39 years ago this week, Liverpool began the defence of their European Cup crown with a first round tie against English champions Nottingham Forest. The Merseyside giants had won club football’s biggest trophy two years running and were looking to emulate Real Madrid, Ajax and Bayern Munich in winning the competition three years in succession.
In what was a highly anticipated fixture, Liverpool striker David Fairclough spoke to Steve Mitchell at the Football Pink about his memories of that two-legged affair which saw the Reds dethroned by Brian Clough’s men from the East Midlands.
TFP: I’d like to start by asking you how you felt when you got drawn against the newly crowned league champions?
DF: I seem to remember it was a little deflating when we heard the news. We were down at Melwood training and of course, in those days there wasn’t the great pomp and ceremony surrounding the draw like there is today.
Bob Paisley just came out on the training ground and said; “boys, we’ve got Forest” and I recall a look of deflation on the lads’ faces because when you play in the European Cup you want to test yourselves against Europe’s best in their own backyard. To be fair, I guess Forest would have thought the same; especially as it was their first match in the competition.
TFP: Having made such a great start to the domestic season, you must have been supremely confident going into the game especially as Forest seemed to be struggling?
DF: I wouldn’t say supremely confident as they had won the league title the season before and beat us in the League Cup Final so there was a little bit of apprehension I would say as we were travelling to the City Ground. Despite their poor start the quality of opposition always has the potential to bring out the best in teams.
We both knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses and from our point of view, we never took anything for granted. We tended to focus more on our game than the opposition but we certainly approached the Forest game with a little caution.
Looking back on the first-leg I think they played quite a pragmatic game and played to their strengths extremely well with Tony Woodcock being the main outlet in their attacking play.
TFP: Can you recall Brian Clough starting any mind-games before the first-leg?
DF: Not directly but I do remember both Ronnie Moran and Bob Paisley telling us that he had been pouring compliments over them prior to the game and being really friendly but they saw right through that. There was always a bit of needle when we played Forest so we knew what to expect from Cloughie every time we were due to meet them.
TFP: Watching the first-leg at the City Ground, it was a close game for most of the time with Forest holding a 1-0 lead. Would you say, however, that their second goal late in the game was the key moment over the whole tie?
DF: For sure, the second goal really played into their hands for the second leg at Anfield. They came to our place and absorbed all the pressure because we just kept hammering away but couldn’t get the breakthrough. Peter Shilton, Larry Lloyd and Kenny Burns stood up to everything we threw at them, including the kitchen sink!
TFP: Did the fact that it was a defender, Colin Barrett, who got the second goal make it even more disappointing?
DF: I remember Clough saying after the game that he couldn’t believe what he was doing in our penalty box and I don’t remember him ever getting into that sort of position for the rest of his career.
TFP: Going back to the second leg, I recall Shilton saying that it was probably his best game in a Forest shirt. Would you agree?
DF: As I said, we just kept hammering and hammering and we got more and more frustrated as the night went on. Shilton seemed to stop anything we fired at him for sure.
TFP: You had a watching brief in the first leg at the City Ground I believe?
DF: I was actually substitute for both games and didn’t get on at all at their place. If memory serves, Paisley put David Johnson on in the second-half and I came on for Jimmy Case at Anfield.
TFP: Despite having the nickname “Supersub” you must have been disappointed not to feature more in the tie?
DF: Of course, it’s always a disappointment. You’re happy to be part of the squad of course but it wasn’t so much a squad game back then. I mean today you know you’ll get a chance sometime in the season. But I was always happy if people like David Johnson got on in front of me and likewise him if I got the nod. It’s always a kick in the guts when you’re not selected though.
TFP: After the first leg, can you remember what Paisley said in the dressing-room?
DF: To be fair I can’t but Bob didn’t really have to say anything because he knew conceding that late second goal put a whole different perspective on the second leg. I don’t ever remember us scoring three goals against Forest.
TFP: So after the goalless draw at Anfield, tell me what the dressing-room was like.
DF: As you can imagine, it was a massive blow for us. To win the European Cup once is a huge achievement but to win it back to back then go out in the first round the following season was a huge disappointment. You have to remember that back then, Liverpool were the most feared club side in the world.
We wanted to emulate what Ajax and Bayern Munich had done and although we didn’t consider ourselves the best in the world, we were so proud to have won the European Cup two years running.
TFP: So do you think going out of the competition so early gave you that added motivation to win back the league title?
DF: For sure. I think at the time it was a record breaking performance the way we won the league. We nearly did the domestic double too but Manchester United knocked us out of the semi-finals of the FA Cup. It certainly inspired us to put down a marker to the rest of the clubs.
TFP: Do you recall a press backlash after your defeat to Forest?
DF: Not really no. That came about a year later when the newspapers started to report that the empire was crumbling, stuff like that. I think the papers at the time just gave Forest the credit they deserved declaring that they had out foxed us, which they had done.