The semi-finals – yet another joke of the fate: Dinamo Kiev vs Borussia Moenchengladbach. Too many Germans for the Soviets? May be it was good think after all? Well, the results were exactly the same – 1-0 and 0-2. The only difference was that this time it was not Dinamo losing by a goal and winning by two – he matches were again tough, but Dinamo struggled and on top of everything their goalkeeper Rudakov failed them in Dusseldorf. At least so was written in the Soviet press – in reality, he was a keeper of the 'shaky' kind and under pressure he often made mistakes. Bayern had no sufficient bite, but Borussia with Simonsen, Heynckes, and Bonhof was another story. There was some hope for Dinamo – after the second goal Borussia moved back and looked – from aside – tired. Dinamo put some pressure, but it was Borussia shaped by Udo Lattek, hence, skilled in defensive matters. Dinamo did not look hopeless or tired, but it was predictable team – and paid the prize for that.
In the other semi-final everything went 'normal' – the fairy-tale of FC Zurich ended, outclassed by Liverpool. The Swiss lost both legs, scoring a single goal at home, and receiving 6 – three in each match – in return. Liverpool – Borussia Moenchengladbach at the final in Rome. Once again this year the finalists were 'newcomers'. Both clubs were eager to add the top European club to their list of trophies. Both were expected to make impression on this level at last – at last, for they were strong teams for half a decade already. And the final was a copy of the UEFA Cup final of 1973 – back then Liverpool won. Borussia wanted a revenge surely. Four years is large difference today, but not so in the 1970s: 12 players of the finals in 1973 met again in 1977 – six in each club played before, in a sense, the opponents knew each other well. Clemence, Smith, Hughes, Keegan, Heighway, and Calaghan vs Bonhof, Vogts, Wimmer, Kulik, Simonsen, and Heynckes. Deja vu? May be... by now the Germans were getting old. Netzer was long gone. Heynckes suffered from almost permanent injuries. Kleff was mere reserve by now, and Wimmer – no longer called to the national team. Negatives for Borussia... But Smith, Heighway, and Calaghan were no younger either, Toshack and Lindsay were on the bench... looks like Liverpool did not have any advantage. Borussia had Bonhof and Simonsen, major European stars by now. Liverpool had Keegan – the best player in Europe by 1977... the opponents were equal in strength, both playing fast attacking football, both very fit and no strangers to tough physical tackles, both loved to score. It was to be a delightful match. And it was. Hughes and Vogts, all smiles, shaking hands once again before a final. Psychologically, Borussia had the edge – according to observers. Liverpool was on rollercoster – they just secured the English title, but lost to Manchester United the Cup final 4 days before the final with Borussia. The Germans were not so tired and their last domestic business was a breeze. Bob Paisley was slightly concerned, Udo Lattek was not. Pre-game talk and nonsense... Both teams were in splendid form and opposed similar tactics – quick, mass concentration back in their half as soon as the ball was lost. Then back in speedy attack. Fight for every inch of the pitch, trying to brake the rhythm of the opposition. And trying to overcome wicked defense and score. Having Vogts, one thing was obvious even to children: he was to shadow Keegan.
Vogts never away from Keegan. Remember the fate of Cruyff in 1974? Well, Keegan did not shine either. Liverpool was more active and effective during the first half. McDermott used his chance in the 29th minute and scored – 1-0 Liverpool.
There was more than Keegan for Vogts to handle... McDermott scores. The first-half ended with Liverpool's lead – which meant nothing. The second started as fiery as the first, and soon the result was equalized.
Alan Simonsen shoots and Ray Clemence can only watch in pain – 1-1. So far Liverpool was slightly better, but after the leveling goal Borussia went into full assault and in the next ten minutes it looked like the end of Liverpool was at hand. But gradually the boys in red neutralized the Germans and showed their own teeth. In those days corner kicks were deadly for teams playing against English clubs: fighting in the air in front of the net was British trademark. It was not that Borussia did not know, but knowledge helped not.
A classic English goal – a perfect header from the iron defender Tommy Smith after a corner kick and Liverpool was leading again in the 67th minute. It was far from over yet, but something was detectable – Liverpool was getting stronger. Wimmer got injured and had to be replaced, bad luck for the Germans. Fighting to the last second was traditional virtue of English football, so there were no defensive tricks and wasting time – the Germans usually killed teams trying to preserve the result, but the English were different sort: they continued to attack in high speed. Here age played its own joke... Keegan was no Cruyff, and Vogts was three years older then in 1974. Unlike Cruyff, who mostly walked , Keegan mostly run. Bertie had to run too... and eventually showed signs of tiredness. Younger Keegan was starting to get away and thus more involved in the game – therefore, deadlier. And one of his forays left no option... he was fouled in the penalty area.
Phil Neal stepped in and just slammed the ball in the net. 3-1 five minutes before the final whistle. A match with Germans is never won and over before the referee whistles the end, but Liverpool survived. Final, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, 25 May 1977, att 52000 Liverpool (1) 3 Borussia Monchengladbach (0) 1 29' 1-0 L: McDermott 50' 1-1 BM: Simonsen 67' 2-1 L: Smith 85' 3-1 L: Neal (pen) Liverpool (trainer Paisley) Clemence; Neal, Jones, Smith, Hughes; Case, Kennedy, Callaghan, McDermott; Keegan, Heighway Borussia Monchengladbach (trainer Lattek) Kneib; Vogts, Klinkhammer, Wittkamp, Schäffer; Wohlers (Hannes), Wimmer (Kulik), Stielike, Bonhof; Simonsen, Heynckes Referee: Wurtz (France) Liverpool won there first European Champions Cup – and deservingly so.
Amazing evening, completing the trend of 1977 – brand new winners of every European Cup tournament. The European Champions Cup was elusive to English clubs – only Manchester United won it so far and that was long time ago in 1968. Now, finally, an English club managed to win the top European tournament, looking like it was not just an accidental victory. It was a full change – old heroes clearly stepped down – Bayern, Ajax, Leeds United, Milan, Inter, and to some degree – Borussia. Different clubs were coming to dominate European football – Liverpool, Juventus, Hamburger SV, Anderlecht. A complete make-over.
Borussia losing a second time to Liverpool an European final. A symbolic loss: it showed that Borussia was not truly great team. Just like Leeds United, Saint Etienne, and PSV Eindhoven, they came a bit short of greatness. They lost when mattered most. And with this lost final perhaps the downfall of Borussia really started.
Liverpool on the other hand finally exploded after simmering since 1970 – refining the team every year, getting stronger and stronger, and finally – on top. A team with all the signs of dynastic making. It was clear that they were determined to shape and rule both English and European football. Winners, not mere hopefuls. The aftermath of the final was interesting too - first of all, the final displayed great football and everybody was pleased by the show. There was bid relief after three years of unsatisfying finals – the dull confrontation of Bayern and Atletico Madrid, followed by two finals when the public clearly preferred the losing team. The end of Bayern's domination was happy occasion and after them football was fun again and also the better team was a winner again. But other, not so positive things were noticed as well – tactically, the final of 1977 produced nothing new. It was not even on the standard of total football. Both finalists played, at least nominally, 4-4-2 – nominally, total football was 4-3-3. Elements of total football were adapted to otherwise old schemes: changing positions at will was easy for both finalists, but it was more a matter of efficiency than a matter of tactical change during the game in order of surprising and overcoming the opposition. Both finalists were duller and predictable when contrasted to Ajax at its peak. Liverpool played in entirely old-fashioned defensive mode – in line, without a libero. All English teams played like that, which was considered risky concept, vulnerable to speedy strikers, playing at the edge of offside. It also affected negatively the attack – by now, a libero was needed to control the tempo, to start attacks and provide ingenious passes, surprising the opposition. Liverpool lacked that and eventually often used traditional English attacks – high balls in front of the net, hoping a tall forward to strike a header. Keegan was not really a playmaker. And Bonhof was no Netzer... Imaginative players were missing – the new stars were plainer and more traditional. Simonsen and Keegan – one a pure winger, the other operating from behind, but a stiker, not a constructor. There was less magic and more efficiency. Liverpool compensated with team play, high spirit, well-rounded squad, good reserves, and high tempo. It worked, but it was clear that tactical innovations stopped and the total football model instead of developing further was more or less abandoned – only elements of it were adapted to otherwise old-fashioned tactical structures. Yet, it did not matter much, for Liverpool were exciting to watch.
Life was great – Ray Clemence and Tommy Smith having their beer in the company of the Cup. Today the picture appears... pedestrian. Too relaxed, too homey... plain wives or girlfriends, basking in the sun, legs on the table, few beers... nothing glamorous or really scandalous. May be that was why Liverpool stayed on top of the football world for so long – 1977 only whetted their appetite. For beer too.