“I’ll have tails!” – When Liverpool FC’s European tie was decided by a coin toss!

There are a multitude of heartbreaking ways to lose a game of football, and a coin toss is certainly up there – but, thankfully, for Liverpool, they were on the right side of the flip.

The year was 1965, and Liverpool were in Europe competition for the first time in their history having won the league title the campaign prior.

Bill Shankly was leading the charge and the Reds had already knocked out Iceland’s Knattspyrnufelag Reykjavikur 11-1 on aggregate and then Anderlecht, next up was Cologne over two legs.

But after two goalless draws in both legs, a replay was arranged in Rotterdam, a neutral venue, for March 24 – this was a period when penalties were not used to decide a game (they were introduced in 1970).

Bizarrely though, a coin toss was deemed as the best solution to who would progress and who would go no further in the European Cup as the two teams could not be separated.


‘I would have picked tails myself’

Bill Shankly, 14-Apr-1964 (Picture by PA PA Archive/PA Images)

In the third clash between the two teams, Ian St John and Roger Hunt ensured the Reds raced to a two-goal lead inside 37 minutes, but by minute 48 the scoreboard read 2-2.

Three games in three different countries with 300 minutes played, and yet Liverpool and Cologne were locked in a battle where they could play on even longer without a clear victor.

Faced with the prospect of playing on for an undeterminable amount of time, Belgian referee Robert Schaut made the call to decide the tie by the flip of a coin.

Can you imagine the uproar if that occurred in this day and age!

The winner would progress to the semi-finals to face holders Inter Milan and the loser would bow out of the competition – and it was all on Liverpool captain Ron Yeats to make the right call!

Yeats and Cologne skipper Wolfgang Overath joined the referee in the centre circle, but even the coin toss did not go as planned due to the conditions of the pitch, only adding to the drama!

Recalling the events of the peculiar game-deciding moment, Yeats explained: “I got in first to the referee and said ‘I’ll have tails’. Lucky for me the referee said, ‘OK. Liverpool tails, Cologne heads.’

“Up it went and it stuck in a divot. I said to the referee, ‘Ref, you’re going to have to retoss the coin’. And he went, ‘You’re right, Mr Yeats.’

“I thought the German captain was going to hit him. He was going berserk because it was falling over on the heads. He picked it up, up it went again and came down tails.

Liverpool FC squad photo 1965/66 - 1960s: (back row, l-r) Gordon Milne, Gerry Byrne, Tommy Lawrence, Ron Yeats, Chris Lawler, Wilf Stevenson; (front row, l-r) Ian Callaghan, Roger Hunt, Ian St John, Tommy Smith, Peter Thompson (PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo)

“We were coming off and who is standing there but Bill Shankly. I was first off the pitch, and he went, ‘Well done, big man. I am proud of you. What did you pick?’

“I said ‘I picked tails, boss’. I was waiting for the adulation, but he just went ‘I would have picked tails myself’ and walked away.”

A brilliantly typical Shankly response.

Thus, the Reds advanced and went on to play a thrilling yet gut-wrenching contest against Inter, with their 3-1 advantage from Anfield wiped out with a 3-0 defeat at the San Siro.

As the club’s first taste of European football, it was quite the series of events – who would have thought a shout of ‘tails’ would secure a victory, will we see anything like it again?