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When we were kings

THE greatest football show on Earth kicks off this week.

John Hughes steers his header past Jack Charlton as Celtic secured a famous win at Hampden Park by overcoming a celebrated Leeds United team en route to the 1970 European Cup final
John Hughes steers his header past Jack Charlton as Celtic secured a famous win at Hampden Park by overcoming a celebrated Leeds United team en route to the 1970 European Cup final

The Scottish fan, once at the centre of the European funhouse, is left with his nose pressed up against the window, or more precisely the television screen.

Once we were kings of Europe. Once we could walk along to our stadiums and see our favourites beat the best. Now we are bystanders. The Champions League and the Europa League continues to a climax without a Scottish side.

"There is hope, though," says Craig Brown, who was the 12th man on one of Dundee's great nights when the then Scottish champions thrashed Cologne en route to the semi-final of the European Cup in the 1962/63 season.

"There are some excellent young players coming through and there is potential at some of our sides. Aberdeen are on the rise too," says Brown who is a non-executive director at Pittodrie.

However, he knows it will be a hard task to approach the accomplishments of sides in the latter half of the 20th century.

"Dundee were a great side then," he says. "I watched from the sidelines against Cologne as there were no substitutes allowed in those days. We had a side that was packed with top-class players. Ian Ure and Alan Gilzean went on to play down south and Gordon Smith was simply one of the greatest Scottish players ever.

"It may be too much to expect that players of this calibre can come through again but we can hope and plan to have sides capable of achieving results in Europe."

The early rounds of the European competitions for 2013/14 have left Scotland with nothing but a hangover. But it is sobering to note that both Dundee clubs have reached semi-finals of the European Cup, and United have reached a UEFA final, Aberdeen have won two European trophies, Rangers have reached four European finals and won the European Cup-Winners' Cup, Celtic have won the European Cup, been losing finalists in both the premier trophy and the UEFA Cup and were a viable contender for Europe's top prize for most of the nine-in-a-row years. Kilmarnock also reached the semi-finals of the Fairs Cup and Hibernian have reached a European Cup semi-final and a Fairs Cities semi-final. Dunfermline Athletic, too, have reached a European Cup Winners' Cup semi-final.

The list on these pages is not exhaustive. It only hints at the vast riches then on show in Scottish football. It also does not deal in finals. The Champions league and Europa League are only in the knockout stages so it is incumbent on us just to remember the evenings under floodlights at our favourite grounds.

Therefore, Lisbon, Barcelona and Gothenburg have no place in this roll of achievement. This list is about what happened on our doorstep, the glory that was achieved at grounds that have changed dramatically, grounds that are still recognisable from the sixties and grounds - such as Muirton - that no longer exist.

These 10 matches were played on home soil on the teams' pitches, save for Celtic who played the second leg of the 1970 European Cup semi-final against Leeds United at Hampden in front of more than 136,000 fans.

These matches feature Scottish teams taking on Europe's best and beating them. In a nod to the Scottish tradition, only two of these matches were followed by ultimate success in a tournament - with Rangers beating Bayern Munich in 1972 and Aberdeen doing the same in 1983.

Yet, in a more entrancing Scottish tradition, every match is filled with the deeds of astonishing footballers. There is Gordon Smith, Jackie McInally, Joe Baker, Jimmy Johnstone, Willie Johnston, Gordon Strachan, Paul Sturrock and so many, many more.

It is also instructive to pause and assess the calibre of team that was almost routinely beaten. The Bayern Munich side of 1972 formed the core of the West Germany team that won the 1974 World Cup. Franz Beckenbauer, Paul Breitner and Gerd Muller were just three of those who came to Ibrox and left as losers. The Leeds side of Billy Bremner, Johnny Giles and others were beaten home and away by Celtic.

Yet the carousel of European football will turn this week with our clubs on the sidelines. The glory days have gone, at least for the moment, but they cannot be forgotten. The memories they provoke must sustain a football nation as it waits in hope for another club side ready and able to take on the best.

10 of the best . . .

10 Hearts 1 Bayern Munich 0

UEFA Cup. February 28, 1989

An extraordinarily feverish night even by the standards at Tynecastle as 26,000 fans watched Hearts come up just short in on aggregate in a close quarter-final.

The star Iain Ferguson lashed in a stunning goal when a free-kick was tapped to him.

The significance It marked the resurgence of Hearts after relegation in the eighties.

9 St Johnstone 3 SV Hamburg 0

UEFA Cup. September 29, 1971

It was the Perth side's debut in Europe and the victory at Muirton came through goals by Henry Hall, James Pearson and Gordon Whitelaw gave them a 4-2 aggregate win. They beat Vasas of Hungary in the next round but lost to Zejeznicar.

The star John Connolly would go on to play for Everton. However, Henry Hall was the man of the era. Small and almost unprepossessing he was technically adept, quick and could score.

The significance This result prompted St Johnstone's longest run in European football and also was followed by a European drought that was ended by the UEFA Cup of 1999/2000.

8 Dunfermline 6 Valencia 2

Fair Cities Cup. December 19, 1962

Jock Stein's Dunfermline seemed on the verge of leaving the tournament after losing 4-0 in Spain. Goals by Harry Melrose, Jackie Sinclair (2), Jim Mclean, George Peebles and Alex Smith forced a play-off that the Fife side lost 1-0.

The star Harry Melrose, with 106 goals in 275 appearances, was a highly-influential player in a vibrant, attacking team.

The significance It was the most high profile result of a decade in European football for the club, with notable scalps including Bordeaux.

7 Hibernian 3 Barcelona 2

Fairs Cities Cup. February 22, 1961

Hibs, the first British team to play in Europe, drew 4-4 with Barca at Camp Nou and then won with a late goal in front of 65,000 at Easter Road. Bobby Kinloch's late penalty added to strikes from Joe Baker and Tommy Preston.

The star Joe Baker. Tough, strong, willing and a consummate scorer.

The significance The 1967/68 Fairs Cities run was more impressive but this win came against a Barca team including such as Sandor Kocsis.

6 Kilmarnock 7 Antwerp 2

Fairs Cup. November 2, 1966

The strength of the Kilmarnock side can be judged not only by the aggregate score (8-2) but by the calibre of the scorers at Rugby Park: Jackie McInally (2), Tommy McLean (2), Gerry Queen (2) and Matt Watson.

The star McInally was the epitome of the strong inside forward, desperate to run at defences and capable of scoring.

The significance Kilmarnock reached the semi-finals only to be defeated by Leeds.

5 Dundee 8 Cologne 1

European Cup. September 5, 1962

The Scottish champions' young talent was complemented by experience. Cologne were blown away with goals from Alan Gilzean (3), Andy Penman, Bobby Wishart and Gordon Smith, with an own goal completing their woe.

Star man Gilzean was unplayable but there must be a word too for Smith, one of Scotland's greatest players.

The significance Dundee survived a rough house in the second leg to travel all the way to the semi, where they were beaten by Milan.

4 Dundee United 2 Roma 0

European Cup. April 11, 1984

A brilliant United hammered Roma with goals from Davie Dodds and Derek Stark to go within one match of a cup final against Liverpool.

The star This was a team studded with talent but Paul Sturrock had guile, technique and an aptitude for scoring great goals.

The significance United's advance meant they were the second team from the same street to reach a European Cup semi-final. Roma prevailed in the second leg amid accusations of bias and thuggery.

3 Aberdeen 3 Bayern Munich 2

European Cup-Winners' Cup. March 16, 1983

A tempestuous night at Pittodrie with Aberdeen powering though with goals by Neil Simpson, Alex McLeish and John Hewitt.

The star An Aberdeen side for the ages but Gordon Strachan's deception at the free-kick for McLeish's goal is memorable.

The significance Aberdeen went on to win the cup, beating Real Madrid, but this was the result that opened up the road to Gothenburg.

2 Rangers 2 Bayern Munich 0

European Cup Winners' Cup. April 19, 1972

Rangers swept into the final with a storming display, with Sandy Jardine's goal in the first minute complemented by a strike from Derek Parlane.

The star With John Greig out, Jardine was both a leader and a scorer.

The significance It took Rangers to a final triumph but the victory was gained over a team including Sepp Maier, Paul Breitner, Franz Beckenbauer, Uli Hoeness and Gerd Muller.

1 Celtic 2 Leeds United 1

European Cup. April 15, 1970

Celtic completed a home and away double over the vaunted Leeds side with goals by John Hughes and Bobby Murdoch rendering a marvellous Billy Bremner strike irrelevant.

The star Jimmy Johnstone. Terry Cooper, his direct opponent, was advised to kick the Celtic winger by Norman Hunter. "Kick him? I can't get near him," was the anguished reply.

The significance Celtic lost in the final but had made a strong statement to England about the respective merit of the countries' champions.

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