Success in the European Cup? : not always


As this year’s Champions League gets towards the business end of the campaign, English club sides are once again well primed to leave a serious mark on the competition. As we write, the chances of a third all-English final in four seasons, and the fourth-ever in total, remains a real possibility, and although not quite back to the same levels of domination English sides enjoyed in the European Cup at the tail end of the 1970s and first half of the 1980s, English club football is looking to be in rude health at present.

If we take a trail back to the afore-mentioned period, we can see that English sides won the trophy seven times in eight seasons between 1977 and 1984, with Liverpool being successful four times, Nottingham Forest twice and Aston Villa once. The ill-fated Heysel clash between Liverpool and Juventus in 1985 brought an end to the English dominance and it would be another fifteen years until Manchester United’s dramatic injury-time success over Bayern Munich in Barcelona brought the trophy back to Blighty.

Despite enjoying a golden period from 1977 onwards, English sides tended to struggle in the European Cup before then, with only Manchester United’s inaugural 1968 Wembley triumph to show for the first twenty years of endeavours in the competition. In fact, only once was the final and twice the semi-finals reached by English sides in the 1970s before Liverpool’s Rome success.

This article will, then, have a look at some of the lesser-known English European Cup campaigns of the decade where England’s representatives exited before the last-four stage

1970- 71: Everton

The first full season of the European Cup in the decade, 1970-71, saw Everton installed in the European Cup as England’s representatives and defending league champions. Led by Harry Catterick, the Toffees had won the league title in 1970 ahead of a Leeds United team that ran out of steam at the end of the season. Everton then failed to build on this success in the league and their defence of the title was to end in a risible 14th spot.

In the European Cup, Everton were drawn against Icelandic side Kevlavik in the first round, and before a crowd of 28,444 at Goodison, cruised to a 6-2 victory that effectively put the tie to bed. A 3-0 away victory in the return was rather academic in nature but at least ensured the campaign began with the minimum of fuss.

The second round saw an altogether more strenuous pairing with West German champions, Borussia Monchengladbach, and two titanic battles ensued. On October 21, 1970, the first leg was played in West Germany and ended one apiece with Howard Kendall netting for the blues and so giving Everton a slight advantage for the second leg.

At the start of the season, UEFA had tweaked the rules and so now the away goals rule was in operation for every round of the competition and not just the first two rounds as had been the case previously. Another significant rule change was penalty shootouts replacing the toss of a coin in the event of an aggregate draw resulting from identical scorelines.

Both these rule changes were to affect Everton during the campaign, with a penalty shootout being required as the second leg against the West Germans also ended in a 1-1 draw.

So it came to pass that Everton and Borussia took part in the first-ever European Cup penalty shootout. Taking the kicks at the Gladys Street end, Everton kicked first with Joe Royle writing himself into history with the inaugural strike, and promptly missing!

Matter not, as Everton recovered to win the shootout 4-3 with substitute Sandy Brown netting the decisive strike in front of 42,744 spectators.

The last eight and a clash with Greek champions Panathinaikos awaited the Merseyside club who were big favourites to progress.

Ah well.

In the first leg at Goodison, two late goals meant the sides cancelled each other out and headed back to Greece with the tie finely balanced. Having benefitted from UEFA’s first rule change to progress on penalties in the previous round, it was here that the second change came back to bite the Toffees on their collective behind.

A goalless draw in Greece meant that Everton were eliminated on the away goals rule whereas in previous seasons at this stage of the tournament extra time would have been played. It was a miserable time for Everton as just four days later they were beaten by Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final played at Old Trafford.

1971-72: Arsenal

At Wembley in May 1971, Bertie Mee’s Arsenal side became only the second side in the twentieth century to secure the league and FA Cup double, and in doing so secured passage into the following season’s European Cup, while beaten FA Cup finalists, Liverpool, took up the cudgels in the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

Arsenal were a strong side at the time, and like Everton before them, were tipped to do well, but, also like the Toffees, they were to exit at the quarter-final stage.

A safe passage through the first round against Strømsgodset of Norway was secured courtesy of a 7-1 aggregate scoreline before a second-round match up with the Swiss side, Grasshopper. Another less than onerous test ensued as the Highbury Boys sailed through 5-0 on aggregate with a comfortable home and away victories being a matter of course rather than undue toil or effort.

So, having reached the last eight without having to get out of second gear or break much of a sweat, it was to some consternation that Arsenal found themselves paired with the defending champions, Ajax, in the quarter-finals. Inspired by Johan Cruyff, Ajax had won the previous season’s tournament by beating Everton’s conquerors, Panathinaikos, in the 1971 Wembley final, and were at the peak of their powers.

Nevertheless, the omens looked good when Arsenal took a 15th-minute lead in the away leg through Ray Kennedy, and although they ultimately slipped to a 2-1 defeat in Holland, they were still very much in the tie when the two sides met again a fortnight later at Highbury. Unfortunately for Bertie’s Boys though, it was their turn to concede an early goal when future manager George Graham put through his own goal after 14 minutes.

Try as they might, Arsenal could not recover the deficit and so exited by a 3-1 aggregate scoreline.

1972-73: Derby County

The next season saw Derby County, led by the Brian Clough – Peter Taylor duo, reach the semi-finals and bow out controversially to Juventus of Italy.

1973-74: Liverpool

Next up were Liverpool. League Champions in 1973, this would be Bill Shankly’s third and final crack at winning Europe’s major trophy, and although the 1964-65 semi-finals had been reached, two years later the second round and a 7-3 aggregate drubbing by Ajax was the best that could be achieved.

Alongside the 1973 league title, the UEFA Cup was also secured by Shankly’s men and so it was a reasonable assumption to make that Liverpool were getting used to European football and could be regarded as being amongst the favourites as the tournament kicked off.

As events unfolded, the 1973-74 European Cup campaign would indeed be a momentous and game-changing one for Liverpool but not quite in the manner that had been predicted.

Drawn against the minnows of Luxembourg, Jeunesse Esch, in the first round, Liverpool performed really rather shockingly, winning just 3-1 on aggregate as a 2-0 home victory followed a 1-1 away draw.

No matter, into the second round and a tricky-looking but seemingly passable tie with the Yugoslav side, Red Star Belgrade beckoned. Once again, the first leg was played away from Anfield, and Liverpool were given an almighty chasing in Belgrade and at 2-0 down with still more than half an hour to play, the Reds were already staring elimination square in the face.

Drawing on their European experiences of the previous season perhaps, Liverpool regrouped and managed to stem the tides crashing against their shore. When Liverpool full-back Chris Lawler got a goal back to cut the deficit in half with twenty minutes to go, Shankly’s men pretty much declared and settled for a narrow 2-1 defeat.

Back at Anfield for the return, Liverpool were expected to progress with the minimum of effort but instead were treated to a European masterclass from the Yugoslavs. Playing patient, passing football across and out from the back, Red Star were more than happy to let Liverpool have the lion’s share of the ball while soaking up pressure and relying on the counter-attack.

The scoreline remained goalless for an hour, with Liverpool huffing and puffing without making much headway towards the Red Star Belgrade. Then the inevitable happened and Liverpool were hit with a swift counter-attack and found themselves a goal down on the night and 3-1 down on aggregate. Although Lawler netted a late equaliser to give Liverpool hope, an even later second goal for Red Star meant another 2-1 defeat and a serious lesson learnt.

Taking a leaf from the Red Star playbook, the Liverpool backroom team made sure that never again would Liverpool approach European matches in the same way as they did domestic ones. It was a Road to Damascus conversion that would serve Liverpool well over the next decade or so.

1974-75: Leeds United

As 1973-74 League Champions, Leeds United were next up for England in the European Cup and, just as Derby County had two years earlier, they were to experience heartbreak in controversial circumstances. A 2-0 defeat in the Paris final at the hands of Bayern Munich was difficult to swallow for Jimmy Armfield’s men.

1975-76: Deby County

In the 1974-75 season, Derby County took their second league title in four seasons after a titanic tussle and so qualified for another shot at the Big One they felt they had been so cruelly robbed of in 1973. By now, of course, Brian Clough and Peter Taylor were long gone and had been replaced by their former captain, Dave Mackay who took them to Czechoslovakia for the first round and a match up with ŠK Slovan Bratislava.

A cagey affair in Yugolsalvia ended with the home side scoring the only goal of the game, and so heading back to the Baseball Ground there was still all to play for. A raucous home crowd was ready for the second leg and a 30,000 crowd saw Derby level on aggregate through Jeff Bourne five minutes before halftime. A fiercely competitive second half ensued with both sides going close before two late goals from Franny Lee put Derby through 3-1 on aggregate and into a last-sixteen clash with the legendary Real Madrid.

On a never-to-be-forgotten night in Derby, almost 35,000 were present to see a match for the ages. Opening the scoring after just nine minutes was summer signing, Charlie George, who then added a second from the penalty spot with just fifteen minutes gone.

Real hit back through Pirri ten minutes later only to concede again before half-time at the hand of David Nish.

When George completed his hat trick twelve minutes from time, it seemed as if Derby had at least one, if not one and a half, feet in the quarter-finals as a jubilant home crowd went mad.

However, the second-leg two weeks later was to prove to be just as dramatic. Although no doubt expecting a Real onslaught, Derby were only a goal down at half-time. Two quick goals early in the second half gave Real the advantage overall on the away goals rule, but when George scored his fourth goal of the tie to make the scoreline 3-1, Derby were back in the driving seat.

With less than ten minutes to go, and Derby beginning to dream, Pirri struck again and so the match headed into extra time. With nine minutes of the extra period played, Santillana scored his second and Real’s fifth goal of the night and, with that signalling the end of the scoring, Derby exited the competition in mortifying circumstances.

Later years of the Decade and Beyond

The Rams’ exit in November 1975 was to be the last time an Englsih side was eliminated from the European Cup for three seasons until 1978 winners, Liverpool, were knocked out of the competition 2-0 on aggregate in the first round of the 1978-79 tournament by new English League Champions, Nottingham Forest.

A year later and Liverpool once again succumbed in the first round, this time at the hands of Dinamo Tbilisi of the USSR. A 2-1 home victory for the reds in the first leg was no match for the subsequent 3-0 away defeat that followed.

So, the decade ended and England’s record over the last four seasons of the ten was decidedly better than the six that preceded it. Liverpool took the trophy in 1977 and 1978, and this double success was then repeated by Nottingham Forest in 1979 and 1980. Not satisfied with these successes, another two back-to-back triumphs were secured into the early ‘eighties by Liverpool and Aston Villa in 1981 and 1982 respectively, before the six-year English spell of success was finally broken by SV Hamburg in 1983.

When Liverpool secured their fourth triumph a year later, it was England’s seventh success in eight years and the domination seemed set to continue for a while yet.

Alas, it was not to be.