Sunday, 28 April 2013

Memories of Underhill

20th April 2013 and Barnet Football Club played their last ever game at Underhill.  Next season they move to a new ground called The Hive, fitting as their nickname is The Bees.  The end of an era, and for me, it brought back some wonderful memories of my childhood.

My uncle and aunty lived in Barnet.  We spent a lot of time with them, spending every other Christmas there.  My Uncle was a season-ticket holder at Underhill and had been going for years.  His seat was right above the players’ tunnel level with the halfway line.  Saturday 26th November 1977 was the first time I set foot in the ground. 

On my first appearance at Underhill, I was one of 5,181 people in the ground.  The occasion?  FA Cup First Round tie against Peterborough United, at the time 3rd in Division Three (now League One).  That season Barnet’s highest attendance had been 1,885 when they met Worcester City in a Southern League match.  Back in those days the familiar pyramid league system wasn’t in place, and one of the feeder divisions for the Football League was the Southern League.  Barnet were lying 4th in the table which meant there were 48 places separated them and Peterborough.  It was Barnet’s 6th match in the Cup that season, having beaten the likes of Camberley Town, Erith & Belvedere, Carshalton Athletic, St. Albans City and Hampton.  They hadn’t appeared in the ‘proper’ section of the Cup since they took QPR to a replay in the 1973 Third Round, and the whole place was alive with anticipation.

But for me, I was there to see one man……………..Jimmy Greaves.

picture courtesy of mailonline website

Greaves is arguably one of the greatest goalscorers English football has ever seen.  In a career which had already spanned 20 years, Greaves held the all-time record of 357 league goals in just 516 matches.  He’d also scored 44 times for England in just 57 internationals, leaving him 2nd in the all-time table for his country.   I grew up as the youngest of 5 boys.  All my brothers were Spurs fans and would go on for ages about how good Spurs were, and the iconic players I’d already missed playing.  What they didn’t tell me about ‘Greavsie’ wasn’t worth telling.  I’d never seen any footage of him, but knew the legend.  At 37 years of age, Greaves wasn’t the frightening striker of old as he’d reverted to a deeper role in midfield.  But he still had a presence on the pitch.  This was his first outing at this stage of the cup and he was quoted in the programme as saying “if we can beat Peterborough and I play in the Second Round as well, I’ll have gone through the card.” 

Despite playing from midfield, Greaves scored 25 goals that season but his place in the cup game was in doubt after he’d being sent-off on the Tuesday in a game at Chelmsford City.  The game was abandoned when the home side were awarded a hotly disputed penalty.  The keeper saved, but when the ref ordered a re-take, Billy Meadows, Barnet’s manager, completely lost it and Greaves refused to walk when the ref showed him the red card.  Barnet managed to hastily arrange a league game with Hillingdon Borough on the Thursday, which Greaves sat out, allowing him to take the field on Saturday.

Greaves wasn’t the only former League player in the Barnet line-up that day.  Former Charlton and Chelsea defender Marvin Hinton and ex-Northampton and Mansfield striker, John Fairbrother, were in the starting eleven.  35 year old Fairbrother had spent three seasons at Peterborough in the late 60’s.  Barnet had use of the services of ex-Arsenal defender, Terry Mancini, earlier in the season but he was injured for this match.

Peterborough too had some notable players.  Alan Slough, who’d played in the 1975 FA Cup Final for Fulham, Barry Butlin, who’d come from Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest Second Division promotion winning side, Ian Ross, who’d spent 4 years at Aston Villa and Steve Earle was at Fulham for 9 years, so there was plenty of experience.

As can often happen when you’re young and going to your first football matches, you don’t take in anywhere near as much as you later wish you did.   I remember the ground being packed and a great atmosphere within the ground, although my uncle had been keen to keep me close to him as we made our way to the ground.

Barnet scored first after 10 minutes.  I’m sorry for those looking for a detailed match report as I don’t remember anything about it.  Derek Brown got the goal and they held the lead until 5 minutes to the break when Alan Slough equalised.  My most vivid memory of the day came at half-time.  Suddenly, from the home end to our right, a group of ‘supporters’ climbed over the barriers and onto the pitch, running towards the Peterborough fans away to our left.  In those days trouble at football grounds was commonplace, and I sensed from my parents’ anxiety prior to the game, that we needed to be wary but not frightened.  This ‘pitch invasion’ soon petered out as the leading protagonist reached the halfway line, only to turn round and find all his ‘mates’ had given up and made their way back to where they came from.  He then made the split-second decision to join them rather than take on the packed away end on his own.

The game remained level until Tommy Robson, who’d spent 3 years at Newcastle United, scored what proved to be the winning goal.  I remember being really disappointed Barnet couldn’t get back into the game, although my uncle didn’t seem too surprised they hadn’t.

I returned to Underhill again later in the season, and was amongst the usual sized crowd for a Southern League match against Dartford.  Mancini was in the team that day and Barnet were much more fluent than they’d been in the cup match.  Barnet won 4-1 that day and Greaves scored a goal I will always remember.  It was either the 3rd or 4th goal and the ball was half cleared from the Dartford area on the right when Greaves struck the ball first time, from about 25yards out, and it flew into the top corner of the net passed the keeper’s right hand.  It was a stunning strike and what made it all the better for me is that it was a goal by Jimmy Greaves that none of my brothers ever saw!!!

After the game I wanted to get the great man’s autograph.  We waited outside the changing rooms for what seemed like ages, until my cousin asked someone she knew from the club whether they’d take me in there.  I was lead into a steamy changing room and there was one of England’s greatest ever players, stark naked, drying himself off from his shower.  Fortunately, I provided the pen and he signed my programme.  I turned, rather embarrassed, and walked back out.

I was 10 years old and had already seen Jimmy Greaves, George Best, Bobby Moore and Rodney Marsh play.  Later that year I would get to see Kenny Dalglish, Terry McDermott, Ray Clemence and Stan Bowles.

I’ve been to Underhill a few times since then, although sadly not for many years.  It feels like the end of an era and with the new ground being outside the Borough, it is not free of controversy.  Barnet now having to deal with Conference football from next season will bring an added degree of difficulty.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Eats, Shoots and Leaves

The title is all about the misunderstanding of a phrase when simply adding the comma changes the meaning completely.  It seems to fit quite nicely when considering the fuss that’s been made of ‘the bite’.

Fortunately, for many headline writers football is blessed with already using many teeth/eating analogies so there are puns-a-plenty around.  However, I feel many are getting completely carried away with the whole thing.  This article attempts to explain why.

Like many people who watched the Liverpool/Chelsea game on Sunday, I was surprised at Luis Suarez biting Branislav Ivanovic in the arm.  Surprised, not shocked, not sickened, not disgusted.  Emotions such as those are reserved for career-threatening injuries, or actions which injure an opponent.  I couldn’t really understand why he did it, seemed a crazy thing to do.  What astonished me was the extent to which Sky turned their whole post-match discussion to it.  They dispensed with Geoff Shreeves and brought in an ace interviewer who was clearly going to get to the heart of the matter.  Once he realised neither manager was going to comment on the incident, he was out of questions.

Many things have been said about it since and several have puzzled me.  Some people have claimed ‘kids will copy his actions’.  Really?  From an early age children are told biting is wrong.  If kids don’t know the rights & wrongs of biting before they reach an age where they’re interested in football, then their education is to blame for that, not a footballer.

Footballers are often told they’re role models and should behave as such, yet far worse occurs on a football pitch which will go towards soiling a rounded personality.  Personally, I find someone chewing with their mouth open offensive, yet many managers do it.  I find spitting disgusting, yet many sports people do it.  Feigning injury is another activity which will damage any person’s reputation.  Feigning injury is the equivalent of calling in sick when you just want a day off.  One of the worst features of a football match is the distinct lack of respect for authority shown by players and managers every week.  This then manifests itself into the way society treats its officials such as police, teachers and even parents.  Yet football seems powerless or even disinterested in cutting out this behaviour, or at least showing it is appalled by it.

Think about the reaction to Wayne Rooney swearing into a camera after scoring.  Many defended a player’s right to swear, and personally I would too, but swearing should be left on the pitch and in the dressing room, not straight down the camera to millions watching.

Are we on the verge of an epidemic of players biting others?  I think not.  Few will understand what makes someone want to do that, and Suarez will obviously have his reasons.

I was intrigued in how Benitez used Ivanovic to mark Suarez.  Just cast your mind back to Chelsea’s visit to Anfield last season and you will recall how Suarez made a mockery of John Terry and with the prospect of doing the same to David Luiz, Ivanovic was the exact type of combative player who just might unsettle the irritating Uruguayan.  Make no mistake, Ivanovic’s job was to get a reaction from the Liverpool striker and there were many instances of the two clashing throughout the game.  Ivanovic had clearly got under Suarez skin, which may have garnered the reaction which lead to so much debate.

Is that why Ivanovic accepted Suarez apology with such calm?  No lawyers were called for, no sanctions demanded by the player, manager or club.  He didn’t try and coax his teammates into trying to give evidence at how devastated he was afterwards.  I believe Ivanovic was there to provoke a reaction and, ultimately, hoping Suarez would react in such a way as to be sent-off.  This sort of tactic happens in nearly every match around the world.  It happens in other sports and is accepted as part of the game.

Had Suarez not have grabbed a dramatic last minute equaliser, Ivanovic would’ve been victorious in the encounter.  But Suarez goal not only levelled the score with his opponent, but recompensed the club, the supporters and his teammates.  He later apologised to all concerned and the club were swift in stating their condemnation.

So what punishment would be sufficient?  If the referee had seen the incident he is likely to have issued a red card which would’ve produced an immediate 3-match ban.  The FA is likely to consider this the minimum term then they will want to add some.  No doubt there will be plenty of comparisons to other crimes.  There is likely to be mention of Callum McManaman’s recent tackle on Massaido Haidara which went unpunished by the FA.  Ryan Shawcross escaped punishment after his tackle almost ended Aaron Ramsey’s career.  But both these offences were dealt with by the referee at the time so the FA says “you cannot re-ref a game”.  Suarez may live to regret his misdemeanour was missed by the officials.

Biting is a different issue to horror tackles.  Remember Dennis Wise and his crafty pinch on Nicky Butt’s inner thigh?  The ref missed it but millions on television didn’t and neither did Butt who was sent-off for retaliation.  Wise, educated amongst the cheeky chavy chappies of Wimbledon, also got away with a biting incident when he bit Marcelino’s shoulder during a European Cup Winners’ Cup match against Real Mallorca in 1999.  He was charged with the offence only to be cleared by UEFA.

Sports Illustrated quoted on 16 April 1999

The referee didn’t spot the incident and Marcelino didn’t lodge a complaint but European soccer’s governing body has opted to go ahead with the hearing after the incident was caught by television cameras”

Sound familiar?

Wise denied the accusation and UEFA launched an investigation, eventually clearing the player.  UEFA said

Although the player’s unsporting gesture warrants clear disapproval, there is no legal basis in UEFA’s disciplinary regulations for imposing a sanction.”

Often incidences such as this were not seen by officials at that time.  One of the most famous was Vinny Jones grabbing Paul Gascoigne’s testicles as both waited for a corner.  The incident was captured on a photograph but the FA decided against retrospective action.

One other more recent incident which bears comparison to Suarez is Goran Popov’s spitting at Kyle Walker.  The West Brom defender was involved in a tussle with the Spurs full-back before spitting at him.  He was sent-off for the incident in a country where spitting is considered one of the lowest and most abhorrent, forms of attack.  The FA may choose to consider Suarez bringing the game into disrepute, but the other incidences I have highlighted could also have warranted that charge, yet didn’t.

In the end, Suarez is likely to be charged just for being Suarez.  Media, supporters and opposing managers seem to react with a greater furore than with any other player around, when Suarez commits offences seen in other grounds around the country.  Rival supporters all claim to ‘hate’ the Uruguayan as many of them would definitely not object to having him in their team.

The FA will decide they don’t want this filthy little individual abusing their game, he has previous and has clearly not learned so we’ll just have to keep upping the ante and teach this grubby little man a lesson.  But judgements on offences set precedents for which future sentences are measured.  The FA will need to ensure they match the punishment to the crime as well as remain consistent with previous bans.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Cup Final Makes Way for Football

Like many people I grew up with the FA Cup Final.  It was the highlight of the football calendar.  Those were days when you had just two live games on tv per year.  England v Scotland Home International was the other. 

Back then both BBC and ITV covered the game and during the seventies they attempted to outdo each other on attracting the largest audience.  All sorts of ‘celebrities’ were brought on to try and lure the lounge viewer to their channel.  This didn’t diminish the attendance at Wembley which always seemed to reach the 100,000 mark.  It always seemed to be hot and sunny too.  Both channels tried to put on entertainment for the whole family in a time when football was still very much ‘a man’s game’.

The first game I remember was 1976 when Second Division Southampton pulled off a shock beating Manchester United.  United were a Second Division side themselves barely a season before but their worldwide reputation was unaffected by such a blip and were still considered one of the biggest clubs in the country.  I remember the 1975 Final being on in the house but don’t really remember whether I paid much attention to it.

During the late 70’s and 80’s the whole event grew in stature and importance.  It was beemed to televisions around the world and there are people in Scandinavia, Australia and South America who still talk about the FA Cup with great reverence.

Once skytv came along with its money and choice of channels, the television event was curtailed.  There was still a build-up, longer than any other match but sky had started to add an hour build-up to ordinary League games, so the Cup Final struggled to stand out.  But with its stellar history the Cup Final was always held in top billing.

One thing that we, in England, always manage to underestimate is how our game is viewed around the world.  There is only one Cup Final just as there is only one FA.  Think about it.  It is always the Scottish FA or the Football Association of Ireland or Norway, but the term ‘the FA’ is only saved for one organisation, and that is from England.  It’s the same with the Cup Final.  Many countries have their cup competition as a secondary event, where few clubs take it seriously.  UEFA used to have a competition for the cup winners of each nation, called the European Cup Winners Cup, but eventually that was kicked into touch for lack of sufficient competition within the qualifiers.

With skytv and channels devoted purely to sport, it is much easier to clear the schedules to concentrate on the occasion itself.  Terrestrial television has to compete with so many other tastes yet the Cup Final has had the ability to attract those who would not normally sit and watch a game.    Attendances at Wembley dropped off during the late 80’s as they did in most grounds around the country and once converted to all-seater, attendances would only be down to just under 80,000.  But the ground always seemed full.

Even during the ‘Millenium Stadium years’ the match was able to attract a capacity crowd.  With the new Wembley even a match between two clubs who commanded lower levels of support, Portsmouth and Cardiff, would produce the highest attendance figures in the re-built stadium.

In 2011 The FA set a precedent.  Wembley Stadium was due to play host to the Champions League Final that season, so the Cup Final was brought forward two weeks.  This meant a clash with a full Premier League programme as the League season still had a week to run.  The following season the Cup Final had to contend with creating sufficient space at the end of the season for the European Championships.  It was scheduled on the same day as many Premier League matches and so The FA took the ‘unique’ decision to put back the start time to 5.15pm to make sure all attention was focused on their match.  The match attracted its highest tv audience since 2007, as an estimated 8.9m viewers watched the match live.

But this year The FA has announced the match will again be played at 5.15pm.  It is again scheduled for a week before the Premier League season has finished and it seems as if The FA has conceded victory to the Premier League  in providing ‘the must watch’ date in the football calendar.  But what reason is given for this?  Apparently, according to The FA ‘people like to consume their football at that time’.  Really?  I don’t know what the viewing figures from sky are but I would be surprised if a 5.15pm kick-off commanded greater viewing audience than either 4.00pm or 12.30pm.

What is more surprising is that just one Premier League fixture is scheduled for the same day, Aston Villa v Chelsea at that is to kick-off at 12.45pm, which would still leave time for a 3pm kick-off.  If sky, who are due to broadcast that match, were concerned about a clash why don’t they move the fixture to the Sunday when seven other Premier League fixtures are scheduled?  Sky are very quick to re-arrange the fixture schedule once they know the progress of clubs in cup competitions so why not now?

Is it a battle between ITV and Skytv?  Is ITV worried too many may prefer to watch Aston Villa take on Chelsea rather than Manchester City and Wigan?

But what about the fans who want to go to Wembley?  During a recent documentary on people who work on the railways, we witnessed the difficulty Liverpool fans had in getting back up north after last season’s game with the last train being much earlier than many had considered.  This situation was made worse for the travelling fans as many had not realised this was a ‘dry’ train and all their newly-purchase booze was confiscated.  But for the 89,102 at last season’s Final, only one club’s fans were travelling north.  What about this season when both clubs are from the North West?   

Assuming the match is settled in the standard 90 minutes that means a finish at 7.00pm.  If there is time added on in either, or both halves then you could add on another 10 minutes to that.  What if your team wins, then you’ll undoubtedly want to watch the presentation and that could easily add on another 30-45 minutes at least.  You may not leave the stadium till after 8.00pm.  Of course, if there is extra time spectators are left with the unenviable decision of whether to stay and watch, or make their way home.  This whole situation is compounded by the fact that the last train leaving Wembley Stadium for Manchester Piccadilly is at 7.33pm. 

The FA could easily counter this argument by claiming that when they put on matches at 8.00pm (internationals for example), they command a decent crowd even for a midweek game.  Whilst that maybe true, that type of fixture is able to attract an audience from all the clubs throughout the country.  There may be some who go to a Cup Final despite their team’s absence, but they are unlikely to be the majority of fans.

So supporters attending the game are left with the choice of;

a)      Stay overnight in London.
b)      Stay overnight somewhere outside London, such as Birmingham.
c)       Drive and try to find somewhere in London to park at an affordable price.
d)      Drive and park somewhere outside London, such as Uxbridge and then catch the train to Wembley.
e)      Stay at home and watch on tv.

The FA was able to offer an alternative option.  Its own partner, National Express coaches!

This is Wigan Athletic’s first ever FA Cup Final but not their first trip to Wembley.  They won the Football League Cup in 1985, known as Freight Rover Trophy and in 1999 when it was known as the Auto Windscreens Shield with both matches played at Wembley.  They also reached the 2000 Second Division Play-off played at Wembley, losing to Gillingham.  You could forgive some of their fans for wondering when they’ll reach a stage like this again and could well find their only option is to watch on tv.  When they failed to use their ticket allocation for the Semi-Final, for a match which also kicked-off at 5.15pm, this should have been a strong enough message for The FA to adopt a different stance on the start time.

In my opinion, the FA Cup Final should hold centre stage in the football calendar.  It is a game I’ll watch regardless of whether Liverpool is playing or not.  I have only missed two matches since 1976, whereas the League Cup Final is less attractive to me, if Liverpool is not present.  Interesting to note the League Cup Final is not a game that supporters ‘like to consume at 5.15pm’ as it kicks off at 4.00pm these days.

In a time when the FA Cup Final has to compete with wall-to-wall football on television it is definitely the wrong time for The FA to back down in the face of this competition.  Many have sought to forecast its demise, yet the competition still manages to garner interest from around the world.  If you ever want to understand the attraction of the Cup then listen to some of the players from abroad who get to play in the Final, then you’ll understand what a gem we have and for something so precious it should be nurtured and looked after, rather than moved aside for a less wholesome, more money-orientated product.

So come on FA, let the millionaires have their playground.  Give the Cup back to the masses.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

The Finest Exhibition of Football

13th April 2013 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of one of the greatest performances from a club in the English league.

It came on a Wednesday night at Anfield where, top of the table Liverpool, took on Nottingham Forest.  These two had, had some ding-dong battles over the past 10 years and with Forest still managed by Brian Clough, they were expected to provide stiff opposition once again.

Forest were lying in 4th but with only 7 games to be played they were already 14 points behind Liverpool, who were flying.  Forest were certainly no pushovers, they finished 3rd that season, reached the FA Cup Semi-Final, and boasted England internationals such as Stuart Pearce, Des Walker, Neil Webb and Nigel Clough.  This was the finest Liverpool team I have ever seen and when you consider the great teams of 1985-86, 1976-77, 1983-84 or 1978-79 they must’ve been good just to match those.

This was a night when it all clicked, although they had been sensational all season.  It wouldn’t be until 20th March when they suffered their first defeat in the league, in the Merseyside derby, an incredible 29 games equalling Leeds United’s record.  Two weeks later they were beaten 1-2 at Forest.  A draw at home to 2nd placed Manchester United left Liverpool with a run of just 1 win in their last 5 games and people were starting to wonder whether they could relinquish their lead.  Had they shot their bolt?  Would they now crumble?

13th April 1988 was to answer those questions and many more, with an emphatic NO!

That defeat at the City Ground was the first of three games to be played against Nottingham Forest in 11 days.  Forest won the first 2-1, then Liverpool won the FA Cup Semi-Final 2-1 at Hillsborough.  Now for game number three.

Liverpool were unchanged from the Semi-Final, with Craig Johnston and Jan Molby (who played in the City Ground game) on the bench.  Clough made one change with former Everton midfielder, Paul Wilkinson, giving way to Lee Glover.  Forest were in good form in the league and were unbeaten in their last 5, winning their last 3.

Football is such a fluid game with the ball able to travel anywhere on the pitch and players able to do anything with it, other than handle it, that for 11 players to produce the ‘perfect’ performance is very hard to achieve.  Each player was on their game that evening, it was almost as if a script had been written beforehand and each player played out their part to absolute perfection.  In music, bands will often talk of one or two live performances where the collective ‘muse’ took them to heights rarely seen before or afterwards.  Actors will often point to a couple of performances where everything and everyone was completely flawless.  In football this night was one of those nights.

In the end Liverpool could’ve won by plenty and if you were to find a criticism you could argue they should’ve scored more.  But the goals they did score seemed so effortless that one can ignore the talent and artistry which goes into manoeuvring opponents round the pitch to allow such precision in passing.  Much of the play that season had the precision of a top surgeon, and Liverpool always seemed to have far more players than their opponents.  There were always so many options.

For me, this was the greatest Liverpool team I have ever seen.  It still ranks as the finest club side I have ever seen in English football.  But I’ll save all that for another article.  Back to the game

Liverpool attacked relentlessly from the start and the crowd were soon in on the act as it became apparent all the stars were in alignment and you couldn’t help but be carried along on a wave of footballing joy.

John Barnes was at his conjuring best, with a shake of the hips and a drop of the shoulder, he would leave defenders for dead.  Peter Beardsley was the artist supreme as he dropped deep to allow midfield runners to fill the attacking space, but then he would arrive late with an unerring ability to find the right finish to a passing masterpiece.  Then there was John Aldridge, the goalscoring machine who had more than adequately filled the void left by Ian Rush.  Who were Forest supposed to mark, with McMahon, Spackman and Houghton all forging from midfield?

Liverpool just created chances at will and only an inspired performance from Steve Sutton in the Forest goal prevented the score from reaching double figures.  The home side took until the 18th minute to open the scoring.  The confidence within Liverpool’s team was underlined when Hansen intercepted a pass on the halfway line and drove forward, safe in the knowledge there would be defensive cover behind him.  He found Ray Houghton, who’d drifted infield from the right and Houghton now ran at the Forest defence with real purpose.  As he reached the ‘D’ he played a neat one-two with Barnes, which took out two Forest defenders and Houghton’s momentum also took him past Walker, where he simply slid the ball past Sutton for the opening goal.  1-0

It was beautiful in its simplicity as if it was purely a training ground routine against cardboard cut-outs.  Beardsley and Barnes tormented their opponents and combined to create chance after chance.  In the 37th minute, Forest were on the attack when Ablett won the ball in the left-back position.  He found Beardsley, who’d dropped deep and the Liverpool no. 7, who’d tormented Forest all half, played a telling 30-yard pass ahead of Walker for Aldridge to run onto.  As Sutton advanced, Aldridge simply dinked the ball over him for his 23rd goal of the season and gave the home side a 2-0 lead.  The swiftness of the attack was stunning.  2-0 it was at half-time and if anyone thought Liverpool were going to ease off in the second half, they were very much mistaken.

58 minutes in and Liverpool had a corner on the left.  Barnes took it quickly and played it to Houghton, who carried the ball along the bye-line before pulling it back to Gillespie who was unmarked just outside the 6-yard area.  Gillespie fired the ball first time into the roof of the net.  Goals came from everywhere in that team, underlined by the fact that Gillespie chipped in with 4 that season. 3-0

Liverpool weren’t finished yet.  Spackman picked the ball up in the centre circle and ran at Forest.  He waited for Barnes to make his run and then threaded a ball through to him on the left.  Steve Chettle managed to stay close to Barnes and had seemed to force him to the corner flag before Barnes simply turned to face him, then calmly nutmegged the full-back to take him completely out of the game.  Barnes looked to have lost control of the ball as Webb came sliding in.  But as so often happened this was simply a trick of the light, and Barnes skipped past the hapless Forest man into the area, drawing another defender, before sliding the ball back for Beardsley, who was on the edge of the area.  Beardsley shot first time into the bottom right corner of the net with enough venom to make sure Sutton couldn’t stop it. 4-0

This was champagne football of the type that the watching crowd would’ve given anything for sky+ and the ability to pause, watch again and take in every minute.  But the relentless voracity of the attacks just continued, as the Forest players looked completely drained and thoroughly beaten.

With two minutes to go, Bruce Grobbelaar kicked the ball downfield where Foster dealt with it, finding Chettle at right-back.  Chettle tried to find Webb in midfield, but the future Man Utd man made the fatal mistake of taking a touch and he had his pocket well and truly picked by Spackman.  Spackman played a one-two with Beardsley, which again took out most of the Forest defence allowing Spackman to run free into the area.  He then played the ball square for Aldridge, on the 6-yard box to simply apply the finish.  5-0 to Liverpool.  The passing was superb, the finishing clinical but above all it was the movement of the players which was impossible to defend against.

Liverpool were now 11pts clear of Manchester United and still had 2 games in hand.  They now had 80pts and as United could only gain a maximum 81pts, they were all but champions.  They would go onto to claim their 17th League title 10 days later. 

Some people called this the ‘game of the century’, others have it as the greatest game of football they’d ever seen.  But it was Tom Finney who was quoted most as he eulogised about what he had just witnessed.

Tom Finney, one of the greatest players to have played in England, declared “I think that was one of the finest exhibitions of football I’ve seen the whole time I’ve played and watched the game.  I mean it was tremendous; well deserved…..the skills and the speed the game was played at was absolutely tremendous.  I came away thinking I’ve been really entertained, and I’m sure that the spectators here saw an exhibition tonight that will never be bettered, I don’t think.  You couldn’t see it bettered anywhere, not even in Brazil.  The moves they put together were fantastic”.

The Chairman of Forest agreed, saying it wouldn’t have made any difference who the opponents had been that night, no team in Europe would’ve stood a chance.”

The quality of the football was so good even Alan Green was impressed.  He wrote on the BBC World Service

That was simply the best display of an exceptional season from Liverpool.  Reporters are often accused, rightly, of being too glib using words like brilliant, fantastic, fabulous.  Liverpool deserved all these adjectives tonight.

They were, after all, playing a quality side that had beaten them in the league just eleven days ago. “

Even Michel Platini was to give English football a positive review claiming Liverpool were “a continental team not an English one.”  That was supposed to be a compliment although given Liverpool had won 4 European Cups during the previous 11 years it’s difficult to see how there was a better continental side around.

The last word is left to John Barnes who claimed in his autobiography it was “the best Liverpool performance I ever played in”.  The BBC were inspired so much they showed a special highlights show the following night, in the days before wall-to-wall football on television.