The 55th season of the Football League Cup will come to a close this weekend. 2013-14 champions Manchester City will face off against 8-time winners Liverpool. With the Reds’ track record in this competition, and their overall impressive trophy haul, it’s strange to think that their first League Cup title didn’t come until 1981. Yet here they were, English juggernauts all, and they went into the 1981 Final against West Ham with a monkey on their backs.
This week we look back at a classic League Cup Final and a history-making evening for Liverpool— Villa Park, April 1st, 1981.
So there’s a few interesting bits about the game and the broadcast.
The Final was forced into a replay after the initial meeting at Wembley in mid March ended 1-1 after extra time. Alan Kennedy appeared to have scored the winner in the 118th minute, but referee Clive Thomas awarded a controversial penalty to West Ham with time all but expired. (Thomas had something of a reputation for dodgy decisions.) Ray Stewart converted for the Hammers and ensuring his side would get one more chance.
The replay was held two weeks later at Villa Park, on a foggy Wednesday evening in a park that scarcely resembles the ground you see every weekend on NBC Sports. Liverpool had to make due without Graeme Souness and Stevie Heighway, making Reds fans more than a bit nervous. To fill out the side Bob Paisley called on Ian Rush, recently joined from Chester. As highly as the technical staff rated him, Rush had trouble breaking into the side due to Liverpool’s policy of favoring academy graduates for team selection. (Needless to say, it was a different time in English football.) The replay at Villa Park was only Rush’s second start at with the Reds— which is incredible, given his subsequent induction into Liverpool’s pantheon of heroes.
Meanwhile, West Ham were still in the second division and had a lot riding on their presence in the Final. They had never won the League Cup before, so whatever happened someone was making history that night. The Hammers did feature some minor football royalty with the Left Back position being manned by none other than Frank Lampard Sr.
And if the game itself wasn’t enough to lure you in, color commentary duties on the broadcast were being handled by the inimitable Brian Clough.
West Ham drew first blood in the 5th minute when Paul Goddard hit a glancing header from a corner inside the near post. Liverpool keeper Ray Clemence tried to keep it out but couldn’t get enough of a grip on the ball. The Hammers’ confidence didn’t last, however. In the 25th minute, Terry McDermott sent a cross into the box and Kenny Dalglish managed to catch it just in time, hitting a sliding volley before it hit the ground and chipping it over Phil Parkes and into the far corner. Three minutes later, Liverpool settled the matter when Alan Hansen headed inside the far post from a corner.
And that was about that. West Ham had a few close calls, but for the most part Liverpool maintained control. They played like English and European champions, while West Ham, despite their bravery and their capacity to punch above their weight, just couldn’t keep up. Liverpool went on to list the League Cup for the first time, finally ticking off that particular box.
Liverpool had a somewhat disappointing league season in 1980-81, finishing fifth (nine points behind eventual champions Aston Villa) in what was a fairly limp title defense. They did manage to win their third European championship that season, beating Real Madrid 1-0 at the Parc des Princes in Paris. They went on to win the League Cup another seven times. West Ham, meanwhile, won the second division that season and returned to the top flight after a three year absence. They would not advance to a domestic cup final again until the 2006 FA Cup, where they would lose on penalties to— who else?— Liverpool.
Can the Reds bring home their ninth League Cup? Find out this Sunday when they face Manchester City at Wembley Stadium. Kickoff is at 11:30am EST on beIN Sports.