Red medals: When Liverpool made League Cup history

Nostalgia writer JAMES NOBLE looks back at the events in 1981 where – after a replay and highly entertaining clash – the Reds received the first ever winners’ medals.

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40 years ago, on the evening of Wednesday April 1, 1981, Bob Paisley’s side secured the club’s first ever League Cup – and the competition’s first ever winners’ medals – after they came from behind to beat John Lyall’s West Ham United 2-1 in the Villa Park final replay.

It would be the first of four successive seasons of triumph in the competition for the Merseysiders, whilst also proving to be the first part of a double in a campaign where they would finish fifth in the First Division.

Eight weeks later, in Paris, Alan Kennedy’s goal would seal a 1-0 victory over Real Madrid and a third European Cup. That same Kennedy looked to have won the League Cup 18 days prior to the replay, as well.


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At Wembley on March 14, in the 28th minute of extra time, the left-back had rifled an 18-yard right-footed volley into the bottom-left corner to give the Reds a seemingly decisive 1-0 lead.

The Hammers – who were a Second Division side and the FA Cup holders – were visibly furious with referee Clive Thomas for awarding the goal, despite the linesman raising the offside flag against Liverpool midfielder Sammy Lee. After an awkward landing from an aerial challenge, Lee had been lying in an offside position when the shot fizzed over him, but Thomas presumably took the view that he hadn’t impacted the game.

Nonetheless, the East Londoners responded admirably and – against the odds – found an equaliser in the small time that remained. Not before Ray Clemence was forced into a brilliant save to keep out a thunderous Ray Stewart free kick.

From the resulting corner, Alvin Martin’s goalbound header was also saved. Only this time, it was by Terry McDermott, who made the split-second decision to help the ball onto the crossbar with his hand rather than let it fly in. From the resulting penalty Stewart coolly converted.

A replay, rather than a penalty shootout, was the solution of the day – and that brought about the date in Birmingham two-and-a-half weeks later. If the notable action in the capital was compressed into the latter moments, the Second City meeting took the opposite approach.

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All the goals arrived in the first 30 minutes as the slightly injury hit Reds recovered from going behind early. Graeme Souness, David Fairclough and David Johnson were all absent for this one, as was Steve Heighway after he failed a late fitness test on his groin. That gave a certain Ian Rush the chance to make only his second appearance for the club since his £300,000 move from Chester a little under a year previously.

The odds didn’t look all that favourable for Liverpool when, in the fifth minute, Paul Goddard’s agile diving header gave Jimmy Neighbour’s sharp burst and cross, the finish it deserved. 20 minutes later however came the leveller – and it was quite some equaliser.

McDermott’s flighted pass into the box found the run of Kenny Dalglish, who stretched and somehow managed to sweep a right-footed volley back across goalkeeper Phil Parkes and into the bottom-left corner. Soon enough, another Scot had completed the turnaround. In the 28th minute, Jimmy Case’s corner was met by Alan Hansen and the centre-back’s header found the net via the right knee of Billy Bonds and the inside of the left-hand post.

2-1 was how it stayed for the remaining hour or so of play before Thomas’ final whistle cued one of those wonderfully spontaneous, affection-filled pitch invasions that now almost feels like a defining marker of a certain era of football.

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Gary Newborn’s post-match interviews for ITV are wonderful viewing. Both for the classy, sporting summaries of the game by the likes of McDermott, Clemence and Trevor Brooking and the organic enthusiasm that flows throughout them.

“Well done, Terry lad!” exclaimed one Scouser, before he planted an enthusiastic kiss on McDermott’s cheek and bounced away. The No.10 – still in conversation with Newborn – looked brilliantly unruffled by the interaction.

So what about those medals? They held extra significance on this occasion as this was the first year they were presented to the winners, who had previously received tankards.

The latter would doubtless have been very well used – not least on a bus journey home that was so lively that skipper Phil Thompson managed to leave the trophy that he had lifted hours earlier onboard. Thankfully, it was discovered at the St Helens depot.

Medals probably represented slightly more natural mantelpiece participants, nonetheless. Quite appropriately, those medals set the wheels in motion for three more triumphs in the competition over the next three seasons. For Rush’s Reds career, it could be said. Perhaps even partly for the securing of that third European Cup.

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Also on this day: Enrique dons the gloves

From the Reds’ first League Cup victory, to the year of their eighth and most recent.

Five weeks after Dalglish’s side overcame Cardiff City on penalties at Wembley, their testing Premier League campaign hit another bump – albeit, a somewhat unique one.

2-0 down at Newcastle United, courtesy of a brace from Papiss Cissé – who was in the midst of the hottest of hot streaks in front of goal – the Merseysiders finished the game with left-back José Enrique between the sticks.

Goalkeeper Pepe Reina was shown a straight red card by referee Martin Atkinson in the 83rd minute after he and James Perch went head to head and the Magpies midfielder somewhat dramatically hit the deck. Having used all three substitutions, the visitors were left with little option but to improvise.

That saw Enrique – facing the club he had left less than eight months earlier – don his fellow Spaniard’s shirt and gloves for the final minutes. It was, at least, a source of light entertainment of sorts for watching Reds at the end of a pretty sobering day – but it was no laughing matter in the wider context, certainly not for Reina.

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That sending off meant he missed league games against Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers – the second of which saw his understudy, Doni, also dismissed and replaced by Brad Jones – as well as the dramatic FA Cup semi-final victory over Everton.

Even so, seeing an outfield player in goal still represented a sight that was as puzzlingly joyful as it was strange and rare.

Match details from lfchistory.net.


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