Sportsnight #39: 1981, When Liverpool Ruled Europe – Liverpool v Real Madrid, European Cup Final

by Charlie_East_West on October 22, 2014

Good evening, and welcome to Sportsnight. Tonight’s action comes from the Parc des Princes, Paris, France and the 1981 European Cup Final between Liverpool and Real Madrid.

As Liverpool and Real Madrid prepare meet in the Champions League tonight, Liverpool go into the game as huge underdogs. Real Madrid are currently the Champions League holders, and are armed with a new generation of galacticos such as Gareth Bale, Christino Ronaldo and James Rodríguez. Liverpool are currently emerging from a period of slumber as sleeping giants.

Back in 1981, Liverpool FC were not just the Kings of the Kop, but of European football. They were appearing in their third European Cup final, after two appearances in 1977 and 1978. They had successfully blended a brutally effective mixture of flair and aggression and featured some of the finest players ever to play domestic football in England – featuring the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen, Graeme Souness, Phil Neal, Ray Clemance, Alan Kennedy and Phil Thompson.

The ethos of “the boot room” was an unwritten constitution at Anfield. Managers were seemlessly replaced over time, and new players fitted in like a glove. The transition of Kevin Keegan to Kenny Dalglish is probably the finest ever example in English football of one superstar being replaced by an even better player.

The 1981 European Cup Final was largely a turgid affair – with Liverpool winning 1–0 and claiming their third European Cup, the first British club to do so. Liverpool’s victory meant that Bob Paisley became the first manager to win the European Cup three times – with a fourth European Cup triumph to follow for Liverpool in 1984.

How different it was back in 1981. What is telling about the recollections of the 1-0 win in Paris is that in those days of yore, Madrid were considered the underdogs trying to re-establish their top status against an all-conquering Liverpool. Back then, Liverpool stood on top of the mountain of European club football like a bunch of curly permed, moustachioed, Hitachi sponsored colossuses.

Times have changed. The status of Real Madrid and Liverpool is built on European Cup history. But, just as in 1981 they meet with one side glancing enviously at the other, asking itself how such a daunting gap can be closed. But, in 2014, the club glancing enviously at the other club has seen a role reversal.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Fionauk512 October 22, 2014 at 6:30 pm

Well my other half is at the Liverpool game tonight, as an avid red hoping for a miracle. I will be woken at about 3 a.m. to be given the run down I’m sure.


nino October 23, 2014 at 12:01 pm

I wonder if such a comparison is even possible. It eas a totally different game with different values and different support. In Liverpool’s heyday you could still think of football as a working class sport. To be a serious follower now you need a middle class job and lifestyle. The “capitalist hyenas” have hijacked the sport and separated from it’s traditional fan base. The players themselves are in 99% of cases mercenaries with no allegiance to their club. Cold calculation has replaced passion even if Ronaldo is a joy to watch. But as an ex Man City fan (Maine Road not Etihad) give me George Best and Bobby Charlton along with Mike Doyle and Francis Lee anyday.


Ray_North October 26, 2014 at 8:29 pm
Ceri October 28, 2014 at 3:33 pm

How times have changed! Nowadays neutral fans tend to feel sorry for Liverpool.
Could I nominate a game for the Sportsnight treatment? It would be great if you could cover Wales v Austria in the final game of the European Championship qualifiers of 1975. I’ve just found a copy of the (rather wonderful) programme in my parents’ attic, which describes it as “possibly the most important in our association’s history.” Despite that, the match is quite obscure. There are two reasons, I think. Firstly, I don’t think it was filmed for TV. Secondly, it is doesn’t fit the preferred narrative of Welsh football of heroic failure. We actually beat the Austrians and qualified for the latter stages of a major competition where we faced Yugoslavia in a two-legged quarter final. (Normal service was promptly resumed when we lost that encounter.)


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