THIRTY years ago Joe Fagan – having already won the League Cup and the League title – took his Liverpool team to Rome where they would face Roma in the European Cup Final. Here, Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson (from an extract of a book in which 12 Liverpool players describe their favourite game for the club) describes the night that the Reds were thrown to the Roman lions but came home, Champions of Europe.
“Come on, Alan. Come on, son. Just stick this one away and we’re European Champions. Stick this away and let’s go and have a beer, mate. Come on.”
Some of the lads couldn’t bear to watch. They turned their backs or looked through the cracks of their fingers like children watching a horror film. I had to watch; after all it’s always fun to see a mate make a tit of himself. We had reason to be nervous. The five planned penalty takers had been beaten by the youth team in a mock shoot-out before we left for Rome. Joe Fagan had watched horrified and said, “Bloody hell, we better win this in allotted time.”
We hadn’t and now we were going through the hell of a penalty shoot-out.
Alan Kennedy placed the ball on the spot. An army of photographers had de-camped behind the goal; their fingers primed to capture the moment that we hoped would make us champions of Europe. Alan had missed in that shoot-out against the kids, so I was concerned. As he placed the ball though, he looked back at us and gave us the faintest of smiles. Maybe this was going to be OK.
It was like living in a slow motion replay. Alan ran up confidently and swept the ball low and into the net. There’s a split second of nothing. Then, “Oh, my god. We’ve done it!” Then we’re off and running toward our hero. It’s bedlam; complete madness and we are champions.
It was the greatest of feelings, of course it was, but in a way it was almost logical that this team should win the European Cup. We had grown together as a group, first of all under Bob Paisley and then seamlessly under Joe Fagan.
The club had progressed that year thanks to our fantastic form away from home. For so long, Liverpool’s progress in Europe had gone hand in hand with incredible nights at Anfield. Not that season. In fact we often left ourselves with a lot to do after the first-legs at home, but we had enough about us to earn some great results on our travels.
We were always confident of scoring away from home. You had to be with Dog’s Bollocks – as Kenny Dalglish was affectionately known – and Rushie up front. People go on about tactics today. We all do it. I work on the television and get paid to do it, but back then, away from home, we had this 4-4-2 into a 4-5-1 formation and it was perfect. Kenny was a natural in that set-up and would just drop off Rushie and into midfield whenever we lost the ball.
We arrived in Rome the day before the game, but we didn’t train on the pitch. The buggers instead sent us to a local sports ground, and you wouldn’t have let your dog crap on it. It was awful. Joe took one look at the potholes and divots and said, “Have a walk, get some air and then we’re off.” Straight away we realised the authorities were ay it.
The night of the game and we arrived at the ground early. Whilst the kit was being laid out, we were sent out onto the pitch. You had to climb down these stairs, so there we were in single file, walking out amid all the Roman boos. Champagne Charlie (Graeme Souness’ nickname) said, ‘Let’s walk right around in front of them all. That’ll shock ‘em.” So we did. They hated us for it, but it showed those fans that they didn’t intimidate us. Souey was loving it but it wasn’t pleasant.
Souey, Craig Johnston and David Hodgson had got us massively into Chris Rea. We loved him. Hodgy started singing that song, I Don’t Know What It Is But I Love It. We were going up the steps, past the opposing dressing-room singing the lyrics of this song.
And I don’t know what it is, but I love it.
We had good early possession and looked solid. Souey was sitting in front of myself and Alan Hansen and dictating the pace of the game as we set about trying to shut the crowd up. Then we scored.
It was a messy affair. The ball hit the keeper’s head, bounced a bit and then Phil Neal pounced on it and shoved it in. We wouldn’t sit on the lead, there was no point and Souey actually scored but it was disallowed.
Soon Roma were trying to get at our full-backs and when Bruno Conti got the ball into our box, Roberto Pruzzo glanced a lovely header past Brucie. I had to make an interception in the second half to stop Conti and there were half chances but to be honest it was quite a dull affair.
We had one scare near the end when Brucie came for a cross and dropped it. The ball sat up and luckily I headed it calmly back into his arms. He gave me a look that said, ‘Thank god you’re here.” Being a former guerilla fighter, it took a lot to frighten Bruce, but he looked terrified for that moment.
Extra-time was the biggest of nothings. I thought they would come at us but they didn’t. They were reluctant to leave Rushie with space to exploit. And so to penalties.
Steve Nicol insisted on going first. He blazed it over. When you don’t take one yourself you have to say unlucky. So I said, “Unlucky Nico…you dickhead!” It’s easy when you’re watching though, and I spent the time arguing with Alan [Hansen] about who would take our 6th penalty if it came to it. Here we were, two supposedly cultured centre-halves arguing about who would go first. Pathetic.
We were scoring though and Brucie was doing his wobbly legs. It got to Conti and Francesco Graziani. Two players who had won the World Cup had been out-foxed by Brucie and with Rushie, Souey and then of course Kennedy scoring we won.
Later, when it sank in that we’d done – we’d won the European Cup. It felt strange that it had been done via penalties. Roma’s coach, Nils Liedholm, said afterwards that he wished we could have a replay at Anfield. Yeah right, all the best. We were the away team because we had to go to Rome and we had proved how unfazed we were by it all.
I look back on it and it makes me proud. It’s a terrible thing to say, but the whole thing was so business like. That’s the way it was. The way the club ran. It was so without glitz that you didn’t ever feel part of this massive thing.
I suppose we were though, weren’t we?
This is an extract from
Match of My Life; Liverpool,
Pitch Publishing, Edited by Leo Moynihan