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Partick Thistle’s Intertoto Cup cameo 25 years on

Firhill legend John Lambie led the club on their Intertoto Cup adventure

Memories of European nights in Glasgow don’t usually involve Partick Thistle. But 25 years ago this month, the Firhill club embarked on what proved a memorable Intertoto Cup campaign.

Here, BBC Scotland tells the story of a widely-forgotten pre-season European adventure, and why it still matters so much to so many from the west end of Glasgow.

‘Intertoto Cup? Aye, why not’

The Intertoto Cup ran from 1961 to 2008 and was taken over by Uefa the same year as Thistle’s unlikely debut. Dubbed ‘The Cup for the Cupless’, it was largely perceived as worthless by British sides, despite offering back-door entry to major European competition.

Not only did Thistle go without silverware in the 1994-95 season, they flirted with relegation before finishing eighth in the 10-team top flight. So how exactly did they end up in Europe?

Thistle fan David Forrest, of the ‘Draw, Lose or Draw’ podcast, remembers a “bizarre” selection process.

“Qualification went to the highest placed non-European qualifier, so it should have been Hibs in third, but they declined,” he says. “Celtic were fourth, but they won the Scottish Cup, so went into the Cup Winners’ Cup. Then Falkirk, Hearts and Kilmarnock all declined.

“So when Thistle were eventually offered, we said ‘Aye, why not?’ We know we are never getting into the Champions League, so the Intertoto Cup suits us.”

Despite the apathy of British clubs, it was a competition not short of quality. And with Uefa Cup qualification the prize for the two winning finalists, many European sides took it seriously.

Eventual winners Bordeaux and Strasbourg boasted several future World Cup winners, including Christophe Dugarry, Bixente Lizarazu, Frank Leboeuf and a certain Zinedine Zidane.

But before all that, it was Thistle who dared to dream.

‘Chairman went to formal dinner in his trackie’

Drawn in a group alongside LASK Linz, Metz, NK Zagreb and Keflavik, Thistle’s excitement was building. But concerns lingered – and would prove prophetic – that starting the campaign in June, then having a month-long gap before the new Scottish campaign, would harm their domestic ambitions.

The club’s first European fixture in more than two decades was away to Austrians LASK. The journey descended into farce before the squad had even departed Britain.

“The team had to switch at London, but when they arrived in Germany, they realised the luggage was left behind. Suits, strips, the lot,” Forrest says.

“Gerry Collins, the assistant manager, had to sit in the airport in Germany while everyone else travelled on. The chairman was invited to a formal dinner and had to go in his trackie.

“It’s a very Thistle thing to happen. Your first European away day in over 20 years and you’ve lost the kit.”

Things then went from bad to worse as John Lambie’s side found themselves 2-0 down after just six minutes. However, goals from Rod McDonald and Derek McWilliams rescued a credible point.

Thistle’s first home European match in 23 years ended in a 3-1 victory over Keflavik

The club’s 32-year wait for a European victory ended a week later at a sun-drenched Firhill.

Iceland’s Keflavik were the visitors and the tie prompted significant local demand, with Thistle fan Stephen Mulrine estimating a 6,000 crowd