Rangers face Europa League rollercoaster as Seville goes from ecstacy to agony

·9-min read
Rangers face Europa League rollercoaster as Seville goes from ecstacy to agony
Rangers face Europa League rollercoaster as Seville goes from ecstacy to agony

FANS shuffle slowly from Seville's La Cartuja stadium, with barely a word exchanged.

Heads are in hands, arms are round shoulders. There are more than a few tears.

Judging by the number of riot vans in the environs of the stadium the Spanish police feared some sort of riot - they're instead met with the scuffing of feet and occasional sighs of despair.

Football has a somewhat unique position in the entertainment industry, in that fans will happily put their lives on hold and their bank balance under strain in the full knowledge it could end like this, the pit of despair rather than the top of the world.

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

Up to this point it's been a festival atmosphere for the estimated 100,000 Rangers fans who made the journey to Andalusia's capital.

In days leading up to the game the steady drip-drip arrival of the Gers supporters has become a blue tide, their presence felt everwhere in the city.

They come from here, there and everywhere by plane, train and automobile. They come from Canada, they come from Dubai and, of course, they come from Glasgow.

READ MORE: Meet the Rangers fan who ended up on a road trip with a stranger for Europa League final

A group of fans swap stories on the Avenue de la Constitucion on Tuesday. There's something of the Monty Python Yorkshiremen sketch about it but when one fan says he's heard tell of someone borrowing their dad's boat to sail from Scotland, it's not entirely clear if he's joking.

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

The atmosphere is one of complete relaxation, despite fears ahead of the game. The pre-match nerves haven't kicked in for most, with Rangers and Frankfurt fans swapping scarves and drinking beers in the sun.

And what a heat it is. Someone wonders aloud whether Seville will run dry of beer or factor 50 sun cream first.

By a replica of the Europa League trophy, fans pose for selfies with the trophy they hope will be coming back to Ibrox with the team on Thursday.

Ayrshireman Tam shows off his Davie Cooper tattoo and admits to paying so much for his flights that he'll be getting divorced when the bank statement comes through. He seems to believe it a price worth paying.

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

This is far from a jolly boy's outing though. In the square a mum and dad kick a flyaway ball around with their young son, who wears the name of Alfredo Morelos on his shirt.

Fortunately he has the sense not to emulate his hero's knee-slide celebration on Seville's unforgiving cobble stones.

For all the laughs that have been had with Rangers' warnings to fans to 'remember who you represent'. A group sitting in the shade of one of Seville's stunning purple-blooming trees talk earnestly about the atmosphere showing "a different side of Rangers".

By early evening large gatherings of fans are being watched over by scowling Spanish police, but aside from the odd dropped glass or smashed bottle the humour remains good - just a bit louder.

READ MORE: Rangers fan becomes Seville celebrity for Europa League final

Night falls over the city, but it fails to bring an end to the oppressive heat. Glasgow will surely be the sunburn capital of the world by the weekend.

Somewhere to the west a siren cuts through the air. Then another. Then one with a different tone. It's presumed to be an ambulance.

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

There's something indescribable about watching thousands of people have the same realisation at once, and a collective intake of breath is easily audible over the sounds of those sirens.

We'll later learn that a group of hardcore Frankfurt fans have ambushed some Scots supporters, with five arrested for the disorder.

It's a powderkeg situation but there are no reprisals, no pitched battles in the streets as the local authorities clearly feared. There is a change though. The songs become more aggressive, more fans gather, the police look twitchy. Others retire to bed as the chanting carries across to the other side of the city.

By morning, however, all is calm. The news of the attack has spread but it must be said that the vast majority of Rangers and Frankfurt fans have behaved in exemplary fashion.

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Glasgow Times:

The two sets of supporters mingle happily in the official UEFA fan zone, with groups of Germans lining up to have their picture taken first with the trophy, then with a Rangers fan who has braved full Highland dress in the scorching sunshine.

READ MORE: Rangers superfan jokes Seville trip could cost his marriage

They'll have to wait their turn though, because some Bolivians are desperate for their own snap with Jimmy.

The hours are counting down to kick-off and still fans are arriving. Charter jets are landing from Glasgow every hour, one fan, sipping a vodka and coke, tells the Glasgow Times his tale of driving from Valencia.

The pre-match gathering point appears to be Alameda de Hercules, which is rammed with blue and orange shirts from side to side. Christmas has come early for the bar owners, who are selling pints just as fast as they can pour them.

While it's loud it's not perhaps the din you might expect - the pre-match nerves are kicking in now.

With only 9500 tickets given to Rangers fans for the final - though many have snapped up sponsor tickets - it's to La Cartuja that many decamp to watch the match.

Screens have been set up in the 60,000-seater concrete bowl, but unlike the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, where the match will be played, it's hardly convenient.

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Glasgow Times:

Stuck up in a sciene and technology park in the north of the city, on an island between the two rivers, the logistics of getting there prove something of a challenge.

"Wish I'd thought of that," one fan grumbles upon seeing a pair of teenagers whizz past on the electric rental scooters available throughout the city.

His wife asks if we should be on Calle Marie Curie or Calle Leonardo da Vince. No-one seems sure. The road named for Amerigo Vespucci seems the most apposite - looking for La Cartuja is like searching for the new world.

When the concrete bowl does finally hove into view there are already lines at least 10 deep, with local police on horseback letting fans through in drips and drabs.

Rangers supporters take it in turns to give the horses a friendly rub on the nose - though it's not clear the animals themselves are overly keen on this arrangement.

To make matters worse, the entry to the stadium is hopelessly disorganised.

A large group approach Gate 12 to take their seats. You can tell it's Gate 12 because the huge red letters above it read 'Gate 12'.

But no. A fan at the front of the queue points to his ticket.

"No, no no," a steward informs him.

"On match day, si, this is Gate 12. But not all gates are open today, so this is Gate 10."

This fact is advertised by a solitary sheet of A4 paper on a pillar by the stairs.

Things aren't brilliantly organised inside either, with fans waiting up to 20 minutes for the privilege of paying €13 for a large beer. That's not a typo.

That's not going to dampen the enthusiasm though, with the stadium looking around half full by kick-off - that's close to 30,000 in a stadium hundreds of miles from home where there team isn't even playing.

The din is deafening as the teams take the field, the stadium tannoy blasting out Belinda Carlisle and exhorting fans to declare John Lundstram 'the best on earth'.

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

The organisers haven't bothered assigning seats, so several come back from an epic pint expedition to find themselves unseated but no-one seems to mind much.

Indeed, the only dampener on the occasion is the football on the screen. The phrase 'not a classic' could have been invented for the first half, and excitement quickly gives way to nerves.

Then, 10 minutes into the second half, it happens. An innocuous header from Connor Goldson is missed by the Frankfurt defence. Suddenly Joe Aribo is through on goal. The defender slips, it's down to him and the 'keeper. You could hear a pin drop, then La Cartuja explodes as the Nigerian international coolly slots home.

For five minutes it's party time in the stands, but then the weight of that goal hits home. Rangers were never expected to get here. They've had nothing to lose for most of this run. Now they're just over half an hour from immortality.

The agony only increases as Frankfurt bundle home an equaliser. A fan at the front takes off his bucket hat and batters it against the railings in frustration.

The rest of the match plus extra time is like a form of collective torture. The stadium DJ inadvisedly looks to get a sing-song going at half-time in the extended period. It's met with indifference.

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

The torture is summed up with two minutes remaining. Substitute Kemar Roofe works an opening and squares. The stadium rises as one, the air positively crackling with the energy about to be released. Ryan Kent runs on to it, sidefoots and... no. Goalkeeper Kevin Trapp somehow gets a foot to it. The follow-up is deflected over. Everyone knows where this is going.

The journey leads to here. Not just the convoluted roads to Seville, but decade long path from the fourth tier to the Europa League final. This is what a decade and a glorious and unexpected European run come down to. Five kicks from 12 yards.

There's hope that legendary goalkeeper Allan McGregor, so often the hero on a European night, has one last miracle in him. He does his best but Eintracht's five kicks are perfect. So are four of Rangers'. One kick from 12 yards decides it.

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Glasgow Times:

The tears flow, feet shuffle toward the exit.

In time the memories of a wonderful run will come to the fore. Of going to Borussia Dortmund and scalping the Bundesliga giants. Of Ibrox rocking to its foundations as Red Star, Braga and Leipzig were blown away by a blue sea of sound and fury. Of a week in Seville where they danced, sang, and proved they really will go everywhere and anywhere.

Not tonight though. One by one blue shirts disappear into the warm darkness in almost total silence.

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