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LIFTING THE LID: Ahead of the return of the Champions League, we caught up with legendary Rangers striker Mark Hateley to chat about his memories of the inaugural edition of the competition back in 1992/93

“The disappointment is we were cheated by Marseille out of a final spot. So it’s a bittersweet memory and one that will stick in the throat for a long, long time.”

With the Champions League now in its 30th season, Rangers legend Mark Hateley is looking back on his former side’s involvement in the inaugural edition of the competition.

Rangers have the distinction of being the first British club to compete in the Champions League. And what a campaign it was, with the Scottish side – then boasting the likes of Ally McCoist and Trevor Steven alongside Hateley – going the whole competition unbeaten and missing out on a place in the final in agonising fashion.

Perhaps confusingly, English champions Leeds were also involved in the 1992-93 European Cup, though, forgotten by many, it was only the latter group stage of the tournament that year that was originally rebranded as the Champions League.

“We were excited about the different format,” Hateley tells BETDAQ. “The group stage gives you a clearer vision of what you’re setting out to achieve, when you’ve got four teams in there and you’re playing home and away instead of the old two-legged round European Cup format. We were all excited about that fact, especially playing its inaugural year and being one of the founding eight fathers of the Champions League and the format it is today. I’m very proud of that fact.”

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After swatting aside Danish club Lyngby 3-0 in the more traditional two-legged first round, in which Hateley scored the opener, Scottish champions Rangers set up an eagerly anticipated second round tie with English champions Leeds for a place in the brand new Champions League group stage. Walter Smith’s Rangers won both legs 2-1 home and away, with Hateley getting on the scoresheet once more.

“We were looking forward to taking on the English champions, a mouth-watering prospect,” Hateley says. “With all the build-up in the press, it was a feisty, juicy game we were all looking forward to.

“It’s always good when you’re playing the English champions because I think Scottish clubs do get ridiculed more than most from our cousins down south. It was an interesting game but one that was hugely anticipated by the whole of the United Kingdom basically. The way the press were, the way the players went about it. Two British champions, obviously two very good teams, very good players. It was like the clash of the titans on one little island.”

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Hateley added of the victory: “Beating the English champions, who had a great team and by all accounts too strong for us according to the English press, was fantastic. It was nice to stuff all the newspapers reports firmly back down the press’ throats. It showed what a good side we were and the sort of football we could play, and it was a poignant moment for the club to progress into the Champions League group stages.”

Rangers had booked their place in the inaugural Champions League, where they were to be paired alongside Marseille, Club Brugge and CSKA Moscow in Group A. Group B contained AC Milan, IFK Göteborg, Porto and PSV Eindhoven.

Each club would play each other home and away before the two group winners would meet in the final, with the famous Champions League anthem being heard for the first time alongside the introduction of the new branded Champions League house colours and memorable ‘starball’ design.

Yet this is where things would start to turn a little sour for Rangers, according to Hateley.

“I got a call as soon as the draw was made asking me not to play in the game against Marseille from a French agent, which I thought was a wind-up,” Hateley recalls.

Hateley went on to score against Marseille in a 2-2 draw at Ibrox, with Rangers then going on to win 1-0 at CSKA Moscow and draw 1-1 at Club Brugge to remain unbeaten and put them in a commanding position in the group.

Rangers welcomed Club Brugge to Ibrox next, where they won 2-1, though Hateley was sent off in the first half for what he claims was an incorrect decision.

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“I’d put that French agent’s call to the back of my mind but when I got sent off for nothing after 20 minutes against Brugge at Ibrox, that was when the penny dropped,” Hateley says. “Straight away I thought there was something wrong with the game, with the referee… You don’t get sent off for nothing at Ibrox in front of a partisan crowd. It was really disappointing and the ugly side to the beautiful game of football. As soon as the red card came out, I said to manager Walter Smith at half-time, ‘we’ve been done by the referee here and time would bear the proof’ and it did…”

Hateley is alluding to the bribery scandal that engulfed Marseille as they made it all the way to the final that year, beating AC Milan to be crowned champions of Europe.

Ahead of the final, it’s alleged that players from French side Valenciennes were asked by the club to underperform in a league game so that Marseille would remain in good condition for the Milan clash. A number of Marseille officials were later found guilty for their involvement, with Marseille being stripped of their French top-flight title they won that season, though they kept their European crown.

Marseille defeated CSKA Moscow 6-0 in the group stage en route to the final – another match that has been surrounded in controversy.

“One of the standout memories of the campaign is seeing Marseille defeat CSKA like that,” Hateley said. “CSKA were one of the favourites in our group so to see Marseille win 6-0 was a ridiculous score. We couldn’t understand that sort of result.

“When we saw the group, we believed we could win it and go all the way to the final, we were a good team. All things being equal, we could have got to the final that year and should have. We were playing well, we won the treble that season, scored a load of goals. But the disappointment is we were cheated by Marseille out of that final spot.”

Whatever did go on, the fact is that Rangers, without the suspended Hateley, drew their last two games 1-1 with Marseille and 0-0 with CSKA Moscow to finish second in the group and one point behind Marseille. One more goal in either of those games would have been enough to take Rangers through to the final against AC Milan.

“We could have won in Marseille, which would have taken us to the final. Me and Ally McCoist were scoring for fun,” Hateley says. “We could have won with myself and Ally playing but I was banned for four games from the red card, which was ridiculous. That’s how big an impact the referee played on that day against Brugge.”

Still, it had been a tremendous effort from Rangers, who ended up finishing the whole campaign unbeaten, while it was the furthest the club had been in the competition since reaching the semi-finals in 1960.

“We pretty much went to a semi-final of the Champions League in its inaugural year, so of course there was some pride,” Hateley says. “But we should have been in the final, we were good enough to be in the final and we were probably good enough to beat AC Milan in the final. It’s bittersweet. A lot of good memories and bad memories. I always take great pride in us being unbeaten but it’s one of them where you think ‘if only…’”