RAWK Advent Calendar #22 : Liverpool 2 v 1 Ipswich Town 30 April 1977
This match doesn’t generally feature in those list of ‘great Anfield games’ – possibly because, so far as I know, it was never televised. But it should do. I’d certainly be interested to hear from anyone else on RAWK who has memories of the top-of-the-table encounter with Ipswich Town towards the end of the great 1977 season. It was a crucial game since it opened the door to the league championship, and it was a hugely controversial occasion since a sorry refereeing performance triggered a small invasion of the pitch from the Kop and probably led to the erection of the dreaded fences at Anfield over the summer.
It was also the biggest crowd I’ve been in at Anfield – and possibly the biggest crowd ever to assemble at our ground, beating the 61,000 that attended the FA Cup tie against Wolves in 1952. Officially the gate is recorded as 56,006 (that 6 is a nice touch) since 56,000 was the authorized capacity of Anfield at the time. Having been to several lock-outs at Anfield in the 1970s – including the St Etienne game a few weeks earlier - I can tell you there were far more than that in the old ground against Ipswich. The ‘Echo’ talked of “amazing scenes” outside the ground at 2 o’clock when the gates were locked. That’s true. I saw them from high up on the steps by the flagpole vainly looking for a mate who’d got separated in the crush outside the turnstiles and who, it transpired, never made it in. There must have been ten to fifteen thousand people still on the Walton Breck Road. I remember looking at all the flag and banner poles and thinking what a shame they wouldn’t be on the Kop. My guess though is that the police made a decision to keep the gates open and funnel more people on to the Kop in order to reduce the crushing outside.
Why so many? Well it wasn’t all-ticket; that was one thing. But the main reason was that this was a title-decider. We were top of the league going into May and Ipswich, realistically, were the only side who could stop us winning Number Ten. Bobby Robson had built an excellent team combining attacking flair and ruthless defence. They had a skillful and mobile forward line which included Paul Mariner and Trevor Whymark and a hard-tackling defence which was marshalled by alehouse defenders Mick Mills and Alan Hunter.
We, of course, were still challenging on three fronts. Not only were we top of the league, we’d fought our way to Wembley and Rome too for the FA Cup and European Cup finals. Only three days before we’d vanquished Everton at Maine Road in a titanic FA Cup semi-final replay. Now people wanted to see this great team take a giant step towards the first of what we hoped would be an historic treble.
I’d gone to the match with two mates from Huddersfield. One of them, Tommy, was a fellow Red and my regular match-day buddy. The other was a lad called Graham, a good mate at school, who supported Manchester United. Why was he here? Well, it was all part of a deal. We’d been arguing about which was the more impressive ‘end’ in English football. He said it was the Stretford End, I said it was the Kop. Earlier that year, as part of that deal, I’d gone in the Stretford End to see an FA Cup tie between United and Southampton (where I first learnt the dirty secret that the Stretford End had several rows of seats above what was essentially a small, wee terrace). Now it was time for him to repay the compliment and come on the Kop. I’d chosen this day.
As soon as we arrived at Lime Street you could tell there was something different in the air; something really special. It was early – about midday I guess – but the palace was abuzz and already there was an enormous queue for taxis going to the ground. That set my early-warning system going and I said “we’ve got to get up there, there’s going to be a lock-out”. We joined the queue as a carousel of black cabs came and went and ended sharing a ride with a young couple from Ipswich. I remember she was heavily pregnant and I can still see her partner’s appalled face when Graham asked them if they were going on the Kop. “You’re better off in the paddock” said Tommy. “Yes, that’s what we were told” the bloke said. That was probably the first time I’d ever heard a Suffolk accent in my life. It never occurred to me before that farmers liked football. I often wonder did they ever get in?
When we got up to the ground we were met with the demoralising sight of the queues for the Kop winding all the way behind the Kemlyn on to the Annie Road and doubling back. It was something I’d not seen before and have certainly never seen again. Not to that extent. It looked like the whole of Liverpool had come up the hill. We took our place and hoped for the best only to find – after over an hour of shuffling along – the queues starting to disintegrate once the turnstiles hoved into view. Soon it was just a massive scrum. No amount of kicks from mounted coppers could bring things back into order (no doubt they made it worse) as the bush-telegraph started to spread the news that they were soon going to shut the gates. I got separated from Tommy but managed to yank Graham along so that we edged through the clicking turnstiles and into the concourse beneath the steps. I don’t know how soon afterwards it was, but it didn’t seem long before the sirens sounded and the turnstile gates began to come down. Outside the ground – as I say – was left this heaving mass, and my mate Tommy. But inside the Kop choir beckoned.
The atmosphere inside was astonishing – possibly the loudest I’ve ever heard it. The sound of the singing was bouncing off the old ironwork and everything merged into one of those fantastic echoes you get in a gothic cathedral. The first thing we saw as we came in below the pulpit was the place awash with flags and banners. That was the season, of course, in which the whole flag thing at Liverpool had gone crazy. Graham took one look and I could tell from his expression that he meant to say, “Ok, you win”. At that time my usual spec was left of centre just below the gangway, but today there was zero chance of getting there. The gangway itself was an impassable traffic jam. So we ducked beneath a barrier and fought our way on to the top half of the terrace. Anywhere would do. It was not easy though. There was simply no space. I don’t want to sentimentalize this sort of thing after Hillsborough, but there was something truly awesome about being on the Kop on days like these. How many were on it against Ipswich? I don’t know. Certainly more than the 28,000 it was meant to contain.
This was now about 2 o’clock I suppose. That meant there was a full hour to do nothing but sing. “We’re on our way to Roma!” that was the big one – sung, as old hands will recall, to ‘Arrivederci Roma’. The whole terrace was just swaying to it – a great swaying song! – and everywhere the flags were up. But there was also a clever rendition of ‘My Liverpool Home’:
We’re all going to Rome
We’re all going to Rome
You won’t get a ticket, they’ve got none to spare
We’ve even stopped drinking to save up the fare
You can tell Moenchengladbach the Kop will be there
We’re all going to Rome!
Mind you it’s a long time to stare at an empty pitch. Any distraction was seized on. At one point a posse of young kids climbed on to the turf from the Anfield Road End and hurtled towards their beloved Kop, calculating – rightly – that the few pitch-side coppers could do nothing to stop them all. How we cheered when the first lot piled over the white wall on to the terrace – and groaned and whistled when the strays were swept up by the bizzies.
Where were they all going to go though? I looked above me at one point and figured out that’s where they were going. You’d always find one or two intrepid supporters who would work their way along the ironwork in the roof to get to the very front of the gantry, high above the pitch. That day you looked up and it was like an aviary full of budgies or a cave full of bats. There were hundreds of young kids up there hanging from the girders and perching on the joists. You felt like you had to keep checking to make sure you hadn’t been shat on.
The game itself? Well it had all the ingredients for high tension already: a volcanic crowd, the two best teams in the country hammering it out in front of them, and the title up for grabs. But throw into this volatile mix the most incompetent referee in the history of post-war football and you can guarantee the experience will be unforgettable.
I only have to say his name for anyone over 45 to start sweating. Peter Fucking Willis. (I may have made that middle name up). Peter Willis turned what was already a show-stopper into Circus Maximus. Five Liverpool players were booked under mystifying circumstances each time – this in age when you normally had to carry an axe on to pitch to get a yellow card. I’ve linked to the ‘Echo’ article so you can see this isn’t just hindsight on my part. Here they refer to a match “dominated by some incredible refereeing from Mr Peter Willis, a police inspector, from Co. Durham”. In the ‘Daily Mirror’ Bob Paisley was quoted as saying “That was the closest thing there has ever been to a riot here”.
Willis looked the part. Baldy head, big sideburns, double chin, belly full of suet pudding – he resembled a Dickens character in charge of a workhouse. No footballer was going to spoil his fun.
The incident I remember most was Stevie Heighway being pole-axed by Mick Mills on the half-way line. You could tell by the way he fell, and his motionless body on the turf, that the player was hurt. There was a deafening screech of whistling as the Kop demanded the game be stopped and Heighway seen to. Willis ignored it and waved play on. The screeching got louder. Almost everyone was shouting abuse. It was impossible not to. I remember seeing Ronnie Moran, jumping up and down on the touchline, furious that he couldn’t get on to the pitch. Eventually play was stopped and Heighway received treatment. He didn’t get up again though. The stretcher came on and he was carried off. “He’s dead” someone said – and it wasn’t a joke. The assailant Mick Mills, meanwhile, received a friendly warning and that was it. Meanwhile Davie Fairclough was waiting to come on. In those days play didn’t need to stop before a substitute came on – the referee simply had to signal. Willis didn’t signal. The whistling started again. “Come on you baldy fucking bastard!” Eventually Fairclough was beckoned on – or so everyone thought. But no, as soon as he got on the pitch Willis stopped play and booked him! Apparently he’d been signalling the Liverpool sub to stay on the touchline.
At this point stuff started to be thrown on to the pitch from the Kop end. I don’t remember seeing that, but the papers report that tin cans and broken bottles were hurled from the terrace. However I do remember at this point a Kopite running on to the pitch and handing Willis his spectacles. This wasn’t the genial and warm-hearted spirit that prompted other Kopites to hand Gordon West his hand-bag when he came to Anfield. This was the product of incredulity and frustration. It was beginning to look like Peter Willis wanted to decide the outcome of the championship on his own (perhaps he was jealous that Clive Thomas, the week before, had essentially knocked Everton out of the Cup and wanted a bit of this himself).
For 70 minutes or so the game ebbed from one ridiculous decision to another. Keegan was booked at one point for not retreating 10 yards. No warning. Just the yellow card. Johnson was booked for being kicked in the groin. Any of the joy and good humour that had been there at 3 o’clock had evaporated.
But then, in three glorious minutes, the Reds scored twice. Both at the Annie Road end. Ray Kennedy hit the first and I can recall nothing about this goal all. But I do remember Keegan’s – a left-wing cross and a header at the far post with Kevin heading the ball back the way it came. In my memory I can see him bathed in the Annie Road sunshine, almost rising in a halo of light. And I remember the thunderous response of the crowd. All that tension, all that resentment, all that fury just got channelled into delirious song-making.
“We’re gonna win the league
We’re gonna win the league
And now you going to believe us
And now you going to believe us”
You have picture over 30,000 heads bobbing up and down in unison as “We shall not be moved!” reverberated behind Clem’s goal. There’s nothing like wounded vindication to get a supporter going. We’d been wounded. Now we were vindicated. That sound’s never left me.
In the 85th minute Ipswich were awarded a penalty down at our end. John Wark – soon to be ours – stuck it in and that meant the executioner’s axe was swinging above our heads for the last 5 minutes. And at this point Willis decided that glory, seemingly snatched away from him by Keegan, could still be his. With a minute to go he stopped a Clemence punt up the field and pointed to the penalty box for an Ipswich free kick. “FOR WHAT!!” “Steps? It must be steps!” “No one ever gives a free-kick for fucking steps!”
But that’s what it was. Clem blew a gasket of course. He was booked of course. The Liverpool team lined up literally on their own goal-line as Ipswich steadied themselves to take an indirect free kick about 8 yards out. The whole stadium was howling. I felt in my own mind that the free-kick would be taken again and again until Ipswich were allowed to score. But somehow the thing was beaten away and somehow Willis accepted the result. Liverpool had won 2 goals to 1. The colours were hoisted and the closing moments were played out, gloriously, to the beautiful sound of our anthem. The championship would be ours.
That was the last year of the great Kop. It could never sustain that kind of relentless and intimidating atmosphere again. We had it against St Etienne, against Ipswich, the following week against Man Utd and then the final game against West Ham when the trophy was paraded. Each time there were more banners and more pageantry. I think people felt that ‘77 could never be bettered and began to look elsewhere for innovation. At the start of the next season the fences went up, the pillars holding up the roof were reconstructed to stop kids turning it into a roost, the capacity came down. A small hard core started going into the Annie Road and it became fashionable not to take colours on to the Kop. Of course the team kept on getting better and that was the important thing. Next year after all we were treated to Kenny. And occasionally you’d get a game – you still do – that generated a proper 70s-style atmosphere. But something went out of Anfield at the end of the ’77 season, never quite to return. That’s my own view anyway.
As I say the match for some weird reason was not televised. But courtsey of lfchistory.net here's the match-day report from the Mirror http://www.lfchistory.net/Articles/Article/445
And a jpeg of the Echo report. http://www.lfchistory.net/Images/newspapers/ian.beardsley/1977-04-30-ipswichhome.jpg