Battle of Britain: England v Scotland in the European Champions League (part two)

england scotland european cup 2

Last time out we looked back at some previous clashes in the European Cup between English and Scottish sides, and in particular we looked at the mixed fortunes of Celtic and Aberdeen as they came up against the might of Leeds United and Liverpool. This time out we will have a further look at Celtic, but we will start with their arch-rivals, Rangers, and a famous clash thirty years ago.

Glasgow Rangers v Leeds United. European Cup Second Round, 1992-93

Going into this two-legged tie in the autumn of 1992, Leeds had enjoyed a mixed history when it came to clashing with sides north of the border in European competition. As well as the agonising European Cup Semi-final defeat to Celtic, as mentioned last time out, Leeds had met a variety of sides as diverse as Hibernian, Kilmarnock and Dundee as well as Rangers, themselves.

Embed from Getty Images

This clash with the Ibrox Men took place in the 1967-68 Inter-City Fairs Cup, with the Elland Road side prevailing by a 2-0 aggregate scoreline. Since their titanic tussle with Celtic some two decades earlier, fortunes had been mixed for Leeds with a European Cup Final defeat to Bayern Munich in 1975 being followed by relegation to the Second Division seven years later before promotion was finally gained in 1990.

Now, barely two years later and Leeds United were once again English League Champions. Under the management of Howard Wilkinson, Leeds had followed their second flight title success by winning the big one just two years on. In their first appearance in the competition for 17 years, Leeds were drawn against German side, Stuttgart and the first leg, played away from home, could hardly have gone worse for Wilkinson as Leeds were hammered 3-0.

Up against it in the second leg, Leeds gave it a good go but despite winning the game by a 4-1 scoreline, they were eliminated on the away goals rule.

Then…it was discovered that Stuttgart had breached the rules by fielding more than three foreign players in the second leg and so the result was overturned and instead Leeds were awarded the match by a 3-0 scoreline. This, conveniently, tied the contest up on all fronts and so a special play-off on a neutral ground was ordered.

Playing in front of a sparse crowd of barely 8,000 hardy souls in the Nou Camp, Leeds finally prevailed by a 2-1 scoreline and so limped into the second round.

Embed from Getty Images


Rangers were there waiting for them fresh from a 3-0 first-round aggregate victory over Danish champions, Lyngby. Rangers were four Scottish league titles into their famous ‘Nine-in-a-Row’ sequence and were under the stewardship of the late Walter Smith.

Leeds had started their defence of the championship in patchy form, to say the least, but were still expected by the majority of the notoriously insular English media to beat their Scottish counterparts and so progress to the group stage. 

The European Cup itself was at the start of a period of both rebranding and reorganisation. The previous season had seen group stages introduced instead for the last eight in the competition, rather than straight knock-out quarter-final and semi-final stages, and now this 1992-93 season coincided with a name change to, UEFA Champions League. It would take a few more seasons, but eventually ‘non-champions’ would also be admitted to the competition.

The first leg took place at Ibrox on 21 October 1992 in front of a truly ferocious Glaswegian crowd of 43,251, with no away supporters permitted. As the sides kicked off, it is debatable whether a fiercer and louder atmosphere has ever existed within a British football ground, but within just sixty seconds the crowd fell to a deadly silence as Leeds took the lead through a Gary McAllister blockbuster. Watch it on YouTube; the way the crowd goes from bouncing to funereal in an instant is eerie in the extreme – perhaps a metaphorical reminder of how quickly one’s fortunes can shift in life in general, perhaps.

Anyway, Rangers battled back and within twenty minutes had pulled themselves back into the match and the tie when Leeds goalkeeper, John Lukic, scored a comical own goal following a corner. Deciding to come for a ball he really should have left to his defenders in the first place, Lukic rose majestically and punched the ball a good twelve yards into his own net. 

Embed from Getty Images


Worse was to follow before half-time when Rangers won another corner. Electing to stay on his line this time, Lukic pulled off a half-decent save from a Dave McPherson header but could only stand by and watch horrified as five Leeds defenders allowed an unmarked Ally McCoist to tap in the rebound.

With the game finely poised at 2-1 to the home side, the anticipation was that the second half would offer up even more goals but in fact the match seemed to peter out a little bit in the second period. It was as if both sides had tacitly decided a 2-1 scoreline in favour of the home side, while not being ideal, was perfectly acceptable.

So, it was that the two sides met a fortnight later back at Elland Road with Leeds knowing that even a simple 1-0 victory would be sufficient to progress to the group stage. A rather disappointing crowd of 25,118 deigned to grace Elland Road with an appearance on a cold and damp November evening and despite the deficit, and a thus far less-than-stellar defence of their league title, Leeds United still felt confident of progress. 

In an exact mirror of the first leg, however, it was Rangers that go off to a flyer with Mark Hately opening the scoring after just two minutes. As with McAllister’s effort a fortnight earlier, it was a stunning effort as he crashed a left-footed strike over his shoulder from twenty-five yards.

As confident as Leeds had been before the game, this was a disaster for the Elland Road men for they now went from needing to score just once to progress to requiring two to just force extra time. It was a tall order not made any easier by the controlled way Rangers went about their task.

Playing five across the midfield, Smith effectively nullified the strength on which Leeds’ title challenge the previous season had been built. Although David Batty was missing from the Leeds ranks through injury, the mercurial Eric Cantona was drafted in as his replacement. Cantona had been ‘causing problems’ for Wilkinson and would soon be on his way, and against Rangers he was, like most of his teammates, largely anonymous and certainly ineffective.

Half time was reached with only the single goal separating the sides on the night but with Rangers crucially enjoying a two-goal aggregate advantage. Needing at least two goals to stay in the tie, Leeds tried to get going and throw men forward but this inevitably left them open at the back and prone to the counter-attack. On the hour mark, the inevitable happened and Rangers broke sharply with Ian Durrant feeding Hately on the left wing. A pin-point Hately cross found Ally McCoist unmarked at the far post and it was the easiest of tasks for him to nod past Lukic and render the tie done and dusted.

A bored and disinterested-looking Cantona pulled one back for Leeds with five minutes remaining but by then it was far too little, far too late and Rangers were through to the ‘Champions League’ stage. 

Embed from Getty Images

This was a format whereby the eight quarter-finalists were put into two groups of four and everyone played one another home and away on a points basis. The top side of each group would progress directly into a one-off final against each other and Rangers were placed into a group alongside Marseille, Bruges, and CSKA Moscow. Again, Rangers did themselves and Scotland proud as they emerged from the six group games unbeaten, but unfortunately, four of these games were draws, and while only two points were awarded for a win, Rangers’ final tally of eight was one less than that of Marseille. Therefore it was that the French side progressed to the final where they beat Milan by the only goal of the game in Munich.

Later that summer it was proven that Marseille had bribed a domestic opponent to take things easy to assist their European chances, and were stripped of their subsequent French league title success. They were also banned from defending their European trophy.

Subsequently, Rangers (and Celtic) would never seriously challenge for Europe’s major trophy again, but fifteen years later they would reach the final of the Europa League, and just last season repeated the trick. Each time they would fall at the last, though, and end with runners-up medals.

Leeds would continue to struggle in the 1992-93 season and would spend some time in real danger of being relegated just one season after being champions. They would finish just two points ahead of the relegation zone, and in 1996 Howard Wilkinson was sacked.

In 2001, David O’Leary led Leeds to the Champions League semi-final where they were defeated by Valencia, and that occasion marks the last appearance of the Elland Road side in the competition.

Arsenal v Celtic. Champions League Play-Off Round, 2009-10

The final ‘do-or-die’ clash between English and Scottish clubs in Europe’s premier competition took place in the 2009-10 season when Arsenal met Celtic in the play-off round.

This pairing together, however, was something of an anomaly as neither side entered the competition as champions of their domestic league, with Celtic having completed the 2008-09 season as runners-up to Rangers, while Arsenal could finish no higher than fourth in the Premier League.

Embed from Getty Images

Celtic had to go through a qualifying round just to get to the play-off round and in it, they just about squeezed past Dynamo Moscow 2-1 on aggregate after losing the first leg at Parkhead.

Arsenal had reached the semi-final stages of the previous year’s competition where they had been defeated 4-1 on aggregate by Manchester United.

The first leg of the playoff took place on a balmy late-summer evening at Parkhead and turned out to be what appeared to be pretty much a non-event as Arsenal took control of the game and the tie with a 2-0 victory. However, the scoreline didn’t really tell the full story as both goals were somewhat fortuitous and could be said to be against the run of play. First, a shot from Cesc Fabregas was wickedly deflected by teammate William Gallas, who was trying to get out of the way, and then an own goal from Gary Caldwell sealed the Gunners’ victory.

Embed from Getty Images

Eight days later the sides met at the Emirates and this time Arsenal did take legitimate control of the match. Goals from Eduardo, Eboue and Arshavin put the home side on easy street, and a last-minute consolation from Donati had no bearing on the result.

Arsenal, then, would go into the group stage of the 2009-10 European Champions League and be placed in the less than onerous-looking Group H, where they were up against Olympiacos, Standard Liege, and AZ Alkmaar. Arsenal fairly cantered through the group, winning it with ease and suffering their only defeat in the final dead rubber match against Olympiacos.

Embed from Getty Images

In the last sixteen, the Gunners beat Porto 6-2 on aggregate to move into the quarter-finals and a date (well, two dates technically) with Barcelona. A spirited performance in the first leg in North London resulted in a more than creditable 2-2 draw, and when Nicklas Bendtner put Arsenal ahead in the Nou Camp return, Arsene Wenger and his men were perhaps dreaming of the last four.

Unfortunately, Barcelona chose this very opportune moment to ‘click’, and promptly ran in four unanswered goals to take the tie 6-3 on aggregate.

As for Celtic, well, they dropped into the group stage of the Europa League where they failed to make the knockout stages.

Liverpool and Rangers, of course, met in the group stages and not the knockouts, and since the expansion of the Champions League, English and Scottish sides have met on a few occasions in such circumstances.

Celtic and Manchester United met in group games in 2006-07 and 2008-09, with the scorelines being 0-1, 3-2 and 1-1, 3-0 (United scores first) while United were paired with Rangers in 2003-04 and 2010-11 with scores being 1-0, 3-0 and 1-0, 0-0. In addition, Manchester City met Celtic in 2016-17 with the matches resulting in two draws of 3-3 and 1-1, respectively.