The UEFA Cup 4th Round Tie With AEK Athens In 1977 That Could Have Been Played At Wembley.

I have a flyer in my collection which was written by QPR Secretary, Ron Phillips, who made the following announcement regarding the intention to play the UEFA 4th Round tie against AEK Athens at Wembley:-

‘Due to difficulty in guaranteeing that the Rangers pitch will be in a playable condition, the venue for this Cup Tie will now be Wembley Stadium. We had also found that the demand for tickets for this game was so enormous that only the National Stadium could stage this match. As a result of this change of venue, Rangers now have enough tickets to sell to everyone who wishes to see this game.

Seat Tickets: ALL SPECTATORS WHO HAVE ALREADY PURCHASED SEATS FOR THIS MATCH CAN USE THE SAME TICKETS AT WEMBLEY. No specific seat reservations have been made but all Rangers supporters have been allocated the best seats at Wembley Stadium on either side of the Royal Box. On entry to the Stadium, you will be directed to the North Stand and should then follow the signs which will direct you to your seats. Holders of ¬£3 tickets will be immediately adjacent to the Royal Box and lower priced tickets will find their seats are only a short distance from the Royal Box. Rangers’ Box Office will continue to sell tickets for this match until 5.30pm WEDNESDAY 2ND MARCH at our normal prices. From 10am THURSDAY 3RD MARCH seat tickets will be obtainable from Wembley Stadium Box Office only but it is likely that only ¬£3 seats on the South Side of the Stadium will then be available.

Terrace Spectators: Terrace admission will be at the Rangers normal £1 per person but there will be no half price admission.

Special Note: We hope all Rangers supporters will view this visit to Wembley as a special occasion which will make up for our disappointment in not reaching the Football League Cup Final. Any inconvenience caused to Season Ticket Holders unable to use their normal seats is regretted but we hope they will understand the special reasons for this move. However, if anyone who has purchased a ticket for the game does not wish to use it, he should return it to us not later than Wednesday 2nd March in order that we may make the necessary refund.’

Surprisingly the visitors changed their mind about switching the game. The programme cover still stated that it was a ‘Wembley Souvenir Edition’ and showed a picture of the stadium. In his programme notes, Ron Phillips wrote in great detail about how the confusion had come about:-

‘Observant readers of this programme will note from the front cover that we are under the impression that tonight’s game is being played at Wembley Stadium. As we go to press, however, it has become clear that we do not know where the match will eventually take place. We have no wish to be inhospitable to our guests, AEK Athens, but our bewildered supporters must wonder what on earth has been going on and it is only fair to give them an account of the events of the last week.AEK Athens asked us some weeks ago to switch this fixture from our ground to Wembley Stadium as many thousands of their fans were unable to get tickets for the sell-out game at our ground. We sympathised but were unable to take any action in this respect as we still stood a chance of participating in the Football League Cup Final at Wembley on March 12th and the Football League must veto our obtaining ground advantage by an earlier game at Wembley Stadium.
On Wednesday 23rd February, however, we were knocked out of the Football League Cup and were able to re-consider AEK Athens’ proposition. We were then faced with the fact that, after weeks of non-stop rain, the Loftus Road pitch could not be guaranteed to be playable on the proposed UEFA Cup Quarter Final date of Wednesday 2nd March. We had no wish to surrender ground advantage but, after taking all these factors into consideration, we decided to agree to AEK Athens’ request and switch the venue to Wembley. We discussed this with the General Secretary of AEK Athens on Thursday 24th February and informed him that Wembley could only stage the game on Thursday 3rd March. Would AEK Athens agree to play on this new date ?

After considerable discussion by phone with their Committee, agreement was reached and we sent confirmatory telegrams to them and to UEFA. On Friday 25th February we finalised all administrative arrangements with Wembley Stadium: announced full details to the press and our supporters: and began selling Wembley tickets. On that Friday afternoon we received a telegram from AEK Athens which advised us that they no longer wished to play at Wembley on Thursday 3rd March. A dispute between our two clubs accordingly existed and had to be placed before UEFA for adjudication. As you read this, you will know what the decision has been. If we are required to play at Loftus Road, pray for perfect weather everyone !’

As for the match, Rangers won it 3-0. Gerry Francis scored twice from the penalty spot and the other goal came from Stan Bowles. All the goals were scored in the 1st half and interestingly the official attendance was 23,009. The R’s lined-up as follows:-
Parkes, Hollins, Gillard, McLintock, Webb, Thomas, Kelly, Francis, Masson, Bowles, Givens.

Harry Miller wrote for ‘Mirror Sport’….’On The Spot – Gerry’s Double Puts Rangers In Command’ – Gerry Francis was spot on last night as the UEFA Cup surrender sign went up from AEK of Athens. The England captain scored twice from the penalty spot to put Rangers on the way to a three-goal first-leg lead and a golden chance of a semi-final place. It was impossible not to feel a certain sympathy for the skilful Greeks. The first penalty after six minutes saw Stan Bowles fall flat after a challenge from Tsamis, AEK showed remarkable self-restraint in their protests before Francis scored from the spot. There could be no arguing about the second penalty – awarded by Danish referee Ole Amundsen after Don Givens had been pulled down in full flight by Nikolaou. Francis stepped up once more and scored with a shot low to keeper Stergioudus’s left hand. A minute from half time – on a pitch that was playing surprisingly well – Rangers went three up when Bowles scored with a simple shot for his eleventh European goal of the season.’

There was to be more drama in Athens for the 2nd Leg but that’s another story !

Steve Russell

8 thoughts on “The UEFA Cup 4th Round Tie With AEK Athens In 1977 That Could Have Been Played At Wembley.

  1. Great article. Steve. I think the person who had the toughest job at Rangers during that period must have been the groundsman, Alec Farmer. It was ironic that probably the best footballing team in the country at the time played on an absolute mud heap of a pitch with probably only the Baseball Ground Derby being a worse playing surface! Trying to get the Loftus Road pitch into a playable condition must have been the job from hell for Farmer, an ex Rangers player with club connections going back to the 1930s. Is it my dodgy memory or was it Alec Farmer who went up one of the floodlight pylons with John Noakes to change a lightbulb for a Blue Peter broadcast around 1972?!

    I remember the AEK match at Loftus Rd well and have often thought that, with the benefit of hindsight, cruising into that 3 nil lead at half time was not good and a couple more second half goals would have settled it (although throwing away the 6-2 lead vs Partizan Belgrade 7 years later shows you can never rely on Rangers!).

    There were a lot of Greek fans in the Ellerslie Rd stand making much noise pre match but they went very quiet once the goals went in.

    I have a pal, Robin Haldane, who went to the match in Athens so if you do want to run a story on that game sometime let me know as I’m sure I can persuade him to share some memories. My only Rangers UEFA Cup away game was Belgrade so if you ever want to do a story on that one let me know too. I have quite a few photos tucked away somewhere from that trip.

  2. Highly enjoyable reading. Thanks a lot.

    These european matches made me sure of Rangers destined for the UEFA cup trophy. But as you say, our away form was dismal. Still, I can’t stop wondering how we would have fared against Juventus in the semis…

    Lots of fans discuss Dave Webb fatal penalty miss in Athens. But it was Peter Eastoes miss that actually made the penalty shootout go into overtime.

    Heres some highlights from our home game against AEK Athens:

  3. Brilliant stuff Steve, I remember the game so well, and the build up to it. My dad couldn’t get over the fact that we were not only in Europe but we were beating all they had to offer.
    It was a time when we feared no one.
    A time when the atmosphere was surreal.

    Ron Phillips explanation of events leading up to the game is not just detailed and honest but a real concern about the fans, who week in week out put their hard earned cash into what was a once great club …

  4. Steve…good article.

    everything explained chapter and verse. Well done.

    PS Can we pretend the second leg never happened? lol

  5. Great read Steve and again the memories come flooding back. When you look at the scorers in the UEFA Cup run.Bowles,Masson,Givens, Thomas, Webb, Clement and Francis G realise what a great team we had playing superb football. What I would give to be able to watch them again and to show our younger supporters how football should be played.

  6. Great read Steve.
    Didn’t we spank SK Brann 10 nil, over both legs in the first round?
    I still can’t believe we let a three nil lead slip from that tie.
    At least we knocked out Cologne on away goals.
    I wonder how long it will be before we can ever say that again.

  7. Great Memory as I was living in London then. Never experienced such atmosphere other than QPR’s win over Leeds to nearly win the Championship. Follow the R’s every week from Melbourne as WILL get back soon. Cheers from AUS.

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