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Matchday memories FA Cup Final, May 10 1986

Saturday May 10, 1986 is a date no Liverpool supporter old enough to remember it will ever forget.

The Reds had racked up eighteen major trophies over the previous thirteen years in an unprecedented period of success but the League and FA Cup double, a feat only previously accomplished by Tottenham (1961) and Arsenal (1971) in the twentieth century, had always eluded them.

The League championship had been wrested back from Merseyside neighbours Everton the week before when Kenny Dalglish's solitary goal at Stamford Bridge confirmed the title would be crossing Stanley Park but it was to be Howard Kendall's side, themselves playing in their third consecutive FA Cup Final, who would stand in the way at Wembley.

Liverpool's first ever season with a player-manager could not have started in more difficult circumstances but miraculously the club now stood on the brink of unprecedented glory.

Taking over from Joe Fagan the day after the horrors of Heysel, Dalglish had to cope with all the political and footballing repercussions as he tried to rebuild the club's reputation on and off the field.

Stalwarts such as Phil Neal and Alan Kennedy were reaching the end of their illustrious careers with ex-Everton midfielder Steve McMahon the only addition to Joe Fagan's squad which had finished a distant second to the Blues the previous season.

An impressive September win at Goodison Park (with a 25-second opener from the player-boss himself - view below) hadn't been able to mask patchy League form and when Kevin Ratcliffe and Gary Lineker scored second-half goals at Anfield on February 22 to condemn the Reds to a sixth league defeat and leave them trailing the champions by eight points, the season's prospects were not looking too bright.

Skipper Alan Hansen famously remarked to his friend and manager Dalglish that he thought this was the worst Liverpool team that he had played in but, sparked by a last-minute Ian Rush winner at Tottenham, a remarkable run of eleven wins and one draw in the final dozen league games meant Dalglish's volley at Chelsea on the final Saturday rendered Everton's rout of Southampton irrelevant and confirmed the title was bound for Anfield for the eighth time in fourteen years.

The FA Cup though had eluded the Reds throughout Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan's trophy-laden reigns - indeed Liverpool hadn't won the trophy since 1974, nor even reached a final since Dalglish joined the club in 1977, despite semi-final replay defeats in 1979, 1980 and 1985.

In 1986 however, Norwich City, Chelsea, York City, Watford and Southampton were all despatched in the earlier rounds, setting up the perfect confrontation at Wembley between the two best teams in the country, with Mersey neighbours Everton having seen off Exeter City, Blackburn Rovers, Tottenham, Luton Town and Sheffield Wednesday as they sought to exact revenge for the loss of their league crown.

Just two years after the first all-Merseyside Cup Final at Wembley in the Milk Cup, derby fever again swept through the city with tickets like gold-dust and travel plans made for friends and families of mixed persuasion to travel down together again.

City centre store owners braced themselves to feel the pinch with Liverpool resembling a ghost town with everyone either at, or watching, the match - chairman of the city stores committee Michael Dunne said, "Business is bound to be bad. But we won't mind losing a few thousand pounds if the fans behave and do the city a good turn - in the long run it will be good for Liverpool."

Finally, after weeks of anticipation, the lucky 100,000 crammed into Wembley (plus a few extra who risked life and limb bunking in by whichever means possible) settled back as battle commenced.

The game, as Cup Finals and derbies often do, started cagily with few real openings but it was Everton who had slightly the better of the early exchanges and the Blues thought they had a good shout for a penalty turned down by referee Alan Robinson, the same official who had denied them an early spot-kick in the Milk Cup Final, when Graeme Sharp felt he was held back by Steve Nicol.

Everton's bright opening was to pay off in the 28th minute however when the Double Footballer of the Year Gary Lineker bagged the 40th goal of his first, and only, season at Goodison Park.

Peter Reid delivered a raking through ball into the path of the England centre-forward whose movement and pace got him in behind Alan Hansen, Bruce Grobbelaar saved the initial effort but could not keep out the follow-up as the Everton half of Wembley went beserk at having gained the crucial advantage.

Liverpool struggled to impose any real authority on proceedings before the break and the same was true for the period immediately after the interval.

In fact, the Reds were on the ropes and hanging on for dear life in the first ten minutes of the second half as Everton piled on the pressure in search of a killer second goal.

Trevor Steven and Kevin Sheedy both fired narrowly wide as the Reds teetered on the brink, with Bruce Grobbelaar undergoing one of his erratic spells, even having an on-field bust-up with left-back Jim Beglin as the pair struggled to clear under ceaseless Everton pressure.

It felt very evident that the destiny of the FA Cup would be decided during this spell of the match and on 57 minutes, everything changed courtesy of one error by Everton full-back Gary Stevens.

His attempted pass up the right touchline was intercepted by Ronnie Whelan and ferried into the path of Danish midfield maestro Jan Molby, back in the side having missed the win at Chelsea through injury.

Molby's perfectly-weighted through ball bisected the square Everton defence and Ian Rush, only a peripheral figure up to this point, timed his run expertly to round Bobby Mimms and slide the ball home, despite Craig Johnston's best efforts to poach it on the goalline.

While such a goal against the run of play was a serious blow to the Blues' hopes, what must have really made their blood run cold was the identity of the scorer.

The Welshman had already bagged the Merseyside derby's first hat-trick in nearly 50 years when bagging four at Goodison Park four years earlier and was well on his way to breaking Dixie Dean's all-time record of 19 derby goals, which he did upon his return for Italy in 1988-89 eventually finishing up with 25 against the team he supported as a boy.

By now recognised as one of the world's best strikers, what struck fear into the heart of opposition defences even more than the man himself though was the following statistic - in the previous five goal-laden seasons, that had brought him an incredible 165 goals, Liverpool had never lost a match in which Ian Rush had scored.

Rush himself later said that Everton's players told him they knew the writing was on the wall as soon as he got his name on the scoresheet (click here) but Liverpool still had plenty of work to do before they could get their hands on the FA Cup for a third time.

Everton pushed forward in a bid to regain their lead and, after Gary Lineker's pace had hurried the normally unflappable Alan Hansen into an unwise clearance across the face of his own penalty area, Bruce Grobbelaar produced one of the finest saves of his career to race back to his goalline and tip Graeme Sharp's header over the crossbar.

Ian Hargraves of the Liverpool Echo remarked, "Only Grobbelaar knows how he reached the ball. I can think of no other goalkeeper who could have done so and as a piece of acrobatic goalkeeping it ranked with Gordon Banks' famous save from Pele".

The game was back in the balance and, as the Liverpudlians around Wembley beckoned their charges forward by belting out their most famous battle-cry, the match took another decisive shift in Kenny Dalglish's men's favour.

This time Ian Rush was in creative mode, feeding the ball from a left-wing position into Jan Molby whose drilled ball across the six-yard line was missed by Kenny Dalglish but buried at the back post by Craig Johnston to cap an astonishing turnaround and put Liverpool in front just six minutes after they had been behind.

Everton threw on substitute Adrian Heath in a desperate bid to turn the tide but, after Dalglish and Molby had both missed presentable chances, the coup de grace was applied with six minutes left.

Neat inter-play between MacDonald, Whelan, Johnston and Rush fed Jan Molby in the centre circle and his sublime reverse pass sent Ronnie Whelan bombing into acres of space down the Everton right.

As Kenny Dalglish made an intelligent diversionary run across him, Whelan checked back on the edge of the box and clipped the ball across to Ian Rush, who took a touch to steady himself before crashing the ball unerringly past the helpless Mimms.

There was still time for Rush to miss a gilt-edged chance to bag the FA Cup Final's first hat-trick since Stan Mortenson in 1953 but soon after the final whistle heralded great scenes of celebration on the pitch, in the terraces and amongst Liverpudlians everywhere as the magnitude of the achievement began to sink in.

Alan Hansen, just days after one the biggest disappointments of his career when caretaker manager Alex Ferguson left him out of the Scotland squad for the forthcoming World Cup in Mexico, led his team up the steps to accept the trophy from the Duchess of Kent and receive the one domestic medal that had eluded him and his team-mates throughout their decorated careers.

Heartfelt tributes were made to their beaten opponents from across Stanley Park who had somehow ended up empty-handed after a superb campaign themselves.

(Post-match interviews below)

The following day over a half a million people, Red and Blue alike, turned out on the streets of Liverpool to welcome their teams home.

The Liverpool Echo wrote, "Twelve months after the tragedy at the Heysel stadium, our two great teams put the smile back on English football and showed the rest of Europe how to celebrate victory - and accept defeat."

Kenny Dalglish added, "To see so many Blues fans made it extra special. The friendship between the supporters is incredible and does not happen anywhere else.

"The supporters are a credit to themselves, their clubs and British football."

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

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