Author Topic: FA Cup Final Day  (Read 5750 times)

Offline john_mac

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FA Cup Final Day
« on: November 23, 2003, 04:15:35 pm »
1977, the Clash, the Pistols, Costello and oh what a great year to be a Red. Started the season as League champions and UEFA Cup holders and ended it retaining the title and becoming Champions of Europe, the best team in the world. Saturday 21st May 1977 at 6.30 am and a mini-bus leaves West Derby with eleven scousers, a million Watney party 7?s, half a million bottles of brown ale and a young Birmo clad kid heading for the twin towers and a battle royal with the Mancs.

We were miles better than them, better in every department but on the day we just couldn?t prove it. I can?t believe how much I hate Stuart Pearson, what the fuck is that all about as he runs away clenched fist? Still they all went silent as Jimmy Case turned and hammered as good a goal as you will ever see past Alex Stepney. Now Alex Stepney is shite and I mean shite. He was born 38 and with his broken nose, cauliflower ears, grey hair and porn star muzzy, surely we can?t lose.

Then it happens, the flukiest deflected goal you are ever likely to see. Macari runs off as though he meant it as Phil Neal flounders around in the back of the net. That bastard who turned down the greatest manager in history coz he wanted to win things, and then promptly got relegated with the most odious football club that ever walked the Earth, had worked it up us, totally unintentionally of course. I still hate Macari andhave got a buzz every time he's been sacked since! Ray Kennedy nearly pulled one back, but it was all in vain. I?ve never forgiven Kevin Keegan to this day for treating what should have been our finest hour with almost contempt; he simply looked disinterested.

At the end of the game the mini-bus headed on its way to Rome but minus the heartbroken kid in his bad kex and Adidas Kick, with a red and white scarf tied to his wrist. He got taken back home to Liverpool by a mate of his uncle, who was on the special? to Rome a couple of days later. I?ve been told that this was the best week ever to be a Red, but it never seemed like it to me. The Wednesday was, of course, a magnificent night, even watching it from a house in Kirkby with reds and blues alike celebrating all over the place.

God how I?m jealous of those who were in Rome that night. I?ve had some nights, been some places watching the Reds but that is the one that hurts. Tommy Smith?s goal put us on the front page of every newspaper and every TV programme in the country, even ?Roy of the Rovers? had a Liverpool special. You?ve got to remember that this was at a time when the only time Liverpool ever got on the telly was in some bad tv program where Nerys Hughes was running round in a bad hat with some fella going on about his rabbits.

The next night was unbelievable, as the Reds came home with the cup, every kid in Liverpool was there, Red, Toffee, who gave a fuck? We were champions of Europe and everybody knew it. It seemed each of the teaming hundreds of thousands there had a scarf, a flag. The sea of red and white outside the Picton Library was like nothing I?ve seen before or since, a day nobody that was there will ever forget, Terry McDermott apart, maybe. He pissed on a nurses head as Emlyn Hughes sang Liverpool are magic, Everton are tragic. How Keegan ever left after that I?ll never know, life just does not get better.

As if decreed by the gods the Friday night was Tommy Smith?s testimonial, he had been out of the team until Phil Thompson had got injured, now he had scored the most important goal in the history of Liverpool Football Club. Of all people the baldy tout, Bobby Charlton, provided the team that made up the opposition. I imagine he had made a few bob on the cup final and was feeling a bit generous! Maybe pioneering research into hair transplants was on the cards, after all he had a the same solitary strand of hair combed across his baldy bonce for twenty years by then. Anyhow, it could not have worked out any better for Tommy, a legend of Anfield, given the tremendous send off his service deserved in an era when football was far removed from the game we watch now. From then on in Tommy always played up front in my subbuteo team - I knew he was deadly in the box.

Twenty-four years later and a club that had been downtrodden into the dirt by years of underachievement had risen like a phoenix from the flames under a French manager, and through adversity had bounded to reach two more cup finals. Friday 10th May 2001, we departed on what was going to be my greatest week watching the Reds. We boarded the Liverpool to Cardiff train at Lime Street and within ten minutes lager, bitter, wine, sausage rolls and sarnies were all over the carriage as men, women & children set off on the journey to bring the cup back home.

We spent the Friday night in a little town near Newport called Caerleon - we were made most welcome and even the kids enjoyed the night. About 50 to 60 Reds spread over a small town, friendly faces in every pub, you really can?t beat the Reds on the march. Saturday morning and the taxis were ordered, straight to the Riverbank hotel, next to the stadium where we were received well. The rest is history, in a game when we struggled against Arsenal dominance. Michael Owen wrote his name on the heart of every Liverpudlian and ensured that the cup was sent straight back home. I doubt anybody has ever so single-handedly delivered a trophy in such a manner, a gift from heaven.

Back in the Riverbank, there was much, much hugging, tears of joy and inflatable cups. The songs and the juice were flowing and flowing and flowing as we celebrated a magnificent victory. Arsenal fans just looked on in shock, totally dumbfounded, Michael had pick-pocketed them in a way that even the biggest grafter would have been proud of.

Some people have tried to devalue the FA Cup in recent years but you never could in my eyes. It was the trophy that Shankly said brought him most joy. His greatest day as Liverpool manager was winning the cup at Wembley and then bringing it home to his adopted city. I remember going down to my uncles coz he had a coloured telly for the Leeds & Arsenal cup final in 72, half the family were there, it could have been a wedding or christening there were that many there, but it wasn?t it was the FA Cup with two teams none of supported. How could anyone forget Shankly getting his feet kissed in 74, the agony of 77, the double in 86, the humiliation of 88, the solace of 89, the victory of 92 or the nightmare of 96? I certainly could not. The FA Cup has more tradition, more memories, more history than any other trophy and very little compares to winning it, certainly on the day.

We headed back to the hotel and sat in the bar drinking, reminiscing, talking about the days ahead, what the future held, of our pride in the manager and how we would be back to the old days, given time and patience. At 5am we were still there, still talking but completely sober many, many bevvies had been consumed but life was rich, the moment was savoured. The train journey home on the Sunday afternoon was just a party, for many of the kids it was their first trophy as a Red, I was made up for them, I was made up for me, I was made up for Gerrard Houllier and I was made up for Michael Owen. The celebrating went on long into the night, but amazingly, I actually got up for work the next morning, they were more surprised than me!

After we had drawn Porto in the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup a few of had had the forethought to book flights to Amsterdam for ?30 each for the final, so off we set on the Tuesday dinner time to the Dam. The first bar we entered when we got to the city was ?The Old Quarter? on Waarmostraat (the red light district for the uninitiated) and the night took off. Suffice to say ?what happens in the Dam stays in the Dam? so although I could tell you what happened, I?d have to kill you afterwards. There were more scousers out in Amsterdam that night than there are in Liverpool most Saturdays! It was very, very late before the party finished and our hosts were not as happy as they might have been - even less when we got up and asked to book one room for the Wednesday night and promptly filled it with about 40 bags, would have liked to see the grid on the cleaner the next morning.

Anyhow, off we set on the train to Dortmund, still a bit worse for wear from the night before, a couple of bottles later and I was fast asleep. Again, we had shown a bit of foresight and booked a hotel in Dortmund a couple of months before the game, this was a very good move as everyone struggled for accommodation - we were right by the main square. I had made up my mind that I was gonna savour the night so only had a few bevs before the game, even nipping off for a bit of a kip whilst the party in the square was in full swing. Came back for a bit and then jumped a cab to the ground, had to laugh when I saw Erik Meijer apparently bladdered singing his head off by the ground, he had been playing for us just a few months earlier!

In the stadium we really couldn?t have had a better spec, at the side, front row of the upper tier, but the site of 30 odd thousand Reds truly was a joy to behold. Anybody who was not there, really does not know what they missed; I know more than ever now, what those who went in 77 were on about. We had taken in some gaffs on the way there - Bucharest, Liberec, Athens, Rome, Porto and Barcelona but it could not have been better, we sure had some laughs on the way, from falling over brasses in Bucharest to falling over mopeds in Rome. Of course the game was brilliant, as exciting as any game you?ll ever see, with more ups and downs than Jimmy off Quadraphenia. A truly marvellous night, a third UEFA Cup victory completed, and capped off as Mr Houllier lifted the trophy and my nephew ran on to shake his hand, what more can I say?

After the game we headed back to the Australian bar in Dortmund and watched the game again, this time a bit more easily, as the singing and celebration continued. Again we ended up back in the hotel bar with some very old time reds, the best I have ever met, overwhelmed by the change in our fortunes. This was the team that only twelve months earlier had failed to beat Bradford to clinch a champions league spot, now we were standing shoulder to shoulder with the Barcelona?s and Roma?s of the world and out-nousing them into the bargain!

At Dortmund station the following morning we ran into Johan Cruyff, who had been predicting a boring final, of course one wag got right onto him ?You were right Johan, dead boring that - and yer lad lost, yer must be chocka now!?

The Thursday night in Amsterdam was a bit quieter than the Tuesday had been, but that was hardly surprising, I think many had started to flag. It was still hilarious to see Pat staggering round the streets at 4.30aam completely out of his skull and unaware of where his hotel was, suffice to say he spent the night in our room and woke up kicking off about why he was there!

Friday morning saw one last visit to the famous Grasshopper near Central Station. To make our day a lad walked in with the Echo. He?d been the game, been home on the Thursday and then gone the Dam for a stag night on the Friday morning. The Echo was passed round each and every scouser in the bar, each reading it with there chest popping further and further out with pride. There were some very rough mushes at the departures desk at Schipol for the return easyjet to the homeland, not a drop passed my lips on the journey home, but the grin was still as wide as the Mersey, I knew I had to pop into my local to see a few toffees, and so it was. Give them their due, even though they are bitter as hell, they know the score and acknowledged what we had achieved, even if they were fed up of my stories by the thirteenth re-run. 'kinell they are still going on about playing footy with the bizzies in Rotterdam! Anyhow I soon binned them and headed off to bed for an early start the next morning.

7.45 Liverpool to London and if you?re feeling tired and weary and your heart just skips a beat ?.ya know the rest! And I can tell you that there were a few on there feeling tired and weary, still one last victory would ensure a champions league spot. I can?t ever remember being so excited about the prospect of Liverpool finishing third, probably a sad indictment of English Football in the 21st Century, but who cares? A disastrous first half where we rode our luck was followed by a convincing 2nd half capped by a magnificent finish from Robbie, who was man of the match. Happy? I could have shared a hug with Thatcher (before promptly dispatching her with a left hook!). Everyone steeled themselves for one last party on the train home, and it did go on and on and on and on.

The next day was the homecoming, and the lads got the homecoming they deserved. God knows how many kids, men and women turned up to cheer the three trophies going round the city, but thoughts inevitably went back to 1977. As we sat in town afterwards nobody could have been prouder, we had seen better more successful Liverpool teams, hopefully we will again, but they were the best eight nights and nine days I have ever had watching the reds. Nobody will ever take that away from those of us who were carried through it,. And when people attack our manager I always think back to those days and what they were like. Without Houllier I, and many like me, would have simply not had that wonderful period of our lives.

1977 was perhaps Liverpool?s greatest ever season, we had many, many in the fourteen that followed it, most notably 1987-88 for myself. There was 12 day period in 1986 when we won away at Leicester and Chelsea to take the league and then went on to beat the Toffees at Wembley to complete the double, but for a period of exhilaration it is hard to think of anything that matches the period from leaving Lime Street for Cardiff to watching the three cups going round the City nine days later.

I hope with all my heart that at some stage in the future every young Red who watched with admiration as the cups went round the city will get the same opportunity I had twenty four years after trudging home from Wembley defeated and then going down to town for the homecoming a few days later.

john_mac 2003
We'll See Things They'll Never See