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1977-1982: How English Clubs Dominated The European Cup

Last season’s Champions League was the first since 1995-1996 to not contain a single English team at the quarter-final stage. In the sixteen-year period between those seasons, an English side has won the Champions League on four occasions, and been runner-up on another five.

Aston Villa's greatest moment
There was a time, however, when the European Cup was dominated by English clubs, no more so than in the late 1970s/early 1980s when, barely believably, from 1977 until 1982, an English team won the European Cup every single year. Here is our final-by-final account of how this extraordinary period in English and European football unfolded.

1977Having edged Queens Park Rangers to the First Division title in 1975-76 as well as winning the 1976 UEFA Cup, Liverpool swept their way through the 1976-77 European Cup, thrashing Crusaders 7-0 on aggregate in the first round, before knocking out Trabzonspor, St. Etienne and crushing FC Zürich 6-1 in the semi-finals to reach their first ever European Cup final.

Having just won the First Division championship for the second season running, Liverpool entered the final against Borussia Mönchengladbach in Rome confidently as English champions, and took a 28th minute lead through a Terry McDermott strike. Despite the German side beginning to dominate the match and equalising seven minutes into the second half, defender Tommy Smith headed Liverpool back in front on his 600th appearance for the club in the 64th minute, and a Phil Neal penalty secured a 3-1 win for Liverpool and the first English European Cup victory since 1968.

Liverpool- The first British team to win back-to-back European Cups
1978: As reigning European champions, Liverpool received a bye in the first round of the 1977-78 competition. They then defeated Dynamo Dresden, Benfica, and 1977 final opponents Mönchengladbach to reach Wembley for a second successive European Cup final, where they would face Club Brugge, the side they had beaten to win the 1975-76 UEFA Cup final.

A superb performance by Brugge’s Danish goalkeeper Birgir Jensen kept the score 0-0 at half-time, but a Kenny Dalglish goal in the 64th minute brought the European Cup back to Merseyside, as they became the first British team to win back-to-back European Cups.
1979: Liverpool’s dreams of winning a third successive European Cup were dashed in the first round of the 1978-79 competition by fellow English side Nottingham Forest, who defeated them 2-0 on aggregate. Brian Clough’s Forest then breezed past AEK Athens and Grasshopper Zurich to reach the semi-finals. In the first leg in Nottingham, Forest drew a thrilling game 3-3 with FC Köln, before a tight 0-1 away win in Germany saw them progress to their first European Cup final.

Their opponents in Munich were Swedish side Malmö FF, also playing in their first European final. In the final, Forest were buoyed by the return to action of striker Trevor Francis. Francis had been brought to Nottingham from Birmingham City in February in a deal which made him Britain’s first £1 million footballer. However, UEFA rules meant that Francis could not take part in European competition for another three months, meaning that the first game he was available for in Forest’s European campaign was the final.

And of course, as fate would have it, it was Francis who scored the winning goal, heading home a cross from Forest’s star winger John Robertson in first-half injury time and securing Brian Clough the biggest achievement of his already astonishing managerial career.

1980: Just as with Liverpool in the 1978 final, 1980 saw Nottingham Forest reach their second successive European Cup final, this one to be played at the Bernabéu against a Hamburg side including Kevin Keegan, who had been part of the victorious Liverpool side in the 1977 final.

Having narrowly overcome Ajax 2-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals, Forest again triumphed 1-0, with wing wizard John Robertson turning from goal creator to goal scorer, scoring a fine solo effort after 20 minutes, and matching Liverpool’s achievement of back-to-back European Cups, a feat which has only been accomplished by AC Milan since, in 1989 and 1990.

1981: Liverpool returned to the European Cup in 1980-81 as First Division champions once more, and it was not until the semi-finals that they faced a tough tie, thrashing Oulun Palloseura 11-1 in the first round, before outclassing Aberdeen 5-0 and CSKA Sofia 6-1. They scraped past Bayern Munich in the semi-finals, a 1-1 draw in Munich sending them through to their third final in five years on the away goals rule.
Liverpool success again in 1981
There they met Real Madrid, indisputably the competition’s most successful side to date, at the Parc des Princes in Paris. The two teams’ tactical approaches largely cancelled each other out, but in the 81st minute, Liverpool’s left-sided midfielder Alan Kennedy, who prior to the game had been sidelined for six weeks with a broken wrist, ran through to score the only goal of the game, and win Liverpool their third European Cup. In doing so, Liverpool’s manager Bob Paisley became the first manager to win the European Cup three times.

1982: Having won the 1980-81 First Division under manager Ron Saunders in a league campaign during which they famously used only fourteen players, Aston Villa qualified for the 1981-82 European Cup.
And just days after finishing a mediocre 12th in the First Division in May 1982 under new manager Tony Barton, Villa faced Bayern Munich in the European Cup final in Rotterdam. There could surely be only one winner, particularly after Villa’s goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer had to be substituted after just ten minutes with a recurrence of a longstanding shoulder injury.

His replacement, Nigel Spink, had the game of his life and established himself as the club’s new first-choice goalkeeper, a position he would occupy for the next decade.
Peter Withe's historic winner

And the finest moment in Villa’s history came in the 67th minute, when centre-forward Peter Withe shinned a Tony Morley cut-back into the corner of the net to defeat a Bayern side featuring the likes of Dieter Hoeness, Paul Breitner and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, and to secure as astounding sixth European Cup in six years for English sides.

In fact, English clubs had even more success in the top level of European competition in the 1980s. After a year off in 1983, Liverpool returned to the European Cup final in 1984 to beat AS Roma on penalties, and then went down 1-0 to Juventus the following year at the Heysel stadium in Belgium, in a game which was overshadowed by a night which has gone down in footballing history for all the wrong reasons.

The behaviour of a small section of Liverpool fans at that final and the role they played in the 1985 Heysel disaster meant that English sides were then banned from European competition for the next five seasons.

The like of this phenomenal six-year English whitewash from 1977 to 1982 is unlikely to ever be seen again, and seems certain to remain the pinnacle of English footballing success in football’s top European competition.

Tom Nightingale - (@tdnightingale) is the editor of Waterfront Sport, the student newspaper at Swansea University and friend of TFHB.

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