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The Ruby Red Anniversary

40 years ago this week, we played our first ever European cup tie at Anfield. To try and highlight the difference between eras, here is my account of that first night so many years ago.

You could forgive a young lad in 1964 for feelings of paranoia. Not only did his parents send him to school in short kecks, but they seemed to take delight in wanting to inflict harm. Let me explain. If someone in the street got measles or chicken-pox you were made to play with them so you caught it. So the story of 1964 begins.

Gary Hughes had caught the dreaded pox in August and so the rest of the kids in the street joined in. Being scabby in 1964 was no rarity, most kids had more spots than a polka dot dress. Measles, German measles, chicken pox and scurvy were rife or so it appeared. Three weeks after scratching everything that itched, most of us were scarred for life. No one explained that we would be marked forever if we scratched.

My Ma worked in Dunlops at the time. Watching her trying to sort her beehive out at half seven in the morning, will live with me forever. She used more laquer than a boat builder, to get that mass of hair to stand up like a sentry's busby. She passed her mornings typing away listening to the likes of Roy Orbison singing Pretty Woman. The Kinks were bashing out You Really Got Me, which was far better that the wailing Dave Berry singing The Crying Game. My favourite at the time was The Searchers, When You Walk in the Room.

In September we all trundled off to school with our new pox marked faces. The talk of the school playground was Liverpool's up and coming game with Wreck-Yuck-Vick. The amount of yocker on the school playground getting that one out was amazing. Spell it? Half of us couldn't say it.

The day ended with me scratchin me head. Was it a hidden pox spot? Was it trying to spell Reykjavic? No, to top the bleedin lot, some pillock from "Under the Bridge" had given me NITS. Cheers Leslie mate! After a good thumping on the way home from the Catholics of "Blessed John" I arrived home, bloody knees from falling down, bloody nose from a left hook, ripped shirt and scratching me 'ead. What a sight for sore eyes I must have been.

But I was my Mam's one and only and thrupence to spend in Coopers (local sweet shop) always had the desired effect on a dishevelled youth. By the time my arl fellah arrived home, I was mastering chewing a bazooka Joe while sucking a gob stopper, an art lost on today's kids. A few more scratches of my 'ead and me Dad said, have you got nits or something. A look through me short back and sides confirmed the worst.

My Mam borrowed a steel comb from a neighbour and the toilet sink told the rest of the story. I was horrified, all these ant like things running around the bowl, had been using my head as a home for the last few days. Now if there is anyone from 1964 Garston reading this, you will remember the smell of the tanning yards. It's sickly humming smell was unbelievable, but do you remember the smell of the nit shampoo? I lay odds yer pulling a face now just like I am.

So to recap ... scuffed knees, pock-marked face and stinking to high heaven. Boy did I need a pick-me-up. As always my Dad had the answer.

"How d'ya fancy going the game tomorra"

"Yahoooooooo" (cry of elation, before being a web provider) came the response.

A quick walk around Garston market the following day with me Mam also brought good tidings. My first ever pair of long kecks. I loved my Mam, I was turning from her Little Soldier into manhood with one gesture. A pair of trousers that would reach my ankles for the first time.

The return leg at Anfield may well have been a mere formality, but at six years and eleven months did anyone really understand "aggregate" scores? I know we had played them a few weeks ago, but I did not know the five goals scored would mean we started with a 5-0 lead, how could I? But my Dad did try to explain, sorry Brod yer wasted yer time. It's a bit like me trying to explain the away goals rule to me Mam.

Nevertheless that night a crowd of over 32,000 turned up to witness the historic occasion that was Liverpool's first European home tie. Unbeknownst to me, the Reykjavik squad arrived in Liverpool on the previous Saturday. Travel was a lot different then. We had an airport in Garston (although it was called Speke) but no one at my age realised you could go places from there. It was just a place where air planes landed.

They had trained at Melwood on the Sunday and on the day of the game their players and officials were treated to a civic reception at Liverpool Town Hall - another place that we knew existed, but not what went on inside. Perhaps in those days things actually happened in there, unlike today. That was where the goodwill of the hosts ended.

Out on the pitch that night, Liverpool emphatically confirmed their passage into the next round with a thoroughly professional performance. Gerry Byrne opened the scoring on 13 minutes with a shot from 35 yards, and I swear "yards" are not what they used to be. In my eyes he was on the half way line.

Ian St John, back in the side after an appendix operation (rumoured to be caused by swallowing a gob-stopper), extended the lead ten minutes later. The sporting spirit that was so evident in Iceland was repeated at Anfield - so much so that the fans on the Kop began chanting for the visitors. This confused me at the time. Looking strangely at my arl fellah would only bring laughter.

Indeed, the biggest cheer of the night was when Felixson scored a consolation goal for Reykjavik in front of the Kop after 35 minutes. The Kop went wild with excitement, I was a very confused six year old.

As a contest, the game was over by half time, it was more like a Sunday stroll in the park for Liverpool and they quickly recovered from the shock of conceding that goal by restoring their two goal lead through Roger Hunt shortly after half-time. Bobby Graham, a replacement for the injured Gordon Wallace, made it 4-1, heading home from a precision cross by A'Court, in his final first team game for the club. Two minutes later Willie Stevenson heaped further misery on the Icelander's by hammering home a fifth. An 11-1 aggregate win was completed 16 minutes from time when The Saint grabbed his second of the night.

The visitors were well beaten but their plucky performance earned them a standing ovation from all parts of the ground and the Liverpool players even joined in the applause, forming a guard of honour as Reykjavik left the field. Afterwards while me and my Dad made our way home, players and officials of both clubs enjoyed a meal together at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool city centre. Before returning home Reykjavik announced their wish to see the Reds go on and win the European Cup. Strange times indeed, could you imagine the likes of that happening today?

Liverpool's and my introduction to European competition could not have been more pleasant. On the way home my Dad tried once again to explain how we had won 11-1, even though I had only counted SIX. Strange rules they must have in Europe, perhaps goals counted as two if scored from outside the box, I thought. If this was playing in Europe, I made a note that I must see more games, even if I couldn't work the score out.

The Liverpool side that night included:

Lawrence, Byrne, Moran, Milne, Yeats, Stevenson, Callaghan, Hunt, St John, Graham, A'Court.

Others I remember at the time were Lawler, Chisnall, Wallace, Smith, Thompson and Strong. British to the core, no fancy foreigners in our squad.

Nowadays the Reykjavik side of Guddjonsson, Arsaelsson, B Felixson, T Jonsson, H Felixson, Kjartansson, Gudmundsson, S Jonsson, G Felixson, Schram (obviously fatherless), Gudmannsson are probably pulling their pensions but I bet the night they got cheered from the pitch at Anfield will live long in their memories as did the memory of my first ever "European Night"

If it helps you remember the time, think of these being on the television. Man from Uncle, Juke Box Jury, Fieball XL5, The Fugitive, Stingray, Beverly Hillbillies and Steptoe and Son.
Funny, but my missus of 25 years would have been a knobbly kneed, snot nosed, three year old Speke girl running around in Nappies. Not much changed there then, apart from the brand name.

Enjoy the game this week, after all, European football is a thing to be enjoyed. It's the icing on the cake, as Bill used to tell us.

© Wooltonian 2004
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