back to Woods and they’d get a collectors’ item at the very end. With another late Rangers attack looking on, Souness collected the ball 35 yards from Chanov’s goal but, with the game in its final minute, he chose to launch it all the way back and into the safe hands of his own goalkeeper. Not for the first time that evening, a cynical but legal option for the man who knew a thing or two about success in this competition, having won it on three occasions as a player. FIFA’s patience with the back pass would last three more years when their technical report for Italia 90 showed that the Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Pat Bonner, in their dire 0-0 draw with Egypt, had the ball in his hands for a total of six minutes throughout the game. It was abolished two years later but celebrated like a pass of great beauty and intelligence here, which of course it was.

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 The final whistle was treated like a goal itself, with McCoist on the floor drained of all emotion and fans literally jumping for joy behind him. "Souness! Souness!" boomed down onto the pitch from all corners of a stadium that had come alive throughout the evening. It was most appropriate as there was no way that this night would have happened without him. His decision-making throughout the rest of that season can, however, be questioned. The squad was infused with new blood over the next five months, but there was nothing up front to cover McCoist. This was especially an issue when Fleck and Falco were sold soon after this tie.

Falco said in 2016, "I might have been there a short time but it was still enjoyable and I will always be part of the history of a wonderful club. Sometimes things just don’t work out in football and I suppose you could say that about my spell at Rangers." When Ally McCoist suffered a knee injury before the quarter-final tie against Steaua Bucharest in March, he was forced to play in the first leg in Romania despite having undergone keyhole surgery just seven days before. From the final 13 games of the season, McCoist scored six goals, three of which were from the penalty spot. No other Rangers striker got on the scoresheet in 1988 until Kevin Drinkell scored against Clyde in a Skol League Cup game that August.  It was arguably a very costly gamble.

Many, correctly, lament the opportunity to win the trophy in 1992/93 but Rangers faced genuinely world-class sides. PSV Eindhoven, under a young Guus Hiddink, would win the European Cup in 1988, having only won three matches, none of which were from the last eight onwards. If Rangers had been better equipped to face Steaua then a semi-final against Benfica and a final against PSV was a far better prospect than Marseille and Milan five years later.  None of that removes the shine from this night over 35 years later, however. It rightly takes its place in the top 20 Rangers games of all time due to the context, the opposition and that ethereal connection that so many fans still have when reminded of the game itself. Not until Parma 12 years later would Rangers defeat a more cultured and gifted opposition. For those crammed into Ibrox that evening, screaming their hearts out, this match, perhaps even more than Aberdeen earlier that year, was a symbol that the Rangers really were back where they belonged.