Fifty-four years ago this week Liverpool’s manager masterminded a 3-1 victory over Inter Milan in the first leg of a European Cup semi-final – only for the Italians to get their own back, with interest, eight days later...
It was a typically smart piece of thinking by manager Bill Shankly to gain a psychological edge in the minutes before Liverpool’s 1964-65 European Cup semi-final first-leg match against Inter Milan at Anfield.
Two of his key players, Gordon Milne and Gerry Byrne, had been injured in the hectic days that preceded that match.
As a result of Liverpool’s success in the European and FA Cups, the players had submitted, uncomplainingly, to a breathless backlog of fixtures: ten League games in the first 26 days of April followed by the FA Cup final on 1 May and three days later the European clash with Inter.
In the days when the maxium wage had only just been lifted and pay packets still contained precious little, the players’ effort confirmed something that nineteenth-century mill owners knew only too well: that people work harder the more skint they are.
The burden, though, took its toll with Liverpool squeezing out just two League victories. In other words, no one made more than a tenner, over and above their skimpy wages, in win bonuses. Nor did anyone think of asking for overtime.
Milne received his injury in game six of their April ordeal. The sun shone brightly on a bone hard pitch at Stamford Bridge. ‘I’ve gone to take a ball,’ Milne says. ‘At the same time Eddie McCreadie, their left back, came and just clattered it and I’ve done my knee ligament.
‘When we came back on the train to Lime Street I had a big ice pack on my knee and I knew that I wasn’t going to make the FA Cup final.
‘Having never missed games, that was a major blow. I remember people telling me not to worry because we’d be there again next season, but it didn’t happen.’
On the day of the final against Leeds, Milne says he felt lost. ‘All the build-up to the Cup is fantastic and, although I was with the team wearing my tracksuit, I had my suit on underneath it, which was daft really. I felt on the outside looking in, which wasn’t how it was for the other lads.’
And it was in that FA Cup final that Byrne, Liverpool’s left-back, collected his injury when, in the opening minutes, he broke his collarbone. ‘It was strapped up,’ Milne says, ‘and Gerry played like that for the rest of the match, which included added time. He was as hard as nails, Gerry, and he even got involved in the build-up for our first goal at the start of extra time.’
Roger Hunt scored that goal and, after Billy Bremner equalised for Leeds, Ian St John’s header sealed Liverpool’s 2-1 victory. (The Pathe News commentator showed his true class by calling St John ‘Sinjun’.)
It was Shankly’s smart piece of thinking that, three days later, provided Milne with much-appreciated compensation for his missing the final and almost certainly gained Liverpool a psychological edge over Inter in the moments before their European tie against Inter kicked off.
‘In all my time I never experienced an atmosphere like the one at Anfield that night,’ Milne says. ‘And Shanks built it up. He got Gerry and me to walk around the pitch with the FA Cup before the game.
‘You could nearly touch the atmosphere, it was that electric, the noise. Liverpool had never won the FA Cup before, Gerry had played on with a broken collarbone and there he was carrying the Cup, I hadn’t been able to play… It seemed to take us for ever to carry it around. And for the final bit we came down in front of the Kop… so what Inter Milan must have felt in the dressing room listening to that noise. They couldn’t have missed it. It was a clever move by Shanks.’
An inspired Liverpool beat Inter 3-1 that night but went out eight days later after being ambushed in Milan in the second leg. They lost 3-0 courtesy of a series of refereeing decisions that, it is said, haunted Shankly to his grave.
This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing and now out in paperback.