IT HAS to rank as one of the most famous moments in the history of Liverpool Football Club. David Fairclough — off the bench — receiving that pass and scoring that goal — the strike that sealed his nickname, and put Liverpool on their way to a first European Cup. And a goal that sent a packed Kop into raptures in an atmosphere that has to rank as one of the loudest to ever reverberate around Anfield. It was 40 years ago today that deadly Davie foiled the French and here, in an extract from Supersub: The Story Of Football’s Most Famous Number 12, published by deCoubertin Books, David Fairclough tells the tale of March 16, 1977, in his own words.
ALTHOUGH I had played no part in the first meeting, I saw enough during that frenzied 90 minutes in France to know that this St Etienne side posed a real threat to our European Cup aspirations. I was also well aware of how unlucky they had been when losing the previous season’s final to Bayern Munich at Hampden. ‘Les Verts’, as they were known, were among the favourites to go one better in the competition this time around and of the remaining participants in the last eight when the draw was made I doubt we could have been handed a sterner task.
They were without doubt the most flamboyant team in Europe around this time. Among their star players were Gérard Janvion, Christian Lopez, Dominique Bathenay and Dominique Rocheteau, a quartet of players who would represent their country at the following year’s World Cup. These sophisticated-looking foreigners, with their tight-fitting, fluorescent-green silk shirts, may have looked like they’d been beamed down from another planet but, as they were about to discover, the white-hot atmosphere of a fully charged Anfield really was something out of this world.
As Emlyn Hughes led us out, all those in a red kit reached up to give the ‘This Is Anfield’ sign another touch. Then came the first decibels of the Kop roar, three paces more and we were hit by a wall of sound that grew louder and louder as we climbed the final six steps towards the pitch. Once out into the open I was temporarily startled, the noise was deafening, and on a jam-packed Kop that was baying for victory there were more flags flying than I’d ever seen before. A red flare added to the sense of occasion, while clouds of smoke wafted their way across a goalmouth littered with masses of toilet roll. Whether as a supporter or player, I was no stranger to big occasions at Anfield but this all seemed new and so much more exciting. There was so much passion emanating from all four sides of the ground, it was almost frightening. As the two teams, including substitutes, lined up in the centre circle to applaud the crowd I was stood next to Brian Kettle and we both looked on in awe at the scene.
As was often the case for a European night it was a tight squeeze in the dugout that game. Not that I was complaining. I was used to sitting in there as the only substitute, so it was always nice to have a few extra bodies to keep me company for a change. It didn’t make the view any better though. Given that we were sat below ground level it was never the best and the curvature of the pitch meant it was difficult to see the touchline on the opposite side. You’d also run the risk of banging your head on the roof if jumping up to celebrate a goal or contest a dubious refereeing decision. Still, it was what we were used to. They were unique to Anfield and would have been more of a culture shock to the opposition, especially those from Europe.
Strangely, with some supporters still trying to get into the ground, especially over on the Kemlyn Road side where there were still a large number of empty seats due to severe congestion at the turnstiles, the game kicked off early. Those still outside missed a dramatic start when Kevin Keegan cancelled out St Etienne’s first leg advantage inside just two minutes. Was it a cross or was it a shot? Only KK knows that but we didn’t care. Whatever it was, Ivan Curkovic in the visitors’ goal was fooled by the flight of the ball that was floated in from near the left-hand corner flag and the tie was all-square. What a start.
St Etienne, to their credit, didn’t panic and the expected onslaught from us failed to materialise. There was little to separate the teams for the remainder of the first half and the prospect of extra-time, or maybe even a dreaded penalty shootout, did get a mention among those watching from the bench.
Half-time arrived and I’ve no idea what was said in the dressing room because the substitutes were told to stay out on the pitch in order to stretch our legs, should any of us be called upon. If I’d have been a betting man my money would have been on it going the distance. Thankfully, I never was much of a gambler. Within six minutes of the restart the chance of penalties disappeared when Dominique Bathenay scored a stunning goal. It was a spectacular, swerving shot, struck from distance, and it had Ray Clemence clutching fresh air.
St Etienne suddenly began to justify their status as favourites for the competition and with the away goal in their favour it meant we now had to score two more. Our hopes of progressing were looking highly unlikely. It was the cue for Bob Paisley to leave his seat in the stand and as he cosied up to Joe Fagan on the bench I was ordered to warm up. I sprinted up the perimeter track, towards the Anfield Road end. The usual shouts of encouragement were mixed with some desperate pleas for me to ‘go on and get a goal’. Ronnie Moran signalled for me to return to the dugout and just as I got there Ray Kennedy provided us with a lifeline by restoring our lead on the night.
As a renewed sense of hope surged through the ground I sat back down, but when another 15 minutes passed without any further scoring the time had come for a change. The call came for me to get ready. I was given no specific instructions. I took off the old training jumper and adjusted my shorts. As the Dutch linesman inspected my boots, Ronnie Moran patted me on the backside and told me, ‘Just go and make a nuisance of yourself.’ By now any nerves had disappeared. I was raring to go and, as always, the great welcome I received from the fans gave me a massive lift. We needed a goal and, so long as an opportunity came my way, I was always confident I could deliver.
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) March 16, 2017
– Look out for a special show on memories of St Etienne released later today, only for subscribers to TAW Player
I joined the action in the 74th minute. Play was flowing from end to end and as a result the game became more stretched. If only a ball could be played through the middle I’d fancy my chances but the French champions were an experienced bunch and used to keeping it tight at the back in these situations. As time ticked by our hopes were fading. ‘Liverpool are playing too many long balls into the box and look to be heading out of the European Cup,’ stated Elton Welsby in his Radio City commentary.
Then suddenly, with just six minutes to go, a ball out of our defence fell to Ray Kennedy. With his first touch he controlled the ball on his knee then nonchalantly volleyed it over the top of St Etienne’s back-line. I immediately chased after it but needed to outrun Christian Lopez in the process. I managed to reach the ball first and Lopez was struggling. He was on the wrong side of me from a defensive point of view and made a vain attempt to drag me back. With my left arm I forced him off and brought the bouncing ball under control on my chest. I took a touch with my right foot and, as the goalkeeper Ivan Curkovic came out, a gaping Kop goal beckoned.
All those years of playing football in the streets and parks, re-enacting great Liverpool goals of the past, and now here I was with the chance to score a goal every bit as memorable as those I had witnessed from the Kop.
There was never any doubt in my mind that I would score. I just could not miss. The consequences if I did would have been too painful to bear. I stood on the verge of creating my own special niche in Liverpool history. It was a moment of immense magnitude and time seemed to stand still, as if I was in a bubble. If I’d have thought about it too much then maybe it would have affected me. Instead, I had just a couple of seconds to decide what I was going to do. I looked up, picked my spot and kept it low, stroking the ball home with the inside of my right foot.
As it nestled safely among the toilet paper in the back of the net, I ran off in celebration, turning towards the Main Stand with my fists clenched and arms waving in the air. I jumped for joy. A photographer behind the Kop goal caught the moment on camera to capture what has since become arguably the most iconic image of the night.
As far as celebrations go it mightn’t be the most graceful. Maybe if I’d have known how many times it would be shown in future I’d have planned something more elaborate. Celebrating goals has almost become an art-form in recent times, whether it’s a cartwheel, robot-dance or sucking of the thumb. Back in my day they were a lot more basic and I never went into a game with any preconceived ideas of how I might celebrate if I scored. Sometimes I would just clap my hands and casually run back to the centre circle. Thankfully, on this night, it was a bit more memorable.
It’s hard to explain what goes through your mind in the immediate aftermath of scoring a goal as important as that. Everything just becomes blurred and for a split second you lose all sense of reality. I remember Jimmy Case was the first to hug me but very soon I was lying under a mountain of ecstatic Liverpool players. Amid the cacophony of noise I could hear Kevin Keegan shouting down my ear, ‘Stay down, Supersub, and let’s waste a few extra minutes’.
The outpouring of elation said everything about just what the goal meant but the game was not yet over. Six minutes remained. The atmosphere was now even more electric than it had been. The entire ground was bouncing and everyone was singing. I found myself struggling to breathe as the visitors pushed forward once again, searching for the one goal that would have turned this tie completely on its head.
As time ticked agonisingly by, another chance almost came my way. Kevin sent in a cross from the left and there I was unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box ready to head home until a St Etienne defender appeared from nowhere to clear the danger. In the dying moments I found myself with the ball in space out on the left but rather than take it to the corner flag with the aim of wasting some vital seconds I opted to cross in an attempt to set us up for a fourth goal that would have put the outcome beyond any doubt.
It was a nail-biting finish and there were a couple of nervy moments at the opposite end but for me it was at times such as this that the incredible passion, strength and character which existed in that Liverpool team shone through. Natural-born competitors like Emlyn Hughes, Tommy Smith and Ray Clemence, to name just three, were absolutely immense in those final minutes as we clung on to clinch one of Liverpool’s greatest ever victories.
I’ve often been asked why we were so calm at the end of that game, and having watched the highlights back down the years I think only Emlyn showed any real emotion. Most of us just shook hands with the devastated St Etienne players and left the crowd to continue singing their hearts out as they wallowed in the joy of victory. There might have still been a semi-final to come but the supporters were celebrating like we’d reach the final already. A trip to Rome was in their sights. ‘We’re the Greatest Team in Europe and We’re Going to Italy’ was the chant that boomed loud and proud from the Kop.
A lot of the lads swapped shirts, as was the tradition after European games. We’d taken a prize scalp and they wanted a souvenir. I chose to keep mine. It had been such a special night and I just didn’t want to part with it. I collected quite a few opposition shirts down the years, many of which I still have, but that iconic St Etienne top remains conspicuous by its absence in my collection. On this occasion, it was the red number 12 shirt that went straight in my bag and came home with me. What it is worth in monetary value I don’t know but as a symbol of my career it’s priceless.
Back in the dressing room the scenes were certainly a lot more animated than they had been at the end of the match and everyone was going around congratulating each other. We were well aware of just what a big result this was although I don’t think its real significance hit home until much later. It must have been special because a couple of photographers were allowed in and the three goalscorers rounded up for a shot that would appear in most of the following morning’s newspapers.
Once I’d showered and changed it was out into the packed corridor where Europe’s top press corps had assembled. They were queuing up to speak with me and I was really flattered, providing them with the words that would accompany the aforementioned picture.
After that it was off to find my mum, dad and sister in the player’s lounge before they headed back home to Cantril Farm. I then met up with my mate Bernie Jones, who lived just a couple of doors down from us. Our plan was to grab a drink in the local pub. In those days last orders were 10.30pm on the button. As I pulled up to the Bulldog pub in West Derby we glanced across the road — I looked at my watch and saw it was almost half past ten. The landlord Ted was pretty strict about his time-keeping, the pub was packed and we’d have struggled to get a drink in so we decided to head back to Cantril Farm.
Five minutes later I was parked up at home and got back in the house just as the highlights of the game were starting on ITV. My mum and dad were still up so we sat together and relived the best of the action from what had been one of Anfield’s most dramatic nights. I don’t remember any of us saying much about it and within minutes of it finishing my dad had fallen asleep on the couch. I went to bed not long after, totally oblivious to the wild celebrations that were going on elsewhere throughout the city, sparked, of course, by the goal I had scored.
My reward for scoring the goal that sent Liverpool into the European Cup semifinal was breakfast in bed. Well, sort of. Within minutes of me waking up the next morning, a photographer was on the doorstep wanting a picture of my mum serving me a cup of tea in bed – as if it happened every day. Not in the Fairclough house it never. But in those days all the lads would willingly take part in gimmicky photos, so I agreed and returned to bed to receive a first ever cuppa in my little single bed from my proud but shy Mum.
It was a strike that brought joy to thousands and still does to this day. I would never have imagined back in 1977 that it would have become this famous. It’s only when you reflect on it later in life that you realise just how important it was. Without it our European Cup aspirations would have been over for another season and the future could have turned out oh so differently.