The draw for the Qualifying Round of the 2001/02 UEFA Cup saw Kilmarnock paired with Northern Ireland’s Glenavon. The clubs had met before, in New York in 1960 and in a 1968 friendly in Lurgan. Killie won 2-0 and 7-2 respectively.
The first leg was at Mourneview Park in Lurgan on 9th August 2001. I gave the match a miss, having been at the 1968 friendly and knowing the lie of the land. A good Killie contingent of around 1,500 made the trip, making up about half of the crowd.
Having been eliminated previously by Coleraine and squeezing past Shelbourne in 1997, Killie should have been prepared for a close match and manager Bobby Williamson made all the right cautious noises before the match.
And a struggle it was for Killie, with a headed goal by Chris Innes in the third minute of injury time enough to ensure victory.
The return leg at Rugby Park on 23rd August was scarcely more comfortable, a 67th minute Ally Mitchell goal separating the sides in front of 7,462 spectators.
No fewer than six players made their European debuts for the club in the match – James Fowler, Mickael Pizzo, Christophe Cocard, Kris Boyd, Paul di Giacomo and Mark Canning.
The reward was a First Round tie against Viking Stavanger of Norway. A tough draw but surely not unwinnable. The first leg was at Rugby Park on 20th September.
It had originally been scheduled for 13th September but had been postponed following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre on 11th September, which also kept me from attending the match.
Killie no longer had the likes of McCoist, Nevin, Wright and Durrant in their ranks but had the eleven-time French international Christophe Cocard, Andy McLaren, Freddie Dindeleux, the Spaniards Jesus Sanjuan and Antonio Calderon and emerging stars in Craig Dargo, Kris Boyd and Paul di Giacomo.
A crowd of 6,322 attended to see the impressive Norwegians take the lead on the stroke of half-time. This was the first time in seven ties that the first-leg had been at home for Killie and the novelty of trying to build a lead was proving a hard lesson to learn. Craig Dargo scored an equaliser in the 72nd minute but the match ended 1-1 to send Killie to Norway with a task as steep as the country’s famous fjords.
The second leg on 27th September was watched by 4,335, with another good Killie following present. They set up camp in a bar on the picturesque harbour while I explored the old town. As with Reykjavik, costs were prohibitively expensive and I was glad that my stay was a short one! Stavanger is a key centre for Norway’s oil industry and its wealth was apparent.
The match was in the old Stavanger stadium before Viking’s move to their impressive new ground. It turned out to be a one-stand ground with an athletics track – think of Meadowbank and will get the idea! At least the open space behind the goal allowed the planting of the first big Killie flag!
The match got off to the worst possible start with a first-minute goal for the hosts and, when former Manchester United player Erik Nevland doubled their lead in the 17th minute, the tie was as good as over.
Do you see a pattern here? Sigma Olomouc, 1.FC Kaiserslautern and Viking Stavanger had all killed off ties with two first-half goals! The drink-enflamed Killie support was in pretty angry mood as their side had once again failed to turn up when the chips were down. The Norwegians – players and crowd – pretty well took the piss for the rest of the match as the befuddled Scots – players and crowd – struggled and argued amongst themselves.
Viking were no mugs though; they lost in the following round to Hertha Berlin (another great trip missed!) but caused a sensation the following year by eliminating Chelsea in the First Round of the UEFA Cup.
It was a long and weary journey next day back to Heathrow via Oslo. The curtain had fallen on yet another Euro campaign after only two ties. The trend was pretty clear – Killie would get past a “minnow” with a struggle, then fail against the first decent team they faced.
The Viking match also ended Killie’s second European era. Will there be another? The club’s current financial difficulties militate against it. Yet the number of places available in the Europa League may grant this. I’m not sure that it would be a good idea, however. Killie may find that they are now a minnow and even a second tie might be beyond them.
But how many during the dark days of the 1980s could have envisaged that Killie would enjoy European football again? It would be wonderful if another generation of Killie supporters could enjoy the fun, camaraderie and perhaps even the cultural enlightenment of a third European era!
I hope those who have read these musings have enjoyed them. I have not been painstaking in attempting to be factually accurate but have relied largely on my memory of matches and the times they were played. Many will have attended more matches than I have and have richer memories.
I have tried not to rely too much on other sources but, where I have, Dave Ross’ excellent books and KFC match programmes have been very helpful and I am happy to acknowledge them.
09/08/01 – Glenavon 0 (0) Kilmarnock 1 (0) (Att: 3,000)
23/08/01 – Kilmarnock 1 (0) Glenavon 0 (0) (Att: 7,462)
20/09/01 – Kilmarnock 1 (0) Viking Stavanger 1 (1) (Att: 6,322)
27/09/01 – Viking Stavanger 2 (2) Kilmarnock 0 (0) (Att: 4,335)