The story behind one of Liverpool’s best ever displays in Europe

Liverpool Bayern Munich European Cup Howard Gayle

Howard Gayle made his name at Birmingham City in the early 80s. But prior to his move there, he became the first black player to play for Liverpool. He is remembered for one of the greatest nights in the club’s history. Here is the story.

These two giants of domestic and European football meet on Tuesday in the Champions League at Anfield. For those of us of a certain age, this will conjure up memories of a very special night in Munich 38 years ago.

European powers

During the early part of the 70s, Bayern Munich were the dominant force in European football. European Cup winners three years in succession. But they’d been eased aside at both home by Borussia Monchengladbach, and in Europe by Liverpool. After Bayern’s trio of wins, Liverpool won the next two. But then they too were challenged at home by Nottingham Forest, who also won the next two European Cups.

The 1980-81 season definitely had a feeling of the two former kings desperate to reclaim their crown. Added to that Real Madrid, who’d won the trophy so many times in the early days it was almost named after them, were re-emerging as a force too.

Buy an iconic poster of Bob Paisley from the Football Bloody Hell shop
Buy an iconic poster of Bob Paisley from the Football Bloody Hell shop


These were the days when the competition was a straight knock-out, with no seeding. Real Madrid were drawn against Inter in the semis. Only Limerick’s Des Kennedy had breached their defence throughout the competition that season and they were in a determined mood.

The other semi was Liverpool v Bayern Munich. Liverpool had put 10 past Finnish champions, Oulun Palloseura, seen off Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen and CSKA Sofia. 22 goals in six games with Souness and McDermott scoring half of them. Bayern had knocked out Olympiakos, Czech side Banik Ostrava and also Ajax, who themselves were double European champions just a decade earlier.


Domestically, as mentioned earlier, their dominance had been undone by Borussia Monchengladbach. As Bayern won a trio of European Cups they also won a trio of Bundesliga titles. But then Gladbach won the next three, and with the emergence of Cologne and Kevin Keegan’s Hamburg, Bayern went five years without a title. A feat they’ve never repeated since. They returned a bit of order in 1980 with the title. But a measure of how the balance had shifted at home was that Bayern only contributed two players to the Euro ’80 squad. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and a young uncapped keeper.

Gone were Gerd Muller, Franz Beckenbauer, Uli Hoeness, Franz Roth and Sepp Maier. But Paul Breitner had returned from his time at Madrid. They also had Durnberger who’d played in their European Cup Final wins. Uli Hoeness’ brother, Dieter was a threat up front and of course, they had Rummenigge, regarded one of the best in the continent, if not the world.

Bayern had begun their season by winning 11 of their opening 12 Bundesliga matches. But from October to March they won just three times, yet lost only twice.


After Nottingham Forest had the temerity to pinch their title from them in 1978, Liverpool returned with a record-breaking season a year later. 1980 had seen them retain their title with ease. But this particular season was one of transition for Bob Paisley. He had started to make plans to replace some of his squad, who he believed had seen their best days.

Just prior to the European Cup Semi-Final they had won the League Cup for the first time in their history, beating West Ham in a replay. A win over Stoke City had seen Liverpool move up to fourth in the table but by the time they had to travel to Munich for the second leg they were back in sixth. A goalless draw at Elland Road on the weekend prior to their German trip effectively ended any chance they had of retaining their title. Therefore their only route back into the European Cup for next season was to win the thing.

First leg

The first meeting between these two was at Anfield. Liverpool went into the game with some players nursing themselves through to the end of the season to avoid aggravating injuries. The game ended goalless and worse for Liverpool was McDermott left the ground with his arm in a sling and Neal picked up a foot injury. Souness had a back injury, Johnson had concerns over a hamstring and Ray Kennedy had a knee injury. Kennedy played the game after an injection beforehand but the injury would flare up again.

A 0-0 draw was not a disaster for Liverpool but the Germans were definitely celebrating already. Before the second leg, Bayern were on a three-game winning run at home. This included hitting five past MSV Duisburg where Rummenigge scored four.

Evidence of the difference between England and West German fixture schedules was evident in that Liverpool played three matches between both Bayern games, with the Germans playing just two. Players such as Richard Money and Colin Irwin, so long on the sidelines, were now getting their chance in the first team. The goals had dried up too. They hadn’t scored in the first leg and had failed to find the net in the three games since. Liverpool arrived at the Olympic Stadium in Munich a bruised and battered team.

Paisley philosophy

Bob Paisley was a dogged, determined footballer who played left-half for Liverpool for nine seasons just after the Second World War. He took his understanding of players into management. He’d been Shankly’s first team coach before reluctantly accepting the top job at Anfield in 1974. His ability to read a player enabled him to make some impressive signings. He didn’t always get it right, and sometimes his belief in a player’s ability was greater than the player believed himself. His method of operating was to sign a player and put them in the reserves where they would get to understand the club and the way of playing. He cared more for the attitude and personality of a player than their ability. He favoured the player who would be so frustrated at not getting a chance in the first team they’d be almost banging the door down to get in. By the time they did get their chance, they’d be so determined not to give it up so easily.

Ronnie Whelan was a good example of this. Signed from Irish club, Home Farm in September 1979, he didn’t make his first team debut for another 18 months. He scored, too.

By the second half of the 1980-81 season, injuries had started to take their toll on the team. These were the days before ‘rotation’ and ‘squad size’ became facets within top-level clubs. Paisley generally had a core of 13-14 players he used for the first team, but this was now being stretched and so players who would normally be earning an “apprenticeship” in the reserves were thrown into first-team duty earlier than he’d normally have liked.

Colin Irwin was an example of this. A local boy, he’d come through the junior ranks at the club. He nearly got a game in the FA Cup Semi-Final replay against Everton in 1977 but Tommy Smith passed a late fitness test. During 1980-81 season he got a decent run in the team filling in for Phil Thompson. Between the end of November and the end of March, he missed just one game. He could play at centre-back or take Alan Kennedy’s place at left-back. Players like Irwin were invaluable during these days when you needed players who were adaptable.

Richard Money was another signing during the previous season who was expected to earn his place in the team but got his opportunity early. He’d performed well at Fulham and caught Paisley’s eye. Considered fringe players, Irwin (30) and Money (17) were called upon more times than expected that season.

Jimmy Case and Steve Heighway were expecting to be moved on but were needed to help out instead. Heighway had negotiated a new contract with Minnesota Kicks in NASL but delayed his move due to the injury crisis.

Two other young players who got their chance that season were Ian Rush and Howard Gayle. Rush had been signed from Chester City in May 1980 and was exhibiting exactly the qualities Paisley required. He was so frustrated at not getting a chance in the first team he went to the boss and told him. Paisley decided he should stew a bit longer and told him he’d play in the reserves for a while yet just for his cheek. He did get a chance in the League Cup Final replay win over West Ham.

Gayle was to come of age in the Olympic Stadium. Born in Toxteth he made his debut as a substitute for David Fairclough at Maine Road in October 1980. He was 21 years old. Astonishingly, he became the first black player to play for Liverpool.

Second leg

The two teams couldn’t have entered the arena in Munich further apart in terms of form. Bayern had turned their domestic form around, were scoring goals and enjoying life and had now overtaken Hamburg at the top of the table. Liverpool were well back in the league, out of the FA Cup and now looking like it would take a huge effort to get to the final of the European Cup again.

As they hobbled into the stadium suddenly things turned for them. As Manchester United found in 1999, sometimes a club such as Bayern Munich can get a little carried away with their own progress. They had left Anfield a fortnight before with their tails up. In consequence, they left directions to the final under every seat in the Olympic Stadium. Liverpool players got wind of this and it rightly galvanised them into the sort of performance films are made about.

Bayern made one change from the first leg with Niedermeyer giving way to Del’Haye up front. Del’Haye had played in the Gladbach side which lost the 1977 Final in Rome to Liverpool. Liverpool were forced to make four changes. Out went Alan Kennedy, Ian Rush, Jimmy Case and Phil Thompson. In came Graeme Souness, David Johnson, Richard Money and Colin Irwin.

Years later, Richard Money said he’d never seen such a determined dressing room prior to the game. No one was in any doubt they’d get the result they needed. Money was on the bench for the first leg and he noticed the Germans behaviour after the result. Coupled with the leaflets and then the Bayern captain Paul Breitner pre-match interview where he accused Liverpool of ‘lacking imagination’. All this did was fire up the Reds.

Still, they were going into a huge match needing to defend like tigers with two inexperienced players at the back. They also HAD to score, yet they’d gone over six hours of football since their last goal.

They’d gone out in the first round of the last two European Cups and they were now back in a Semi-Final, but everything seemed to point towards disappointment again.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all

Within 10 minutes of the game, Liverpool’s bad luck continued. Bayern’s Karl Del’Haye cynically dragged his studs down the back of Dalglish’s ankle. The blonde right-winger had lost control of the ball and Liverpool’s most experienced striker was now out of the game.

On came Gayle. Some were surprised Case didn’t get the nod, but it soon became clear what Paisley’s masterplan was. Liverpool now had three players on the pitch with little European experience, although Irwin and Money had been involved to some extent in the competition that season, Gayle had only made the bench against Aberdeen.

Gayle was immediately employed wide down the left and he and Money combined well early on. When Hansen made one of his roving runs forward with the ball he played a long pass over the German defence and Gayle was clear. Dremmler scythed him down in the area but there was no penalty given.

As the half wore on Gayle’s pace was really troubling the home side. His presence was clearly troubling some in the crowd too, as the racist chants grew louder each time he got the ball. This seemed to urge him on.

Early in the second period Hansen nicked the ball off Rummenigge halfway through Liverpool’s half and it fell for Gayle. He proceeded to run like Forrest Gump, with the German defence retreating, scared stiff of him. He was about 25 yards from goal on the left when Dremmler brought him down from behind again. This time the Portuguese ref gave Gayle the decision. Unfortunately, McDermott fired the free-kick over the bar.

Buy an iconic Alan Hansen t-shirt from the Football Bloody Hell shop
Buy an iconic Alan Hansen t-shirt from the Football Bloody Hell shop

Minutes later Souness floated a free-kick forward into the area where Irwin got up unchallenged. He guided his header across the goal but there was no Liverpool player in support. Inexplicably, Weiner just knocked it straight back to him and for a split second, he had a great chance to score. Almost shocked to be given another chance he hesitated slightly, long enough for Augenthaler to get the challenge in and the chance was gone.

Another chance came when Money played the ball ahead of the German defence where Johnson found himself clear and onside. Amazingly the ball seemed to get caught up in the pitch and the former Ipswich and Everton man overran it. By the time he got his shot in Horstmann had got back and managed to deflect the shot over the bar.

Gayle still a force

Meanwhile, Gayle was still causing the home side and fans problems. Eventually, he let it get the better of him when he challenged Dremmler a little too forcefully and the German defender made sure the referee knew it. Gayle received a booking for a relatively weak challenge on a player who had repeatedly fouled him since he ran onto the pitch.

Paisley decided maybe the abuse and intimidation was getting to Gayle so with 20 minutes remaining he substituted his substitute. Jimmy Case, with two winners medals to his name, came on to add some experience.

Bayern did then have a good opportunity when Rummenigge was given space to turn and float a ball into the area where the tall Hoeness rose highest but his header just went over the bar.

Liverpool now had yet another problem. With still about 15 minutes to go David Johnson suffered a recurrence of a hamstring injury. As they’d used both their subs he was forced to stay on the pitch and just hobble around. They were like a boxer, cut above both eyes, desperately trying to stay in the bout, under extreme circumstances. Knowing one good punch could win it for them. But also knowing a series of punches to them could finally break their resistance.

Europe, the final countdown

Then with seven minutes to go the ball was played forward and Johnson, who by now had been left alone by a defence believing he was little threat, was free to knock it to his right. Ray Kennedy had drifted forward. He controlled the ball with his chest and volleyed it past Junghans in the Bayern goal.

It was a wonderful moment and one which well and truly silenced the crowd, which had been getting more than a little nervous.

With two minutes remaining a long ball into the area wasn’t dealt with by the previously impeccable Irwin and his header fell to the feet of Rummenigge who fired in the equaliser.

It was the only mistake the defence had made all night and it emphasised how effective they’d been. There was a brief period of concern for Liverpool. Clemence saving at the feet of Janzon was the only real scare.

Eventually, the final whistle blew and Liverpool had gone through on the away goals rule. Bob Paisley called it their best performance in Europe.

He singled out the youngsters who’d come into the team that night, Irwin, Money and Gayle. Gayle was a particular masterstroke of Paisley’s. He knew the Germans would’ve prepared dossiers on all the players but of course, they would never have seen Gayle before. His pace and relentless enthusiasm just ran rings around them.

It had been five years since a side in Europe had avoided defeat in Munich. Yet here was a Liverpool side, depleted by injuries and they had pulled off a famous result.

None of the three played in the final, though, as Thompson, Kennedy and Dalglish were all fit by then. None of them are bitter about it either. They understood they were reserve players and playing at the most successful club in Europe at the time.

Liverpool went onto win their third European Cup when they beat Real Madrid in Paris with Alan Kennedy getting the only goal of the game.

Howard Gayle is still very much seen as a hero at Anfield for this one performance alone. Liverpool always remembers players like him. The treatment he received was shocking but he stood tall, played his heart out and helped the club to a famous victory.

22nd April 1981, Olympic Stadium, Munich, 70,000

BAYERN MUNICH   (0)   1   (Rummenigge 88)

LIVERPOOL   (0)   1   (Kennedy 83)

BAYERN: Junghans; Dremmler, Horsmann, Weiner, Augenthaler; Kraus, Durnberger (Janzon), Breitner; Del’Haye, Rummenigge, Hoeness

LIVERPOOL: Clemence; Neal, Irwin, Hansen, Money; Lee, McDermott, Souness, R Kennedy; Johnson, Dalglish (Gayle)(Case)