Paul Hart always had his suspicions about his side's defeat in Anderlecht. Now he knows they were well-founded. He talked to Phil Shaw.
Long after Paul Hart had stopped breathing down strikers' necks, he could not shrug off the feeling that Nottingham Forest were up against 12 men when they lost 3-0 to Anderlecht in the second leg of their Uefa Cup semi-final in April 1984.
Hart, who had a goal dubiously disallowed and is now Forest's director of youth coaching, suspected that "something untoward" had gone on in Brussels. When the Belgian club's president, Roger Vanden Stock, admitted his father had "loaned" the referee pounds 20,000, he finally made sense of the strange events in the Parc Astrid.
Brian Clough's team led the holders 2-0 from the first leg. Hart and company had given up only three goals in four away games, despite facing the likes of PSV Eindhoven and Celtic. A third European final in six years - against Tottenham - was surely within their compass.
Clough, however, was uneasy about the choice of a Spaniard, Emilio Guruceta Muro, as referee. "From my experience the Spanish don't exactly love us," he said beforehand. "British teams often seem to have problems with them because they see our game as very physical, which it isn't."
The official was known in Belgium for having sent off two Italians and awarded a controversial penalty to Standard Liege against Napoli. He was also familiar to Hart, who recalled two of his Leeds colleagues being dismissed by Senor Muro against Real Madrid in a tournament two years earlier.
The tide of decisions was already running against Forest when Enzo Scifo volleyed Anderlecht ahead after 20 minutes. But with Hans van Breukelen defiant in goal, they held out until the hour mark. Kenny Swain was then adjudged to have tripped Kenneth Brylle, who converted the penalty.
Hart takes up the story. "I've seen footage of the incident and it confirms that their man took a dive as soon as he set foot inside the area. Ken was nowhere near him. In fact I wish he'd been a bit closer. It was a disgrace."
Worse was to follow. After Anderlecht's third, by Erwin van den Bergh with two minutes left, Hart thought he had scored the crucial away goal. "We got a corner and the ball flew past Ian Bowyer's ear to me. I headed it straight in, but the ref gave them a free-kick and ran off without offering any explanation.
"I asked Ian whether he'd pushed someone and he said, `absolutely not'. Belgian TV have managed to lose the film of my `goal', so I've never seen it and I don't know anyone who has."
One reporter, John Wragg of the Daily Express, was in the dressing-room area during half-time. He saw Anderlecht emerge promptly after Muro blew his whistle. But Forest stayed put, ignoring two further blasts and banging on their door. Clough, intent on making his point, eventually poked his head out and said: "Did you want us?"
Yet at the end he ran and shook the referee's hand, presumably to defuse the anger of Forest's supporters. The BBC's Pat Murphy, who also covered the match, later wrote in His Way: The Brian Clough Story: "He no doubt wished he could shake his neck instead, but contented himself with a meaningful stare."
The Forest players were livid. "We were convinced something untoward had happened, that it wasn't just bad refereeing," explains Hart. "We felt we'd been cheated but you can't believe that sort of thing goes on. We didn't play well but we were never three goals worse than them. Take away that penalty, give us back my `goal' and it's a different story."
Muro was killed in a car crash in 1987 and any doubts seemed likely to be buried with him. "With hindsight it's easy to say we should have protested," Hart says, "but the nature of this club was that you just got on with things."
Anderlecht were banned last week from the next European competition for which they qualify - a punishment Hart views with disdain. "They've got away with murder. At least half that Forest side never won a medal and I'm one of them. You can't put a price on a medal.
"You could argue that we might not have beaten Spurs, though I reckon we'd have had a great chance. A lot's been said about the money the club would have made from two full houses and TV coverage. We lost more than that."Reuse content