Monday 21 May 2018

Tunnel tune set the tone for Reds to conquer Rome

Mark Lawrenson recalls the night in Rome when Liverpool, under manager Joe Fagan, became the kings of Europe for the fourth time in seven years

Francesco Graziani blasts his shot over Bruce Grobbelaar’s crossbar during the penalty shootout in the 1984 European Cup final. Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK/ALLSPORT
Francesco Graziani blasts his shot over Bruce Grobbelaar’s crossbar during the penalty shootout in the 1984 European Cup final. Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK/ALLSPORT

Colin Young

The Chris Rea hit 'I don't know what it is, but I love it' is not likely to be on the playlist of any Liverpool player today. And it's far too soft rock for their manager. It's probably not even on Chris Rea's playlist. But no member of Liverpool's 1984 European Cup final squad will ever forget it.

As the Liverpool players came out of their Stadico Olimpico dressing room in opponents AS Roma's home stadium, substitute David Hodgson started singing the song, which was in the charts at the time. It's a thumping, four-verse love song with a very catchy, shouty chorus.

'And I don't know what it is but I love it

And I don't know what it is but I want it to stay

And I love it, love it, love it.'

Sammy Lee and Craig Johnston had joined in as the Liverpool players passed the Roma dressing room where manager Nils Liedholm was giving his last instructions. By the time the Italian players joined their opponents in the tunnel, the entire 15-man Liverpool squad was in full voice, repeating Rea's first two-lines, over and over again, drowning out the cauldron at the end of the concrete, throwing in the odd 'love it, love it, love it' as they waited to go out.

"Typical footballers, we only knew the chorus," says former Liverpool and Republic of Ireland defender Mark Lawrenson, a European Cup winner that famous night. "We just kept singing it over and over and they looked at us and absolutely shat themselves. They didn't know what was going on. It was like some sort of battle cry. It was brilliant.

"And it was Hodgy that started it, and I'll tell you why, because him, Craig Johnston and Graeme Souness had been at Middlesbrough and Chris Rea is from there, isn't he? So they were all big fans and Hodgy was the one who kept singing that bloody song."

Hodgson confirmed: "I was the entertainment man in the dressing room, so I was in charge of the music blaster. I played all the tunes the lads loved and Chris Rea was a big favourite. It was just one of those spontaneous moments. I start singing when I get nervous, though I'm a terrible singer, so while I was just standing there in the queue to go out, I started singing that song. Gradually everyone started joining in. So you had all the greats, Dalglish, Souey, Lawro, all singing at the top of their voices. They've probably never done anything like it in their lives.

"I didn't do it to unsettle Roma but that's what happened. I didn't get to play in the final that night but if that helped Liverpool win the European Cup, I'm happy with that although I think Bruce and the lads who played had more to do with it."

This was Liverpool's fourth European Cup final and their second in Rome where they beat Borussia Moenchengladbach in 1977. English clubs then won a record six successive European Cups until 1982 when Ron Saunders' Aston Villa stunned Bayern Munich. Hamburg halted the English domination with victory over Juventus in 1983 when the English champions Liverpool were knocked out at the quarter-final stage.

Under new manager Joe Fagan for the 1983-'84 season - he had replaced nine-time title-winner Bob Paisley - Liverpool continued to win trophies. They retained their English league title, won the League Cup in a replay against Everton and progressed through to their fourth European Cup final after overcoming several difficult hurdles along the way.

They thrashed Danish part-timers Odense 6-0 over two legs in the first round and then faced a difficult second leg against Athletic Bilbao in the next round after a goalless draw at Anfield. Ian Rush's 66th-minute winner settled the tie in front of nearly 50,000 in the Estadio San Mames.

They managed just a single-goal victory over Benfica in the first leg quarter-final at Anfield, again thanks to Rush. The Welsh star was among the goals in Portugal as Liverpool won comfortably 4-1, thanks to a Ronnie Whelan brace and Craig Johnston.

Against Dinamo Bucharest in the semi-finals, they took a Sammy Lee one-goal lead to Romania for a bruising second leg after Graeme Souness broke Luca Movila's jaw in a late clash away from the referee's eyes, and long before retrospective camera action could be taken, leading to an even more hostile environment in one of Europe's most notorious venues.

Fans were baying for blood, particularly Souness's, and the tie was very much alive until Rush scored his fourth goal of the competition in the 11th minute. Costel Orac equalised for Dinamo to raise home spirits before half-time, but Rush settled the game with five minutes to go with his fifth and final strike in that European campaign.

There were no group games until the Champions League revamp in 1992, and Lawrenson still remembers the perilous knockout stages of 34 years ago.

"Bobby Robson came into the dressing room after the final in Rome and said it was the best away performance that he had seen. And I suppose to an extent it was, because we were playing Roma in Rome in the European Cup final. We stopped Roma from playing in their own backyard and kept the crowd quiet, scored the first goal and then did more than enough to win the game. It was a big thing and winning in a final will always be special.

"But we played some very good teams that season and in all our performances away from home, we were outstanding. They were good sides and going to places like Bilbao, Lisbon, Bucharest, was not easy back then but we had good characters in that team and we always produced and got good wins. When we won it, it was a combination of all those away performances, not just that one in Rome."

Roma, meanwhile, had a much easier path to the final. They beat Gothenburg, CSKA Sofia and Dynamo Berlin, all by two goals over two legs, before a controversial pairing with Jim McLean's Dundee United in the semis.

The Scots were two-up after the first leg at Tannadice, thanks to goals from Davie Dodds and Billy Stark, but with the score at 2-2 on aggregate in Rome, referee Michel Vautrot awarded the home side a soft second-half penalty which was converted by captain Agostini Di Bartolomei. He sadly committed suicide on the tenth anniversary of the defeat to Liverpool.

Seven years ago, Roma director Riccardo Viola admitted his father Dino, then club president, attempted to pay Frenchman Vautrot £50,000 ahead of the game. Vautrot has always denied that he was bribed. The admission by Viola, of course, came far too late for Dundee United's legendary manager McLean, who was attacked and abused by several Roma players on the final whistle.

"A European Cup final would have been wonderful for everyone," McLean told the Daily Record. "We had the players to beat Liverpool in that final - we had players to beat anyone when we were on song. The defeat left a bad taste in my mouth and I am sad to say we were right."

Roma, as hosts, were favourites, even though it was their first (and remains their only) European Cup final appearance. And the Roma fans were hell-bent on creating an intimidating atmosphere not just in the stadium, but around the city too. In the heat of the occasion a number of Liverpool supporters were stabbed.

Unlike Liverpool, Roma failed to retain their Scudetto, but four days after winning the Coppa Italia with victory over Hellas Verona, Nils Liedholm's side faced the English champions in front of a crowd of 69,693. More than 20,000 travelled from Merseyside, some purchasing tickets for the 'wrong end' which resulted in more unrest in the ground.

The players, of course, were oblivious to all that, and Liverpool simply set about trying to silence a crowd and club which had tried to intimidate them on arrival.

On the eve of the second leg in Rome, Jurgen Klopp's men will train on the same Stadio Olimpico pitch. In May 1984, Joe Fagan was sent to a local park. "You wouldn't walk your dog on it," said Lawrenson. "Joe said to us, 'They obviously want to make this as difficult as possible for us.'"

Fagan's men sat deep and kept possession in the early stages. Souness, on the verge of returning to Italy after the summer as a Sampdoria player, was immense and Lawrenson made several timely blocks and tackles in the tense 120 minutes.

Liverpool took the lead in the 13th minute when full-back Phil Neal, who had also scored in Liverpool's 1977 triumph, pounced after 'keeper Franco Tancredi spilled Craig Johnston's deep cross under Ronnie Whelan's challenge. Souness scored a second within minutes but it was ruled out for offside.

Liverpool soaked up the pressure until three minutes before half-time when Roberto Pruzzo neatly headed Bruno Conti's cross over Bruce Grobbelaar, who was untroubled after that, particularly when Pruzzo, the competition's leading scorer, fell ill and departed after an hour.

Tancredi made amends for his earlier error with a late save to deny Steve Nicol, the rookie Scottish defender who was first to step up in the penalty shoot-out after extra-time failed to settle it. Despite displaying a confidence which had astounded his team-mates and manager, Nicol's spot-kick flew over the bar.

Which is when Bruce Grobbelaar made his name. Fagan had spoken to the former Zimbabwean soldier before the shoot-out. "Don't worry," he told his eccentric 'keeper. "You've done your bit. We should have won it in 120 minutes." Grobbelaar nodded and headed to the goal. "Just make sure you put them off," Fagan added. He could not stop Di Bartolomei's first for the home side but after the Reds' regular penalty-taker Neal had levelled the scores, the Liverpool goalkeeper first stumbled to his line and then started biting the net. As he stood to face Conti, he started to wobble at the knees, before quickly steadying himself. Conti sent his shot high over the goal.

Souness and Rush scored either side of Ubaldo Righetti before Francesco Graziani put the ball on the spot as Grobbelaar continued to perform his act. Graziani crossed himself, Grobbelaar crouched and Graziani went high too. Left-back Alan Kennedy, a surprise last-choice taker, scored Liverpool's European Cup winner with his trusty left foot for the second time in his career. His thunderous goal beat Real Madrid in 1981.

Twelve months later, Fagan quit in the wake of the Heysel disaster. His team were forced to play out a 1-0 defeat to Juventus, despite the deaths of 39 mainly Italian supporters in the stadium when Liverpool fans infiltrated the Juve end.

Following English football's European ban, it would be another 20 years before Rafa Benitez led them to their fifth European Cup triumph. The Champions League was in its 13th year when Steven Gerrard inspired his side to that remarkable comeback against Milan in Istanbul. The two teams met again in the final in Athens two years later but this time the Italians prevailed.

Although they have reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League twice, this is the first time Roma have appeared in the last four of the competition since 1984.

Lawrenson, who will be in Rome for the second leg, said: "This tie might be tougher than some people are expecting but I see Liverpool going through. That front three only need half-an-hour in any game to score a few goals and change it completely. But Roma are a very good side.

"People forget they beat Chelsea 3-0 at home in the group stage and drew 3-3 at Stamford Bridge. I watched them in Barcelona and they outplayed them, had loads of chances and somehow lost 4-1."

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