Saturday May 21, 1977 was a sad day for Liverpool Football Club, defeated 2-1 in the FA Cup Final by Manchester United — and the end of a dream.
It shattered hopes of the Treble of League title, FA Cup and European Cup. Ironically, United would became the first club to achieve this feat 22 years later.
Liverpool’s Bob Paisley, successor to Bill Shankly, was stunned. So too were his players — a vastly more accomplished squad than will oppose United in Sunday’s FA Cup third round at Old Trafford.
United’s triumph was the climax of manager Tommy Docherty’s career at Old Trafford. He had become a king again. Yet, amidst the euphoria, he could not really relax for he was wrestling with a secret personal crisis.
His 27-year-old marriage had broken up and a friendship with Mary Brown, wife of the club physiotherapist, Laurie, had developed into a love affair about to explode into the public domain.
Docherty, outwardly filled with bonhomie, always wise-cracking, yet inwardly worried, confided in his long-standing friend and United coach, the late Tommy Cavanagh, who was then assistant to Northern Ireland manager Danny Blanchflower.
In fact, in the midst of the crisis before the story broke and a few days after the final, Docherty turned up at the Northern Ireland team hotel in Glasgow before a British Championship match with Scotland. He required counselling from Cavanagh.
I thought his presence somewhat strange, although I knew him personally, but Cavanagh, to his credit, kept the secret to himself when a few days later a national Sunday newspaper broke the story and The Doc was eventually sacked by United to be succeeded by Dave Sexton.
But back to that Saturday afternoon at Wembley 34 years ago.
Liverpool had retained the First Division title with a goalless draw at West Ham and the Wednesday after Wembley in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, they triumphed over Borussia Monchengladbach when 30,000 fans travelled to the Eternal City, turning it into a Kop-from-home. It was Kevin Keegan’s last appearance for Liverpool before his £500,000 transfer to Hamburg.
It was Paisley’s second Roman triumph. He had entered the city with the invading Allied Forces in the Second World War. He beamed broadly at the post-match media conference. Standing dignified at the back amidst the commotion was the legend Shankly.
All three FA Cup final goals came in a five minute period early in the second-half.
Stuart Pearson gave United a 50th minute lead; two minutes later Jimmy Case equalised with a right foot half volley, but within three minutes United were in front from a Lou Macari shot which deflected off Jimmy Greenhoff into the net.
A glorious Saturday for United and a defining one for Docherty, now 82, who bounced back to manage eight more clubs including Derby, Preston, Queen’s Park Rangers, Sydney Olympic, South Melbourne and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
What a man, who once said he had more clubs than golfer supreme Jack Nicklaus.
The boy born in a Glasgow tenement at the height of the great depression had made his mark in football.
Liverpool 1 Manchester United 2: Wembley Stadium, May 21, 1977: Attendance: 99,252
Liverpool: Clemence, Neal, Jones, Smith, Kennedy, Hughes, Keegan, Case, Heighway, Johnson (Callaghan, 64), McDermott.
Manchester United: Stepney, Nicholl, Albiston, McIlroy, B Greenhoff, Buchan, Coppell, J Greenhoff, Pearson, Macari, Hill (McCreery, 81).
Ref: Bob Matthewson (Lancashire).