Borussia Mönchengladbach’s first journey into European action earned them the respect of their professional opponents.
German sides have throughout the existence of the European Cup Winner’s Cup been involved in a number of memorable matches: Fortuna Düsseldorf’s 4-3 loss to a legendary Barca side in the final of 1979 or Werder Bremen’s win over Arsene Wenger’s AS Monaco are certainly highlights to cherish. The list goes on.
The competition itself got off to a bumpy start in the 1960/61 season though. Only ten cup winners chose to participate in the first edition of the competition. Borussia Mönchengladbach were amongst those ten teams, and were lucky enough to go past the first round on a walk over draw. The luck ran out when it came to the quarter-final draws. Bernd Oles’s side had to go up against Scottish cup champions and greats Glasgow Rangers.
These days a match up between a German and a Scotish side might favor the team stemming from the Bundesliga, but back then the story was entirely different as Borussia striker Uli Kohn explained in the book ”Magische Nächte”:
The German national team wasn’t necassarily worse than the English or Scotish national teams, but the level of class on the club level was an entirely different story. The players on the island( German term for England, Scotland and Wales) had been professionals for over 50 years. We had contracts, but were pursuing a day job in addition to being footballers. We were amateurs compared to the British guys, no doubt.
The team from the Lower-Rhine area fought a brave fight, but had to succumb 3-0 to the Scottish professionals at the Rheinstadion in Düsseldorf on November 15th 1960. The atmosphere at the reception after the match is somewhat frosty. Left back Heinz de Lange particularly remembers the behavior of Rangers’s inside forward Ian McMillan at the official dinner:
To this day I do remember how McMillan, who managed to score a goal against us, sat at the dinner table allowing his artificial teeth to glide into his glass of beer, before putting them back in. These guys were really a bunch of tough men.
The two sets of players sat separated from each others on different sides of the room. The Scots had in fact put in a outragously brutal display. Borussia’s midfielder Dieter Bedürftig was even knocked out by a punch from Harold Davis, breaking the German’s jaw in the process whilst the referee had turned his back to the situation.
The Lord Mayor of Mönchengladbach Wilhelm Maubach managed in the end to find consolatory words, reminding the players and officials that both sides had to take blame for the way the game was conducted.
Sightseeing in London and a new kind of media scrutiny
The return match was an entirely new experience for the Gladbach squad on many different levels. Striker Kohn hadn’t boarded a plane for the first alongside many of his teammates. The officials at the club had arranged for the team to travel to Glasgow via London, and allowed the players to do some sightseeing in the English capital during the stopover.
The Scottish media took a keen interest in the team from North Rhine-Westphalia after its arrival. The Gladbach players weren’t used to having journalists following them to hotels. Some Scotish papers even chose to print profiles of each Gladbach player in their sports section.
The game itself on November 30th once and for all showed the difference between boys and men. Match referee Rigato chose to let the match go ahead despite the heavy rain falls from the night before which had turned to the pitch at Ibrox into a muddy puddle.
Rangers were up by 5-0 at the half time whistle. Attacker Albert Brülls couldn’t help and even saw the funny side of things after Gladbach had just conceded another goal, shouting to his teammates:
Well, at least we are in possession of the ball now guys.
Borussia’s coach Oles tried as best he could to cheer up his men, telling them ”we’ll be able to turn this around” during the half time break. Gladbach went onto to take a hell of whipping despite Oles’s optimism, losing the match at Ibrox 8-0 in the end.
Earning the professionals respect
The Scottish side chose to take the foot off the pedal somewhat after 65 minutes, not scoring another goal in the last 25 minutes of the match. After the match Rangers actually chose to clap for their German opponents whilst the Gladbach players were walking off the pitch, acknowledging their brave effort. Uli Kohn was surprised by the reaction:
At first I thought that they were taunting us. But, they were probably just acknowledging our efforts, despite our high loss.
Rangers’s right-winger Alex Scott remembered the game fondly before his death in 2001, stating that it was one of his team’s best performances:
That must go down as one of the best performances ever by a Rangers team in Europe. To beat a German team by 11-0 that’s got to be one of the best performances. You don’t beat German teams very easily as we’ve seen over the years. Everything just went really well for us.
Gladbach’s inexperience in Europe coupled with the fact that the Scottish league was far more professional might have played its part, but in the end Borussia could only comfort themselves acknowledging that they had met a Rangers side at its very best.
Aftermath: The opening of the Bökelberg
Rangers’s fair gesture went down well with the Borussia players. The reception after the match turned out to be very different from the one in Mönchengladbach. The Germans actually sang along when it came time to sing the anthem ”Follow, follow, we will follow Rangers” before the Scots were introduced to some songs from the Lower-Rhine area. Furthermore, each Gladbach player was even gifted a Scotish whool sheet during the night. After a long and boozy night the Borussia players had to return to Germany. Some of the players looked rather bleak during the return flight.
During the long and extensive drinking session the Glaswgians even promised to attend the opening of the Bökelberg which was in the process of being build at the time. Two years later Rangers kept their promise and played against Borussia for the third time. This time around a much improved Gladbach side even managed to get a 1-1 draw against The Gers.
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