We’ve been here before. Saturday’s Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid will be the third instalment of the two clubs tussling for European football’s biggest prize.
That will make this the most common European Cup/Champions League final contest in the competitions’ collective history.
There was Madrid’s 3-1 win in Kyiv four years ago, and in 1981 Liverpool emerged 1-0 victors. And it is that Reds success many will be reminiscing about this week.
The 1981 edition was the last European Cup/Champions League final that Madrid lost – their seven such appearances since then have all been won.
To put that stat into context, no other team has won UEFA’s elite competition more than seven times, yet Madrid have done so just since 1998.
But given that defeat came to Liverpool and also in Paris (at the Parc des Princes rather than Stade de France, but still…), the focus on that occasion is likely to be a little greater this time around.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) May 4, 2022
La route de Paris
The paths of Madrid and Liverpool to Paris in 1981 were significantly less long-winded than in 2022.
With no group stage to traverse, the old European Cup went straight into a knockout competition and both sides enjoyed some one-sided scorelines along the way.
Finnish club OPS were first up for Liverpool. While the Reds could only return home with a 1-1 draw, any chances of an upset were emphatically blown away at Anfield – Bob Paisley’s men won 10-1, though it wasn’t quite good enough to break the club’s record for biggest European win: an 11-0 defeat of Stromsgodset seven years earlier.
Little did Liverpool know that their next opponent would one day be the club’s greatest nemesis. Alex Ferguson and Aberdeen faced the Reds in the second round, but once again Paisley’s men claimed an emphatic win, going through 5-0 on aggregate.
CSKA Sofia didn’t put up much more of a fight as Liverpool beat them home (5-1) and away (1-0) as well. Bayern Munich did prove a tougher nut to crack in the semi-finals, but after a 0-0 stalemate at Anfield, a 1-1 draw in Germany ensured the Reds progressed thanks to the away goals rule.
Madrid first crushed Ireland’s Limerick 7-2 over two legs, before then seeing off Honved (3-0) and Spartak Moscow (2-0).
Inter awaited in the semis and did at least become the first side to beat Madrid in the competition that season, but their 1-0 win in Milan was insufficient to send them through as Los Blancos’ star men Juanito and Santillana had earned a 2-0 victory in the first leg.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) May 27, 2015
An underwhelming final
It’s fair to say the build-up to the 1981 final – played on this day 41 years ago – was rather less expectant than for this season’s.
Liverpool had struggled with injuries over the course of the season, with their fifth-placed finish in the league an indictment of their situation at the time.
They had won each of the previous two First Division titles and would go on to win the next three as well, so 1980-81 was a particularly low ebb when it came to the extended competition of domestic football.
As for Madrid, Vujadin Boskov’s team were more renowned for being tough rather than silky, and they had just missed out on the Spanish title to Real Sociedad due to their head-to-head record – Los Blancos didn’t get their next LaLiga crown until 1986.
Similarly, this was hardly a Madrid side that was revered on the continental stage at the time. Of course, they had won the first five editions of the competition, but since that run between 1956 and 1960, their only other triumph had been 15 years earlier in 1966.
The match didn’t exactly surpass expectations as a spectacle, even if it proved a glorious night for Liverpool.
Taking Ol’ Big Ears back to Liverpool for the third time
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) May 25, 2022
There were few chances of note in a cagey first half and not many more after the break – Jose Antonio Camacho’s chip did at least cause some worry for Reds fans, but he got too much on it as his attempt flew over.
Another defender, Alan Kennedy, made no such mistake, however. The Liverpool full-back raced into the left side of the Madrid area, making the most of a failed clearance attempt by an opponent and smashed into the net from an acute angle with under 10 minutes to go.
They might have picked Madrid off on the break late on, but their inability to do so didn’t matter as the Reds were European champions for the third time.
While that match was ultimately deemed an end of an era in some regards for an ageing Liverpool team, they weren’t gone for long…
A sign of things to come?
This particular period was something of a golden era for English clubs in the European Cup. Liverpool’s 1981 success was the fifth consecutive edition of the competition to be won by a team from England.
The Reds had won their first European titles in 1977 and 78, before Nottingham Forest claimed back-to-back crowns – in fact, they were the fourth team in a row to lift the trophy at least twice in succession after Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Ajax.