Liverpool vs Real Madrid 1981: Remembering the 1981 European Cup Final

Liverpool vs Real Madrid 1981, Real Madrid vs Liverpool 1981
Image Credits - Getty

Liverpool and Real Madrid are two of the most successful clubs in the history of Champions League with long records of competitive involvement and 17 European Cup wins between them, 12 of them won by famous Los Blancos from Spain. Rightly considered as European royalty, these two sides will meet in the Champions League final on Saturday (May 26) in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. Things were a wee bit different the last time Liverpool and Real Madrid met each other in a European Final and much water has passed under the bridge since then. Before this year’s final, we take you on a trip down the memory lane and revisit the Liverpool vs Real Madrid 1981 European Cup Final.

Remembering the Real Madrid vs Liverpool 1981 European Cup Final

On paper, the Liverpool vs Real Madrid 1981 European Cup Final was described as a mouth watering contest between Los Blancos, the then six-time champions and the Reds, who alongside Nottingham Forest were England’s most successful club in the competition, with two wins apiece. This was a time when Madrid’s ardent supporters were worried about the club’s lack of success on the European stage as the club had reached their first European final since 1966. Liverpool, on the other hand, had firmly established themselves on the global map by lifting the trophy in 1977 and 1978. This was their third final in a matter of 5 years.

The 1981 showdown between these heavyweight sides was played at the Parc des Princes in Paris with the match turning out to be a largely forgettable affair with both sides producing very few moments of quality during the 90 minutes. Liverpool won the final 1-0, with left-back Alan Kennedy providing an unlikely source of goal in the 81st minute, which ultimately proved to be the match winner for Bob Paisley’s team.

While the tables have turned big time now, Liverpool were a team to be feared back then. Akin to what Real Madrid are now. Vujadin Boskov, the Real Madrid coach, was intimidated by his opponents and even resorted to mind games before the Liverpool vs Real Madrid 1981 European Cup final. He suggested that Bob Paisley’s players were too old, and they arrived in Paris carrying a few injuries.

The Liverpool players, though, quietly went about their business with goal scorer Alan Kennedy revealing that the squad ate steak together at 12.30 PM and then headed back to their rooms for an afternoon nap. They were woken at 4 PM by assistant coach Ronnie Moran and gathered in the hotel restaurant once more for their traditional pre-match snack of tea and toast. When their bus set off for the stadium, they were still unaware of the starting XI.

Cut to the final and the Liverpool players were confronted by some familiar foes. There was the German midfielder Uli Stielike, who had played for Borussia Mönchengladbach when Liverpool won their first European Cup, in 1977. And on the wing was the late Laurie Cunningham, the former West Bromwich Albion hero who had just added the honour of becoming Real Madrid’s first English signing to the distinction of being the first black player to represent England in a competitive game. The Spanish side also featured Jose Antonio Camacho and Vicente del Bosque, two players who would go on to manage both the club and their country in the coming years.

The match itself was a scrappy, tactical battle on an uneven pitch. Jose Antonio Camacho wasted the Spanish side’s best opening in the Real Madrid vs Liverpool 1981 European Cup final, while Graeme Souness failed to beat keeper Agustin Rodriguez after being played through by Kenny Dalglish.

Alan Kennedy pops up with a late winner

As the match wore on, Liverpool grew in strength as Souness overpowered Stielike in midfield. With Cunningham largely occupying Phil Neal down Liverpool’s right flank, Kennedy had the freedom to get forward down the left.

Eight minutes from time, one of the then 26-year-old’s forays brought the ultimate reward.

I wasn’t thinking about scoring a goal, I was thinking that if I could make a run here it might create a bit of space for Souness, McDermott or Dalglish,” Kennedy recalled. “But Dalglish had come to the byline so I ran into the space that had been left open for me.

After taking the ball on my chest I remember the centre-half tried to kick me but his swing of the left boot missed me and I was through.

If the goalkeeper had stayed where he was he would have saved the shot, but he made a little movement to his left-hand side so he was covering the far post as well as the near. That signalled to me that I could drive the ball into an area where there might be a goal.

When his shot hit the net, Kennedy sprinted to celebrate in front of the delirious Liverpool fans behind the goal before being mobbed by his team-mates. The celebrations would continue long into the Paris night.

The homecoming was unbelievable,” Kennedy said, who also went on to score the winning penalty in Liverpool’s 1984 European Cup shootout triumph over AS Roma in Rome. “There was red and blue everywhere because the Everton fans came out to support us too.

We were hanging off the bus and we had a bit of drink but we didn’t mind because we’d finished the season. It was time to enjoy ourselves.

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