Controlling chaos: Rapid Wien in the 1984/85 European Cup Winners’ Cup

On the outskirts of football there’s a vast graveyard of lost trophies, the last resting place of the sport’s abandoned symbols of glory. So much silver and gold. So many long forgotten trinkets of triumph, from Sunday League shields to iconic cups of the elite game.

There, catching a rare beam of light through the heavy clouds of history, is the European Cup Winners’ Cup. European club football’s tertiary continental competition was played between 1960 and 1999, when Lazio defeated Mallorca at Villa Park to take UEFA’s subtlest prize to Rome for eternity.

In 1985 the Cup Winners’ Cup winners — and let’s not pretend that phrase in itself isn’t one of football’s most satisfying tiny pleasures — were Howard Kendall’s wonderful Everton side, already champions of England by the time of their European final and soon to come back down to earth by virtue of an unsuccessful FA Cup final.

The timing of Everton’s memorable 1984/85 season had notorious unfortunate consequences. The Heysel disaster and subsequent European ban on English clubs prevented the Toffees from claiming the full extent of their reward. The European Cup was out of bounds.

Everton’s conquest in the Cup Winners’ Cup final in 1985 were SK Rapid Wien of Austria. Like Everton, Rapid’s run in the competition ranks near the top of supporters’ affections. They reached the final of the same competition eleven years later, losing to Paris Saint-Germain.

Die Grün-Weissen earned their place in the 1985 final with just about as much fuss as possible. Few European campaigns have been more dramatic and even fewer have been more controversial. None better combined the two.

In 1982, Rapid appointed Austrian-born Croat Otto Barić, formerly of Sturm Graz, as their head coach. A year later they claimed the 27th of their 32 Austrian Bundesliga titles. Barić departed for VfB Stuttgart after the final against Everton, returning a year later to add numbers 28 and 29.

He also has four Austrian Cup wins to his name with Rapid. On the way to the 1984 success Hans Krankl scored six times in a 10–0 win over Red Star Penzing. The prolific Viennese striker was just one of the noteworthy players at Barić’s disposal.

Goalkeeper Michael Konsel was one of Rapid’s greatest ever. Heribert Weber, in 1985, was both a former and future Rapid captain, leading from the back. Reinhard Kienast made nearly 400 league appearances for the club in a variety of positions.

The side also boasted scorers to rival Krankl’s knack for a goal. Like him, ex-Czechoslovakia star Antonín Panenka was in the mood throughout the Cup Winners’ Cup run and scored the goals to prove it.

Their collective scoring record barely scratches the surface of the story of Rapid’s progress in the second half of 1984 and the first half of 1985.

The campaign began innocently enough. Rapid’s first round first leg against Besiktas saw them go a goal behind to Mersad Kovačević’s tap-in but they were losing for a single minute in their 4–1 win at the Gerhard Hanappi Stadion.

Panenka equalised with a dubiously awarded and plainly dispatched penalty, the first goal of his hat-trick. Petar Bručić slotted home Rapid’s terrific second goal before Panenka’s second half double killed off the tie. His second was a smoothly swerved free kick, his third another hotly contested but distinctly undinked penalty.

Zlatko Kranjčar snuck in on the blind side to roll Rapid into a 5–1 aggregate lead in Istanbul. They drew 1–1 in the second leg to set up a second round that would go down in history.

Barić’s team were drawn against Celtic with the first leg to be played in Vienna in October 1984. It was a phenomenally bad tempered tie that left Celtic aggrieved, Rapid’s reputation under a cloud and the behaviour of Celtic supporters in the spotlight, but the first 45 minutes were goalless and largely devoid of incident.

The second round was ignited by a sensational solo goal by Peter Pacult, a striker who’d joined Rapid from Vienna’s Wiener Sport-Club earlier that year. Brian McClair neatly equalised but Leo Lainer made it 2–1 with a perfect header from a set piece; Packie Bonner didn’t have a chance.

Perhaps surprisingly it was Celtic who picked up a red card in the first leg. Alan McInally had come on as a first substitute only to be sent off with 17 minutes remaining. Krankl fired in a third to give Rapid a significant advantage to take to Glasgow.

Even by the standards of the mid-1980s it was a feisty affair. Celtic won 3–0 thanks to McClair’s second of the round, Murdo MacLeod’s pinpoint pea-roller and a tenacious but controversial Tommy Burns effort that would’ve been disallowed today, but their supporters recall a night of one-way traffic met with unusually physical resistance. Kienast was dismissed for an assault on Burns that might as well have carried a parental advisory notice.

There were a few occasions on which Celtic gave nearly as good as they got in that regard — not least Burns’ foul on Rapid’s goalkeeper to create the third goal, soon avenged when roles were reversed — but the underhand nature of the night’s historic incident was unmatched by anyone in green and white.

Celtic’s win was later expunged because of an incident involving their supporters. The aforementioned foul on Burns created a flashpoint, with objects thrown from the stand at Rapid players arguing with the linesman.

Defender Rudolf Weinhofer went down holding his head and went on to claim to have been struck by a bottle. Such an item was indeed thrown in his direction, but it certainly didn’t hit him — he was already down. Whether he was caught by some other, smaller missile is unclear, but a bottle it was not.

Rapid appealed for a replay, which UEFA denied. They appealed again, and UEFA doubled their initial fine for the Austrian club but granted a replay to be played in December 1984 at Old Trafford.

Football has a funny way of punishing teams that don’t get the job done and rewarding the select few that ever get a second chance. Sure enough, Rapid won the second second leg 1–0. Pacult scored the only goal of the game, another clash that created headlines for the worst possible reasons.

Celtic had to play their next European game behind closed doors after some of their fans (primarily an English one, as it turned out) attacked Rapid players. Thanks to their second bite of the cherry, Rapid’s next European game was a quarter-final against Dynamo Dresden.

We’ll probably never know whether the extraordinary manner of their second round win affected Rapid’s performance in the first leg of their quarter-final, and half of Glasgow understandably couldn’t care less.

Rapid lost 3–0 in Dresden, with second half goals from Andreas Trautmann, Ralf Minge and Ulf Kirsten demanding of the Austrians a second Cup Winners’ Cup resurrection. Remarkably, they managed it on 20th March 1985.

Pacult was a key contributor again, following up Panenka’s early penalty after it came back off the post and adding a 37th minute poacher’s goal to Lainer’s header twenty minutes earlier. Incredibly, Rapid were level before the frantic first half was out.

They had to wait a while to win it but win it they did. Panenka was afforded another opportunity from the penalty spot and went the other way to put his side in front for the first time in the tie.

Krankl finally got in the act to make it 5–0, welcoming the night’s Rapid-Viertelstunde with a fortuitous long distance strike and a place in the Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final.

The two matches against Dynamo Moscow were tame by comparison with the previous rounds. Rapid won 3–1 in their home leg — after going a goal down, naturally — and lived up to their name by scoring all three in the space of four minutes.

After a couple of Panenka free kicks went close he had a penalty saved, and it was Lainer who crashed in the equaliser. Krankl relieved Panenka of his penalty duties and emphatically made it 2–1 from the spot, and then Peter Hrstic scored the tie’s crucial, deflected, fourth goal.

Panenka scored in the fourth minute of the second leg and that was that; Dynamo’s equaliser on the night was scant consolation. Rapid Wien — eliminated once, turned down on appeal once, and 3–0 down once — were in the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup.

But, despite the drama that kept Rapid’s run gripping to the end, this was Kendall’s story, not theirs. The trophy was heading for Merseyside, where Everton supporters treasure it every bit as much as it would have been treasured in Vienna.

After another goalless first period Krankl’s goal wasn’t enough to keep pace with the English champions. Andy Gray, Trevor Steven and Kevin Sheedy scored the goals that gave them a 3–1 win at De Kuip, where Rapid’s defending for all three was either extremely tired or downright appalling.

Gray and Panenka ended the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1984/85 as joint top goalscorers with Dynamo Moscow’s Valery Gazzaev. Barić moved on from Rapid only to return in short order. Kendall’s Everton continued to thrive despite their enforced absence from Europe.

Rapid Wien returned to Glasgow for a UEFA Europa League match at Parkhead in 2009, sporting a red shirt for the occasion. In 1984 they’d switched from blue in the original second leg to red for the replay, supposedly in an attempt to curry favour with Manchester United supporters at Old Trafford.

Football never forgets.

Chris Nee is the Founder and Managing Editor of Sphinx Football, a platform for football podcasts. He hosts The Stiles Council podcast about the England national team.