Final thoughts: the men who took on the cream of Europe

Before Liverpool take on Milan tonight, 11 English teams had previously lined up in the European Cup final. Players from each game share their memories of the occasion with Paul Newman
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The Independent Football



1968 (Wembley)

Manchester United 4 - Benfica 1 (after extra time)

For those of us who had survived Munich, the memory of the players who had died was never out of our mind. They were the reason we wanted to win.

It was one of our best European performances. Bobby Charlton put us in front, but they equalised.

Nobby Stiles was marking Eusebio and had done a brilliant job until one lapse of concentration after a ball over the top just 10 minutes from the end. Eusebio ran on to it. He was shaping up to shoot, but I remember thinking: "Alex [Stepney] is going to save this." Eusebio's shot went like a bullet, but Alex held it. It was such a good save that Eusebio actually patted him on the back.

We scored three great goals in extra time. Benfica marked George Best very tightly. People say that freed up Bobby, but for me the player it really set loose was John Aston. He was very fast and strong and was running at them all night.

At the end I remember embracing Matt Busby. He was holding back the tears and so was I. We didn't need to say anything.


1975 (Paris)

Leeds United 0 - Bayern Munich 2

Nobody liked Leeds. We were like a little mongrel walking along the street: everyone says hello to him but nobody wants to take him in. And whenever we got into finals or at a critical stage of the season there would be rumours about referees. There were so many occasions when we lost games we felt we should have won.

We were the better side for an hour, but certain decisions went against us and it turned our minds. I remember thinking: "This isn't going to be our night - yet again."

Peter Lorimer had a "goal" ruled out for offside against Billy Bremner. It was only Billy's elbow that was offside and there was no way that he was interfering with play. We should also have had a penalty - I remember seeing the newspapers the next day and the photograph of Franz Beckenbauer with his legs wrapped round Allan Clarke eight yards out.

There was serious crowd trouble. I was substituted after Bayern scored their first goal midway through the second half. Leeds fans were throwing seats and all sorts of things.

I thought I'd done OK, though I've always regretted the tackle I made on Bjorn Andersson. It was a genuine attempt to get the ball, but I caught him and he was stretchered off. I remember seeing Bjorn after the game with a kind of caliper on his leg. I looked and thought: "I've done that." I felt terrible, though I've spoken to him since and he doesn't hold anything against me.

Leeds always used to put on a superb post-match banquet. In Paris there was just a buffet. It confirmed in my mind that we were at the end of an era.


1977 (Rome)

Liverpool 3 - Borussia Mönchengladbach 1

For a lad who had grown up watching Liverpool on the Kop, it was the stuff of dreams to play in the club's first European Cup final. Even if I had only pulled on the red shirt once, it would have been enough for me. As it was, that season I helped the club win the European Cup and the League and I also played in the FA Cup final.

Rome was swarming with Liverpool fans. Some had gone straight from the FA Cup final [the previous Saturday against Manchester United]. They had a massive banner with my name on it, which made me feel 10ft tall. I'd only established myself in the team that season and I wasn't a household name like the others.

Mönchengladbach were a good team, with players like Vogts, Stielike, Simonsen and Bonhof. Terry McDermott put us in front, Simonsen equalised and then Tommy Smith, who had been my idol as a kid, turned the game with a header from a corner. Phil Neal got the third with a penalty.

On our lap of honour I had a Union Jack round my shoulders and a hat and scarf. I jumped over the barrier to celebrate with the supporters and when I came back on the pitch the police tried to send me back. They thought I was a fan.


1978 (Wembley)

Liverpool 1 - Bruges 0

The European Cup had become the holy grail for Liverpool. Successfully defending it cemented our reputation as the best team in Europe. Bruges were very negative. They played it very flat at the back, they were always looking for offside and they just tried to sneak a goal. They played very high up the pitch, particularly in the first half.

It was frustrating but we finally got the breakthrough after about an hour. Bruges had just cleared their lines and as they were coming out Graeme Souness played a cute ball through to Kenny Dalglish. He scored with a lovely dink finish which became his trademark.

I always thought we were in control. I asked the referee how long there was to go and when he said two minutes I was disappointed. It was fantastic to be playing in a European Cup final and as it felt so comfortable I just didn't want the night to end.


1979 (Munich)

Nottingham Forest 1 - Malmo 0

We were a very offensive side, although once we got in front we were ready to defend with great commitment and endeavour. We were more positive than Malmo, although it wasn't a memorable final. Malmo's tactics were very similar to Liverpool's against Chelsea in this season's semi-final: they defended and hoped they might sneak a goal at some stage.

We had pace and flair when we went forward and everyone defended when they had to.

The goal came just before half-time. John Robertson, who was our pivotal player, beat two defenders on the touchline and gave the goalkeeper and central defenders no chance with a great cross to Trevor Francis at the far post.

I think Peter Shilton had only one save to make, whereas we scored, hit the post and had a few other chances.


1980 (Madrid)

Nottingham Forest 1 - Hamburg 0

We were based at a hotel in the hills that used to be a monastery. It was isolated. We had one training session on a big grass roundabout. There was nobody around.

We were underdogs, particularly without Trevor Francis, who was injured. Hamburg were one of the outstanding teams in Europe. We knew Kevin Keegan could be a threat, but in the first 15 minutes Ian Bowyer flicked him up and Kenny Burns and Larry Lloyd volleyed him into touch. John Robertson scored the winner in the second, after I played a one-two with him. After that it was a real backs-to-the-wall job. Peter Shilton and the defence were magnificent.

We went back to our hotel while our families and friends celebrated in Madrid. Five of the lads jumped out of their windows and got taxis into the city. They got back at about 5.30am.


1981 (Paris)

Liverpool 1 - Real Madrid 0

I'd broken my wrist in the semi-final and didn't know I was playing until an hour and a half before the game. One or two others had slight knocks, and Kenny Dalglish was short of match fitness. It meant that we had to play cautiously.

The surface was diabolical. They'd played rugby on it a week previously. It was not a good game, with no more than four or five shots on goal from either team - and I had three of them from left-back. Thankfully, one of them was the goal.

Ray Kennedy found me from a throw-in and although the Madrid centre-half tried to tackle me, somehow I got on the other side of him. The goalkeeper was expecting a cross, but I shot and the ball flew in over his shoulder.

I ran towards the Liverpool fans to celebrate and it seemed to take an eternity for the other players to join me. Maybe I was a bit quicker in those days.


1982 (Rotterdam)

Aston Villa 1 - Bayern Munich 0

We'd lost our manager three months earlier: to this day I don't know why Ron Saunders resigned. Tony Barton replaced him and didn't change things, which was the right strategy in those circumstances. We went into the match as underdogs. Bayern were an exceptional side, full of internationals like Rummenigge, Breitner, Dremmler and Augenthaler.

Jimmy Rimmer, our goalkeeper, had hurt his neck in training. After about 10 minutes he had to come off and Nigel Spink came on as a substitute. Spinky had only played one first team game, but we'd seen him in training every day and we knew how good he was. He pulled off some great saves.

I always thought we were pretty comfortable, though when I looked at the video afterwards I could see we were under a lot of pressure. The goal came after Gary Shaw played in Tony Morley down the left. Tony checked and twisted and put in a great cross into the six-yard box. The ball came off Peter Withe's shin: if he'd hit it cleanly the keeper might have saved it.

The party went on most of the night back to our hotel in Amsterdam. Our wives and girlfriends were leaving before us in the morning so we had to get up quite early. Once we'd seen them off we headed straight back to the bar for a few more hours.


1984 (Rome)

Liverpool 1 - Roma 1

(Liverpool won 4-2 on penalties)

Our domestic season had finished well before the final, so we went to Spain and Israel for "bonding sessions". We drank plenty of beer. There was almost a pub football mentality about us: we lived in each other's pockets and would have died for each other.

The old Olympic Stadium was an intimidating place. It had a huge long tunnel with concrete walls which you had to go through to get on to the pitch. You had to go past the home dressing-room, which scared the life out of most visiting players.

We had a few theme songs, including "I don't know what it is but I love it" by Chris Rea. He's from Middlesbrough and as we went past the Roma dressing-room before the game our three ex-Middlesbrough players, Graeme Souness, David Hodgson and myself, started singing the song.

The whole team joined in and we marched in unison, the steel studs of our boots making a hell of a noise in a very confined area. It was totally spontaneous and scared the shit out of Roma. Here were these cultured Italians and you could see them thinking: "Who are these blokes?"

It was similar in the penalty shoot-out. You had these stylish Continental footballers and our goalkeeper, Bruce Grobbelaar, pretending he was so frightened his legs were wobbling. It put the Roma players off. Had I seen him do anything like that before? Only in training every day.


1985 (Brussels)

Liverpool 0 - Juventus 1

Obviously my memories are dominated by what happened off the pitch. In the dressing-rooms at Heysel you were cocooned away. Before the game we knew there was a problem but had no idea of the extent. We could hear the noise outside and heard talk that a wall had collapsed and people had been hurt.

Should we have played the game? In the end we just did as we were told. That was a decision for others to take.

The game was a non-event. We never got going. We just wanted to get the game out of the way and get home. It was only after the match, when we spoke to our wives and friends who'd seen it all happen, that we realised what had actually happened and that so many had died.


1999 (Barcelona)

Manchester United 2 - Bayern Munich 1

With Roy Keane and Paul Scholes unavailable we had to reorganise. The gaffer said he'd play either David Beckham or myself in the centre. He went for Becks in the hope that he would control the game. Jesper Blomqvist played on the left and I was switched to the right.

Bayern had gone in front very early and we changed things around in the second half. Teddy Sheringham came on for Jesper and I moved to the left. By the end we had a load of players up front. If we were going to score it was always going to be through a mistake or a lucky ball. I wish I could say I picked Teddy out for the equaliser, but the fact is I shot and shanked it. Fortunately, Teddy got on the end of it.

I don't think any of us thought at that stage we would win the game in normal time. We were just thinking: "We can beat them in extra time because they'll be deflated." Then Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who had come on as a late substitute, scored the winner.

Giggs interview by Glenn Moore