The Reds won their fourth FA Cup on this day 32 years ago – after a dramatic five-goal contest with their neighbours – but this was a cup final with a much broader meaning.
The game came only five weeks after the Hillsborough disaster, which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool supporters – and so it was an understandably emotional occasion.
So many of those inside Wembley that sun-drenched spring day, whether supporting the team in red or the team in blue, would have been impacted by the events in Sheffield the previous month. So many would have known someone who was there, and so many will have lost someone.
This was a day when Merseyside shone.
In a thrilling 120-minute encounter, John Aldridge’s early strike and substitute Ian Rush’s extra-time double were enough to overcome the Toffees, who struck twice through a substitute of their own – Stuart McCall.
Having already beaten Carlisle United, Millwall, Hull City and Brentford in that season’s competition, Kenny Dalglish’s side earned their place in the final by overcoming Nottingham Forest 3-1 at Old Trafford on May 7. The rescheduled last-four meeting came 22 days after the awful events in South Yorkshire, which brought the match between the teams on April 15 to a close on six minutes.
The Reds’ first game since the disaster had, in fact, been against Everton on May 3 – when the neighbours played out a 0-0 First Division draw at Goodison Park.
With rearrangements required, there would be eight matches for Dalglish’s men that May.
West Ham United were beaten 5-1 at Anfield on the Tuesday after the final, but the dramatic 2-0 home defeat to Arsenal on the Friday – which concluded the campaign – saw the Gunners take that year’s league title from the hosts.
For many players and club staff, the days and weeks following the disaster were primarily spent supporting those impacted, which included attending funerals. The support process – among families, friends and both Liverpool and Everton – is something that continues to this day, of course.
The Toffees had completed and won their semi-final on April 15, as Pat Nevin’s goal secured a 1-0 victory over Norwich City at Villa Park. Colin Harvey’s men – who would finish eighth in the First Division that year – had overcome West Bromwich Albion, Plymouth Argyle, Barnsley and AFC Wimbledon in the previous rounds. The mood on the evening of their progression to the final was understandably sombre, however.
That final – on Saturday, May 20, 1989 – did prove a fitting tribute to Merseyside and to those who had been lost.
Aldridge gave Dalglish’s team the lead in the fourth minute when he swept a first-time shot beyond Neville Southall and in from 15 yards, after Steve McMahon’s burst in behind was found by Steve Nicol.Embed from Getty Images
The lead remained theirs until the 89th minute when Dave Watson’s low cross was parried by Bruce Grobbelaar and McCall stretched to poke home the rebound from point-blank range. That cued extra time – and all the more drama.
The first 15-minute period of the additional half-an-hour packed in the game’s three remaining goals. In its fourth minute, Rush regained Liverpool’s lead when he controlled Nicol’s cross from the left with his back to goal, swiveled and sent a right-footed volley into the top-right corner.
In its 12th, McCall equalised again – and it was emphatic to say the least. Everton skipper Kevin Ratcliffe’s free-kick was headed clear but only as far as the Scottish midfielder, who chested it down and then – from 25 yards – sent a dipping, swirling right-footed volley just inside the right-hand post.
That made him the first substitute to score twice in an FA Cup final but Rush equalled that feat – and regained the Reds’ advantage – just two minutes later. John Barnes delivered a typically inviting cross from the left and Rush expertly steered a header into the bottom-right corner. A header that would, ultimately, win the cup for Liverpool.
Merseyside and two of its clubs had shone, on a day of such significance for both and for the city of Liverpool. So many of the thoughts inside Wembley that afternoon – as the drama unfolded and emotions flowed – will surely have been with those absent friends and family.
For so many, that will have been the case throughout the 32 years since.
Don’t miss a thing
Get new content delivered directly to your inbox. It’s free!