No, It’s Not You, It’s Me...
It was summertime 1976- and it was blissfully hot! Summers in the U.K. come with no guarantee whatsoever that they’ll live up to the idyllic dreams of those who longed for them so earnestly during the cold, dark, short ‘days’ of the previous winter. However, the 1976 version was a welcome anomaly, truly a summer worthy of its name. It brightened the mood of Britain’s inhabitants every day for several months.
However, one morning in Liverpool, you wouldn’t have felt any warmth from anyone who had an interest in football…. well, not unless they were Evertonians! Toffees fans were probably overjoyed at the story that was ‘breaking’.
The news had filtered out of Anfield, and it was truly headline stuff. Kevin Keegan, the Reds’ longtime number 7 and a man idolised by so many Koppites, was intent on leaving Liverpool!
It couldn’t be true, could it? Why would anyone want to leave the new League Champions and UEFA Cup holders? Where else would he go? Surely Liverpool wouldn’t want to lose him?
Well, it was true. With Kevin Keegan, it was perhaps less of a shock than it would have been if one of the home-grown members of the squad had announced such an intention. Keegan was always a ‘free spirit’, a ‘law unto himself’. After all, this was the man who had talked openly of quitting professional football altogether during his time at Scunthorpe United, disillusioned by the meagre wages he received and the perceived lack of opportunity to move on to a bigger, better club.
Interest in Keegan from other clubs wasn’t exactly “news” to anyone. The rumours were that Liverpool had already turned down substantial offers for Kevin from the likes of Real Madrid at the end of 1974-75. However, now it seemed the man himself was determined to move to a new challenge elsewhere, admitting: “You can mortgage your house and put money on me being with a foreign team next season. I need a new challenge, something fresh to test me….” A move was so obvious that even the likes of mightytips.com would have been giving short odds.
Keegan was also, by then, a true celebrity in the minds of the great British public. That was thanks, in no small part, to appearing in numerous television commercials for products such as “Brut” aftershave lotion. He was also often seen on TV encouraging kids to remember to use the “Green Cross Code” when crossing busy public streets.
Kevin Keegan was, by now, a British icon, not just merely a football player for Liverpool. If you like, he was to 1970s English football what David Beckham would later become to European football in the early part of the 21st century…a figurehead.
However, Keegan wasn’t leaving Liverpool “in the lurch”. Rather, he was giving everyone at Anfield a good 12 months’ notice that this season, 1976-77, would be his last in a Liverpool shirt. What the announcement also did, even if only subliminally, was put pressure on Keegan himself to make sure it would be a final year to remember…
Putting In a Shift…
His final season on Merseyside began well. The Reds won a tight Charity Shield opener at a sunny Wembley against surprise 1976 F.A. Cup winners Southampton by a goal to nil, thanks to a strike by John Toshack early in the second half. Keegan had provided the assist for his big Welsh strike-partner by heading the ball down for Toshack to shoot home from the edge of the penalty area early in the second half.
The league season opener against Norwich City at Anfield on 21 August was played in almost sauna-like conditions. The energy-sapping heat didn’t prevent Keegan from playing a ‘man of the match’ role in the hosts’ 1-0 win. It was his corner that got knocked down by Toshack for Steve Heighway to score the decisive goal from close range early in the second half.
Keegan was like a non-stop dynamo, constantly probing the Canaries’ defence for weaknesses from his new attacking-midfield berth. Manager Bob Paisley had acquired striker David Johnson from Ipswich Town for £200,000 during the summer. This resulted in a positional switch, with Keegan reverting back to an attacking-midfield role he’d last been employed in at Scunthorpe United. Johnson partnered Toshack up front.
Goals and Assists…
Four days later he was providing an all-important assist for Toshack again, this time at West Bromwich Albion. Keegan took down a long kick from keeper Ray Clemence on 40 minutes, turned marker John Wile, and laid a strike ‘on a plate’ for Toshack to give Liverpool another 1-0 victory in a tense, nervy game.
The first poor result of the season arrived on 28 August. Keegan was unable to prevent his side falling to a 2-1 defeat at Birmingham City, despite David Johnson notching his first Liverpool goal. Blues’ opener was scored by a young man called Trevor Francis, who had already started to make a name for himself, and would go on to much greater things in the years to come.
Liverpool then suffered a frustrating home 1-1 draw with Johnny Giles’ West Brom in the opening round of the League Cup competition. In front of a very poor Anfield crowd of only 23,378 on 31 August, Ian Callaghan’s goal gave Paisley’s men a replay at The Hawthorns.
Keegan opened his scoring account for the season at home to Coventry City the following Saturday afternoon. He equalised a very early goal for the Sky Blues by Mick Ferguson when he met a Phil Neal cross to head home on 56 minutes. Further goals from Johnson and Toshack gave Liverpool a 3-1 win, and kept them in a high position in the early Division One table.
Bob Paisley’s interest in the League Cup was extinguished two days later as the Reds went down to a 1-0 defeat at The Hawthorns, despite playing a full-strength team. No-one knew it then, but it would be one of very few disappointments to be endured by Liverpool during the season.
Champions- Proving Hard to Beat…
That’s because Paisley’s team were very quickly going to ‘come to the boil’, with Keegan as prevalent as anyone else in the side. The following Saturday afternoon, he scored the decisive goal in a 3-2 win at Derby County which carried Liverpool to the summit of the league table. On 18 September, Tottenham Hotspur left Anfield with a 2-0 defeat, Keegan having provided a great assist for Steve Heighway to score the second goal after half an hour.
A disappointing 1-0 loss at Newcastle United was sandwiched between a comprehensive 7-0 aggregate victory over Northern Irish part-timers Crusaders in the First Round of the European Cup; Keegan scored the opening goal in the 5-0 second-leg romp in Belfast.
Thereafter, Liverpool went unbeaten for two months. Victories over Everton, Leicester City (home and away), Aston Villa (Keegan scoring in a 3-0 Anfield win), Sunderland and Bristol City cemented their grip on top spot in Division One. Keegan was still sharing penalty-taking duties with right-back Phil Neal, and both men found the net from twelve yards in the 5-1 thrashing of Leicester at Anfield on 9 November!
Unable to Finnish…
In total contrast to his largely very enjoyable experiences whilst wearing Liverpudlian red, Kevin Keegan was not, now, enjoying his days wearing an England shirt…
England, under the management of former Leeds United icon Don Revie, had been drawn in a four-team qualification group with Italy, Luxembourg and Finland for World Cup 1978. With only the top team qualifying to spend the summer of 1978 in Argentina, it was almost certainly a ‘winner-takes-all’ head-to-head with the mighty Italians for Revie. It also meant that goal difference would be vitally important (ie. scoring as many goals as possible against the Group whipping-boys from Luxembourg and Finland).
Keegan had helped England to an excellent start, scoring twice in a 4-1 win in Helsinki in June. The return game was held at Wembley on 13 October… it was a disaster. Despite a brilliant start, which saw the hosts grab a very early lead through Manchester City winger Dennis Tueart, thereafter Keegan and his colleagues laboured to convert their ball possession into genuine goalscoring chances. Then, three minutes after the break, Finland equalised.
Despite quickly regaining their advantage through a Joe Royle header, England couldn’t add to their tally, and the final whistle was greeted with boos, jeers and cat-calls for both Revie and his dejected players. The fans weren’t fooled by the narrow 2-1 victory. It wasn’t good enough.
In many ways the world caved in on Revie’s England managerial career on 17 November in Rome. That afternoon, his disjointed and largely inexperienced team were completely dismantled by a slick Azzurri side that was almost entirely comprised of Juventus players. The final scoreline of 2-0 didn’t even begin to reveal the extent of the demolition. Italy had dominated from start to finish, with Keegan’s Liverpool colleague Emlyn Hughes famously using the word “murdered” to describe how the England players felt as they left the Stadio Olimpico pitch at full-time. Keegan, proudly captaining his country, had hardly got a kick for 90 minutes.
However, surely brighter days lay ahead for Keegan at club level? Mind you, by now nobody fancied the long trip to face Bobby Robson’s energetic young Ipswich Town side at Portman Road, so Liverpool’s 1-0 loss on 4 December, their first defeat in two months of football, wasn’t a shock. Whenever Queen’s Park Rangers were beaten 3-1 at Anfield the following weekend, with Keegan scoring the decisive second goal just five minutes from full-time, everyone assumed the defeat at Ipswich had just been a hiccup. They were very much mistaken.
15 December 1976 was a black day in Liverpool’s history. Bob Paisley took his troops to Villa Park to face a Villa side that had been developing into a very fine young team under the guidance of Ron Saunders. However, the Reds had dispatched the Midlands outfit at Anfield with relative ease, 3-0, just six weeks previously. You could say that Aston Villa got their revenge that winter afternoon!
By the time Ray Kennedy scored what wasn’t even going to be a ‘consolation’ goal on 41 minutes, Liverpool were already 4-0 down. Two goals in two minutes from Andy Gray and John Deehan had rocked the Merseysiders. In front of a rocking Holte End, Villa took full advantage, with Deehan and Brian Little adding further goals as Paisley looked on stonily.
Being 4-1 down at the interval would have been bad enough. However, Gray notched his second and Villa’s fifth goal on the half-time whistle… Left-back Joey Jones later recalled the atmosphere in the away dressing-room with the quip, “I had never known anything like it.” Paisley and assistants Joe Fagan, Ronnie Moran and Roy Evans made sure the players were made very aware of their failings… the game finished 5-1.
Things didn’t get better, with a trip to East London just three days later yielding another sorry defeat. West Ham United inflicted further misery on Liverpool with a deserved 2-0 victory on a muddy Upton Park pitch that had had to pass an inspection to allow the game to proceed. Keegan was as anonymous as anyone else on the visiting team. Losing to a good Villa side was one thing, but defeat to a poor Hammers side who would be involved in a relegation struggle all season was worse. Ipswich Town leapfrogged Liverpool to be table-toppers at Christmas.
Gonna Walk All Over You…
Someone was going to feel the sting of the backlash: that team were Stoke City. They came to Anfield on 27 December and were battered from start to finish, the final score almost flattering them at 4-0. Keegan was among those running riot in red shirts, scoring one goal and setting up Phil Thompson for another. The Potters offered only physical resilience, which saw centre-half Denis Smith sent-off for a terrible challenge on Steve Heighway early in the second half.
The improvement continued with a hard-fought point against a strong Manchester City side at Maine Road two days later, before Sunderland were beaten 2-0 at home on New Year’s Day 1977. The road to Wembley in the F.A. Cup got off to a sticky start with a frustrating 0-0 home draw with Third Division Crystal Palace on 8 January, leaving an unwanted replay at a packed but slippery Selhurst Park three days later.
Kevin Keegan opened the scoring for Liverpool against Terry Venables’ Eagles on 19 minutes, though the South Londoners were already 1-0 ahead by then. He then repaid Steve Heighway for providing an assist for his opener by doing likewise for the Irishman to give Liverpool the lead on 67 minutes, and Heighway settled the tie with a second goal later.
Keegan: Total Commitment.
Any concerns that the Liverpool fans might have had back in the summer about Kevin Keegan’s commitment to their cause in his final season at Anfield had long since been dispelled. The little man from South Yorkshire was a non-stop dynamo in every game for the League Champions, constantly probing for openings, always looking to bring his team-mates into the game, linking play, making runs…. Keegan “left it all out on the pitch”.
Despite a surprising 2-1 league reverse at Norwich City on 22 January, Paisley’s side remained at the top of the table. Keegan was integral to the side, opening the scoring in both the Fourth Round F.A. Cup 3-0 win over Carlisle United and the Fifth Round 3-1 victory over Oldham Athletic.
Falling Foul of the French…
The European Cup returned to the schedule after its winter hiatus with a very difficult trip to reigning French Champions, St. Etienne, for Liverpool on 2 March. That game ended in a scrappy 1-0 victory for the hosts, leaving Liverpool facing a nervy return leg at Anfield two weeks later. They ‘warmed up’ for it by losing 1-0 at White Hart Lane to a weak Spurs side that would end the season relegated in bottom position. It wasn’t the preparation Bob Paisley had had in mind.
A rare Emlyn Hughes goal won the next league game at Middlesbrough. Then it was time for the return showdown with St. Etienne, who were beaten semi-finalists in the previous season’s Champions’ Cup competition; a strong team.
Showing some European Pedigree…
Over 55,000 fans packed out Anfield on 16 March, and they didn’t have to wait long to have something to shout about. Two minutes into the game Keegan collected a short corner on the left from Heighway and outrageously clipped the ball over St. Etienne keeper Ivan Curkovic into the far corner of the net! Whether he meant it or not, the result was the same: Liverpool were level. Roared on by the fervent crowd, Liverpool pressed the men in green shirts for a second goal. Jimmy Case did have a goal disallowed for a foul on a French defender, but otherwise their attacks foundered on a stout French defence. Clemence was also very busy at the other end, producing a number of good saves to keep the visitors off the scoreboard, too.
Six minutes into the second half, and disaster seemed imminent; Dominque Bathenay scored with a swerving, dipping rocket of a shot from 30 yards out, and the French led 2-1 on aggregate. Liverpool now needed two goals to win…
They got them, in dramatic fashion. Firstly, through an opportunist Ray Kennedy strike and then, late in the game, young substitute David Fairclough kept his cool to finish superbly after getting on the end of a hopeful ball over the top from Kennedy. They were in the semi-finals after a classic end-to-end encounter.
Building Towards a ‘Treble’…
Three days later, Middlesbrough were put to the sword in the F.A. Cup Sixth Round at Anfield, Keegan scoring yet another Cup goal to seal the 2-0 victory. The Reds would now face familiar foes in the semi-final: Everton.
Before all that though, they made the short trip across Stanley Park for the Merseyside Derby at Goodison on 22 March, and only some good saves from Toffees’ keeper David Lawson left the final score at 0-0.
On Wednesday 30 March, Keegan again proudly donned the England captain’s armband and opened the scoring after 10 minutes as minnows Luxembourg were thrashed 5-0 at Wembley. However, by now, few of the watching fans, nor press corp, were under any illusion about Don Revie’s side qualifying above Italy in their four-team Group. There was no credit given for beating a tiny nation that the Italians would undoubtedly hammer as well.
April arrived with a 3-1 win over Leeds United at Anfield, young Fairclough causing havoc for the opposition defenders due to his sheer pace with the ball at his feet. He firstly won the penalty which Phil Neal converted, and just two minutes later converted a Case cross to put the game beyond Leeds.
Swiss Roll(ed Over!)
Attentions turned back to Europe on the Wednesday. Liverpool had been drawn to face Swiss side F.C. Zurich, and travelled to the Alps first. However, the Swiss were fortunate to reach this stage of the competition, easily the weakest team remaining. Liverpool duly left with a comfortable 3-1 away victory, thanks to goals from Neal (2) and Heighway. It was as easy as a European Cup semi-final game would ever get, and all but booked Liverpool’s place in the final in Rome, with the second game at Anfield now surely a mere formality.
Keegan Provides Invaluable Contributions…
Manchester City came to Anfield on 9 April, still harbouring hopes of snatching the league title themselves. When Brian Kidd scored on 77 minutes to cancel out Keegan’s headed opening goal just before the break, it seemed that City might not only give themselves a chance at the crown, but greatly aid Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town as well. That euphoria lasted all of 60 seconds. That’s how long it took for Case to drive a superb volley against the City crossbar, with Heighway reacting fastest to steer the rebound home past a despairing Joe Corrigan. It was the winning goal.
That victory took Liverpool level on points at the top with Ipswich Town, but having played a game less. However, there was no time to breath! Two days later Keegan lined out at the Victoria Ground as Liverpool dug out a 0-0 draw against a Stoke City side desperately fighting relegation. It wasn’t a good day for the England man: he missed an absolute “sitter”, ballooning the ball over the crossbar from only a few yards out to let the Potters off the hook. Would that lost point prove crucial at the end of the season?
Keegan made amends a few days later as Arsenal were sent back to North London on the end of a 2-0 defeat. Already leading through a Phil Neal effort, Keegan pounced to convert from close range on 76 minutes after Gunners’ keeper Jimmy Rimmer failed to hold a rasping effort from David Johnson. Afterwards boss Bob Paisley admitted that he “didn’t think we could have bettered that performance”. In reality it had been a 2-0 massacre, with Arsenal reduced to a single Frank Stapleton shot-on-target all afternoon.
It set things up nicely for the crunch F.A. Cup semi-final meeting with bitter local rivals Everton at a packed Maine Road on 23 April. Liverpool got off to the best possible start, with Terry McDermott scoring an exquisite chipped finish after only ten minutes, totally fooling Everton keeper Lawson, who was expecting a thunderous shot.
However, the Toffees had nothing else left to play for and threw everything they had at their neighbours. Maverick forward Duncan McKenzie deservedly levelled the score after 33 minutes. However, the Toffees couldn’t make their complete dominance of the game count for more goals. When Case scored with only Liverpool’s third effort of the entire game on 73 minutes, it seemed luck was smiling on Paisley’s men…. only for Bruce Rioch to score his first Everton goal with eight minutes remaining. High-profile Welsh referee Clive Thomas then controversially ruled out a late goal by Bryan Hamilton for offside, denying Everton the victory their play deserved. To say Everton were aggrieved about that decision would be an understatement… A replay would be required.
Four days later Maine Road witnessed a very different Merseyside Derby. Everton were undone by another hugely controversial decision by referee Thomas. Having ruled out Hamilton’s late “winner” for the Toffees the previous Saturday, Thomas awarded Liverpool a very ‘soft’ penalty kick for a push on David Johnson, a decision the Everton players and coaching staff vehemently protested against. It looked like Johnson had simply dived. Phil Neal slotted home the resultant kick.
Everton again threw everything they had into battling for an equaliser, but this time they were caught out late as Jimmy Case scored a good solo goal, and Ray Kennedy gave the final scoreline an unrepresentative look by adding a third goal at the death.
After two titanic battles with their city neighbours, Liverpool were through to face North-West rivals Manchester United at Wembley in May. For their part, Evertonians never forgave Clive Thomas for the part he’d played in deciding both games.
There had been murmurs about Liverpool and the “Treble” building for a few months, but now the noises came from within the club itself too. No English club had ever achieved the fabled “Treble” of League Championship, European Champions’ Cup and F.A. Cup in a single season. Now, Bob Paisley himself was admitting that it had crossed his mind as the weeks wore on….
The War With Ipswich Town…
A huge step in achieving the first ‘leg’ of it came along just three days after Liverpool had overcome Everton in that protracted Cup sequel. Bobby Robson brought his dynamic, determined young Ipswich Town side to Anfield on 30 April, knowing a victory would give the Suffolk club control of the destiny of the title.
The game quickly boiled over into almost open warfare. Referee Peter Willis was clearly ‘out of his depth’ from the start as late tackles and crude challenges from behind were allowed to go unpunished. Proceedings had to be halted midway through the half as Ipswich goalkeeper Paul Cooper was targeted by a barrage of missiles from the Kop Stand. Several Liverpool players, including Keegan, appealed to the home fans to behave themselves and an announcement on the public tannoy warned of an abandonment of the game unless the nonsense was stopped.
The ‘rough stuff’ continued unabated on the pitch. David Johnson (playing against his former team-mates), Tommy Smith and Town’s young striker Paul Mariner all needed prolonged treatment on the pitch, before a terrible challenge from Mick Mills left Steve Heighway pole-axed. The Irish winger had to be stretchered from the pitch, unable to continue. Whilst Heighway was being carried off, a fan ran onto the pitch from the irate home support and handed Willis a pair of glasses (and no, I don’t know why someone would bring a spare pair of glasses to a football match!)
Heighway’s replacement, David Fairclough, was then booked by Willis for coming onto the pitch without the referee’s permission, despite Willis appearing to have given it! Somehow, Brian Talbot and Jimmy Case eventually committed fouls deemed worthy of yellow cards but by then the players were openly ‘taking liberties’. It wouldn’t be remembered as Mr. Willis’ finest day on the whistle.
In the midst of this war, Kevin Keegan tried his best to play some football. However, the England man found himself in Willis’ book for ‘deliberate obstruction’ after he was hit by a George Burley free-kick, despite appearing to be the requisite ten yards from the kick. The boos rang loudly around Anfield…
Just as it seemed both teams had cancelled each other out, more by foul means than fair, two goals arrived! On 70 minutes, Tommy Smith cleverly set Case free on a counter-attack. He bamboozled the visiting defenders by shaping to shoot himself before cleverly laying the ball across the penalty area for Ray Kennedy to shoot home left-footed instead, a feign which left Paul Cooper totally stranded.
The deadlock finally broken, Kevin Keegan applied the “coup de grace” to Ipswich Town’s hopes of a point just three minutes later, brilliantly meeting a Johnson cross to powerfully head past Cooper for 2-0. It was no more than the little man deserved, one of few players on either side who wanted a football match rather than a fight that afternoon.
There was still time for some more late drama from Mr. Willis. He, correctly, gave Ipswich a penalty four minutes from time for a deliberate handball in the area by Kennedy. A young Scot called John Wark (who would score a few more goals at Anfield in the coming years) scored the spot-kick.
A late indirect free-kick given against Ray Clemence for taking more than four steps when taking a goal-kick (a rule back in those days) caused hearts to flutter around the ground and earned Johnson a booking for a few choice words aimed at the referee, but the full-time whistle brought two points for Liverpool and a protective escort from the pitch for Peter Willis.
Keegan was in fine form, and it was his crucial headed goal from a David Johnson cross after 15 minutes which gave Liverpool a 1-0 victory over Manchester United at Anfield a few days later. This was, of course, a dress-rehearsal for the F.A. Cup Final later in the month, and gave the Merseysiders a psychological edge on their rivals. Oddly however, United had appeared to be simply ‘going through the motions’ at Anfield, not committing to challenges. The narrow margin of victory in the final scoreline was not in any way an accurate reflection of the game, which Liverpool had dominated from start to finish.
Keegan’s side now held a four-point advantage over second-placed Manchester City with only four league games remaining. Put simply, the title could only be lost from here…
Falling Over the Finish Line…
Another point was gained in a tough 1-1 draw at Q.P.R. on 7 May, Jimmy Case with the equaliser to Don Givens’ early opening goal for Rangers. Keegan had provided the assist, flicking on a Ray Kennedy cross from the left wing. Manchester City had battered Tottenham 5-0 at Maine Road to close the gap to two points, but crucially, they had played a game more than the Reds.
During the week, Paisley had made one of the most astute signings of his managerial career, snapping up promising 21-year-old Scottish centre-back Alan Hansen from Partick Thistle for just £100,000; it would prove to be money very well spent.
Three days after drawing at Loftus Road, Liverpool picked up another point in a 0-0 stalemate at Coventry City which all but secured the League Championship. Nearest rivals Manchester City were surprisingly pegged back and held to a 1-1 draw at Maine Road by Everton, leaving Keegan’s side two points clear with a superior goal difference. City only had a single fixture remaining and now needed a miracle.
League Champions… One Down, Two to Go!
Saturday 14 May witnessed the decisive result to give Liverpool the title, though a frustrating 0-0 draw at home to a stubborn West Ham United team wasn’t exactly ‘winning the title in style’! Keegan and company didn’t much care at full-time as the champagne corks were popped. Despite winning their final game, Manchester City had only 56 points; Liverpool now had 57, with a final league game at Bristol City still to come.
The final league fixture of the season took place at Ashton Gate just two days later. Having already secured the title, Bob Paisley left a number of star players out of his matchday squad; Keegan was one of them. He, therefore, played no part in Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat, the Robins’ Chris Garland scoring twice to cancel out David Johnson’s opener for the Reds. The result wasn’t that much of a surprise. Bristol City went into the game knowing they needed a victory to have any chance of avoiding the relegation they’d been flirting with all season, and therefore fought ferociously to win the game against a Liverpool side still recovering from a champagne hangover. Their win saved them on goal difference, and sent Coventry City, Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur down as the bottom three clubs.
Football League Division One, Final Table, 16 May 1977
Denied By “The Doc”
All focus at Anfield now turned to the ‘second leg’ of their quest for the Treble: an F.A. Cup Final showdown with arch-rivals Manchester United. Keegan was amongst those wearing the Liverpool change strip of white shirts, black shorts and white socks trooping out of the famous Wembley tunnel behind Bob Paisley on a sunny afternoon on Saturday 21 May.
For Keegan and his team-mates it turned into an afternoon of “what might have beens”. Some stout defending by a well-drilled United defence, led by the magnificent Martin Buchan, ensured half-time arrived goal-less. To be honest, United were never less than comfortable throughout, Keegan and Heighway seeing little by way of meaningful action. There was also, surprisingly, very little ‘edge’ to the game; it would be remembered as one of the ‘cleanest’ Cup finals ever staged at Wembley, referee Matthewson having little disciplinary work to do.
The world caved in on Liverpool’s hopes of winning the Treble during five blistering second-half minutes. First, Keegan gave away possession cheaply in midfield, which allowed the livewire Jimmy Greenhoff to set Stuart Pearson clear; his fierce near-post strike left Clemence grasping at thin air.
A reprieve seemed in the offing when Jimmy Case took down a long forward ball from Joey Jones just two minutes later. Case turned sharply on the edge of the penalty area and then rifled a fantastic volley past the despairing dive of United’s veteran keeper Alex Stepney. It was a goal worthy of a Cup Final.
However, the Liverpool fans in the 100,000 Wembley capacity crowd had barely finished celebrating Case’s equaliser before United had restored their advantage on the scoreboard. Veteran Tommy Smith was caught dwelling on the ball and partially robbed by the marauding Greenhoff on the edge of the Liverpool penalty area. As the ball spun loose, little Lou Macari was first on the scene for the red-shirted United. His instinctive shot looked wayward, but got a deflection off Greenhoff’s chest, leaving Clemence helpless as the ball careered into the back of the Liverpool net beyond Phil Neal’s desperate lunge.
Paisley reacted by bringing Ian Callaghan on for the disappointing David Johnson, but despite some concerted late pressure, including a Ray Kennedy thunderbolt which cannoned back out from Stepney’s crossbar, Liverpool couldn’t fashion another equaliser.
At the final whistle, many in white shirts collapsed onto the hallowed Wembley turf, their Treble dreams in tatters, a long season having finally caught up on their weary limbs. Kevin Keegan’s last game in England in a Liverpool shirt ended in bitter disappointment, as he watched Tommy Docherty’s Manchester United side lifting the trophy they’d missed out on twelve months earlier when losing to a late Southampton goal.
Roman Gladiators- A Crowning Finale For Keegan!
However, neither Keegan nor any of the other Liverpool players had much time to wallow in self-pity nor dwell upon ‘what ifs’. The ‘Treble’ dream was over, but the season was certainly not! Four days later, on Wednesday 25 May, they squared up to powerful West German Bundesliga Champions Borussia Monchengladbach in the Stadio Olimpico, Rome.
Despite having what many fans and pundits alike felt was a very strong domestic league in England, the only English club to have claimed the ‘ultimate’ prize in club football, the European Champions’ Cup, were Manchester United- and that had been nine years previously in 1968. Leeds United had made it to the 1975 decider, but had succumbed to some dodgy officiating whilst losing 2-0 to Bayern Munich in Paris. Now Liverpool had the chance to add their name to this very short English ‘list’ of Champions of Europe.
The side that Bob Paisley chose for what would be Kevin Keegan’s last ever competitive game for Liverpool lined up as follows: (4-4-2)
Phil Neal, Tommy Smith, Emlyn Hughes (c), Joey Jones;
Ian Callaghan, Jimmy Case, Terry McDermott, Ray Kennedy;
Kevin Keegan, Steve Heighway.
Keegan had been reinstated in his forward role alongside Heighway, and found himself being virtually man-marked throughout the 90 minutes by uncompromising World Cup-winning German captain Berti Vogts. However, never one to shirk a physical challenge, Keegan battled gamely, always showing for his colleagues, always working to find space.
Liverpool almost took the lead on 13 minutes when Keegan and McDermott combined well to present Kennedy with a chance which the German keeper Wolfgang Kneib did well to push over his crossbar.
However, fifteen minutes later, they did deservedly lead. Callaghan won the ball in midfield and played a quick pass forward to Heighway. Somehow Terry McDermott made up 50 yards in a matter of seconds to get on the end of Heighway’s superb lay-off and thump the ball inside the far corner for 1-0.
Liverpool remained in firm control of proceedings until early in the second period, when an uncharacteristic mistake by Case allowed ‘Gladbach back into the game. Danish winger Allan Simonsen latched onto Case’s dreadful back-pass, and then clipped a superb angled drive past Clemence to level the score.
Minutes later, and with the initiative having passed firmly to the German team, the dangerous Uli Stielike was put through one-on-one with Clemence. In perhaps the defining moment of the game, the big England keeper pulled off a magnificent save with his feet to deny Stielike. Then Simonsen put a header narrowly wide when he should have given ‘Gladbach a lead their constant pressure would have warranted.
Just as it seemed that the game, as well as the initiative, was slipping away from Paisley’s side, Liverpool scored from a set-piece. Centre-half Klinkhammer (quite a name for a defender!) conceded a corner under pressure. From Heighway’s centre, veteran Tommy Smith, making his 600th and final appearance for his boyhood club, rose to head firmly past Kneib to restore Liverpool’s advantage.
Kevin Keegan had run Berti Vogts ragged all evening. Successor to the legendary Franz Beckenbauer as West Germany’s captain, Vogts must have been sick of the sight of the back of Keegan’s head as the little England man swirled like a dervish all over the pitch, pulling the German defence from one side to the other.
Therefore, in many ways what transpired after 82 minutes had an inevitability about it: Vogts, weary legged, brought Keegan down with a tired, clumsy challenge in the penalty area. Phil Neal stepped up with calm authority to bury the resultant spot-kick, and Gladbach’s resistance was finally broken. Liverpool were Champions of Europe.
Kevin Keegan- an Undoubted Great
It was a fitting finale to the magnificent ‘first chapter’ of what would become a truly glittering career in football for Kevin Keegan. He was able to leave Liverpool with his head held high, an English and European Champion. He was the captain of his country, despite playing in a forward position (captains were usually chosen from amongst the defensive stalwarts). It wasn’t bad for a lad from a coal-mining community who had been discovered playing Sunday League football as a 16-year-old!
Bob Paisley moved quickly to secure the signature of the young man who had been identified over the previous few months as having the self-belief and raw ability to succeed the iconic Keegan. He was snatched from Celtic during the summer of 1977 for £440,000. His name was Kenny Dalglish. You could say that he didn’t do too badly in his attempt to fill Keegan’s ‘empty’ number 7 shirt…
To the surprise of nearly everyone in football, it was not Madrid or Barcelona, nor Turin or Milan that beckoned Keegan away from Anfield; it was S.V. Hamburg of the Bundesliga. There, he would eventually settle into life in Germany so well that he would be instrumental in carrying Hamburg to hitherto unknown heights in European football; but that’s a story for another day.
Kevin Keegan, having been signed for £33,000 from the lower leagues, left Liverpool for S.V. Hamburg for £500,000 in May 1977; it was a British record transfer fee. By the time he quit Anfield he’d won three League Championships, two UEFA Cups, the European Cup and the F.A. Cup. You could say he had proved himself to be good value for money!