In 1959, Bill Shankly breezed into Anfield claiming he would build a bastion of invincibility that no team in Europe would be able to resist.
He went close to achieving his aim in 1965, but was undone by a corrupt official.
While he would claim European football’s equivalent of the silver medal, the UEFA Cup, in 1973, Shanks never lifted the continent’s premier trophy. That honour fell to Bob Paisley on May 25, 1977.
Liverpool were imperious that season. They began it with a Charity Shield victory over Southampton and ended it as First Division champions.
However, just four days before the European Cup final against Borussia Monchengladbach, they were robbed of an opportunity to win a treble, by Manchester United at Wembley.
Four crazy minutes saw three goals scored and United emerge 2-1 winners of the FA Cup. It was terrible preparation for a final in Europe. The mood in the city would have been grim, but for the promise of even greater riches in Rome.
Stories of how Liverpool fans cobbled together the money to travel across the continent are now legendary. Many sold furniture and appliances—some with, some without the permission of their wives. Others resorted to more ‘entrepreneurial’ methods to generate the necessary cash for their journey.
Tens of thousands made the journey, over land and sea. It was a Scouse invasion and many endured appalling conditions on a train ride across the continent.
They travelled, carrying red and white chequered flags and returned with the finest sportswear Europe had to offer. Few in Liverpool had heard of Adidas or Sergio Tachini until those Kopites came home with arms full of the stuff. But that’s another story.
Their songs would echo around the squares of the Italian capital as they drank wine in the streets and danced with locals. Here’s one song that filled the air that night:
“On the 25th of May,
All the Kopites will be singing,
Vatican Bells they will be ringing,
Liverpool boys they will be drinking,
When we win the European Cup.”
Liverpool had reached Rome, after beating Saint Etienne in the quarter-final and FC Zurich in the semi-final.
Their navigation through the latter stages of the competition was inscribed on the greatest Liverpool banner of all time. On a giant red sheet, white letters had been stitched, spelling out a tribute to Reds’ defender Joey Jones:
“JOEY ATE THE FROGS LEGS
MADE THE SWISS ROLL
NOW HES MUNCHING GLADBACH”
The players hadn’t expected many to make the expensive and difficult journey from Liverpool to Italy. Ian Callaghan described his feelings of wonder as he emerged from the tunnel to witness a sea of red. Liverpool supporters vastly outnumbered their German counterparts.
Filled with pride and feeling 10 foot tall, Liverpool took the game to Monchengladbach, pressing relentlessly high up the pitch and forcing errors. The German’s were finding it difficult to build, but one breakaway, in the 22nd minute, resulted in a shot clipping the Liverpool post.
That was a let-off, but in the 27th minute the Reds were in front through Terry McDermott. What followed was wild euphoria in the stands and jubilant celebration on the pitch.
In the second half, Monchengladbach poured forward in search of an equaliser. Sadly, it would take an unforced error by Jimmy Case to gift them a goal. The Scouser played a careless ball back to his ‘keeper, Danish striker Allan Simonsen was onto it quickly and scored.
It was a disaster and things could have got even worse but for a brilliant save by Ray Clemence, denying Uli Steike. Liverpool were rocking and Simonsen almost added his second, but his header went wide.
Liverpool needed a hero and fortunately they had Tommy Smith. The veteran defender was playing his 600th and last game for the club. However, he would leave the Reds one last gift.
From a corner, taken by Steve Heighway, Smith rose magnificently to head home. Liverpool were back in front on 64 minutes. However, they would face a tense 20-minute spell, relying heavily on the brilliance of their ‘keeper, before Phil Neal sealed the deal from the penalty spot in the 87th minute.
3-1 and, as the TV commentator would say, “with such simplicity, the European Cup was won.”
Michael Charters, writing in the Liverpool Echo, saw it like this:
“Liverpool are the masters of Europe—and the masters of how to play European football with style and efficiency, class combined with effort, individual brilliance with superb teamwork.
On an unforgettable night in Rome, a night to live forever as the highlight of a thousand sporting memories, this magnificent team completed the greatest season in the history of any English club by adding the European Cup to their League championship.”
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