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GESET - Paul B in 1981

"The Greatest European Story Ever Told" is an epic undertaking started by the brilliant Wooltonian to raise money for The Hillsborough Justice Campaign. It is no longer available in book-form and not hosted anywhere for free access but Wooltonian sent it to us to share with Reds all over the world at LFChistory.net. The Greatest European Story Ever Told (GESET) stands at over 100 pages and covers every match the Reds have played in Europe since Liverpool's first game against KR Reykjavik in August 1964. It tells the stories of the games and interweaves many humorous fan recollections regarding their adventures away from home. In the coming weeks LFChistory.net will publish its favourite stories from GESET.

PaulB's story - Paris 1981

Excited? Was I excited? After all, it’s not as if it was my first European Cup Final but it was OUR third! Win this and we would be regarded as being amongst Europe’s finest ever clubs. Added to which was my own sense of happiness which, pathetic as it seems to me now, was inextricably linked with the success of my football team. So it was a trembling Paul B that boarded the train from Lime Street station the previous midnight bound for Paris, France. My travelling companions were to be Moxy, Toby and Jimmy C, otherwise known as Anfield’s finest, all of us desperate to gain recognition as “faces” in the Anny Rd Barmy Army. Well we walked down the long, old fashioned corridor of the ancient train and found a compartment with two young ladies. “In ‘ere, lads”, yelled Moxy, but I noticed one of the girls flinched as we piled in, drunk, young, spotty and mouthy.

The night had been spent first at the Richmond and then the George on Breck road where we all took great delight in winding up the Evertonians. “Yiz are ****ed against Real Madrid, lads. Yer might as well not bother goin.’” Stated Moxy’s father Tony, a renowned head-case and mega Blue. “Put yer money where yer mouth is then!” Demanded several reds, there, like us for a pre-travel drink or, those who couldn’t or wouldn’t travel, there to wish us well. Tony pulled out his betting slip, showing us that, so convinced was he that we would lose, he’d stuck £10 on it at Ladbrokes. I loved this banter: macho, testosterone-driven, no weakness given or shown. I also felt a bit sorry for mates who weren’t going like Graeme, Carl, Tic and Mick G although not too sorry. After all, I had £50 of theirs in my back pocket and that was my train fare and match ticket paid for! The money had been won the day before in Tic’s house, at Poker. Graeme had the bright idea to lose the 2’s, 4’s, 5’s and 6’s from the deck to maximise the chances of good hands. Normally, I’d have dwelt on the game, concentrated too hard and lost all my money, especially against Carl, who was regarded as a sharp businessman and the type of lad money flows to. He now lives in a half million quid house and drives a Ferrari. On that bank holiday Monday though, he was no match for me. None of this lot were going to Paris, well Carl had no interest in football and I was only playing to take my mind off the anticipation that used to almost cripple me, and I was prepared to lose “up to a fiver”. In the event, I could not think of anything BUT the match and the travel and so wasn’t concentrating on losing, as I normally did. Before I realised, I was 30-odd quid up, which was almost my weekly wage back then. In the end, I’d skinned them all and walked out with enough to pay for my travel!

That lot were all in the pub but none were going to the game. Spitefully, Graeme questioned whether I should be going to Paris at all in the present circumstances, but more of that as the story unfolds. We stayed ‘till chucking out and then jumped a taxi down to Lime Street where we were gob-smacked at the length of the queues. “What’s goin’ on ‘ere?” asked Jimmy C. “We’ve all got train tickets and this crush looks worse than outside the St. Etienne game.” He was right; the queue was stupid. It was as though a rumour had started that there wouldn’t be enough trains and we had an anxious hour as the people ahead of us boarded trains which then pulled out reducing the queue but increasing the anxiety. In the end, there was more than enough space on our train and we found ourselves in the carriage with the two birds. We predictably set about trying to impress them with tales of scrapes and scraps we’d got into following our beloved team. Jimmy C in particular reckoned he was a handful and although he trembled violently if any trouble looked like taking place, he was always one of the first in and would never let his mates down. He constantly boasted he was “’andy with me feet” but I reckoned that was to shore up his own fears. Moxy on the other hand, quiet as he was, refused to boast about anything but earned his reputation against West Ham at Wembley for the Charity Shield. Getting off the train at Wembley Central, he’d waded in, without waiting for any back-up whatsoever, against a massive reception committee of ICF lads who were so bemused, they backed off thinking he must be psychotic. We all stood there, laughing and open-mouthed as, fists and feet swinging, he ignored the swinging punches and spit flying at him as he clattered several Cockneys who didn’t know whether to laugh at him, fight him or gawp at his bravery. He had our top boys applauding him as they welcomed him back into ranks as a hero. He was a thinker who read the Observer and no-one in the hospital where we worked together would have dreamed he would have ever had anything to do with violence. He just didn’t look the sort!

Toby and me, well, we reluctantly got involved if we absolutely had to or needed to back our mates up but, and it was as true then as it still is now, we were there solely for the football. “Knuckle” was almost an inevitable part of certain away games back then. I still catch myself thinking it’s odd that fans mix now and sit in pubs with supporters wearing different colours. “Never have ‘appened in our day”. My own reputation had come about entirely by accident. We were in the Road end against Derby when I saw a gorgeous blonde girl near the fence in the away end. I pushed myself over to the “peace line”, the red gate separating home and away fans in the road end in those days, and started chatting her up, asking her to meet me in the Arkles later. A twitchy plod assumed I was discussing fighting arrangements and arrested me. Embarrassingly, I was frog-marched down the steps and around the perimeter. Frustrated and angry as I was for missing the rest of the game, the following match I was regarded as a true “soldier”! It was strange listening to my “legend” grow over time as I became known, entirely unreasonably as a “Knuckle-fixer”. I must admit though that I did nowt to dismiss the rumours.

About 2-30 or so, the noise and high spirits on the train died down and we got what sleep we could. This was never going to be adequate but our adrenaline would keep us going for the next 48 hours. We awoke when we pulled in at Dover to board the cross-channel ferry. The boat was totally Liverpool and we met hundreds of people we knew. We met older mates and relatives from the Kop and gave them our usual greeting: “Kopites are gob*****s” and , “We’re the Barmy Anny Road Army”. The SNCF trains at the other end were in no hurry to get us to Paris too early, after all, there were English football fans aboard. In those days, that’s how we were treated. Disgracefully, that’s how we expected to be treated. Toby and Jimmy played a stupid game where each would slap a card on his own forehead and so could only see his mate’s card and not his own. They then gambled on who had the highest. It was unsophisticated but ****** quick! I was glad to keep my previous winnings in the back pocket of my Lee jeans, which together with my short-sleeved “European Cup Final 1981” Liverpool shirt and reddish two-tone Paul Smith jacket and Adidas Sambas, formed my uniform in those days. Eventually, we arrived in Paris, the latest, very French Grace Jones album whirling through my head. I bought a card for Julie, my pregnant girlfriend back home. I’d joked to her I would find the suburb where the recruiting office for the French Foreign Legion was and join up. This was a time-honoured way of avoiding such responsibilities in France and so worried was I at the unexpected turn of events back home, it half occurred to me the Legion might be a way out! This was also the reason Graeme had chewed me out in the pub earlier. “By rights, you should be saving all your money for that girl and the baby.” He’d told me, and I had to admit, he had a point. I also thought he might be jealous ‘cos I was going and he would have to watch it on the telly with the old women. Now was not the time to dwell on such thoughts though; we had Paris to discover. Also, I knew no other life but watching Liverpool and it would never have occurred to me to do anything but go to Paris!

Amongst the first people we saw were Keith, Eric and Mick from East Lancashire. They were all good lads but we started on our old, “Dere’s a Wooly over Dere (over dere). And eee’s wearin’ brown air-wear (brown air-wear). With a three-star jumper ‘alf way up ‘is back. Ee’s a ****en wooly back (wooly back)!” They expected it and took no offence, they were just glad to see us. We’d met them all over after first bumping into them in Cheltenham on a night stop sleeping in a car on the way back from the Dell. I remember the close call when Keith nearly got his **** amputated in a near-miss with another car after sticking it out the window as they overtook us on the way back from Middlesboro. We found ourselves in a small bar in a side-street laughing at an old, very ugly transvestite. At least, I hope he was a transvestite! No woman should be THAT bulldog-looking! It followed me into the odd toilets with footplates on the floor and barked at me in thick, guttural French. He could see I was floating on air with happiness and meant him no harm though and we went back into the bar and bought him/her a drink. Well the wine was flowing when who should walk in but my own father! Meeting him at Football was so common, the lads almost expected it now. He got in the drinking mood very quickly and with match time approaching, the noise and atmosphere became too much. I walked outside for some air and met some lads I knew from Wavertree Road. They were pathetically trying it on with a French girl waiting for a bus. I casually walked up to her and came out with, “Volez vous couchez avec moi?” At which she blushed furiously and playfully slapped my arm. The lads were convinced I was some sort of silver-tongued French-speaking smoothie and wanted a picture of me with her! Had they never heard of Patti Labelle? Back into the bar we went and it was soon time to meet the bus that would take us to the Parc des Princes.

The noise and banter was superb as we travelled through the Parisian suburbs to the ground. We were met by a ring of French CRS riot cops with serious looking machine guns. Alcohol was STRICTLY forbidden but my dad had a hold-all which was inspected before they let him through. In the top was food. Ribs and ham sarnies seemed harmless enough to the gendermes. Underneath though was his real prize. Many, many small bottles of Kronenbourg unseen by the French bizzies! We met up with the Real fans and swapped banter along with our scarves for their white bowler hats. One of our lads had a banner with, “LFC does not stand for Laurie ******* Cunningham”. Which chuffed us to bits! As usual, the papers tried to play down our achievements. Their sports editorials ran along the lines of, don’t be fooled into thinking this Real Madrid side are like the famous team who won the first five European cups and have six in total. To read them, it was as though they’d got there by luck. No team that contained Jose Camacho, Ulli Stielike, Vicente Del Bosque and Redondo, not to mention Laurie ******* Cunningham could be treated lightly though.

Into the smart looking stadium we went and were not astonished to find the Anfield contingent were all together. The lads were more pleased than I was to be sat immediately behind my dad. He was the man with the bevvy to them but to me, my father was sitting in hearing distance! He was then the same age I am now and if I hear the result of my union with Julie come out with the language I did that night, well, I’d be disappointed with his articulacy. The game itself looks a pretty dull affair when you watch it now. To me in my slightly drunken state with the banter and the atmosphere and the continental setting though, it was a piece of heaven fell to earth. As everyone knows, Barney Rubble scored a stunning goal to deservedly win the cup for the mighty reds. The goal was scored right in front of, and at the same side, we were sat so we had the grandest of grand views of it. We leapt to our feet screaming and yelling our joy. The fear of travelling over there for nothing was now dismissed and we could go home with our heads held high. A beaming Phil Thompson went up to pick up that most beautiful of all trophies, truly, the Holy Grail of cups.

Liverpool had now won the trophy three times and we’d become the third most successful European team of all time along with Ajax so we were entitled to feel immensely proud. We left the stadium and caught the bus back into Paris where we hit some trendy and sophisticated bars so the singing had to die down a bit. We drank until midnight when we had to leave to catch the bus to the train station. No sooner had we turned a corner when, out of a taxi steps Graeme Souness together with Alan Hansen heading for a restaurant. To my, and everyone else’s utter astonishment, Souness recognised me and said, “Alright Paul? Did you enjoy that tonight?” I was almost too staggered to coolly blurt out, “Yeah, great Sou-ey. You did us proud there. Congratulate the boys for us willya?” But I wanted to say so, so much more. I could see the drunken mass advancing on him wanting autographs and some cheeky get would have asked for his shirt or something so I waved him goodbye and reminded the lads we had a train to catch. The lads who could speak slapped his and Jocky’s backs and thanked them for their immense achievements that fabulous night. Of course, I was then a real hero because Graeme Souness knew me and had remembered our meeting and spoken to me! A surreal “Scully”-type moment indeed! I’d actually met him when the operating theatre me and Moxy worked in was closed for the re-fitting of an anti-static floor and we were forced to work in the A&E theatres. Souey had been brought in to A&E after a freak training ground accident with Craig Johnston, if I remember rightly, and I found myself spending a good hour with the great man himself prior to his treatment. It goes to show the old phrase, “the bigger the star, the nicer they are” is as true as they say.

Now absolutely walking on air, we got the train back to Calais all relishing getting back home at dinner-time and the crack we would have with the Evertonians back in the George or the Richmond. It was then that the tiredness and emotions of the previous long hours hit us. We stared at each other, all great mates who’d seen so much together and sharing that unique bond which Liverpool Football Club had forged in us. I knew that my imminent responsibilities might mean fewer of these trips and sensed it could be the beginning of the end of my carefree life and I think they did too. It was to mark a new phase for me which seemed scary at the time but I now know I would not have missed it for the world. Liam, the son we had that November, ten days before my 23rd birthday, is an even bigger red than I was at the same age. I was hugely proud that he was with me at Cardiff for both cup finals and in the Westfallenstadion in Dortmund on another night that matched the Paris one. If anyone has been interested at all in the above story, maybe I’ll post our experiences of those incredible three months.

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