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ST ETIENNE - THE DEFINITIVE STORY

30 years to the day since St Etienne were famously beaten and Anfield was shaken to its core, Liverpoolfc.tv present the definitive story of that never-to-be-forgotten occasion...

The stage was set for an epic encounter at Anfield on Wednesday 16 March 1977.

A place in the last four of the European Cup was up for grabs and for the team who emerged triumphant from this tie the prospect of lifting the giant trophy in May would be a very realistic one.

Liverpool and St Etienne had long been two of the fancied sides to challenge Bayern Munich's dominance of the competition and with the tie evenly poised - St Etienne held a slender 1-0 advantage from the first leg in France - a classic encounter was always on the cards.

However, despite all the hype, no one could have predicted the drama that was about to unfold.

The eagerly anticipated visit of Les Verts came during a hectic period for the Reds. As the race for the championship gathered pace, the road to Wembley in the FA Cup was also nearing its destination and the games were coming thick and fast.

On the night before the game French fans, with their green and white wigs, klaxons, whistles and sirens filled the pubs in Liverpool City centre. Six thousand fans officially made the trip across the English Channel and such was the demand for hotel accommodation that many were forced to sleep on the streets.

Ahead of the biggest game yet in his short managerial career Bob Paisley insisted: "I can promise one thing, everything we have we will give. I don't underestimate St Etienne. Nobody in the club does, but equally, I don't overestimate them either. We will have to strive to keep things as normal as possible, for there will be some atmosphere out there."

He wasn't wrong. Fans, who had knocked off work and school early, began queuing in the afternoon and there was a huge buzz of anticipation in the air hours before the team bus arrived at the ground.

"I remember going on the team bus to the ground from the Adelphi Hotel and when we got to Anfield Road there were so many people and there was such an atmosphere I got this feeling that something special was going to happen," recalls David Fairclough, the young striker named as one of the five substitutes on the night. "There was something different about it and when we got to the stadium and went out on to the pitch before the game that feeling was reinforced."

Five thousand unlucky fans were eventually locked out half an hour before the 7.30pm kick off, but so desperate were they to gain entry they forced the gates open on the Kemlyn Road side of the ground. A police spokesman said they had never seen such a crush since Inter Milan visited Anfield for the European Cup semi-final in 1965 but fortunately there was only a few injuries reported.

For some unknown reason the game kicked off two minutes early and many fans had not yet taken their seats when Kevin Keegan gave Liverpool a dream start with a goal after just 42 seconds. A short corner by Heighway found Keegan, who took ball on a few yards and beat Curkovic in the St Etienne goal from an acute angle.

The noise inside the ground was on a scale that had rarely been experienced before and as Phil Neal recalls: "The atmosphere got better and better as the game wore on. It was the only game in which I found it difficult to focus solely on the football. When the ball was up the other end of the pitch I couldn't help but look up in amazement as the crowd. The whole stadium seemed to be moving, even the people in the stands. They were bobbing up and down, swaying and bouncing, You couldn't better that night."

Joey Jones was equally taken back by the electric atmosphere. "For me it was the greatest atmosphere I ever played in. Older supporters will talk about the Inter Milan and Celtic games in the sixties, but there was no doubt in my mind that St Etienne was the best. There was a sense of anticipation about the game and it hit home when we heard that there were thousands of fans gathering around the ground early in the morning, never mind late afternoon. It was a real pressure game and the supporters played their part. I've watched the game on TV a number of times recently and I'll admit that if the game was played today I'd have been sent off for some of the challenges I made that night. Of course, you got away with it back them."

With the aggregate score level St Etienne proceeded to frustrate Liverpool by defending halfway up the field and the Reds constantly fell foul of the offside trap. Smith burst through the visitors' defence on a solo run that ended with Toshack heading over, while a wild tackle by Santini on Keegan incensed the home side and resulted in the Reds striker leaving the field for a few minutes.

The French champions were showing more attacking ideas than in first leg and six minutes after the restart they got their just reward. Heighway lost possession in the centre of the pitch, Bathenay picked up the loose ball and proceeded to beat Clemence with a spectacular dipping strike from 30 yards out. As the ball hit the back of Clem's net Bathenay turned and held his arms aloft to receive the adulation of his ecstatic team mates.

It was now the turn of the 5,000 visiting French supporters, clad in green and white and densely packed together in the 'Anny' Road, to raise the volume and 'Allez Les Verts' rang around a stunned Anfield. With Liverpool now needing two goals to progress, the tie seemed to be slipping out of their grasp and with the prospect of extra time now ruled out it was the men from France who were in the ascendancy.

"Once Bathenay scored St Etienne's goal I, like many, thought that perhaps the French had a little bit too much for us, because they were a special side," remembers Reds substitute David Fairclough. "Bathenay's goal was extraordinary, and when goals like that go in, you think to yourself that you're going to be up against it."

The equalising goal was the cue for Bob Paisley to leave his seat in the director's box and make his way down to the dug-out where he could re-assess the situation with Joe Fagan. One option was to unleash his secret weapon and Fairclough was ordered to warm up.

As the flame-haired striker went through his paces on the touchline, Lopez almost put through his own net as Liverpool applied the pressure. Then in the 59th minute Ray Kennedy struck to hand the Reds a dramatic lifeline. Callaghan crossed, Toshack's presence upset the defence and the ball fell to Kennedy on the edge of penalty area. He hit his shot across the floor and it was good enough to beat Curkovic in the St Etienne goal. "The ball came to me off Toshack's shin. I didn't hit it that hard, but I hit it true," explained a delighted goalscorer afterwards.

With Liverpool requiring just one more goal to book their place in the last four nervous tension engulfed Anfield and Ray Clemence recalls: "That was the cue for the fans to really play their part and they were magnificent. The atmosphere that night was unbelievable. No one was sitting down. Everyone was stood on their seats. It was the most incredible atmosphere I ever experienced. There might have been only fifty-odd thousand in the ground but it felt like about 250,000."

If the score remained as it was St Etienne would go through, courtesy of the Bathenay's away goal and they defended their precious advantage resolutely. Liverpool struggled to get anywhere near the visitors' goal and continually fell foul of the disciplined offside trap being applied by the Frenchmen.

On 73 minutes Paisley decided to use his last throw of the dice, sending Fairclough on to replace John Toshack who, after being booked for dissent, had suffered a knock on the heel.

"Bob Paisley didn't give me any specific instructions," recalls Fairclough. "He just made me feel good and said he simply hoped that I would get a chance. By then all my nerves had disappeared. When I took off the old jumper I used to wear on the bench and adjusted my shorts I was ready. Any worries had gone and the great welcome I always got from the supporters gave me a lift. I thought that maybe I could turn things."

On 80 minutes Anfield breathed a huge sigh of relief when St Etienne had claims for a penalty turned down. Neal slipped and Clemence was adjudged to have fouled Rocheteau but fortunately referee Mr Cover waved play on and Liverpool remained in the game.

With just six minutes left on the clock even the most optimistic of Liverpudlians were starting to resign themselves to the fact Liverpool's quest for European Cup glory would maybe have to wait another year. Suddenly Ray Kennedy flicked a ball from midfield beyond the French defence.

An almighty roar went out as substitute Fairclough out-paced the chasing defenders. As he won the ball the entire ground held its breath. He took it on a few yards and time seemed to stand still before the young scouse striker calmly slid it past Curkovic and into the net. Anfield erupted like never before and many fans lucky enough to be present that night swear the ground shook.

Fairclough can still relive the moment he wrote his name indelibly into Liverpool folklore. "Ray Kennedy put me through and I just chested it down. The ball seemed to hang a little bit and I remember shrugging off a heavy challenge from Lopez. I was thinking, once I'd got him on the wrong side, just to get the ball down and get it on target. I was quite aware that if I got the shot close to the keeper, he would have trouble getting down to save it.

"I put a spurt on, got clear of him and put it just where I wanted. I never had any doubt about it - I knew I would score. I thought I could just not miss it. I had the whole goal to aim at and I made up my mind that it would go in. I let it tick over in my head and then put it in. It was a terrific feeling. The amazing thing is, it seemed so quiet as I homed in on the target but when the ball hit the back of the net the noise was just unbelievable. I also remember Kevin Keegan leapt on me and I could hear him saying above the roar 'Supersub you've done it again'."

Almost a quarter of a century on, it remains one of the most celebrated goals in Liverpool's history and, however hard he may try, Fairclough will never be allowed to forget it. "That word, St Etienne," he says, "it must be mentioned to me almost everyday. It is incredible! At the time I never realised just what an effect it would have on peoples memories and when I look back I feel lucky to have been given the opportunity to go on as substitute that night. It was a night I'll never forget."

In the stands and on the terraces strangers hugged and kissed. With a place in the European Cup semi-final almost assured a carnival atmosphere engulfed Anfield. 'Allez Les Rouges' roared the Kop as the remaining few minutes ticked by. What was happening on the pitch during this time remains a blur to almost everyone involved but as the final whistle sounded it was the cue for mass celebrations on the pitch and in the stands.

Although never one to show his emotions publicly Bob Paisley beamed afterwards: "I thought my lads showed a tremendous amount of character when those two goals were needed. I never at any time was pessimistic. I'm ever an optimist and while there is a chance you just keep going - that's the way Liverpool play. Before the game I did not rate St Etienne among my top three European sides. But after tonight they must be very close to that top bracket.

St Etienne played better than they did on their own ground in the first leg, but Davie has the pace, ability and skill that I was looking for to take the game to the French defenders, who were tiring. There's not another player I would prefer than him in such a situation. I know he doesn't like being called super sub. But it's as though he was made for the job he did tonight, because we needed to change the pattern and make the French think a bit.

"I'm always an optimist and I was banking on the fact that Liverpool never give in. I doubt if there was anyone better for that situation than Davie. It was a game in which you needed hearts, guts, stamina and determination. Liverpool players have these in abundance. That's what won us the match."

In the following morning's Daily Post, Horace Yates summed up. 'It was a night of tension, drama, elation, frustration, and sheer jubilation.' Even Liverpool's most experienced players were taken aback by what they witnessed that night.

"It was a damp night and the whole ground seemed to be steaming. The atmosphere was electric and on a par with the famous Inter Milan game in 65," remembers Tommy Smith.

While Ian Callaghan, who witnessed many great atmospheric nights at Anfield, during the course of his illustrious 18-year career, recalls: "St Etienne was an unbelievable game, one of the best ever seen at Anfield. It was a fantastic night in every sense. There was an incredible atmosphere and, of course, we got the right result. St Etienne were a very good side. They had some great players and were without doubt one of the strongest in the competition. We were always confident that we were good enough to win the cup but beating a team of St Etienne's calibre was still great boost. That match was the highlight and even eclipsed the final, probably because it was at Anfield and there was such an incredible atmosphere.”

Jubilant skipper Emlyn Hughes was barely able to contain himself and speaking to reporters after the game he said: "Fantastic. Unbelievable. I think it was the greatest night I've ever had. Coming from one-all like that was incredible. I could not believe it at the end. In the ten years I have been here I have never known anything like it. I have played in front of 130,000 for England, but the noise and enthusiasm didn't compare with this."

If proof was needed that this Liverpool side were capable of going all the way in Europe then this was it and Ray Clemence admits: "St Etienne was probably the best team in Europe at that time and after beating them we all felt we could go on and win the European Cup."

The Kop had a new anthem. A place in the Rome final was becoming more and more of a reality and to the tune of 'Que Sera' the strains of 'We're goin' to Italee' could be heard ringing around the streets of Liverpool long into the night.

After such an exhilarating performance not many people were now willing to disagree and a first European Cup triumph beckoned ever closer.

Extracts taken from the book Liverpool Cup Kings 1977. For more information contact [email protected]  

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