IN the long history of Celtic and Rangers only a few players have ever played for both sides.

However legendary criminal lawyer Len Murray went one better when he represented the two clubs at the same time.

In a case that would rock Scottish football, three Rangers players – including captain Terry Butcher – and Celtic star striker Frank McAvennie, ended up in the dock at Glasgow Sheriff Court.

Their appearances followed a match at Ibrox in October 1987, during which all four had been involved in a goalmouth fracas.

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Rangers goalie Chris Woods and McAvennie were both sent off for their part in the incident and defender Graham Roberts and Butcher were yellow carded.

Butcher was sent off later in the game for a second unrelated offence, and the match ended 2-2 with Roberts replacing Woods in goal for Rangers.

It had been a controversial encounter but no more than many other such games over the years.

However, in an unusual move the procurator fiscal for Glasgow, Sandy Jessop, had called for a ­police report into the game.

Most people thought the matter would go no further than warning letters sent to the clubs and ­ players.

But the complete opposite was about to happen.

Two weeks after the game Murray was enjoying a civilised and relaxing evening with his wife at their home in Bearsden listening to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and drinking his favourite brandy.

A far cry from the raucous terracing anthems of Ibrox and Parkhead, or so he thought.

Suddenly he received a call from a client, Bill McMurdo, who was a well-known football agent and Rangers fan.

Despite their different allegiances – Murray was a Celtic supporter – both men got on well.

McMurdo had been referred to Murray by another blue nose client, former Rangers manager Jock ­Wallace.

He was calling on behalf of his client McAvennie, who had been ordered to report to Govan Police Office at noon the following day.

McMurdo explained that it related to the incident during the recent Old Firm game, and it was clear charges were in the offing.

The agent wanted Murray, a senior partner in Glasgow firm Levy & McRae, to represent McAvennie.

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As the two men chatted the doorbell rang, and another well-known city lawyer, Ian Dickson, was standing at his door.

Dickson said he had called at Murray’s home as a matter of ­urgency as he did not have his ­telephone number.

He said he was there representing Woods, Butcher and Roberts, as his firm acted for Rangers at the time.

His job was to ask Murray if he would take on the job of organising their defence.

Like McAvennie they had been asked to attend Govan Police Office the following morning, though at a different time.

Murray told the Glasgow Times: “This was turning into one of the most memorable evenings of my life.

“Only 10 minutes earlier I had been having a quiet drink and now I was at the centre of what would prove to be the trial of the year.”

The solicitor agreed to meet Woods and Roberts at Ibrox at 10am as Butcher was away on international duty with England.

He would then later join up with McMurdo and McAvennie in the Bellahouston Hotel at 11.30am.

That morning Murray took the two Rangers players to Govan Police Office where they were charged with behaviour liable to cause a breach of the peace.

The solicitor then went to his pre-arranged meeting with McMurdo, McAvennie and the Celtic manager Billy McNeill.

On this occasion his Levy & McRae colleague Peter Watson took the striker to Govan to be charged.

Butcher was charged at the same station on the Monday morning, with Murray in attendance.

At that stage the lawyer didn’t believe the case would ever go to court, but he still had a quadruple defence to prepare.

Unusually for a Celtic fan he was invited along to an Ibrox board meeting to discuss the matter with the chairman David Holmes.

Holmes confided that three well-known Glasgow lawyers with Rangers leanings had phoned not only to offer their services but also to inform him that Murray was a Catholic and Celtic fan.

However, that had cut no ice with the board.

Murray added: “At the meeting Mr Holmes made it clear that I was the best man for the job ­notwithstanding the team that I supported.

“I regarded it as being an enormous tribute to the integrity of the Rangers board that they had treated these offers with the contempt that they merited.”

Murray then obtained a copy from STV of video footage of the incident involving the four players so he could send it for analysis.

He added: “At that point the football world was questioning the right of the police and prosecutors to get involved in conduct on the field.

“Until then the authorities had been content to allow the governing bodies to police themselves.”

With that in mind, Murray arranged a meeting with Jessop in his office.

He told the procurator fiscal that he did not think there was any public interest justification in putting the four famous footballers in the dock.

Murray added: “I accepted that he had the right to take such action but I also pointed out that it was a very minor incident.

“I also pointed out that there had been far more serious events over the years for which there had been no prosecution.

“I suggested that he write to all four players warning them that if such an event took place again he would not hesitate to prosecute them.”

Murray also told Jessop he was concerned that a future trial might also inflame any simmering sectarian tensions in the city.

A few days later Jessop wrote back to Murray to say that he was going ahead with a prosecution.

Given the publicity that the case would attract it was decided to appoint four leading QCs to represent the four stars.

Murray added: “David Holmes insisted that the three Rangers players get the best defence possible.

“The legal team for all four was more likely to be found in a big murder case or a terrorist trial.

“It was a really formidable quartet.

“I think they were delighted to have the opportunity to show off their skills in such a high-profile trial.

“Each player also had their own solicitor in court.

“My role was to supervise the whole process and prepare the case.”

The trial before Sheriff Archibald McKay was held the following April amid a blaze of publicity.

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He was told that an incident had taken place in the 17th minute of the Old Firm game after the ball had been played back to goalkeeper Woods.

There was a collision between him and McAvennie in which he appeared to slap Woods on the face.

Butcher and Roberts had then run to the aid of their teammate to remonstrate with the Celtic player.

This then resulted in some pushing and shoving – during which McAvennie fell to the ground – resulting in him and Woods getting sent off.

An analysis of the footage by experts at Strathclyde University showed that McAvennie had not slapped Woods on the face while his rush on the goalie had been within the laws of the game.

Following several days of evidence, McAvennie was found not guilty by a sheriff, while the charge against Roberts was not proven.

However, both Butcher and Woods were found guilty of the breach of the peace charge and fined.

Both men appealed their convictions which were subsequently thrown out.

To this day Murray has no idea why Glasgow’s most senior prosecutor took the action that he did.

He added: “Sandy Jessop was a man for whom I had the greatest respect. I thought at the time and I still think after all these years that the decision to prosecute was wrong and not in the public interest.

“I think had it been two other teams then nothing would have happened.

“It was only because the incident involved Celtic and Rangers that the matter ended up in court.”

Jessop would later leave his role as procurator fiscal to become a sheriff.

Murray retired in 2003 after a glittering career as a criminal lawyer spanning six decades.

Now 87, he said: “At that time only one player ever, Alfie Conn, had played for both Celtic and Rangers.

“I was able to boast that I was the second.”