On 19 October, at Winchester Crown Court, the jury hearing the trial of Rose West – one of the most appalling criminal cases in British legal history – were due to leave and visit the site of her former home, 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester, where the bodies of nine young women and girls had been unearthed. They were under strict instructions from the judge, Mr Justice Mantell, not to discuss the case. Any other topic was permitted, he said, before suggesting, as an example, "a rather depressing performance by Rangers last night’" Even in the most horrific of circumstances, Rangers’ show in the Stadio Delle Alpi was still considered to be bleak.

The story of the season overall really isn’t one of injury-hit disruption, but if there was a short spell that seemed so redolent of campaigns just past then it was the six weeks of October and early November. Laudrup limped off against Dortmund with an ankle injury that kept him out until 19 November, Robertson, Miller, Goram and Ferguson all had some time out around the same time and crucially, Gascoigne wasn’t fit enough to travel to Turin, the site where his tear ducts opened and his life was changed for ever. With the suspension of McLaren and the loss of his two best players, Smith had a selection nightmare ahead of the toughest match of his managerial career. In hindsight, he may have re-arranged the deckchairs slightly differently, perhaps with John Brown joining the three man defence, allowing Craig Moore to go into midfield and support McCall and even using a natural midfielder like Durrant in there with Salenko on his own, in a 5-4-1. (A younger Mark Hateley could have spearheaded such an approach better but by this point this part of his Rangers career had come to an end as he joined QPR with a minimum of fuss in September.) In the end the midfield three consisted of Gordon Durie, Stuart McCall and Alec Cleland with McCoist and Salenko up front. Within seconds, it was obvious what kind of night Rangers had in store as Goram was forced to make a spectacular double save in the first minute. After further onslaught, the Italians went ahead in the 15th minute when Fabrizio Ravanelli’s free kick was deflected past Goram. Two minutes later, a cross ball was able to pass beyond six Rangers players in the box and still find Antonio Conte who pounced to double the lead. The roof was caving in. Before the match, Jim White asked the studio guest Alex McLeish about the prodigious young talent Alessandro Del Piero. A fine prospect, McLeish agreed, but he was confident that Richard Gough and the Rangers defence would have enough to deal with him.

For Rangers fans at this time, Miller represented the future, although not necessarily on this occasion, you understand. At 19 years old he was far too young for a big club with high expectations to rely upon. But definitely, at some point down the line, he would grow into the role and become a great Ranger. That worldview was somewhat shattered in Turin that evening as a 20-year-old Del Piero tormented Rangers. His high, dipping free kick from near the corner flag took out everyone including the impressive Goram and made it three goals in eight minutes. The second half was in a slightly different gear but Del Piero was almost in exhibition mood when his exquisite Cruyffian drag back made a fool of Alec Cleland in front of a watching continent. The wing-back’s revenge two minutes was typically Scottish as he scythed down his young opponent and immediately headed straight off the field. The fourth Juve goal, by Ravanelli with 14 minutes left, typified many of Smith’s issues. Moore attempted a long hopeful ball for Salenko but Ciro Ferrara acted quickest, intercepted and set the white-haired hero Ravanelli on his way into plenty of space. Gough scored a deflected consolation three minutes later but there was no hiding from the footballing reality. ‘Tallies 4 Wallies 1’ was The Sun’s headline the next morning.

Rangers Review: Gordon Durie in TurinGordon Durie in Turin (Image: SNS)

Pundits called on Rangers to evoke the spirit of Marseille on that big opening night when Juventus returned. "The slow game doesn’t suit Rangers," said McLeish in the pre-match build-up. Yet by the break Trevor Steven – one of the other injured players – was bemoaning the lack of possession and control. What was it to be? Passion or cool? A focus on spirit or technique? The postmortem, not just on Rangers but Scottish football as a whole, kicked off after the final whistle at Ibrox, as further humiliation was heaped on with a 4-0 defeat. One letter to the Herald scorned Rangers, and other Scottish clubs, for even trying to play the continental sides at their own game. No, "even if our top teams filled every position with an assured ball player there is no certain prospect that they would be able to effectively use these particular skills through a wet, windy, cold, and muddy Scottish winter and win our league championship". Instead, we should never deviate from a game based on "speed, pace, and athleticism and getting the ball quickly from one end of the pitch to the other". An opinion piece followed the Ibrox fixture that took a different line, "Passing the ball should be easy for anyone who calls himself a professional footballer, yet the trouble British teams experience with this part of the game is astounding. Teams like Rangers and Celtic have to decide what exactly it is they want. If they are content with a Scottish title which guarantees them the opportunity to try to qualify for the Champions League that is fine, but they should say so and make it clear they are interested only in the riches available through qualification. However, if they believe they should be more than bit-part players at the top level then they have to admit they are way behind schedule. They must rethink their strategy, because the current one is not working, even though Rangers’ Murray insisted yesterday, 'There will be no change in our policies.’'" In 2023, the same conversation is taking place.

A more fascinating insight was offered by the legendary Hugh McIlvanney in the Sunday Times, as Smith allowed him complete access on the evening of the game and the following day. He likened the result to a Tarantino movie, "Rangers and Celtic were not merely done in – they were blown away. Their pride was splattered all over the fancy palaces they have built to house the central traditions of one of the world’s most passionate football cities." As he left Archie Knox huddled over sheets of paper in the small manager’s room, McIlvanney took in the Italians’ warm-up at close quarters and concurred with Smith’s assessment of their muscularity and fitness. "'Did you see the thighs on the likes of Ravanelli?’ Smith asked him the next day. You were looking at players who are far, far stronger in terms of muscle development than anything we’ve got. We have always assumed we would have to struggle to compete with the technique of the best continental teams but that we would have a physical advantage over them. One of the key lessons for me in these matches with Juventus is that we are lagging behind physically now and that puts us in really deep trouble." Smith went on further on the same theme, "When I watched Milan-Juventus recently, I found it as physical a game as I’ve seen in a long while. Players on both sides put themselves about to a tremendous degree. But they were so fit and strong that they could do that, and harry the opposition mercilessly to regain possession, while still applying their old standards of touch and control when they had the ball. For years, when those sides lost possession they were intent on defending with numbers behind the ball but now they will press and harry with terrific speed and vigour, refusing to give you a moment’s respite. Their new levels of strength and fitness enable them to play more effectively under pressure than our fellas can, and to stand up to hard challenges far better than they used to. The gulf in technical capacity is widened because they have made themselves superior athletes. I feel a change in our approach is essential. We must scrap all our assumptions about having a physical edge and realise we have, in fact, a serious deficit to make up. Obviously, we must go on striving for improved technique but that will be harder to attain than the physical improvement and, in any case, it won’t help us sufficiently if we don’t get fitter and stronger at the same time. I don’t mean a sleeves-up and get-intae-them attitude. I’m talking about a scientific approach to giving our players the athletic capacity to apply whatever skills they have to the maximum." The scientific approach specific to Juventus may not have been one that Smith would adopt. Rumours of doping have long since blackened the legacy of that Juventus win with a successful prosecution being overturned at appeal but with haematology expert Giuseppe D’Onofrio testifying in court that he was "practically certain" that two Juventus players from the mid-1990s had taken the banned EPO and ‘very probable’ than seven others had, based on his analysis of the blood samples. Regardless, it was undeniable that legitimate strides in sports science were taking the continental game into the distance and leaving the traditional dependence on pluck and isolated individual talent, way behind.

The scoreline that night is slightly more misleading than the first tie. At 1-0, and with Rangers playing far better than they had in Italy, Petrić hit the post with a header only for Juventus to immediately spring into action, resulting in Moreno Torricelli bursting away to make it two and, again, something of a collapse ensued. There was no Goram to provide heroics in the second half that night due to injury and no settled back three, as Petrić was caught between two stools for the first goal. Also, Stephen Wright’s knee injury that night was not one of the minor niggles that were keeping some key players out for a few weeks during this time, but one that would effectively finish his Rangers career. A crying shame on another depressing evening. ‘Tallies 4, Wallies OUT’ ran The Sun after this one. It wasn’t strictly true – incredibly, Rangers still had a chance of qualifying for the next round with two games left – but everyone knew it was all but correct. Regardless, Smith was far from amused and ejected the newspaper’s Kenny McDonald from a subsequent press conference.

Rangers Review: The Rangers feel the pain of a 4-0 thumping to Juventus.The Rangers feel the pain of a 4-0 thumping to Juventus. (Image: SNS)

The supporter reaction to both Juventus ties was very revealing. There was an edition of Follow, Follow out to press following both matches and the difference in tone was stark. Although Mark Dingwall noted that the defeat in Turin was a "footballing lesson’" he maintained that the "players didn’t disgrace us and they didn’t disgrace themselves". Juventus were a class apart, they were always likely to win and these were the games required to push and develop Rangers. The first line of edition 51, published in November 1995, read, "There comes a time when the whole operation of a club needs to be looked at," before finishing with a suggestion that the fanzine should start its own "think tank" to rival the SFA’s ongoing reflection on the ailments of the national game. The tone throughout is sombre, with some demanding change in the management team, especially Archie Knox and Davie Dodds, and, while there weren’t calls for Smith’s head – as there were elsewhere in the support – there was at least fair warning. There were suggestions that Rangers should tempt Fabio Capello from AC Milan and oversee the footballing operation at Ibrox while also having guys like Jimmy Nicholl, Alex McDonald and Tommy McLean – all former Rangers players in Scottish managerial roles – involved in any new setup, thus perfectly exemplifying the irresolvable tension between demanding continental sophistication as well as hardline tradition. What is important to note is that there was still genuine hope of a result against Juventus in Glasgow and it wasn’t purely down to the return of Gascoigne and a shock 4-0 defeat that Juventus had suffered at the hands of Lazio on the Sunday. With two home games back-to-back, many felt that Rangers could still progress. Given the fact that they had only lost a European match at Ibrox four times in the previous 20 years and with the biggest margin being 3-1, this wasn’t as ridiculous a notion as it may seem. The result in Turin wasn’t too far removed from what happened in Belgrade in 1990.[1] These things happen. But Ibrox was a different matter. What happened there on 1 November was a loss of innocence and a realisation of just what status Rangers actually had. The courage and spirit of 1992/93 was a different world now. It was an aberration. For many, any ambition to win the biggest prize in club football – an aim synonymous with the revolution of 1986 and one that was directly referenced at Gascoigne’s unveiling – died that night as the true impact of the shifting tectonic plates of the game was brutally realised.

Despite Goram’s excellence in the next match and Gascoigne’s stunning solo goal – his first in European competition – Rangers were pegged back by Adrian Ilie’s intelligent move and finish in a night that killed the theoretical hope. Steaua’s passing and movement for the goal and plenty of their other chances in the 1-1 draw, highlighted what was missing from the home side and it was underlined by the Romanian manager, Dumitru Dumitriu, afterwards when he said that there was no point in having players like Laudrup and Gascoigne if no one else was on their wavelength or was capable of doing something themselves. Gascoigne’s goal, which came from him having no options as he collected the ball in his own half, wasn’t the kind of thing that could be relied upon every week. Yet again it was the need for a team of technicians and not just a couple that was being so viscerally highlighted.

The leading school of thought is that this campaign deserves its place in Rangers’ ‘Hall of Shame’ that sadly characterised the 1990s following 1993. Given the double Juventus humiliation, that is understandable but it is perhaps harsh upon reflection. A Juventus side that would go on to win the tournament and be in the following two finals was more than capable of giving that kind of under-strength Rangers line-up a heavy beating. Two entertaining draws against the imminent champions of Europe was no disgrace which left the real disappointment being only one point against Steaua. Criticism was justified – although a late stunner was hardly new to the Rangers’ European story – but it was not on a par with AEK and certainly not in the same league as some of the failures still to come. It would be the new year before this side settled and found consistency and one can only wonder how much of an improvement on three points they’d have made without that autumnal disruption or if those lesser lights would still have dimmed on the big stage, looking in vain for their two gods to do the difficult work on their behalf.

READ MORE: What history tells us of Rangers, perception and success

On this footballing mountain – the highest peak in the sport – those gods can be sacrificed as easily as they are exalted. And so it was in the freezing cold of Dortmund on 6 December. Gascoigne had started well, a beautiful ball after ten minutes that split the German defence and led to Laudrup opening the scoring, but a Dortmund recovery only created mounting frustration. He was booked in the first half for a heavy challenge on Andreas Möller and then, with Rangers 2-1 behind, berated the Spanish referee for not giving his team a penalty, leading to a second yellow. Gordon Durie warmed the frozen travelling support a little by grabbing a late equaliser but the focus was all on the Englishman. Gerry McNee could hardly wait for his column in the Sunday Mail to come around in order to go to town on Gascoigne. "He badly let down team-mates who battled for the club’s damaged pride. He also let down a manager he claims to admire. He made much of that admiration of Walter Smith when he arrived at Ibrox. In Dortmund he stabbed him through the heart," he wrote with characteristic hyperbole, after demanding that he should be sold as soon as Rangers could find a buyer. Even the more sedate Herald pondered if this could continue much longer. It wrote that Gascoigne "appears destined to be torn between greatness and disgrace. It is a pity, but so far he has been more trouble than he is worth to the Ibrox club and the Scottish game in general." By this point of the season, it was a more of a consensus view than is often remembered. Smith’s comments following Dortmund that "the player will have to look at himself because his dissent is happening too many times" was as far as he had gone, even when dismissing rumours of a sale to Chelsea a matter of weeks before or when dealing with Gascoigne’s imploding private life.[2] Even fans who had been strong defenders of the player in the pages of the fanzines and tabloid hotlines were losing patience. "Walter Smith should be banging his head off the dressing room wall," one wrote. "His discipline is appalling, he vanishes far too often in games for my liking and also is playing far too deep to hurt the opposition." As ever with Rangers, ‘noise’ around the team or an individual player is amplified or subdued by results and the European struggles did nothing to help Gascoigne’s cause, even if he, along with Goram, could point to credible individual performances. Domestically, it was also proving to be the stickiest part of the season, although some of that was more a matter of perception than reality. Between the win at Parkhead at the end of September and the final group game in Germany on 6 December, Rangers went from being one point behind Celtic to four clear at the top of the league and much of that was driven by Gascoigne, with three brilliant solo goals in that time, the best being a super driving run and finish at home in a 4-1 win over Hearts that would be far better remembered if it wasn’t for all the others.

It would have been better remembered at the time had it not been for other aspects of his game dominating the conversation. One of those good league results was a 1-0 win up at Pittodrie on 7 October when Craig Moore grabbed the only goal in a scrappy performance where a renewed Aberdeen, following their relegation scare, were more than worthy of at least a point. Unfortunately for Rangers, they would exact some revenge soon enough, first, at Hampden where Aberdeen had only got the better of the Gers once in the last ten years. Like in Turin seven days previously, injuries left Rangers with such temporary lack of balance – no Laudrup, Robertson, McCall, Ferguson and, crucially for this one with the earlier defensive solidity up in Aberdeen in mind, Gough – although it was very revealing about where Ian Durrant now sat in the pecking order as he could only make do with a substitute appearance when Rangers were crying out for natural midfielders instead of Moore and McLaren popping up to support the increasingly frustrated Gascoigne. He suffered a bad challenge from Paul Bernard and acted, yet again, with the elbows. He was booked – it could have been worse – but, as a result, was subdued and was hardly seen in the second half. Aberdeen got themselves into a two-goal lead thanks to a Billy Dodds double. The first had a bit of fortune in the bounce of the ball working for Dodds and against Brown but the second was a disgraceful goal to lose by a defence who, domestically, had enjoyed their newfound strength. It was an evening, and a spell of games, that demonstrated that this may well have been technically Smith’s best team but that all the parts had to be there for them to shine. They would later in the season but, even though Salenko managed a late goal, a treble that was there for the taking disappeared.

When Aberdeen visited Ibrox on 11 November, the result was marginally better but the consequences arguably far worse. It was a horrible game played in horrible weather and Aberdeen, Eoin Jess in particular with a fantastic opening goal, were the better side. Salenko was once more the man to rescue something from the encounter but neither goal was the talking point following the final whistle.

It was Gary Bollan – another makeshift selection – who set the tone with a bad tackle on Joe Miller following a loose touch. The referee John Rowbotham chose to deal with an over-the-ball tackle with studs showing through the use of an informal warning. It might have been better if he had chosen a card. Seconds later, with passions high, Gascoigne was held back by John Inglis and a free kick given. Whether the frustration was with the close attention or with the fact play wasn’t allowed to flow with Gascoigne still in possession wasn’t clear but he immediately turned to head-butt the Aberdeen defender in the ribs. Again, no action was taken at the time and, in the second half, when Gascoigne furiously rebuked Rowbotham for being penalised for the use of his arm on Stewart McKimmie’s face, he was subbed for his own good. There was no real danger in the ‘rhino’ action but, in the post-Duncan Ferguson world, fears were real that yet another high-profile Rangers signing would be heading for the dock. The Procurator Fiscal were also called upon to look at three other players – Dodds, Brown and McLaren – for an incident late in the game. There was a spate of events around this time as well. Alan Lawrence of Hearts had head-butted Craig Moore and there were two other incidents in the lower leagues. Both SFA and the law were most probably aware that if the high-profile case was taken seriously, then there were others that must join. The courts weren’t troubled and Gascoigne ended up with a two-match ban in December[3] but it understandably led to fears from fans and smug ‘I-told-you-so’ columns in the Sunday papers.

Rangers Review: Gascoigne was fortunate not to see red against the DonsGascoigne was fortunate not to see red against the Dons (Image: SNS)

None of this was new. Gascoigne’s career had hung by a thread – and ligaments – after his wild performance for Spurs in the 1991 FA Cup Final. The margins between beautiful footballing genius and reckless harm were razor-thin. Gascoigne – a man weighed down by crippling anxiety, insecurity and hypertension – was seemingly only truly happy with a ball under control at his feet. When that possession was threatened, he could react dangerously. Speaking the following week while on England duty, Gascoigne tried to explain, "I went out on Saturday nervous because I didn’t want to get beaten. I am trying so hard, I am blaming myself for everything. Everybody wants us to get beat, and every time we do they slaughter the team. The lads are feeling it. If they’re going to look at the video of the game, then the Scottish FA should also look at the video evidence of some of the decisions given against us. I don’t think people realise how much pressure we are under. I’m not saying I’m victimised, but sometimes I feel I need a bit more protection." When the dust settled, a short ban was easily absorbed by Rangers. Rowbotham however, – a FIFA referee at the time – was heavily criticised. In years to come, he wouldn’t make the mistake of leniency again and in so doing, may have arguably diverted the course of history.

"After all the publicity about the bad aspects of the Scottish game it would be nice to think that the focus would now move to the more positive things we saw today," said Walter Smith following a draw in his side’s next league game. There was very little moralising after that one, just an exhausted appreciation for one of the best Old Firm matches of the entire era. Celtic couldn’t afford Rangers to stretch their lead to seven points so threw everything at the hosts in a match of momentum swings, controversy, six goals that stood, one that should have and an incredible save that overshadowed everything else. Both sides were at full strength with all key players back fit and both were in front and behind at points before the match ended 3-3.[4] The flair players all turned up with Laudrup scoring on his first game in two months, Gascoigne creating two goals and Andreas Thom and Pierre van Hooijdonk bookending the fixture with a goal apiece.

However, two moments that didn’t lead to goals are most remembered. With Rangers 1-0 down, the renewed partnership of Robertson and Laudrup down the left cut open the Celtic defence. Unusually, it was Laudrup the provider on this occasion as he exploited the space between Jackie McNamara and John Hughes with a pass that saw Robertson run past both players to pick up, before steadying himself and finishing well. In the background of the television pictures showing both men celebrating, referee Hugh Dallas – making his Old Firm debut – had his hand raised. Fans inside the ground quickly realised that, for some reason, the linesman on the Govan Stand side had raised his flag for offside.[5] The stadium announcer, Bill Smith, called the goal as did STV’s commentary team of Gerry McNee and Charlie Nicholas and their producers. Viewers at home were led to believe that the match was all square for ten minutes as the on screen scoreboard continued to say 1-1.

McNee explained that he missed the complete lack of a restart from the centre circle as he was concentrating on the monitor replays of the goal. It was a farce in more ways than one but Laudrup’s equaliser, shortly after some technician had to change the score back, restored parity for real and set both sides on course for a classic.

Celtic’s second was from the penalty spot and some criticised Goram’s inability to keep it out despite guessing the right way. After McCoist had brought Rangers level for the second time, Goram made a save that will be talked about for many decades to come. Thom’s endeavour was stopped by Gough and McKinlay’s resulting cross was perfect as Van Hooijdonk was placed right on the six-yard line to make it 3-2, a third blow that Rangers were perhaps unlikely to recover from. Somehow it didn’t land.

Rangers Review: The moment of Goram's incredible save capturedThe moment of Goram's incredible save captured (Image: SNS)

The Dutch forward did everything right, shaping his body to let the cross do the work and setting his aim to the other side of the diving Goram. And yet, his reflexes were enough to block it with his outstretched right arm. For anyone watching – at the game or at home – there was almost the need for a double take, as if they had just watched a phenomenon at work. Which they had. Rangers got their noses in front courtesy of a McKinlay own goal before Van Hooijdonk finally got the better of Goram – for now – and a nation sat back to catch its breath.

It had been a tumultuous two months following the win at Parkhead. The Champions League reality check and the frustration of a missed chance at Hampden provided further cacophony around the Gazza circus and in doing so, placed more pressure on the manager and squad. However, Rangers were 11 league games undefeated and four points clear when they visited Tynecastle on 2 December. It was Gascoigne’s last league game before his domestic ban commenced and he signed off in style with a goal and a maestro’s performance as Rangers won 2-0. The doubts still remained, however, and the fact that he would go on to be the undisputed player of the year says a great deal about his skill and resilience as well as his manager’s guidance and pastoral instinct. When Gascoigne phoned on Christmas morning to complain about loneliness, he was soon picked up and brought into the Smith family home for dinner. He would repay that love and kindness – which is really all that Gascoigne ever needed – in a matter of months. Perhaps the Aberdeen fiasco at Ibrox – perhaps his most reckless day on the park for Rangers – wouldn’t have happened at all if Smith had been in the dugout. Instead, that weekend he was in the warmer climbs of South America to watch Mario Jardel, another player he felt could make that vital difference at the top level. If, of course, he had all the paperwork in order.

[1] Rangers were hammered 3-0 by Red Start in the second round, first leg of the European Cup. It could have easily have been a lot more.

[2] Another story of Sheryl ending the relationship surfaced before the Juventus match at Ibrox.

[3] The incident and others in that match led eventually to the use of television evidence to support retrospective action in Scottish football.

[4] Celtic took the lead twice to go 1-0 and 2-1 in front and then had to equalise to take a point.

[5] The linesman was on the opposite side of the incident. A Mr Horan previously, it was alleged, of the Methill Celtic Supporters’ Club. Proof that conspiracy theorists are not completely confined to one side of the divide.