KILLIE IN EUROPE
A Personal Recollection by Gordon 'Skygod' Simpson
The club’s European history to date can be divided into two eras – 1964-1970 and 1997-2001. During the first, I was at school and, by the time the second came around, marriage and kids had come along so my prime time for following the team abroad coincided with the club’s absence from competition. Such is life!
But the 1999/2000 UEFA Cup campaign would throw up two memorable trips for me. Despite the club’s excellent fourth place finish the previous season, finishing one point behind St Johnstone, they had not qualified by right for the UEFA Cup. Fortunately, a combination of good behaviour by Scottish football generally and Killie in particular saw them qualify via Fair Play.
The Qualifying Round took Killie to another new venue – Iceland, to face KR Reykjavik.
The first leg was set for 12th August, a date which was to have personal significance. I had bought my match and flight tickets before the news came through that we were to exchange contracts on our house move on 11th August, the day I was travelling! Through gritted teeth, my other half agreed that I should go but I felt thoroughly guilty the whole time.
The match itself in the national stadium or Laugardalsvöllur was totally unmemorable, Killie losing by the only goal scored in the 87th minute before only 2,890 spectators.
Coming into the city on the coach from the airport at Keflavik, the first impression was the total absence of trees and the black volcanic terrain. For the middle of August, it felt like January on Pluto! A couple of hundred made the journey and “base camp” was set up at The Dubliner pub. I’ve never been one for spending overseas trips drinking solidly and would rather see something of the town or city while I’m there. To be honest, Reykjavik didn’t take a lot of exploring being so small. Situated on a peninsula and surrounded by snow-capped mountains (in August!), it reminded me of a much larger version of a fishing port on the Scottish north-west coast, say Ullapool.
There wasn’t a lot of local activity either, maybe the sky-high prices deterred much social spending. I saw the Höfði House where Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev held talks in 1986 on the way to ending the Cold War, I gave the penis museum a miss though! Some of our party made the trip out to the Blue Lagoon to bathe in the hot spring water. I would have loved to have explored the interior of the country but I had pressing reasons to get home ASAP.
The return leg at Rugby Park was on 26th August. It was thought that the one-goal deficit would be recovered without much difficulty but that was optimistic. Reduced admission charges again paid off with 11,760 in the ground on what was the 100th anniversary of the first ever match Rugby Park. Killie were repeatedly thwarted and it made matters worse that ex-Ayr United players Kristjan Finnbogason and David Winnie were prominent in the visitors’ defence.
Time was almost up when a Paul Wright penalty kick sent the match into extra-time. After only two minutes of the extra period, David Bagan scored his only goal for the club to take Killie through. It had been much harder work than anyone could have anticipated when the draw was made – further evidence that there is no such thing as an easy draw in Europe. For Scottish clubs anyway!
The First Round draw gave Killie a plum draw with a first-leg journey to face Bundesliga giants 1.FC Kaiserslautern on 16 September.
The Germans had finished fifth in the previous season’s Bundesliga and boasted full internationals in France’s Youri Djorkaeff, Bulgarian Marian Hristov, Igli Tare (Albania), the Swiss Ciriaco Sforza, Janos Hrutka (Hungary), Jorgen Pettersson of Sweden, Komljenovic (Yugoslavia), the Luxembourger Jeff Strasser and German strikers Marco Reich and Olaf Marschall. All under the management of the great Otto Rehhagel. The task was daunting!
Kaiserslautern president Jurgen Friedrich was not fooled by Killie’s qualification via Fair Play. On hearing the draw, he said: “The Scots are rough boys – that is well known everywhere!”
It was not a trip to be missed and an estimated Killie army of 700 made their way by various routes. I flew from Heathrow to Frankfurt and caught the train from the airport direct to Kaislerslautern. I remember the train pulling into the station and seeing the Fritz Walter Stadion high on the Betzenberg, a hill towering above the station.
Kaiserslautern is a small university city, 60% of which was destroyed by Allied bombing in World War II – unremarkable and prosperous with no evidence of any heavy industry.
After finding my hotel, I headed towards the stadium for a look, stopping off at the large and well-stocked club shop, at the bottom of the hill. Having got my bearings, I headed into the city centre and joined the Killie troops for a stein or two before we marched with bagpipe accompaniment up the Betzenberg.
I remember that a rock band was playing in the car park beside the stadium and there was much fraternising between the two sets of fans; to this day, a close friendship/freundschaft – exists between the two.
There was a cracking atmosphere inside with 21,000 in the ground. Killie were without the injured Gordon Marshall, Dylan Kerr, Jim Lauchlan, Paul Wright and star French signing Christophe Cocard but they started well and had a couple of good chances but the match and the tie were effectively settled in a devastating 11 minute spell which saw Koch (28), Djorkaeff (35) and Marshall (39) scoring.
Facing humiliation, the only response was defiance and the Killie crowd for, I swear, the entire second half roared the side on with chorus after chorus of “We’re here ‘cos we love Killie”! Anyone flagging was encouraged by their neighbour to keep going. I think some Germans must have joined in – there was no excuse for not knowing the words!
No more goals were scored and a good evening in the town’s bars rounded off a memorable day.
The second leg at Rugby Park on 30 September kicked off at 5 pm for the benefit of German television. The club banked £250,000 for the privilege and responded by reducing admission prices and making season tickets valid. A crowd of 8,074 was reasonable in the circumstances.
There was probably much advance talk of Killie “doing another Eintracht” but the match was virtually a repeat of the Sigma Olomouc tie a year before, with two first-half goals from Djorkaeff (22) and Ramzy (29) sealing Kaiserslautern’s passage into the next round.
Just as defeat against Dinamo Bacau in 1969 had robbed Killie of a tie against Arsenal, their prize this time would have been a match against Tottenham Hotspur. To underline Kaiserslautern’s class, they overcame Spurs too.
Yet another European campaign had ended after two ties, but Killie had no reason to reproach themselves, having been beaten by a very good team. The target had to be to progress beyond the first two hurdles in future!
12/08/99 – KR Reykjavik 1 (0) Kilmarnock 0 (0) (Att: 2,890)
26/08/99 – Kilmarnock 2 (0) KR Reykjavik 0 (0) AET – 1-0 after 90 minutes (Att. 11,760)
Scorers: Wright (Pen), Bagan
16/09/99 – 1.FC Kaiserslautern 3 (3) Kilmarnock 0 (0) (Att:21,000)
30/09/99 – Kilmarnock 0 (0) 1.FC Kaiserslautern 2 (2) (Att: 8,074)