"The agony and the ecstasy or The pride and dignity"
The start of the 1964 season, was a disaster. Little Wooly was in Alder Hey with Rheumatic Fever and Ian St John was also laid off in hospital. (The latter had apparently swallowed a stone from a date and needed an operation to remove it). Rheumatic Fever was a shocker, paralysed from the waist down and slipping in and out of consciousness was not the best way of spending a birthday and Christmas. I was in that bed for over 5 months and frankly cant remember much that was happening in the outside world, but worse news was yet to come.
When I was released from Hospital, I was confined to the house for another 4 months. The thought of not going to any games this season was so upsetting its hard to describe. Imagine just starting going to games only to be told you had to miss an entire season.
The team of Lawrence, Lawler, Byrne, Milne, Yeats, Stevenson, Callaghan, Hunt, St John, Smith and Thompson was the finest group of players ever assembled in my life so far and we were capable of winning everything. My personal favourite at this time was Willie Stevenson, he was pure class, he played the role that in later years Ray Kennedy made his own. But Stevenson's distribution of the ball was second to none. If you consider rolling Souness and Kennedy into one, you would have what Willie was.
This year we would be attacking on all fronts according to Mr Shankly, we were attempting to keep the title, win the FA Cup and the European Cup, a treble that had never been achieved by any club. Don't even consider the idea of a rotation system, in those days there was no such thing as subs let alone a squad of 40 players.
Our form in the league from memory was up and down and the title would not be staying at Anfield this season, but the AGONY and the ECSTASY of what was to come would prove enough for any fan. We had drawn Cologne in the EC and after a 0-0 away leg and a 0-0 home leg, the tie would have to be decided after a third game. Liverpool were playing two games every week at this time due to League, FA Cup and EC commitments and so the boys headed off to Rotterdam.
After a 2-2 draw every fan felt sick, these were the days when the result now depended on the toss of a coin, no penalty shoot-outs in those days. Ron Yeats was stood on the halfway line with his hands on his hips. The opposing captain faced Yeats. Before the ref had a chance to ask either what they preferred, Yeats Said I'll have tails ref. The ref nodded and said tails for Liverpool, heads for Cologne and up went the coin ..............
Hearts stopped all around the ground and as the coin fell to the ground, the ref and captains stood staring at each other in amazement. The bloody coin had only stuck on its side, Yeats was pointing to the ground and saying it looks tails from my side, but that was not good enough. Hearts were now pumping at approx 150 per minute, the adrenaline was pumping the heart to bursting point as the coin was flipped into the air for a second time. Yeats jumped in the air, the sighs around the ground were as load as the singing had been earlier.
As Yeats left the pitch Shankly walked over to Yeats and said: "Well done big man, what dya pick"?
Yeats said "Tails boss"
Shanks said "Good lad, I'd have picked that meself"
Yeats waiting for some form of congratulations was to be disappointed, Shankly just walked away telling everyone who would listen that He too would have picked tails. Only three days later Liverpool had to meet Chelsea (sitting at the top of the League) in the semi-final of the FA Cup, people gave Liverpool little chance after their midweek effort against Cologne, the general feeling was that we would be shattered. But Shankly's men were made of stronger stuff. We were the strongest team in football and playing twice a week was no problem.
Liverpool held Chelsea in the first half and could have scored, but when the half time whistle went the score was 0-0. My old fellah recalled that when walking off the pitch Liverpool indeed looked shattered and he turned to me Uncle Gerry and said, this is gonna be hard for us in the second half. But Liverpool in the second half stepped up a gear and a goal from Thompson and a pen from Stevenson gave us the win we wanted. We were on our way to Wembley, could this be our year to win the FA Cup for the first time in our history?
Leeds had won the other semi-final and the Cup Final ticket fever started that day. Everyone wanted tickets, but as usual the numbers allocated to teams playing would be pitiful. Every club in England would be allocated tickets, but the fans of both Leeds and Liverpool were gonna be disappointed. 15,000 tickets only had been allocated to each team and the remaining 70,000 would be dispersed around other clubs. THIS WAS A DISGRACE THEN, AND IS NO BETTER TODAY. The split should always be 45% to each team with 10% only going to dignitries, if not 50/50 and stuff the knobs (anyway, enough politics).
There has been enough written about the 1965 cup final, without me adding to it, but I would like to say that in a very mediocre game Willie Stevenson shone like a lighthouse in the fog. The celebrations that followed the final were like Ecstasy on Speed (before they were drugs). Not only had we won the cup but when the fans came home, the Liverbirds were still on top of the Liver Buildings, for all the bluenoses had told us different. The celebrations in the street were the biggest I've ever seen, but far from being content, the fans left with the thought that the EC was next.
We believed in Shanks when he told us that we were invincible and were going to conquer Europe. Only three days after an exhausting FA Cup we were to play the formidable Inter Milan. The spirit shown by Byrne after playing 110 mins with a broken collar bone in the Cup Final was unequalled at the time, but together with an injury to Milne the absence of such a pair for such a big game as this was a bitter blow. The Inter Milan manager Helenio Herrera was 'as happy as Larry' that the two would be missing and the fact that Liverpool's strength had been weakened by extra time on the notorious strength sapping turf at Wembley also gave him a boost.
In truth even our fans gave us little hope of beating such a great side as Inter, so soon after Wembley, but we did have our secret weapon. Shanks once again had a thought! To work the crowd up before the game he would send out Byrne and Milne with the FA Cup. The noise at the ground that night was absolutely deafening. Not only did we hold our own, we took them apart.
Inter players were looking at each other in disbelief. They had been told Liverpool would be tired, but after Hunt had scored in 4 minutes and they had levelled the score, Liverpool had moved up another gear and goals from Callaghan and St John had made it 3-1. Not content with 3-1 Liverpool continued to attack, pushed to new levels by the KOP screaming "ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK", we should have scored more on the night, but a 3-1 lead to take to the second leg was surely good enough, wasn't it? Eight days later, we entered the San Siro.
The noise at Anfield the week before had been deafening, but what greeted the fans and the players in Milan was unreal. It looked like the terraces were on fire, nearly all the fans had flares, the ones that didn't have flares fired rockets at the pitch and players. The inferno that the players saw must have given them their nearest picture of what Hell was actually like. All that was missing was the Devil himself ..........
Enter ORTIZ DE MENDIBIL (think of 15 foul words before continuing, and I mean as foul as you can).
No, there not strong enough, think of words that would "shock a docker".
The game kicked off ...... in the opening 5 minutes, Inter were awarded about 10 free kicks, every time a tackle went in, the whistle went. Tackles that were timed to perfection and as clean as a whistle, brought a whistle and then, Inter were awarded an indirect free kick just outside the box. Every Liverpool player picked up his opposite number, it had to be a cross cos it was indirect.
Corso ran up and fired it straight into the net. MENDIBALLS response? "Goal" (or "Gol" if you speak Spanish). Yeats and Smith ran to MENDIBOLOX the ref, only to be waived away. The score was now 3-2 on aggregate. Things couldn't get any worse, could they?
Two minutes later, Lawrence caught the ball and was running to the edge of the box to kick the ball out. Piero came from behind Tommy and kicked the ball out of his hands and put the ball in the net. MENDIBUSSTARD's 's response? "Goal". Fans in the ground and at home watching on TV were astonished and the torrents of abuse were nearly as bad as what Smith, Yeats & Lawrence must have said, but the goal stood. The score was now 3-3 on aggregate.
Liverpool knew that they were on a hiding to nothing, no matter what they did. Liverpool spent the next 35 mins trying to get back in the game and showed a determination that had to be admired, but again every tackle brought a foul and every foul brought Inter a free kick. Without exaggerating, 35 tackles brought 34 free kicks to Inter. But at half time we went in all square 3-3 on aggregate.
The second half could not be any worse, could it? After 62 minutes we got our answer. Facchetti scored, in fairness it was a great goal and Lawrence didn't have a hope in hell of stopping it and if he did save it the ref would probably have given hand ball!!!! The European dream of every scouser was in tatters.
Shanks made comments about the game, as did every player, but the "Bastard from Barcelona" had stitched us up good and proper. I have really tried not to use foul language here and apologies for any ***'s that appear, but this event in our history was enough to make the Pope swear and he probably did. Many a good Catholic would have to go to confession that Sunday.
There is a story that Smithy actually kicked the ref in the shins when walking off the pitch after the game, and it says a lot that the ref just ignored it and said nothing. Ortiz De Mendibil's infamy will live long in the memory of any Red over the age of 40 and if you doubt it, ask a member of your family who is old enough to remember.
And so the season finished, we kept our Pride and Dignity in the aftermath, and that would give us hope for next year's onslaught on three fronts. In 1965/66 the Agony and the Ecstasy would continue for the Reds. The league title would come home which included a 5-0 romp over the bluenoses. Disappointment in the FA Cup saw us go out, but we'd won that once anyway. The new challenge was the ECWC, surely this would be the year when we would conquer Europe? After thumping Juve, Liege and Honved in the early rounds, we had been drawn against Celtic in the semi-final, The Battle of Britain was to take place mid April 1966.
The first leg was edged by Celtic 1-0, but Liverpool reversed the result at Anfield to win the tie 2-1 on aggregate. For all the moans from the Celts I can assure you Bobby Lennox was offside and chants around the ground of "Easy Easy Easy" were fully justified. And for every Celt that sung "Celtic" there was two score scousers responding "Rangers" a trait that continued for years after, but the Kop for once split and shouted their religious allegiance at each other.
The final showdown was to be held at Hamden Park in Glasgow and all the Celts got there own back in a big way. Support the British team? You've gotta be joking, all the Celts present actually supported Dortmund, hence my allegiance to Rangers ever since. Dortmund were a crap outfit, but for some reason beyond my mental ability, they actually beat us. They played with 11 men behind the ball all game and on the two break aways they did get they scored both times. Once again the European Dream was in tatters.
Shanks was beginning to realise, that a different tactic would be required to win a Euro trophy, our policy of all out attack, would have to be modified for european opposition in the future. And so two more years had passed, the Ecstasy was having won the title (again a new league record) and the FA Cup had sat proudly in the hallowed halls of Anfield.
But the Agony of the next six years would bring nothing home. Many have chosen to forget this period of Shankly's reign, others who were not born avoid reading about this era, but its Agonies like these that make the Ecstasies reach climatic levels. The Master Builder was going to have to build a 'new team' for a 'new era'. (JUST LIKE GED IS TRYING TO DO NOW !!)
Coming soon: part 4 "Dodgy Perms and Moustaches Everywhere"
© Wooltonian 2003
This article is dedicated to Alder Hey Hospital and all its staff past and present. A truly wonderful hospital that nursed me back to full health as a child.