Interviewed shortly after the 1973 League & UEFA cup ‘˜double’, Bill Shankly pointed proudly to the glistening First Division championship trophy and described it as the club’s ‘œbread and butter’. He said that being successful in Europe had been good for the club and good for the country but that winning the League was what the club wanted to do ‘œall the time’. Nothing has changed about his philosophy nearly 30 years later but doing well in Europe raises the profile of a club beyond these shores and even though nobody knew then (probably not even Shankly himself !) that the 1973-74 season would be his last as manager, he must have been excited at the prospect of again pitting his wits against Europe’s finest and attempting to bring the prestigious European cup to Anfield for the very first time. But Bill’s dream ended in disappointment before Autumn turned into Winter. His players made very hard work of beating the minnows from Esch in Luxembourg 3-1 on aggregate and then went out to Red Star Belgrade in the second round. Chris Lawler ‘“ such a prolific scorer from full-back in Liverpool’s early European days ‘“ grabbed what appeared to be a priceless away goal in Yugoslavia but Red Star repeated their 2-1 victory a fortnight later at Anfield with wonderful strikes from Lazarevic and Jankovic. Yet another Lawler goal was ‘œtoo little, too late’. There was still a lot to learn before the greatest prize of all could be won.
Shankly’s parting gift to Liverpool was the F.A. cup so for the third time the club entered the Cup Winners’ cup. The plucky part-timers from Stromsgodset in Norway were destroyed at Anfield 11-0 ! Nine different players scored; only Brian Hall and ‘˜keeper Ray Clemence failed to find the net that night. The Norwegian goalkeeper’s name (Inge Thun) allowed the local sportswriters to print a ‘œTHUN-DERSTRUCK’ headline the following morning ! The return game was switched from the tiny stadium in Drammen where the Norwegians played to the national stadium in Oslo and marked the return to competitive action of Kevin Keegan after the long ban he (and Billy Bremner) had received following their sending-off in the Charity Shield back in August. Ray Kennedy scored the only goal of the match in Oslo but it was Keegan who gave the Reds a half-time lead when Ferencvaros visited Anfield for the third time in the next round. It looked for a long time as if that would be the only goal too but a last-minute equaliser from Mate gave the Hungarians a valuable away goal and changed the whole complexion of the tie. In Budapest Liverpool managed a goal-less draw but went out of the competition ‘“ and to make matters worse Tommy Smith received a fine and a European ban for feigning injury when a missile was thrown on to the pitch late in the game.
Bob Paisley considered his first season in charge to be disappointing, even though finishing as runners-up in the League would not have been seen as ‘œfailure’ at any other club ! But he was very astute tactically and one of his most important decisions during the 1975-76 was to transform Ray Kennedy (signed from Arsenal on the same day that Shankly had announced his retirement) from a lumbering forward into a creative midfielder. Kennedy played up front at Hibernian in the first round but was substituted by John Toshack in the second half as Liverpool tried to equalise Harper’s early goal. Ray didn’t figure at all in the return game but the big Welshman certainly did ‘“ and his three goals (all headers) saw the team through to a narrow 3-2 aggregate victory. Ray Clemence’s vital penalty-save in the closing minutes at Easter Road had prevented Liverpool from going out on the away goals rule. An impressive 3-1 away win at San Sebastian in the first leg of the second round virtually killed the tie off there and then and when the Basques from San Sebastian came to Anfield two weeks later they were comfortably thrashed six-nil. By the time Liverpool went to Poland to play Slask Wroclaw at the end of November, Ray Kennedy had been installed in his ‘˜new’ role with increasing effect and he scored the first of Liverpool’s two goals that afternoon in freezing conditions (the other coming from Toshack) before a hat-trick from Jimmy Case finished the job off at home.
In the quarter-finals Liverpool were again paired with Dynamo Dresden, the club they had beaten at the same stage of the 1972-73 competition. They didn’t manage a win in Dresden as they had three years previously but were satisfied enough with a 0-0 score-line, especially as another brilliant penalty-save from Clemence had prevented a narrow defeat. For the second time that season, Ray’s agility would keep Liverpool in the tournament because after Case and Keegan had given the Reds what seemed to be comfortable lead in the home game, a strike from Heidler led to a tense last few minutes with the threat of a second German goal which would have put Liverpool out.
The wonderful setting of the Nou Camp in Barcelona was the scene for one of the club’s best-ever European performances. Playing in an all-white kit, the team’s defensive performance was immense and they snuffed out the threat of the brilliant Cruyff and the creativity of Neeskens. There was a bonus too with John Toshack driving home the only game of the tie after just 13 minutes to keep the home supporters quiet. A noisy Anfield awaited the Catalans but this tie was still in the balance and the first half was very even. Five minutes after the interval, Phil Thompson prodded the ball over the line from six inches out and it looked to be over but within a minute Rexach had equalised. Just as against Dresden in the previous round, this led to a very tense finish but Liverpool held out and then heard that their final opponents would be Bruges, who had beaten Hamburg 1-0 at home after a 1-1 draw in Germany.
The two legs of the final were either side of the last, vital League match of the season, the game which would decide whether Liverpool or QPR would win the title and whether Wolves or Birmingham would be relegated. But Anfield was silenced early on in the home leg as the Belgians raced into a two-goal lead. A dreadful header by Phil Neal fell woefully short of Ray Clemence and Lambert raced in to lob the ball over the goalkeeper and into the net. Only minutes later a sensational strike by Cools left the Reds staring at a bad home defeat. There were no further goals before half-time and in the interval Paisley decided to send on Jimmy Case in place of John Toshack. It was a move which had an immediate effect. Ray Kennedy’s thunderbolt reduced the arrears before the same played dragged a shot against a post and Case, following up, stabbed the ball home from close range. Then Heighway was chopped down in the area and Keegan calmly sent Jensen the wrong way from the spot. Three goals in five astonishing minutes early in the second period had completely turned the game round. There should have been further goals too in the time that remained but probably Liverpool were just happy to be in the lead after such a terrible start ‘“ and there was also a late scare when a good chance was put wide by one of the Belgian forwards in the closing minutes.
The championship was won in dramatic style at Wolverhampton and Liverpool set off for Belgium knowing that if they could hold out for a draw the trophy would be theirs for a second time. But again there was an early shock. Tommy Smith was penalised for handball and Lambert drove the penalty out of Clemence’s reach. But Liverpool’s reply was instant. A free-kick on the edge of the box was touched sideways by Hughes for Keegan to drive into the net. The rest of the game was pretty even but as time wore on Bruges put more into attack and Liverpool not surprisingly more into defence, knowing that a draw would be enough on the night. There were still some heart-stopping moments though ‘“ one shot against a post and a cross a few minutes from time which eluded players from both sides when only a touch would probably have resulted in a goal. The final whistle was greeted with great joy by the thousands of Liverpool fans who had made the short journey across the Channel and Emlyn Hughes stepped proudly forward to receive the trophy and complete the club’s second League and UEFA cup ‘˜double’ in four seasons.
Once again the ‘œHoly Grail’ of the champions’ cup was within sight. Paisley was very shrewd and although on the whole he liked using substitutes as little as his predecessor had done, he knew when to make changes and when to change tactics. But as a small crowd of only 22,000 turned up for the visit of Crusaders in the middle of September 1976, nobody then had any idea of the drama that would unfold as the season wore on, both domestically and on foreign soil. Crusaders fought hard and by the end of 90 minutes only a dubious Phil Neal penalty and a Toshack goal separated the sides. But it was a different matter in Belfast where the Reds won comfortably enough 5-0 with four of the goals coming in the last 10 minutes as the Irish part-timers tired. There was very much ‘œa Journey into the Unknown’ in round two. Liverpool travelled to Turkey for the first time and faced pretty miserable conditions on and off the pitch. A ridiculous penalty-decision gave Trabzonspor a narrow lead to bring to England and when they turned up at Anfield two weeks later thousands of their British-based fans occupied a large section of the Main Stand to make a noisy atmosphere which affected the home crowd too. Within 20 minutes the Turks were sitting quietly back in their seats. Heighway, Johnson & Keegan scored the goals which made the second half something of a stroll and despite some cynical tackling which saw one of the Turkish defenders sent from the field, the Reds held out without difficulty.
Four months separated the second round from the quarter-final but before the turn of the year Liverpool already knew that they would be facing Saint-Etienne (‘œles Verts’ from France) who has so unluckily lost the previous season’s final to Bayern Munich at Hampden Park. In one of the most hostile atmospheres a Liverpool team has ever faced, they walked out at the Geoffrey Guichard stadium to play a team that was determined to go one step further than they had a year before. But Liverpool were determined too and were unlucky to lose on the night. Steve Heighway had driven a shot against a post mid-way through the second-half but 10 minutes from time all the defensive heroics were undone as Bathenay drove the ball past Clemence following a corner. With 55,000 packed into Anfield for the return game ‘“ and thousands of visiting supporters helping to create a wonderful atmosphere – St. Etienne’s lead was wiped out with only two minutes on the clock, Keegan’s cross from the left drifting over Curkovic and into the corner of the Anfield Road goal. Clemence was in inspired form as the French came back strongly but even he could do nothing about Dominique Bathenay’s sensational, swerving strike from way out which put the French back into an aggregate lead. Ray Kennedy made the scores level but Liverpool were still behind on the away goals rule. With time running out, Paisley sent on Fairclough to replace the tiring Toshack and the youngster who had a growing reputation for coming off the bench to score vital goals obliged again. With just six minutes left, he raced onto Ray Kennedy’s lob forward, brushed aside the defender who was chasing him and calmly slotted the ball past Curkovic to start off wild celebrations the like of which Anfield has rarely seen before. It was one of the great moments in the club’s history but when the emotion died down everyone realised that there was still a long way to go in this competition, although I suspect that the club were happy to avoid their old foes from Borussia in the semi-final or to have to undergo a long and tiring trip to Russia to play Dynamo Kiev. The semi-final with Zurich was almost an anti-climax after the drama of the St. Etienne tie. Zurich scored an early penalty but Phil Neal quickly equalised and added a penalty of his own in the second-half before Heighway effectively sealed the club’s place in the final even before the home leg, which was subsequently won without any fuss 3-0.
And so to Rome ‘“ and the greatest night in the club’s history, a night of which so much has been spoken and written at the time and in the years that have followed. Coming only 4 days after the terrible disappointment of losing to Manchester United in the F.A. cup final, this was a remarkable performance indeed. The team was the same which had ended the Wembley final, which meant that Ian Callaghan was in the line-up from the start at David Johnson’s expense. Liverpool took charge of the game early on and Terry McDermott’s typical run and shot gave the Reds a deserved interval lead. Only briefly in the second period did things look to be going Borussia’s way. Case’s error presented Simonsen with a chance which the Dane took expertly and Clemence made two crucial saves as the Germans looked to profit from the advantage of equalising. But Tommy Smith’s header from Heighway’s corner and Neal’s penalty after Keegan had run Vogts ragged sealed a memorable win. For the first time, Liverpool were champions of Europe and deservedly so.
If you look back at the history books, they will tell you that when Liverpool retained the European cup in 1978, they only had to play seven matches (having got a bye as holders in the first round) and that they had the advantage of playing the final at Wembley. But that shouldn’t detract from the achievement of winning the giant cup again or the way they reached it by thrashing Dynamo Dresden (5-1) and Benfica (4-1) at Anfield on their way to the semi-final. Borussia switched their home leg from the small Bokelberg stadium (where Liverpool had clinched the UEFA cup in 1973) to a bigger one at Dusseldorf which had almost twice the capacity. When David Johnson headed an equaliser with just two minutes left, it looked to have given Liverpool a clear advantage for the second leg but a last-minute free-kick from Rainer Bonhof restored the Germans’ lead. At Anfield Ray Kennedy’s early header eased the nerves and before half-time Kenny Dalglish had put Liverpool ahead on aggregate. Jimmy Case’s second-half goal turned a difficult task into a comfortable win and as the players left the field they learned that Bruges would again be their opponents in a European final. Having to play a final at a supposedly neutral venue when their own supporters were outnumbered 10 to 1 must have been a daunting task ‘“ but no more daunting than the task which Liverpool faced in Rome in 1984 ! The Belgians concentrated on defence and frustrated the Liverpool team and supporters. When Terry McDermott broke through from midfield early in the second half a goal looked likely but Jensen smothered the shot and Bruges survived until the 65th minute when Souness’s clever pass and Dalglish’s neat finish gave the Reds a lead they only once looked like losing ‘“ and that was more down to bad defending than anything else ! Hansen put Clemence in all sorts of trouble with a woeful back-pass but Phil Thompson was aware of the danger and raced back to clear off the line. That was the only clear chance Bruges had in the whole game. Perhaps nobody really expected as open a game as the one which had secured the trophy 12 months before. This was the first of six successive European cup finals which would end 1-0 (five of then won by English clubs).
Nottingham Forest had surprised the football world by taking the First Division championship only 12 months after they came out of the Second Division. It was very much against the odds that the two English clubs would be drawn together in the first round of 1978-79 but it still happened ! Probably Liverpool would have been better off playing a continental side. Maybe they wouldn’t have chased the game as much as they did in Nottingham after going a goal behind ? Barrett’s second goal for the Midlanders in the last minute made Liverpool’s task even more difficult and despite showing a lot of passion on the night they just couldn’t find a way past Peter Shilton in either game. There was a first round defeat a year later too. Dynamo Tbilisi survived the expected Anfield onslaught and returned to Gergia with a 1-2 deficit but scored three times in the second half at their own stadium to put the Reds out. After winning the coveted European trophy two years running, those early exits were hard to take but there was ample compensation domestically when perhaps the best Liverpool team ever (?) won the championship in 1979 and then retained it a year later.
In 1980 it was Forest who found themselves in the same position as Liverpool in 1978, trying to win the European cup for the third year in a row. But they were knocked out by CSKA Sofia, the club that Liverpool would meet in the quarter-final after comfortably disposing of Oulu and Aberdeen in the first two rounds. Graeme Souness’s hat-trick at Anfield in a convincing 5-1 victory made the trip to Bulgaria an easy one and David Johnson actually increased Liverpool’s aggregate lead with the only goal of the game in Sofia. Bayern Munich frustrated Liverpool at Anfield and seemed to have one foot in the Paris final after getting a 0-0 draw. They were even complacent enough to print details of how to get to the French capital by the time the second leg was played in Munich ‘“ but Liverpool had other ideas ! A weakened team was weakened even more when a horrible challenge put Dalglish out of the game early on but his substitute (Howard Gayle) ran the Bayern defence ragged for an hour before he was in turn replaced by Jimmy Case. Colin Irwin and Richard Money, two men with very little experience of such an important game, were superb at the back but with David Johnson hobbling out on the wing it seemed unlikely that Liverpool would make the first, important breakthrough. But Johnson found the space and the composure to pick out Ray Kennedy 7 minutes from time and his low right-foot shot put Liverpool into the lead. A late Bayern equaliser couldn’t hide the fact that this was a truly memorable performance against all the odds. There were five weeks between the second leg of the semi-final and the final itself, time enough for experienced players like Thompson, Dalglish and (Alan) Kennedy to recover from their injuries. A dour final with Real Madrid was settled near the end when Alan Kennedy raced on to a throw-in and drove the ball past Agustin from a narrow angle, the Spanish ‘˜keeper having come slightly off his line to anticipate a cross which never came ! Liverpool had regained their crown as the continent’s premier club.
There were many similarities between the next two seasons, 1981-82 and 1982-83. On both occasions Liverpool won the League championship but in both seasons could get no further than the quarter-finals of the European cup. Sofia avenged their defeat of 1981 a year later, albeit in controversial circumstances which saw Mark Lawrenson sent off, and then a poor performance in Poland against Widzew Lodz gave them too much to do in the home leg. But in 1983-84 things were different. Liverpool reached the final by winning all four away matches, which was a wonderful achievement, especially as it meant having to win (or at least get a score-draw) in Bilbao after failing to beat the Spaniards at Anfield and then facing an extremely hostile crowd (and players !) in Bucharest after a bruising first-leg encounter at Anfield, during which Graeme Souness had managed to break the jaw of a Rumanian player without being spotted by any of the officials ! Hopes were high for an all-British final after Dundee United had surprisingly beaten Roma 2-0 at Tannadice in the other semi-final. But the Italians had the incredible incentive of playing the final on their own ground if they got through and they achieved their aim with a 3-0 win in the second leg. The manner in which Liverpool overcame the odds in Rome in 1984 is surely as famous as their first victory there seven years before. Phil Neal, the only survivor from the 1977 team, put his team ahead but Pruzzo equalised on the stroke of half-time. The second half came and went without further goals ‘“ as did extra-time ‘“ so for the first time the most important club competition in Europe would be settled by penalty-kicks. Steve Nicol volunteered to take the first kick but blazed it horribly over the bar ! But Conti and Graziani did the same whereas all Liverpool’s other penalty-takers were successful and it meant all Alan Kennedy had to do was beat Tancredi to give Liverpool the cup for the fourth time. He did just that with great composure, sending the Italian goalkeeper the wrong way, and the celebrations could begin, celebrations which were marred by disgusting behaviour by some Italians outside the stadium who were unable to accept the defeat because they just hadn’t contemplated it beforehand.
Liverpool were defending the championship and the League cup at home as well as the European cup abroad. Tottenham put an end to an astonishing four-year winning streak in the League cup and Everton were racing away at the top of the First Division table. Liverpool did reach the F.A. cup semi-final but again Manchester United broke their hearts after a replay. For many ‘“ despite what Shankly had said years earlier ‘“ winning the European cup for a 5th time (and thereby keeping it for ever) was the ultimate goal. Four goals from John Wark saw off the Poles from Lech Poznan before old adversaries Benfica were beaten by an Ian Rush hat-trick at Anfield. Steve Nicol’s late equaliser in Vienna was the prelude to a convincing 4-1 home win over FK Austria at Anfield, Paul Walsh scoring twice. Liverpool met Greek opposition for only the second time when they were paired with Panathinaikos in the semi-final but two goals from Rush in the home game gave a comfortable 4-0 cushion before the return in Athens, where Mark Lawrenson scored as Liverpool eased through to their 5th European cup final, where they were joined by Juventus who narrowly defeated Bordeaux 3-2 on aggregate.
It could have been the greatest night in Liverpool’s history but an hour of madness and mayhem before the match started destroyed Liverpool’s good reputation on one of the blackest nights any sport has ever known. Whether the game should even have been played after so many people had died is open to question ? Whatever the reasons were which led up to the tragedy (and there are many), the decision to play on was one which Liverpool couldn’t win anyway. Victory would always have been tarnished, defeat almost accepted because of what had preceded it. A game which was then of little consequence was decided by an outrageous refereeing decision when Boniek was tripped well outside the penalty-area and Juventus were awarded a spot-kick which Michel Platini converted comfortably. But by then it didn’t matter. Nobody was going to grumble about a decision like that. Juventus took the cup home with them and Liverpool (along with other English clubs) were banished into the European wilderness. ‘œThe Golden Years’ were over…