Sat. Jul 2nd, 2022

Australian David Mitchell played for both Rangers and Frankfurt in his career

Australian David Mitchell played for both Rangers and Frankfurt in his career

For David Mitchell, the Europa League final feels like a walk through the corridors of his past.

Many years before Ange Postecoglou arrived on the scene, the now 59-year-old was Australian football’s first major export to Scottish football.

He spent two years with boyhood idols Rangers. Scouted playing for the Socceroos against Scotland in a World Cup play-off at Hampden, he then moved to Germany to join Eintracht Frankfurt. From there, he headed for Feyenoord where his dribbling skills attracted a young fan.

‘Giovanni van Bronckhorst was a young kid at Feyenoord when I was there,’ he tells Sportsmail.

‘He told me I was one of the players he liked when he was coming through the ranks and, from a player of that caliber, that was nice. He has done a fantastic job since taking over.

‘Since the semi-finals were decided, a lot of people have sent me a text or got in touch because my two old teams are playing in the final.

‘Eintracht and Rangers fans are fantastically passionate, two traditional clubs I have a lot of affection for. I enjoyed playing for both of them and it will be a fantastic game.

‘But when push comes to shove, I want Rangers to win. They are in my blood and it would be brilliant for Giovanni and for Scottish football. ‘

Alongside Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Dariusz Adamczuk, Mitchell is one of a small band to have played for both Europa League finalists.

In 1983, the son of a former Lesmahagow Juniors goalkeeper paid £ 17,000 from his own pocket to buy his release from Adelaide. Desperate to join John Greig’s Rangers, he was the highest-paid player Down Under and accepted a pay cut to move to Glasgow.

‘I grew up in Australia,’ says Mitchell. ‘When I was 20, I went to Rangers on trial and it was the worst winter in living memory. It was three months of ice.

Mitchell (top) pictured in training with Australia ahead of a friendly with Rangers in 1984

Mitchell (top) pictured in training with Australia ahead of a friendly with Rangers in 1984

‘They said: “Look, son. We have not really seen you”. I said to John Greig: “If I come back a free player and come back to train and play…”. He said to me: “Son, if you come back free, I would seriously look at you”.

‘So I bought out my own contract and went back to Scotland. It cost nearly £ 17k and that came out of my own pocket.

‘I bought a ticket and went back as a backpacker because I did not have any money left.

‘My dad Jimmy was a Rangers man, who used to play as a goalkeeper. He played with Stan Anderson in the juniors and Stan became John Greig’s assistant at Rangers.

‘Dad wrote a letter to Stan and getting that letter back saying Rangers wanted to see me was quite something. I still have a pile of clippings with the letter in there.

‘My first Premier League game was against Celtic at Parkhead. Ally McCoist made his Old Firm league debut the same day.

‘Ally scored in the first minute and we lost 2-1. I got man of the match from a Rangers point of view because I decked big Roy Aitken in the 14th minute of the game. ‘

Mitchell also went to Feyenoord where a young Giovanni van Bronckhurst became his fan

Mitchell also went to Feyenoord where a young Giovanni van Bronckhurst became his fan

Despite his willingness to do the physical stuff, Mitchell sampled European football at Ibrox and realized the game overseas might be more suited to his talents than the Scottish top flight.

‘It was a very difficult period to be at Rangers,’ he says. ‘Aberdeen were the kings and you had Dundee United as well. Alex Ferguson and Jim McLean built really good teams and Celtic and Rangers were fighting it out to be next.

‘Jock Wallace returned as manager in 1983 and he wanted his own players.

‘I played against Inter Milan and had a great game, scored against Porto and did quite well.

Mitchell paid £ 17,000 from his own pocket to buy his release from Adelaide to join Rangers

Mitchell paid £ 17,000 from his own pocket to buy his release from Adelaide to join Rangers

‘But I was in and out of the team. I wanted to go and play in Europe because I felt the football they played in Europe was much better.

‘Rangers were stuck in their traditions and it stifled it a little bit for the players.

‘You had to wear a shirt and tie to training, you had to be clean shaven, you could not do this and could not do that.

‘Some of the methods were a bit antiquated and the club had to move forward.

‘I had played for Australia in the World Youth Cup in Australia and I played really well in the quarter-final against Germany.

‘The coach of that team was also the coach of Eintracht Frankfurt. And he started monitoring me. ‘

Mitchell became the first Australian export to play in the Bundesliga. His father Jimmy held fond memories of being at Hampden when the great Real Madrid team of 1960 thrashed the Germans 7-3 in one of the greatest European Cup finals of all time.

‘To me, Eintracht have always been one of the biggest clubs in Germany,’ says Mitchell.

‘I remember my dad telling me about them beating Rangers 6-3 in the European Cup semi-final of 1960 then seeing them in the final. They had a real history and it was a great club.

Frankfurt are slight favorites to beat Rangers in the Europa League final in Sevilla this week

Frankfurt are slight favorites to beat Rangers in the Europa League final in Sevilla this week

‘I got there and was immediately stuck by how professionally it was all run. Soon as you arrived, they gave you a brand new Merc to drive about in. I’d never had that before. They sorted you out.

‘You trained twice a day and they gave you a diet sheet.’

He left Eintracht for Conference League finalists Feyenoord where he first encountered a young Van Bronckhorst. Despite a lingering affection for both finalists in Seville, there is no conflict of interest.

‘I dearly hope Rangers win,’ adds Mitchell. ‘I think it would be fantastic to have both of the big two from Glasgow in the Champions League next year. I will always have Rangers in my heart and in my blood.

‘But I’m happy if Ange Postecoglou does well at Celtic because it’s great for Australian football if he gets recognized.’

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