Glory comes in many forms and it came for Kevin Trapp in the form of an astonishing save in the final minute of extra time. When Kemar Roofe’s cross was deflected into the path of Ryan Kent six yards out, a late winner seemed certain. But Trapp scuttled across his goal, spread himself and the ball cannoned away off his chest, a block rooted in hour upon hour on the training ground, honing reflexes and response times, getting the angles right.
He had four years at Paris Saint-Germain, but that save, even more than keeping out Aaron Ramsey’s penalty in the shootout, is what will define his career. In his second spell at Frankfurt, he became the man who won them their second European trophy.
A balmy night in southern Spain, a tight stadium with two steeply banked tiers, two enormously passionate fanbases, and it was possible to believe all is right with football. That it went to extra time, that weary players, hair drenched with sweat, were forced to drag aching limbs through more gruelling minutes, felt entirely appropriate. It may even be right that the final 10 minutes of the 90 seemed to consist entirely of Rangers taking throw-ins on their left flank.
The flares, the smoke, the small posse of riot police in surprisingly shiny helmets. This is what these nights are supposed to look like and this, after all, is what these events are supposed to be about: a great sense of occasion for two teams for whom European success feels not a birthright but an almost impossible quest.
There have been plenty of Europa League finals that have felt as though they were mere consolation at the end of a disappointing season, but not here. For Rangers, the second-best team in Scotland, and Eintracht Frankfurt, the eleventh-best team in Germany, this was an occasion beyond all expectation. These are campaigns that will be talked about for decades to come: the goals, the drama, the inconvenient journeys.
And if the stadium at the end of it felt a little old-fashioned, the aisles tight, the signage inadequate, the toilets and bars almost overwhelmed, that was part of the charm. When Celtic reached the Uefa Cup final in Seville in 2003, they played at the miserable open bowl of the Olimpico a little way out of town. The Sánchez Pizjuán, with its famous tiled facade, is far more romantic than that: even the drunkest fan, as many proved, could just about manage the stagger there from the bars just north of the Alcázar.
It was noisy and it was fervent. Rarely can quite so many fans have been dressed in team colors: the Frankfurt end almost entirely white, the Rangers end blue speckled with the occasional orange, some sections a mix of the two. A reported 5,500 police had been designed to the game, but most of them must have been deployed outside the stadium. Inside such segregation as existed was enforced by thin lines of yellow-tabarded stewards. Given anxieties before the game that seemed a risk but, within the stadium at least, everything passed off peacefully.
There had been talk of 150,000 fans descending on Seville, but the numbers fell significantly short of that mark; the Frankfurt fans who remained in Germany themselves created an astonishing atmosphere watching on a big screen in the Deutsche Bank Park. Fears of violence, though, were not exaggerated.
Although for much of the day fans mixed happily enough, there were clashes at the west end of the bridge where Calle Enramadilla crosses Avenida San Francisco Javier, prompted, it appeared, by a group of perhaps 200 Frankfurt fans attacking Rangers fans seated outside bars. Punches and kicks were exchanged, there was a lot of posturing and some plastic furniture was thrown. The previous night, five Germans had been arrested after flares were hurled at Rangers fans.
The game, in truth, rather struggled to live up to the atmosphere but even that gave it a pleasingly retro feel. The old European finals tended to be about anxiety and grind rather than overt brilliance. But they were about glory just the same.
When Joe Aribo had left Charlton for Rangers in 2019, their manager Lee Bowyer had told him he was making a big mistake. But when Tuta’s slip left him clean through against Kevin Trapp 12 minutes into the second half, the possibility suddenly opened up that he could be the hero, that he could be the man to give Rangers their first European trophy in 50 years. And yet cynical modern football may be, even that opportunity is surely worth a lot.
Aribo took his chance, rather more cleanly than might have been expected from somebody who hadn’t scored in 18 previous European ties this season, but there were further twists to come. Ibrox immortality was dangled before him and then snatched away by Rafael Borré’s equalizer.
But glory was seeking a host, and it found one in the form of Trapp. Ten years ago, he had been sent off after 19 minutes of his debut for the club. It has been a long wait, but on a night that evoked European finals of old, his transition to hero was complete.