1981 Goal scorers Alan Hansen and Kenny Dalglish celebrate with the League Cup trophy
Season 1980/81 was one of the most dramatic in Liverpool’s history. The season began with Bob Paisley’s men seeking a third Championship in a row, a feat not managed since the 1930s. Liverpool opened the season with the Charity Shield, they beat FA Cup holder’s West Ham 1-0 at Wembley in the traditional season curtain raiser, with a Terry McDermott goal.
Liverpool beat Crystal Palace 3-0 at Anfield on the opening day of the season, thanks to goals by Kenny Dalglish and the two Kennedy’s. However the Reds only won six of their next ten games, with their normally watertight defence leaking goals at an alarming rate. Phil Thompson suffered some knocks before Christmas and his dependable partnership with the classy Alan Hansen was broken up. Paisley was forced to use reserve defenders Colin Irwin and Richard Money. Aston Villa and Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town were the early season pace setters, with Scottish midfielder John Wark a scoring sensation from midfield.
1981 Howard Gayle in action
Toxteth born winger Howard Gayle made his breakthrough this season and he became the first black player to play for Liverpool. As 1981 began Bob Paisley’s men were so far off the pace at the top, that the team started focusing attention on the cup competitions. In the FA Cup, Liverpool were drawn away to Everton in the fourth round. Jimmy case scored late on but the Toffees ran out 2-1 winners, with goals from Eastoe and Varadi. So Liverpool knew that the only way they could qualify for Europe was to win the League Cup for the first time or the European Cup, a daunting prospect.
In the League Cup Liverpool had fought their way through to a two legged Semi Final against Manchester City. They had disposed of Bradford City, Swindon, Town, Portsmouth and Birmingham City to get there. A late Ray Kennedy goal gave Liverpool a 1-0 win at Maine Road and a 1-1 draw at Anfield with Kenny Dalglish on the score sheet was enough to send Liverpool into the Final at Wembley against West Ham United.
On the 14th of March 1981 Liverpool and West Ham faced each other at Wembley. Liverpool had lost the 1978 Final in a Replay to Nottingham Forest, while the Hammers were aiming to win the trophy for the first time.
Liverpool lined up as follows: Clemence, Neal (c), A.Kennedy, Irwin, R.Kennedy, Hansen, Dalglish, Lee, Heighway (Case), McDermott, Souness
The game as a nervy affair, with Welsh referee Clive Thomas constantly stopping the flow of the game for petty fouls. Sammy Lee had the ball in the net early on, but it was ruled offside. The game was bogged down in a midfield battle, but Graeme Souness and Sammy Lee gradually started to dominate. Goal less at full time, Liverpool took the lead in the 118th minute. Alan Kennedy fired home from the edge of the box. West Ham manager John Lyall was furious, as Lee was lying in an offside position in front of goalkeeper Phil Parkes, but Thomas over ruled his linesman and the goal stood.
1981 League Cup Final: Alan Kennedy (on the ground) gives Liverpool the lead at Wembley
However West Ham fought back. Ray Clemence made a brilliant save from Ray Stewart’s free kick, but from the resultant corner Liverpool conceded a penalty after Terry McDermott tipped Jimmy Neighbour’s header onto the bar. Ray Stewart sent Clemence the wrong way from the spot with the final kick of the game, which ended in a 1-1 draw.
On the 1st of April Liverpool made changes for the Replay, Ian Rush replaced Steve Heighway at Villa Park and Jimmy Case came in for the injured Graeme Souness. The Replay was a thrilling affair (the first live game I ever saw Liverpool play on TV) and West Ham took a shock lead in just the 5th minute, as Paul Goddard headed past Ray Clemence. Liverpool fought back and equalised in the 25th minute through Kenny Dalglish
1981 League Cup Final Replay: Kenny Dalglish equalises for Liverpool at Villa Park
Ian Rush was outstanding as he hit the bar and ran the line superbly alongside Dalglish. In the 28th minute Alan Hansen’s header via a deflection gave Liverpool a 2-1 lead. In the second half Liverpool continued to make chances as West Ham struggled to gain a foothold in the game. Phil Parkes made a series of superb saves to keep West Ham in the game and in the last 15 minutes the Hammer’s threw men forward in search of an equaliser. Trevor Brooking dragged a shot wide and Billy Bonds headed over from a corner. Liverpool held on though for a 2-1 victory and their first League Cup triumph.
1981: Liverpool Captain Phil Thompson celebrates with the League Cup trophy at Villa Park
Liverpool had now secured a place in Europe for the following season and could now focus on trying to win a unique Double by winning the European Cup again for the third time. After an easy passage past Finnish part timers Olu Palloseura 11-2 on aggregate, they beat Scottish Champions Aberdeen, managed by Alex Ferguson home and away before a Graeme Souness hat trick saw off Bulgarians CSKA Sofia in the Quarter Finals.
In the Semi Finals Liverpool faced German giants Bayern Munich. Following a scoreless first leg at Anfield, the Germans printed leaflets for the second leg in Munich, with directions to Paris for the European Cup Final. Liverpool produced a classic away performance, with Sammy Lee man marking danger man Paul Breitner and Howard Gayle running the Bayern defence ragged, after replacing the injured Dalglish. Ray Kennedy fired home a vital away goal which was enough to send Liverpool into the Final.
1981 European Cup Final: Liverpool squad line up face Real Madrid in Paris
On the 27th May 1981, Bob Paisley was aiming to be the first manager to win the European Cup three times. Spanish giants Real Madrid were pre match favourites but with the Scottish trio of Hansen, Souness and Dalglish, Liverpool fancied their chances. In a scrappy game both teams cancelled each other out. With defences on top it looked like the Final was heading into extra time when an unlikely scorer won the game for Liverpool. Left back Alan Kennedy fired home from a narrow angle following a throw in and Liverpool fans could now turn Paris red. It was a victorious end to a strange season. 1980/81 was the only season from 1976 to 1991 that Liverpool did not finish as Champions or runners up, a staggering statistic and example of their consistency.
1981 European Cup Final: Alan Kennedy scores the only goal against Real Madrid in Paris
1981 Liverpool’s Souness, Dalglish and Hansen celebrate with the European Cup in Paris