Well, here we are again with another look back at the 1970s, and no matter what Sid and Johnny snarled back in ‘77, there was a future after all. Just what sort of a future lay in store for us all was still to be determined, that’s all.
We left our trail back through time at just the point in proceedings where things were getting exciting in the spring of 1977. Liverpool had just about triumphed in the league title race by finishing a point ahead of Tony Book’s Manchester City team, and so thanks to this achievement – and their old mate, Clive Thomas – were still in with a chance of not only winning the domestic ‘double’ of league and cup but of making it a treble by adding the European Cup into the mix.
Liverpool’s double bubble trouble
With two cup finals in five days to tackle, it was going to be an era-defining period for the Anfield men. First up on Saturday, 21st May 1977, was the clash of the giants with Tommy Docherty’s Manchester United side. Beaten at the final stage a year earlier by Southampton, United, who had been red-hot favourites on that occasion, were now seen as somewhat the underdogs against Liverpool. Docherty was bullish in interviews going into the match, but even he later admitted to having severe doubts that United could pull off a shock victory.
Liverpool under the astute leadership of Bob Paisley had evolved in the past three seasons since his elevation to the hot seat and were now almost machine-like in their prowess at grinding teams down. A steady if unspectacular side had taken the league title the past two seasons and Europe also seemed to be on the verge of falling to the Anfield men, with the UEFA Cup secured in 1976 and the final of the ‘Big One’ coming up in a few days.
The fixture list did nobody any favours at this time, however, and neither did the FA for that matter. With Liverpool due to play the European Cup Final the midweek after the Wembley clash, any potential FA Cup Final replay was pencilled in for June 26 – more than six weeks later. This was due to the Home Internationals starting the following weekend and then England and Scotland both going off on tour in South America.
So, as Docherty and Paisley led their teams onto the lush Wembley turf some 46 years ago now, both were keen to get things done and dusted at the first time of asking. The match was highly anticipated and although it perhaps never quite lived up to expectations, it was a fairly good one as far as cup finals go. Liverpool were probably slightly the better side throughout most of the match but seemed to lack their usual cutting edge, and clear-cut chances for either side were at a premium.
Half-time was reached with no dent in the scoreline by either side but that was all to change within a few minutes of the restart.
Firstly, a comedy of errors saw Keegan give the ball away on the halfway line, and then three Liverpool defenders caught square as Greenhoff nodded the ball through to Stuart Pearson to slam under the body of Ray Clemence who was entitled to feel he really should have done better.
Next, Liverpool seemed to wake up for the first time all afternoon as Joey Jones played a long ball forward to Jimmy Case who controlled the ball on his knee, swivelled and smashed a shot home from 25 yards past a despairing Alex Stepney in the United goal. Stepney’s attempt at saving Case’s shot was every bit as woeful as Clemence’s had been a couple of minutes earlier.
If Liverpool thought that they had cleared their heads and would now click back into something approaching their normal form, they were sadly mistaken, for just another three minutes went by before they were once again behind. Again, the defence had chances to clear but could not take them and Lou Macari took the opportunity to try his luck from the edge of the box. His shot succeeded in only hitting his teammate, Brian Greenhoff, in the chest but the ball then looped lazily and crazily past Clemence, barely making it to the back of the net.
It was to be the end of the scoring and the end of Liverpool’s double and treble hopes.
It was also to be the end for Tommy Docherty, but we’ll get to that shortly.
From a personal perspective, 1977 was the first time my side – Liverpool – had been in an FA Cup Final and so cup final day was spent almost entirely in front of the television, watching the five hours or so of build-up to the game. My Droylsdon-born father was – naturally- supporting Manchester United and so it made for an interesting dynamic in the Nesbit household on that long-ago sunny spring afternoon. To be fair to the old chap, I kind of recall him in the main managing to mute his celebrations at the final whistle.
All roads lead to Rome
Five days later and Liverpool had a chance to put their Wembley misery behind them with their first appearance in a European Cup Final. With their opponents being Borrusia Moenchengladbach, the West German champions for the past two seasons, another titanic tussle was anticipated. There was a feeling that this one would be too close to call but that Liverpool definitely could not afford the same sort of defensive lapses that had cost them so dear at Wembley if they were going to prevail.
This time it was Liverpool that took the lead, with Terry McDermott opening the scoring halfway through the first period after the West Germans had started the game the sharper of the two sides.
Early in the second half and once again Liverpool’s defensive frailties came back to haunt them as the ball was sloppily given away by Jimmy Case 20 yards from home. The Dane, Allan Simonsen, took the opportunity to slam home a shot that Clemence could do nothing about. Clemence then went some way to making amends for his below-par Wembley performance when he saved smartly from Uli Stielike.
A couple of minutes later, Steve Heighway swung over a corner and Tommy Smith, making what was assumed to be his last appearance, rose to head home majestically from the penalty spot to regain the lead for Liverpool. From then on Liverpool played better than they had in one-and-three quarter-cup finals over the past five days and regained some of their usual swagger. A Phil Neal penalty seven minutes from time made sure of the win and brought the European Cup to Anfield for the first time.
Finally, the club season was over and the players could join up with their international sides for the Home Internationals and subsequent tours. The Home International tournament was won by Scotland who drew in Cardiff, beat Northern Ireland 3-0 at Hampden Park, and then travelled down to do battle with England at Wembley.
On 4 June 1977, a day written into infamy, an estimated 70,000 Scotsfolk took over Wembley and saw their side prevail by a 2-1 scoreline that quite frankly flattered England. What the match is mostly remembered for, however, are the scenes at the end of the game when thousands of Scottish supporters invaded the pitch, tore up the turf and broke down the goalposts. As a result of such ‘high spirits’, fences were installed at Wembley for the first time, with many league clubs following suit shortly afterwards.
The top goalscorer in the Home Internationals with three strikes was Kenny Dalglish. The star forward of Jock Stein’s double-winning Celtic side, Dalglish had long been linked with a move to England, but thus far all overtures to tempt him south had failed. Now, however, his head was to be finally turned. With Kevin Keegan deciding he wanted a ‘new challenge’ (and a reputed four-fold wage hike!) overseas with SV Hamburg, Liverpool had both money to burn and a hole to fill.
Negotiations went on for a while, but finally Paisley got his man and for £440,000, Dalglish would line up against Manchester United back at Wembley in the August Charity Shield for a repeat of the FA Cup Final.
Keegan would not be the only one missing from this quick Wembley reunion of the two northern giants, because walking alongside Paisley at the head of the teams was new Manchester United boss, Dave Sexton, who had replaced the sacked Tommy Docherty.
How had Docherty gone from winning the FA Cup to being sacked in a matter of weeks? Well, it is an intriguing if slightly intrusive tale. Before he died in 2020, Docherty always maintained he was sacked simply ‘for falling in love’.
Well, not surprisingly, there was a little more to the story than that.
The truth of the matter was he had been carrying on an affair with a lady named Mary Brown who was the wife of a cub employee and direct subordinate of his, the physiotherapist Laurie Bown. Docherty was adjudged to have ‘broken the moral code’ of the club in the manner he went about the affair – allegedly, he would arrange meetings for the backroom staff at Old Trafford on Sunday mornings and then not turn up. The reasoning supposedly being Docherty would be able to get Laurie Brown out of his house and then go round and ‘see’ his wife.
Whatever the truth of the matter, Docherty was sacked and Dave Sexton was poached from QPR to take his place.
The celebrations of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee rumbled on, and this correspondent remembers only too well being pretty much press-ganged into joining a street party, having to dress up in ‘something red, white and blue’ and then being forced into playing party games. The memory of which sends a shiver down my spine to this very day.
Anyway, on that bright note, I think we will leave things here for now and next time out we will have a look at the closing months of 1977 and ponder the question: Whatever happened to Don Revie?