The night that left Anfield “shaking” as Supersub delivered for Liverpool

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David Fairclough made 154 appearances for Liverpool, with only 92 as a starter, and the original Supersub still holds the record for most-ever goals as a substitute.

The role of the substitute was not even recognised in England until 1965, when in-game changes were first permitted by the Football League.

At first sides were only allowed one alteration per game, with this being expanded to two in 1987 and then three in 1990s, with the number of players permitted in the matchday squad increased as the years went by.

The impact of substitutes was, therefore, limited in the early years—Liverpool’s first-ever goalscorer from the bench was Geoff Strong, who struck a second-half equaliser in a 1-1 draw with West Ham in 1965.

Roger Hunt, Alun Evans and Phil Boersma regularly made contributions after coming on in the years to come, but the mid-1970s brought the era of the Supersub.

Fairclough had already scored six from the bench by the time Saint-Etienne arrived, including an 88th-minute winner in the Merseyside derby at Anfield in 1976, having replaced John Toshack midway through the second half.

The atmosphere at Anfield was electric, as Liverpool welcomed their French rivals for the second leg of their European Cup quarter-final on March 16, 1977.

Emlyn Hughes, captain of Liverpool FC leads his side out at Anfield.

Having lost 1-0 in the first leg at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard two weeks earlier, the Reds had it all to do and Bob Paisley named a formidable side, with Emlyn Hughes wearing the armband.

Toshack led the line, and Liverpool got off to the perfect start as Kevin Keegan netted the aggregate equaliser in the second minute in bizarre circumstances, with his cross looping high and over the goalkeeper into the top corner.

But after a raucous first half that saw goals ruled out for either side, Saint-Etienne levelled on the night as Dominique Bathenay fired past Ray Clemence with a stunning long-range effort.

A show of perfect centre-forward play saw Toshack touched down a lofted ball for Ray Kennedy to put Liverpool back on level terms on the hour, and 15 minutes later, Paisley sent on Fairclough.

The 20-year-old was in his second season with the first team, and this was his 17th appearance of the campaign—10 of the previous 16 also came as a substitute.

Liverpool were pushing hard for the goal that would send them through to the semi-finals, with Keegan their main outlet, when a long pass forward saw Fairclough rushing through with Saint-Etienne shirts on his trail.

Able to hold off their advances, the young striker nodded down the bouncing ball, took another touch in the box and slotted home.

The Kop surged towards the pitch as Anfield erupted; Fairclough fell to the turf to be smothered by his jubilant team-mates, who were now steeled to hold on for the comeback victory.

“Well we’ve known some great nights under that Kop, but perhaps nothing ever quite like this,” reflected the commentary, as ‘we shall not be moved’ boomed out.

“The whole stand is shaking here at Anfield.”

When the full-time whistle blew, with the scores at 3-1 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate, Fairclough had earned his nickname of Supersub, the original off-the-bench game-changer.

Over seven seasons and 154 games with the Reds—interrupted by a loan spell with Toronto Blizzard—Fairclough scored 55 goals, with 18 coming in 62 outings as a substitute.

Only two other players have scored more than 10 times off the bench for Liverpool, those being Daniel Sturridge (13) and Ryan Babel (12), with Divock Origi (nine) the closest to Fairclough’s record among the current crop.

Origi did, of course, net as a substitute in the Champions League final win over Tottenham in 2019, which brought a sixth European Cup to Merseyside.

(L-R) Liverpool's Phil Neal, Emlyn Hughes and Jimmy Case show the European Cup to their jubilant fans

Fairclough’s winner back in 1977 paved the way for the club’s first, with FC Zurich and Borussia Monchengladbach then downed on the way to the trophy, clinched with a 3-1 win over Gladbach in Rome.

Supersub remained unused that night, and spoke of his disappointment at being left out, but his value to Liverpool was clear: Hughes described him as their “secret weapon,” while Keegan said “he’s got ability you can’t coach.”

Though he barely established himself as a first-team regular, Fairclough cemented his place in Anfield folklore with his heroics against Saint-Etienne, and is widely considered a Liverpool legend.

This is justified, as he scored the goal that marked one of Anfield’s greatest nights, and one of the club’s greatest-ever moments.

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