THE problem with classic games and famous victories is that over time and multiple showings, the gloss fades and the sparkle is lost. This match is a case in point.
Everyone knows about this game, everyone knows about the Tom Finney quote and everyone knows that he was right. This was indeed the finest exhibition he’d seen the whole time he’d played and watched the game. We all knew that. If he was in the ground then this would be his favourite display ever. Nothing could beat that, but after a while magic disappears. Now it’s just some footage on YouTube. A game we once won. Overplaying it has spoilt it somehow. A bit like ‘Come on, Eileen’.
But if you were there. If you were there and can remember the weather, the smell, the laughter, the camaraderie (Liverpool fans didn’t hate each other so much then) and the glory of what was unfolding in front of your eyes, then you’d never lose the feeling it produced.
Liverpool climbed another step on the ladder that night.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see Liverpool administer severe beatings over the years. I was at the 9-0 against Palace, I’ve seen Besiktas crawl off the pitch with eight behind them and can even remember listening in on the radio when we beat Oulun Palloseura 10-1 at Anfield.
But this game? This game was different.
Though the scoreline would tell you otherwise, Forest were a threat and more than capable of becoming the first team to win a league game at Anfield since Wimbledon 13 months earlier. We’d played and beat them four days earlier in the FA Cup semi-final and again the previous month where we lost at the City Ground. That defeat – our first of only two in the league that season – was no shock. This was a decent side.
So when Ray Houghton raced through to put the Reds a goal up the celebration around the ground was real rather than the polite round of applause you’d get in an easy game. There was still some tension about the outcome.
(I’m on this footage at 56 seconds wearing the whitest T-shirt in the world)
But then came the second goal. It’s John Aldridge’s and if anything it’s an underrated finish, but this is all about Peter Beardsley. I swear there was a collective sigh when he played that through ball. Aldo still had a lot to do but the quality of that pass seemed to get into Forest heads. Liverpool were on one tonight and could do anything. I still say it’s the greatest through ball ever played. I’m not having Kaka in Istanbul. He looked up, the cheat.
The 1987-88 season may well have been John Barnes’ season but this game belonged to the diminutive Geordie. He was unplayable here. In the first half he hit the bar but goes through challenge after challenge to get there. Barnes always claims that it was his balance which was his greatest asset and Beardsley could say the same. A low centre of gravity and the twistiest hips in football meant that he brought defenders to him but seldom relinquished possession. What a player that lad was.
Two-nil to the Reds at half-time plus a couple of woodwork strikes. Brian Clough could only hope that the lads would ease off a bit now.
Gary Gillespie made the game safe from six yards out and followed it up with some sort of odd Braveheart celebration. Then it was time for the party tricks.
Barnes made mincemeat out of Steve Chettle and Gary Crosby to lay it on for Beardsley for the fourth before Aldo knocks in the fifth. Five-nil against one of the best teams in the league. Liverpool were never more dominant than that night, and as Forest chairman Maurice Roworth said “no one would have competed with them.”
A word here about the man of the match. It would be Beardsley, obviously, but Steve Sutton in the Forest goal had a blinder. That sounds like an odd statement when he had to claw the ball back out of his net five times but he truly kept Forest from further humiliation. At times it looked like he was playing without centre-backs but still managed to keep our front four out time and again.
We won the title 10 days later – our 10th in 15 years – but this game will forever be used as an example of how great the 1987-88 team were. This was how football should be played – expansively, direct and swift – and if you can do that against a quality side then you really have something special.