SIMON SHELDON recalls when Liverpool won the European Cup for the first time – 40 years ago…
THERE were a couple of notable anniversaries for those with Liverpool connections to savour recently. Aside from the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, possibly the greatest album ever, it’s 40 years ago that Liverpool won their first European Cup.
The Reds were the reigning UEFA Cup winners after beating Club Brugge 4-3 on aggregate, but had entered the 1976/77 European Cup as league champions from the previous season.
In those days, the competition was only open to the champion club of each European league and it was a straight knockout cup played over home and away legs.
The Reds were drawn against the Northern Ireland champions Crusaders in the first round.
Liverpool won 2-0 in the first leg at Anfield courtesy of goals from Phil Neal (pen) and John Toshack.
The return was won easily 5-0 with goals from David Johnson (two), Kevin Keegan, Terry McDermott and Steve Heighway, allowing Liverpool to cruise through 7-0 on aggregate.
In the second round, Turkish champions Trabzonspor were their opponents with the first leg away this time.
A tight game was settled by a penalty to the Turkish side, but in the return leg at home Liverpool scored three early goals through Heighway, Johnson and Keegan in the first half. It meant they took the tie 3-1 on aggregate.
In the quarter-finals, the previous year’s finalists Saint-Etienne stood in the way. The French outfit won the first leg 1-0 at home and were confident of going through.
The return is considered one of Liverpool’s most memorable European nights.
Bob Paisley’s men opened the scoring in the second minute through Keegan to level the tie. However, St Etienne equalised early in the second half, putting them 2-1 up on aggregate.
Due to the away goals rule, Liverpool would have to score twice to progress to the semi-final. With time ticking away, the odds against such a revival were mounting, until Ray Kennedy made the overall scoreline 2-2 with a stunning strike.
With 18 minutes remaining, David Fairclough replaced Toshack and the ‘supersub’ struck the winner with six minutes left. Liverpool were through 3-2 on aggregate.
They drew the Swiss champions FC Zurich in the semi-finals. Although Zurich took a sixthminute lead from the penalty spot at home in the first leg, goals from Neal eight minutes later and in the second half by Heighway and Neal again, from the spot, gave the Merseysiders a comfortable 3-1 advantage heading into the return at Anfield.
Liverpool easily rolled over the Swiss 3-0 at home with two goals from Case and the other from Keegan to march on to Rome for the final
against Borussia Monchengladbach. The German champions had reached the final by beating Austria Vienna 3-1, Torino 2-1, Club Brugge 3-2 and, in the semi-finals, Dynamo Kiev 2-1.
The clubs had met four years earlier in the 1973 UEFA Cup final, Liverpool winning 3-2 on aggregate.
In 1976-77, Liverpool clinched the league title by a single point from Manchester City and also reached the FA Cup final against Manchester United.
With the European Cup final to follow, there was the prospect of an unprecedented football treble.
However, it was not to be (we would have to wait another 22 years for a club – Manchester United – to achieve this) as Liverpool lost 2-1 to the Red Devils at Wembley.
Borussia had also retained their title and were keen to keep the European Cup in German hands. Bayern Munich had won the three previous finals but had lost to Dynamo Kiev in the quarter-finals this time.
The German team had some big names in their side – Rainer Bonhof, Uli Stielike, Berti Vogts and the Danish star Allan Simonsen.
A mass exodus of Reds fans converged on the Italian capital to cheer on Paisley’s men just four days after their FA Cup final disappointment. The stadium was packed and it looked like a sea of red and white flags and banners, as if Anfield had been transported to Rome.
After a cagey start, the first chance fell to Borussia. Bonhof moved forward from midfield and rifled a shot that came back off the post. In the 27th minute, Ian Callaghan won the ball in midfield and passed to Heighway on the right wing.
Heighway cut inside and, as he was about to be tackled, found Terry McDermott, who had made a lung-bursting 60-yard run from his own half of the pitch to the edge of the Borussia penalty area. In space, he took a touch and struck the ball into the back of the net.
As the half-time whistle sounded, the flags were flying to acclaim a job well done. So far, so good was the consensus, but in the dressing room Paisley warned of complacency.
However, those words of advice were not enough and six minutes after the restart the Germans were level.
Case misplaced a back pass to goalkeeper Ray Clemence. Simonsen pounced and in a flash whipped a shot past the helpless keeper. The match ebbed and flowed. Keegan thought he had won a penalty when he seemed to be brought down by Vogts but the referee waved play on, then Simonsen crossed from the right and it was
met by Stielike whose shot was saved by Clemence. However, in the 64th minute, it was Liverpool who made the breakthrough. The Reds won a corner on the left-hand side and it was taken by Heighway. He delivered a perfect cross to the near post for Tommy Smith, on his 600th appearance for the club, to run in and head home to give Liverpool the lead. Minutes later, Liverpool were denied a penalty again when Heighway was brought down by Bonhof. But with just eight minutes remaining, Keegan (who had been inspirational playing his last game for Liverpool before moving to the Bundesliga to play for Hamburg) picked up the ball just over the halfway line. With his man-marker Vogts trailing in his wake, he embarked on a surging run into the penalty area and, as he was about to shoot, was sent sprawling to the turf. This time, French referee Robert Wurtz had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Up stepped the reliable Neal to hit low into the corner. Three-one, game over and the jubilant Reds celebrated. Skipper Emlyn Hughes proudly lifted the gleaming silver trophy and Liverpool were champions of Europe. They retained the cup the following season and have now won it five times. But no one will forget that balmy night in Rome 40 years ago when they became kings of Europe for the first time.
Sealed with a kiss: Jimmy Case, left, and Phil Neal enjoy the moment after Liverpool’s European Cup triumph