There were many similarities between the 1981-82 and 1982-83 seasons. On both occasions Liverpool won the League championship but in both seasons could get no further than the quarter-finals of the European cup. Sofia avenged their defeat of 1981 a year later, albeit in controversial circumstances which saw Mark Lawrenson sent off, and then a poor performance in Poland against Widzew Lodz gave them too much to do in the home leg. But in 1983-84 things were different.
Liverpool reached the final by winning all four away matches, which was a wonderful achievement, especially as it meant having to win or at least get a score-draw in Bilbao after failing to beat the Spaniards at Anfield. They had to face an extremely hostile crowd and players in Bucharest after a bruising first-leg encounter at Anfield, during which Graeme Souness had managed to break the jaw of a Romanian player without being spotted by any of the officials! Hopes were high for an all-British final after Dundee United had surprisingly beaten Roma 2-0 at Tannadice in the other semi-final. But the Italians had the incredible incentive of playing the final on their own ground if they got through and they achieved their aim with a 3-0 win in the second leg.
The manner in which Liverpool overcame the odds in Rome in 1984 is surely as famous as their first victory there seven years before. Phil Neal, the only survivor from the 1977 team, put his team ahead but Pruzzo equalised on the stroke of half-time. The second half came and went without further goals - as did extra-time - so for the first time the most important club competition in Europe would be settled by penalty-kicks. Steve Nicol volunteered to take the first kick but blazed it horribly over the bar! But Conti and Graziani did the same whereas all Liverpool's other penalty-takers were successful and it meant all Alan Kennedy had to do was beat Tancredi to give Liverpool the cup for the fourth time. He did just that with great composure, sending the Italian goalkeeper the wrong way, and the celebrations could begin, celebrations which were marred by disgusting behaviour by some Italians outside the stadium who were unable to accept the defeat because they just hadn't contemplated it beforehand. (Liverpool 1-1 Roma at Daily Motion)
Liverpool were defending the championship and the League cup at home as well as the European cup abroad. Tottenham put an end to an astonishing four-year winning streak in the League cup and Everton were racing away at the top of the First Division table. Liverpool did reach the F.A. cup semi-final but again Manchester United broke their hearts after a replay. For many - despite what Shankly had said years earlier - winning the European cup for a 5th time and thereby keeping it forever was the ultimate goal. Four goals from John Wark saw off the Poles from Lech Poznan before old adversaries Benfica were beaten by an Ian Rush hat-trick at Anfield.
Steve Nicol's late equaliser in Vienna was the prelude to a convincing 4-1 home win over FK Austria at Anfield, Paul Walsh scoring twice. Liverpool met Greek opposition for only the second time when they were paired with Panathinaikos in the semi-final but two goals from Rush in the home game gave a comfortable 4-0 cushion before the return in Athens, where Mark Lawrenson scored as Liverpool eased through to their 5th European cup final, where they were joined by Juventus who narrowly defeated Bordeaux 3-2 on aggregate.
It could have been the greatest night in Liverpool's history but an hour of madness and mayhem before the match started destroyed Liverpool's good reputation on one of the blackest nights any sport has ever known. Whether the game should even have been played after so many people had died is open to question? Whatever the reasons were which led up to the tragedy, the decision to play on was one which Liverpool couldn't win anyway. Victory would always have been tarnished, defeat almost accepted because of what had preceded it. A game which was then of little consequence was decided by an outrageous refereeing decision when Boniek was tripped well outside the penalty-area and Juventus were awarded a spot-kick which Michel Platini converted comfortably. But by then it didn't matter. Nobody was going to grumble about a decision like that. Juventus took the cup home with them and Liverpool along with other English clubs were banished into the European wilderness. "The Golden Years" were over.
Copyright - Chris Wood