FONDLY remembered as one of the toughest players to wear the red of Liverpool, Jimmy Case won four league titles, three European Cups, a UEFA Cup and a League Cup in his 269-game Anfield career. Bought from South Liverpool for just £500, the midfielder from Allerton, Liverpool, has lifted the lid on his eight years at the club in his autobiography, Hard Case. In this extract, Jimmy pays tribute to the fans who travelled to Rome for the 1977 European Cup final versus Borussia Mönchengladbach just days after the FA Cup final, remembers the best moment of his football career and puts to bed a rumour of punching a team-mate.
THE final was played at the Olympic Stadium in Rome, a big bowl of a ground, with a running track between the crowd and us. I never really liked that, it took something away from the atmosphere, but you have to hand it to the Liverpool fans, four days after Wembley there were thirty thousand of them in the ground and never a doubt about whose supporters would be making the most noise.
Liverpool fans would go to any lengths to follow us, no matter where we were playing and no matter whether a European final or a friendly. I heard a story about a fella who had been supporting Liverpool for donkey’s years and he was off to Belfast, on the ferry, to see us in a pre-season game at Windsor Park. The only problem was he had just signed on after being made redundant, so he had to leave at half-time to get back to Liverpool in time to pick up his dole money.
The fans would do anything to raise the money for those trips. Liverpool’s pawnshops did a roaring trade before a big European game. Clothes, pots and pans, even the family jewels, would go over the counter; scrap yards would be full of sheets of copper fans had suddenly acquired; unemploy- ment would drop because all the blokes were doing odd jobs to get some cash. Lawns were cut, houses painted (red and white, of course).
I did the foreword to my mate Dave Kirby’s brilliant book about Liverpool fans following the side across Europe when he wrote about the lad who went onto the streets with an acoustic guitar, singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, with a sign round his neck that read ‘Busking for Rome’, and the fan who did a sponsored run dressed as a Roman gladiator. Part of the funds went on his trip to the European final, the rest he gave to charity.
That’s why I wrote in Dave’s book that standing on the pitch at the Olympic Stadium that night in 1977 was one of the proudest moments of my life. Before the kick-off we went out for a walk onto the pitch and we were totally surprised by how many fans there were. We knew how many planes were going out, but that was it.
I knew the type of fella who would quite happily sell his car to be there, and they did, but we didn’t think one end of the stadium would be like that when we walked out. I remember thinking back to the days when I used to catch two buses, number 86 and then the 27, to stand in the Boys’ Pen and watch Peter Thompson, Ian Callaghan and Tommy Smith.
Did I ever think then I would be part of such a mind-blowing occasion? As a supporter almost certainly, but as a player… don’t be bloody daft!
When we saw all the red flags unfurled, all thoughts of the FA Cup disappointment went out of our minds — how could we let them down again? And when we got back into the dressing room it was Joe Fagan who quickly summed it up. ‘Bloody hell,’ he said, ‘have you seen that lot out there?’
Then Bob came in and gave us the sort of team talk I doubt any other bunch of players have ever heard before such an important game. ‘The last time I was here in Rome, I was in a bloody tank liberating the place,’ said Bob. ‘We beat the Germans then, and you’ll beat them tonight, now come on.’ Any nerves we might have had vanished at that moment as everyone just fell about laughing; he was brilliant.
I’ve looked back at European finals around that time and there were some pretty dull matches. Forest twice won 1–0, so did we, and there was Aston Villa, Hamburg, Juventus… all single-goal results. But that 1977 final was a cracker, end to end, with loads of chances. It could have gone either way.
They hit the post early doors, Clem made some smashing saves and they missed a couple of good opportunities. I remember one where Allan Simonsen headed wide when he perhaps should have scored. It all came down to who could take his chances and we were just that bit better. The opener was a beauty. Cally won the ball in midfield, on to Stevie and he spotted a brilliant run between two defenders by Terry Mac, slipped it through and Terry slotted it home. We had sliced Borussia up like a piece of bratwurst.
Then just after half-time Borussia equalised, and I have to admit, I played a part in the goal because it was my back pass to Phil Neal that was intercepted by Simonsen before he hit a beauty from the corner of the box. I would have been proud of that one.
Phil blames me, but I don’t know what he was doing overlapping me, because he shouldn’t have been there. I had turned around and I went to give him the ball because that’s where he should have been, so it was all his fault. Whatever, it threw us out of our stride for a while and they could have scored again if it hadn’t been for Clem, who went down at Stielike’s feet to smother his shot. A brilliant, brave save, and it turned the game.
We went up the other end and won a corner. The next few seconds have been shown time and again, burned into the memory of every Liverpool supporter. Stevie fired in the flag kick and there was Tommy Smith charging through like a bull elephant to thump his header into the top corner. What a moment for Tommy, in what was supposed to be his last-ever game for Liverpool.
It was nothing less than he deserved for everything he had done for the club. I couldn’t have been happier: he had been my hero, my inspiration, my mentor and my friend. When I started out in the first team, he was right behind me and I couldn’t have asked for a better player to back me up. Good on you, Tommy!
Still, I always kid him about that goal. I tell him he wouldn’t have scored if it hadn’t been for me. ‘Look at the video, Tommy,’ I say. ‘It was me who took their player away from the post otherwise he would have headed it off the line.’ Tommy comes back at me. ‘You must be joking,’ he says. ‘No one was stopping that header!’ And to be fair, there was still a defender on the line — but he never saw it.
Now it was like a home game, with those fantastic supporters filling the Rome night with their songs. They had pinched this chant from St Etienne, ‘Allez Les Rouges’… I wonder what the Germans made of that? Kevin Keegan, who was bound for a European transfer after the game, fittingly had the final say. All through the match he had been on fire, running Berti Vogts ragged. And he took him on again, charging into the box, and Vogts simply couldn’t get there in time. He took KK’s legs and Nealy stepped up to put the penalty away. At 3–1 there was no way back for them and we finally got our hands on that enormous cup.
It was the start of the mother of all celebrations. While the fans painted the city of Rome red, back at our hotel we had this massive winners’ banquet. Ray Kennedy, my brothers and me were sat in the corner. I remember we were all grabbing bottles of Bacardi and hiding them under the table; I don’t know how many people were there but it was the only way we were going to get a drink. It was absolutely packed.
No problems, but I kind of got the idea there was an overspill, with a load of our fans gate-crashing the evening celebrations, some of them even grabbing the cup for a souvenir photo. I couldn’t see anything wrong with them getting in, it added to the whole atmosphere of the night. After all, what we had just done was for them and we couldn’t have done it without them.
Anyway, we got our food, there was loads of stuff to go at — and then suddenly the table resembled the carcass of a dead animal; it was like a plague of locusts had moved across the table, stripping it down to the bone.
Everyone was hitting the booze like there was no tomorrow, everyone except Bob Paisley. I remember him saying afterwards that he didn’t have a drink because he wanted to remember every minute of it. I guess that tells you how special he thought it was.
We recovered in time to board the plane home but nobody had a clue what was waiting for us when we got back to Liverpool. You remember those newsreel scenes from the days when The Beatles flew into America, every space taken up by screaming fans? Well, that day we were the rock and roll stars of Liverpool.
We came out of the airport and the bus had to slow down because there were so many people lining the route into the city centre. Then, as we reached the fire station on the corner by Bryant & May, all the engines were outside and they let off their sirens as we went past. That went right through me. I’m not that emotional but that did me.
It’s then that you realise this was what the people of the city had been waiting for and how much it meant. And the partying didn’t stop there because there was still the important matter of a testimonial game for Tommy Smith — and the perfect chance to show off the trophies we had won.
More than thirty-five thousand fans came out for Tommy, for what turned out to be a night to remember. The Kop was in full voice. Bobby Charlton picked a guest team for the opposition: Norman Hunter, Alex Stepney, Jack Charlton, Bobby Moore, Ian St John, Peter Thompson and Joe Royle all played. And the game finished 9–9!
Clem scored a couple and so did Tommy. I’m not sure if that was what persuaded Tommy, but he decided to delay his retirement for another season and I, for one, was certainly not complaining.
Looking back, that was about as good as I could ever hope my football life could be. Two seasons into my career as a Liverpool first team player I had two League Championships, a UEFA Cup and now a European Cup. And that win over Borussia will always rank as the pinnacle for me. We had just lost at Wembley yet we picked ourselves up to win the big one.
And I reckon this is probably a good time to put to bed a popular myth from that period.
Kevin Keegan came home from Rome wearing a big pair of sunglasses, covering up a black eye. The story was that I had had a go at him for not trying his best in the FA Cup final a few days earlier because he was saving himself for the big European game.
Well, as my dad once said, ‘That was a rumour that was started on the Number 86 bus to Penny Lane.’ It was all based on other people’s perceptions of how they thought I would feel and how I would react because, top and bottom of it, Kevin didn’t have a particularly good game at Wembley.
But I would never have thought of Kevin not trying, and I would certainly never have dreamt of accusing him of not doing so. No, I had nothing to do with his black eye.
The truth is, it was an accident. The morning after the European Cup final some of the Press lads were milling around the hotel pool. We didn’t always get on with the Press, especially the London boys, because they only ever came to see us get beat.
Anyway, some of the lads grabbed hold of one of them, it might have been Jeff Powell or Steve Currie, I can’t really remember, and they decided to throw him in the swimming pool and, as it was kicking off, Phil Neal’s elbow came up and caught Kevin in the eye.
It was as simple as that.
Jimmy Case: My Autobiography by Jimmy Case is published by John Blake in paperback at £8.99 and is out now.
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