Phil Thompson recalls memories of Liverpool’s European Cup win against Real Madrid in Paris in 1981

Phil Thompson recalls memories of Liverpool’s European Cup win against Real Madrid in Paris in 1981


Emotions will run high when Liverpool‘s legendary 1981 European Cup winners return to Paris next Saturday to support Jurgen Klopp‘s history-makers in their big ‘rematch’ against Real Madrid.

Memories will flood back and anecdotes told as they recall their own famous win against the Spanish giants at the Parc de Princes 41 years ago, courtesy of Alan Kennedy’s late strike.

But there will also be a special poignancy too with two empty places in their travelling party, Ray Clemence and Ray Kennedy – both important members of Bob Paisley’s great team – having passed away within the last 18 months.

Phil Thompson was the captain as Liverpool beat Real Madrid to win the European Cup in 1981

Phil Thompson was the captain as Liverpool beat Real Madrid to win the European Cup in 1981

Goalkeeper Ray Clemence, who featured in the final, sadly passed away last year

Goalkeeper Ray Clemence, who featured in the final, sadly passed away last year

Ray Kennedy, who scored in the semi-finals in 1981, died in November last year

Ray Kennedy, who scored in the semi-finals in 1981, died in November last year

‘Ever since we knew it was Liverpool-Madrid again, I’ve been thinking a lot about our era and the two Rays in particular,’ admits captain Phil Thompson.

‘Clem was the best goalie in England. As a centre-half, he was my eyes and ears. I played at a World Cup with Peter Shilton but I preferred Ray because he didn’t fuss. If you were under pressure, you’d give him a look to get the next cross and out he’d come, nice and clean.

‘They were different characters. Shilts would dive about in training and cover himself in mud, Clem would prefer to play striker in seven-a-sides! But come match day, his concentration was perfect.

‘The 1981 final proved his last game for Liverpool but we didn’t know that at the time. He’d found out the club were signing Bruce Grobbelaar and he didn’t want to play second fiddle, which I don’t blame him for.

‘Madrid had one chance in the game at 0-0, Ray rushed out and Camacho put his finish over the bar. That was Clem – the first sweeper-keeper. He allowed us to push up to the halfway line as a team, years before Klopp and Guardiola were doing it.’

Clemence died of prostate cancer at the end of 2020 and last year midfielder Ray Kennedy lost his long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

‘It was only after he’d finished playing that we realised the impact of Parkinson’s had already started on Ray,’ explains Thompson, who attended the funeral with another team-mate, Terry McDermott.

‘Ray was a great player and a lovely guy but he could occasionally snap for no reason, which we didn’t understand at the time but now know was part of his condition.

Thompson (R) revealed he only realised the impact Parkinson's had on Ray Kennedy (L) after he finished playing

Thompson (R) revealed he only realised the impact Parkinson’s had on Ray Kennedy (L) after he finished playing

‘He once clipped Joey Jones in training and the pair came to blows. After he was diagnosed, I remembered Ray in the dressing-room after games, sweat pouring off him, even in his peak.

‘As a player, he was so far ahead of his time. He’d be on the left of midfield but narrow, allowing Alan Kennedy to overlap. Every team does it now.

‘He had a twinkle in his eye about Paris because he claimed the assist for Alan’s goal. It was actually a throw that was hurled in, hit Alan on the chest and rebounded so he could blast it in!’

That Liverpool side dominated English and European football, winning five league championships and four European Cups between 1977 and 1984.

Seven of Paisley’s 16-man squad for Paris were Scousers. The star imports were from Scotland rather than Egypt or Brazil. They were still world-class though; Kenny Dalglish, Graeme ‘Charlie’ Souness – so-called because of his Champagne Charlie image – and Alan Hansen.

Alan Kennedy (L) and Sammy Lee (R) celebrate Liverpool's European Cup win in 1981

Alan Kennedy (L) and Sammy Lee (R) celebrate Liverpool’s European Cup win in 1981

‘The local lads would drink in the same pubs as friends and family so we were always felt under pressure, getting told we had to win,’ reveals Thompson, who hails from Kirkby

‘Phil Neal told me it was important for the team because the local lads ensured standards never fell because we’d be the ones who’d end up getting it.’

The ’81 European Cup run included an early win 5-0 on aggregate against Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen.

‘Alan Hansen was fighting with Alec McLeish and Willie Miller for a Scotland place and I’ve never seen him so pumped for a game,’ explains Thompson.

‘Big Al would rarely say a word in the dressing-room but here he was stomping around, shouting ‘Let’s stuff this lot’. When he scored at Anfield, we couldn’t stop him celebrating.

‘We beat them 4-0 at home and I think it left a huge mark on Fergie. When he got to United the first thing he said was about knocking Liverpool off their perch.’

In the semi-final against Bayern, the Scousers took over.

Liverpool dominated English and European football, winning five league championships and four European Cups between 1977 and 1984

Liverpool dominated English and European football, winning five league championships and four European Cups between 1977 and 1984

‘I was injured so another local lad, Colin Irwin, came in. He was so calm unruffled, even facing Karlheinz Rummenigge didn’t faze him.

‘Kenny got injured so Howard Gayle, this kid from Toxteth, came on and ran them ragged. Howie could look after himself. He was being kicked all over the place and Bob took him off near the end to stop himself being sent off.’

The final in Paris wasn’t a classic because of the pitch. ‘Bobbly, hadn’t been watered and the lines were rock hard,’ describes Thompson.

But Kennedy’s late winner gave him the chance to be in that select band of Liverpool captains who have lifted the European Cup – joining Emlyn Hughes and later followed by Souness, Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson.

‘This idea of lifting this cup for my club, the team I’d stood and watched from The Kop as a boy, became all consuming,’ he admits.

‘I started having doubts about the final but my older brother Owen would get into my ear and restore my belief. I’d ring him from the hotel and he’d tell me “It is going to happen”.

‘The funny thing is when I went to collect the cup, this UEFA dignitary started to lift it himself rather than let me pick it up.

‘I beckoned to him and said “Give me the f***ing cup, this is my moment!”. I think he was a bit taken aback by the swearing but it worked.

‘As I looked out, I could see my friends from the Falcon pub in Kirkby, waving their flag in the upper tier on the far side of the stadium. My gaze was straight at them when I lifted the European Cup above my head.

Thompson sees similarities with 2001 when Liverpool won their own treble of the FA Cup, the League Cup and the UEFA Cup

Thompson sees similarities with 2001 when Liverpool won their own treble of the FA Cup, the League Cup and the UEFA Cup

‘Afterwards, we had a celebration dinner with friends and family. A few of the usual suspects, Charlie, Clem, went to the Moulin Rouge with the cup to show the dancing girls. Me and Terry McDermott stayed in our hotel and had a pint!’

It’s now part of folklore that Thompson took the famous trophy back to The Falcon the following night, allowing the punters there to have their pictures taken as a special memento.

Though comparisons with ’81 and next weekend’s final are obvious, Thompson also sees similarities with 2001 when he was Gerard Houllier’s assistant and Liverpool won their own Treble; FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup.

‘I heard Klopp say there had been no time to celebrate the FA Cup and it was like that for us,’ says 68-years-old Thompson who latterly had a successful career on television with Sky Sports Soccer Saturday.

‘Stevie Gerrard and Robbie Fowler asked on the way back from the cup final if they could have a drink but Gerard was adamant we had to focus on the UEFA final and then the last league game at Charlton.

‘We beat Alaves and then Charlton. After full-time at The Valley, we went straight to the local Sainsbury’s and bought so much booze, the coach on the way home was groaning with the weight.

‘It’s been that busy for Liverpool but they now need one last effort against Madrid. Win that and they might be the greatest team in the club’s history. There is some competition mind. I know my own side weren’t normal – we were special.’



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