The tie that turned Fergie into Anfield's worst enemy

Thrashed by Paisley's legendary Liverpool side, the Dons manager banned laughter on the coach

It is six hours by bus from Liverpool to Aberdeen and they would not reach their destination until just before a thin November dawn broke over the Granite City. It was Alex Ferguson's first game at Anfield; his team had been humbled 4-0 and the first bitter, metallic taste of the European Cup was to linger. There are some who believe this night in 1980 marked the beginning of his long enmity against Liverpool; others that it simply made him stronger.

"He actually banned the players from laughing on the team coach on our journey back," Gordon Strachan recalled years later. "'Anyone who laughs will be fined £10,' he said. And he kept looking back, trying to catch one of us out."

It was significant in another way. Jack Nicklaus never played off against Tiger Woods; Joe Louis never threw a punch at Muhammad Ali. The greats from differing generations rarely overlap. And yet for the only time Bob Paisley faced Ferguson, the two greatest managers of their respective generations.

Paisley's side were unquestionably superior. It was the Liverpool dream team everyone of a certain age could name. Clemence in goal; Neal, Hansen and Thompson protecting him, the two Kennedys, Souness, McDermott and, ofcourse, Dalglish.

Just before the first leg, Ferguson and his assistant, Archie Knox, went to Anfield to watch Liverpool beat Middlesbrough 4-2. In the directors' box they met Bill Shankly and began, in Ferguson's words, to "behave like a couple of groupies". "So, you are down to have a look at our great team," Shankly said. "Aye, they all try that."

Ferguson's Aberdeen were starting to emerge. At the age of 38 he had already shown all the attributes that were to make him great. He dropped Aberdeen's most prolific goalscorer, Joe Harper, over weight and drink problems, even marching in uninvited to a dinner party and throwing Harper's favourite dish of haggis and neeps into the sink to make his point.

However, he curbed his instincts to maintain a fruitful but sandpaper-like relationship with Steve Archibald, and he had learned to use psychology. Recalling how Jock Stein's public concession of the title in 1968 had so unnerved his own Rangers dressing room that they blew up in the run-in, he returned the compliment to Celtic with remarkably similar results.

Dalglish confessed that Paisley's Scottish contingent were shaken by the fixture. There had been "Battles of Britain" before. The 1966 Cup-Winners Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Celtic had rammed 134,000 into Parkhead and Anfield. Four years later, 136,000 jammed Hampden Park to see Jimmy Johnstone pick Leeds apart and take Celtic into the European Cup final. But there had been very little since. It was a vast occasion.

"The moment we knew it was Aberdeen, the mood around the dressing room changed," Dalglish recalled. For himself, Alan Hansen and Graeme Souness – the Anglos, or Scottish players earning their money in England – it was a huge game. "Scarcely had the draw been made than all sorts of noisesflooded out of Scotland about what Aberdeen would do to Liverpool and about us Anglos being sent homeward to think again," he said. The reception the three received at Pittodrie was, Dalglish recalled, "horrendous, real vitriol spitting out from the terraces".

The tie gnawed into the Aberdeen dressing room too. "The fixture dominated and interrupted everything, it was nothing less than a nightmare," Ferguson wrote in A Light in the North. "We played Dundee in the League Cup just prior to playing Liverpool, and it seemed the shadow of Anfield had engulfed Dens Park. It got to us, it got to everyone." It was soon to get to them some more.

Liverpool landed at RAF Lossiemouth for the first leg and immediately Paisley went to war. Strachan was the pivot of Aberdeen's midfield and Paisley tried to unsettle him with lavish praise. "As he headed off for the press conference, Bob said, 'I am just going to give Gordon Strachan a wee piece of toffee'," Dalglish recalled. "Bob brought out the toffee for special occasions only; when he wanted to give an opposition player a compliment to soften him up. The boss was a master at it. On the morning of the game the papers were awash with his praise for Strachan."

He was unsettled, to the extent that he withdrew into himself. "I went totally the other way," Strachan wrote. "In the Liverpool set-up nobody did very much in possession, it was all about simple passes and not giving the ball away, and for some reason that is how I tried to play. I cannotrecall ever moving from the right flank and virtually every time I got the ball the result was a safe, square pass. Instead of playing like Gordon Strachan, I started to play like Sammy Lee."

Aberdeen lost John McMaster early to a Ray Kennedy tackle and were behind after five minutes when Terry McDermott, who had told Dalglish the result at Pittodrie would not matter because victory at Anfield was guaranteed, chipped Jim Leighton.

"The Liverpool players had a bit of grit and nastiness about them – good qualities when you need them – and they were well armed in the psychological war department," Ferguson said. The lessons Liverpool doled out were put to good use when Aberdeen overcame Bayern Munich, then Real Madrid to lift the Cup-Winners' Cup.

At Anfield, where Liverpool had not lost for 76 matches, Ferguson withdrew Strachan infield but he himself was banned from the touchline and the moment Willie Miller sliced a shot past his own keeper he began to yearn for the final whistle. "I have never been so glad to get a game out of the way in my life," he said.

In the away dressing-room there was a single, surreal moment at half-time. "We were three down on aggregate and I was lecturing the players on what they were doing wrong and how they could correct it when Drew Jarvie piped up. 'Come on, lads, three quick goals and we are back in it'.

"There was a stunned silence. Three quick goals against a Liverpool team undefeated at Anfield for almost two years! It was priceless." There was, however, to be no more laughter.

European Cup 1980

Second Round, first leg, 22 Oct Aberdeen 0 Liverpool 1 (McDermott)

Aberdeen Leighton, Kennedy, Rougvie, Watson, McLeish, Miller, Strachan, McMaster (Bell), McGhee, Jarvie (Hewitt), Scanlon.

Liverpool Clemence, Neal, A Kennedy, Thompson, R Kennedy, Hansen, Dalglish, Lee (Case 68), Johnson, McDermott, Souness.

Second leg, 5 Nov Liverpool 4 (Miller og, Neal, Dalglish, Hansen) Aberdeen 0

Liverpool Clemence, Neal, A Kennedy (Cohen), Thompson, R Kennedy, Hansen, Dalglish, Lee, Johnson, McDermott, Souness

Aberdeen Leighton, Dornan, McLeish, Miller, Rougvie (Cooper), Watson, Strachan, Douglas Bell (Hewitt), McGhee, Jarvie, Scanlon.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road