Four Great Free-Kicks

Our series “Just Look at the Way” tells the stories behind key Scottish moments in European competition, whether important, trivial, aesthetically pleasing or simply funny. The name comes from a favourite phrase of the commentator Jock Brown during his analysis of action replays.

1. Tommy Gemmell, Feyenoord v CELTIC, 1970 European Cup final

The Celtic side that beat Internazionale to win the 1967 European Cup was famously drawn from within 30 miles of Glasgow, and few things could be more gallusly Glaswegian than the dead-ball subterfuge deployed throughout the era of their greatest manager, Jock Stein.

Stein loved mind games. His advice to Alex Ferguson before his protégé’s Aberdeen side played Real Madrid in the 1983 Cup Winners’ Cup final – more of which later – was psychological rather than strategic. He told Ferguson to give Real coach Alfredo Di Stéfano a bottle of whisky before the game.

“Let him feel important,” Stein told Ferguson, “As if you are thrilled just to be in the final.”

Aberdeen, of course, went on to win.

Stein applied the same misdirection to his side’s set-pieces. The trick was to induce a loss of concentration in the opponent before stabbing him in the heart. Its execution required bravery, skill and a sense of humour. Few players under Stein embodied those qualities like midfielder Bertie Auld.

Presented a free-kick just outside the box at home to Dukla Prague in the semi-final in ’67, Auld ran up as if to shoot, slowed and bent as if to re-spot the ball, and in doing so slipped the ball sideways to Willie Wallace, who smashed home to make it 3-1 on the night.

When Celtic reached the 1970 European Cup final against Feyenoord Bobby Murdoch proved that it wasn’t just Auld who could do gallus. Approaching another free-kick on the edge of the box, Murdoch shaped to shoot but instead backheeled delicately to Tommy Gemmell, who thudded home a trademark howitzer – his second goal in a European Cup final.

Gemmell got a helping hand from Italian referee Concetto Lo Bello, who added to the defensive confusion by peeling off the wall like a striker and standing square in front of Feyenoord goalkeeper Eddy Pieters Graafland as the ball rocketed past him.

Feyenoord found two goals of their own to win after extra-time, with Rotterdam refinement trumping Glaswegian gallusness.

2. Gordon Strachan, ABERDEEN v Bayern Munich, 1982/83 Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final second leg

In order to put Alex Ferguson in a position to be plying Alfredo Di Stefano with whisky, his Aberdeen side had had to beat another European great in 1983. 

After a creditable 0-0 draw in Munich, the Dons found themselves 2-1 down at home to the mighty Bayern. With the seconds ebbing away, they needed something special. What they produced showed that Ferguson had taken more than shopping advice from Stein.

An edge-of-the-box free-kick, a bit of kidology producing a vital goal – the move had Stein’s fingerprints all over it. There could be few surprises that the on-field orchestrator was Gordon Strachan – like Auld, he could be as sharp with his tongue as he was with the ball.

Strachan and John McMaster ran at the ball before each checking out of their runs. “They couldn’t agree, obviously,” says commentator Jock Brown.

But Brown had been fooled by Strachan and McMaster – as had the German defence, who, according to Aberdeen defender Alex McLeish, were laughing at these two Scottish idiots. On the German broadcast the commentator is laughing, too.

McLeish had the last laugh, though. As Bayern relaxed, Strachan turned and whipped in a cross that the big defender thundered home with his head to make it 2-2.

“If you think for one minute that Strachan and McMaster were in any kind of confusion here, you’re wrong,” Brown says, realising that both he and the Germans had been done by “a carefully rehearsed piece of tomfoolery”.

John Hewitt scored the winner a minute later and Ferguson was on his way to a first European trophy that owed more than a little to Stein.

3. Iain Ferguson, HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN v Bayern Munich, 1988/89 UEFA Cup quarter-final first leg

Iain “Two I’s” Ferguson has had a raw deal in Scottish football history, overshadowed as he is by his near-namesake, Ian “One I” Ferguson, of St Mirren, Rangers and Scotland fame.

Yet the former, less-celebrated Ferguson has such a portfolio of outrageous and important European goals from spells with Rangers, Dundee United and Hearts that he ought to be held in higher regard.

How many Scots can boast of goals against Internazionale, Barcelona, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayern Munich? Ferguson can, and his sizzling free-kick against the German giants nearly took Hearts into European dreamland.

Hearts are a curious club in that they are the only one of Scotland’s big six not to trouble the latter stages of European football. It’s perhaps not surprising that their late-‘80s side produced their finest European campaign, melding as it did the stalwarts from 1986’s league-squandering nearly men, like Craig Levein and John Colquhoun, to younger players of quality in Alan McLaren, Mike Galloway and Tosh McKinlay, with former Dundee Utd winger Eamonn Bannon adding European nous.

Hearts would have been forgiven for thinking they were up against it when they saw the name of the referee for the first leg at Tynecastle. Helmut Kohl was then chancellor of West Germany but – like the Fergusons – he had a lesser-known namesake who happened to be an Austrian whistler. This would be political football with a difference.

Kohl proved on a cold February night in Edinburgh that he wasn’t afraid of a plummeting approval rating among Germans. He’d already awarded Hearts one free-kick, from which Ferguson had tested Bayern keeper Raimond Aumann early in the second half. 

Shortly afterwards, on 55 minutes, he awarded another – and then gave Hearts a better shooting angle by inviting McKinlay to move the ball a couple of yards inside from where he had placed it.

There was no deception about this kick but there was still nothing Bayern could do to stop it. McKinlay, about 25 yards out and to the left of Aumann’s goal, simply rolled the ball sideways and Ferguson crashed home what Jock Brown called “a shot of stunning power” to send 29,000 Hearts supporters berserk.

“Somebody once said to me about Iain Ferguson, ‘He doesn’t score ordinary goals, they’re all smashers,’” commentator Archie Macpherson had said two years previously after Ferguson had scored yet another important goal, this time for Dundee Utd in a Scottish Cup semi-final derby against Dundee. 

But Ferguson’s smasher against Bayern was the last great moment of Scotland’s second European golden era. Hearts lost 2-0 in Munich after a performance that promised much. It was the last time a Scottish side outwith Celtic and Rangers would threaten a European semi-final.

4. Danny Lennon, Bayern Munich v RAITH ROVERS, 1995/96 UEFA Cup Second Round, Second Leg

Another moment of Scottish free-kick glory, another baffled Bayern goalkeeper. This time it was Oliver Kahn’s turn to be bewildered by Caledonian craftiness – although a large slice of luck was involved too.

Champions of Scotland’s second tier, Kirkcaldy’s finest found themselves in European football for the first time by dint of a famous victory over Celtic in the final of the 1994/95 League Cup, a tournament whose winners then received a UEFA Cup spot as part of the Scottish Football Association’s ingenious plan to have the weakest-possible teams represent the country internationally.

(Hibernian, who lost just seven league games in finishing third in the Scottish Premier Division behind Rangers and Motherwell in 1994/95, were thus denied European football.)

These were truly Scotland’s wilderness years in Europe, with Rangers trounced regularly in the Champions League and every other club dumped out in the early rounds. Raith’s performances reflected the country’s new, lowly status.

Rovers earned their place against the eventual winners in the second round after beating GÍ Gota of the Faroe Islands (they drew 2-2 away) and ÍA of Iceland (Raith lost 1-0 away).

Few expected anything from Raith in Germany, though the team wasn’t without quality: it contained internationals past (ex-Scotland goalkeeper Billy Thomson), present (Trinidad & Tobago’s Tony Rougier, Scotland’s Stevie Crawford) and future (Scot Colin Cameron).

But it was Northern Ireland B international Danny Lennon who stole the headlines. Two minutes before half-time, with the game goalless, Lennon stepped up to a free-kick around 30 yards out to the left of Kahn’s goal and had a quick chat with Rougier, who was shielding the ball.

“So, I think this one won’t be shot directly,” the German commentator says, noting that hulking journeymen centre-halves Davie Sinclair and Shaun Dennis are ambling into the box.

Not for the first time, a German commentator had called it wrong – and an Austrian had a hand in the goal. Lennon shot, Bayern’s Andreas Herzog stuck his head in the way, Kahn was wrongfooted and the ball was in the net to give Raith their one and only moment of European glory.

Bayern scored twice in Munich and twice in Kirkcaldy to win the tie 4-1 on aggregate and they went on to beat Bordeaux in the final. 

The goal made for great memories for Raith fans and nice headlines for the tabloids. But, like Gretna in 2006, who qualified for the Europa League by losing Scottish Cup final, Raith should never have been representing Scotland in the first place.

Not that that will bother Danny Lennon.

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