Oh what a night - 1981 and all that

Published: Friday, 25 May 2018

Oh what a night that....May 27 1981. My work should’ve been done as Liverpool kicked off against Real Madrid in Paris.

I was Radio City’s ‘scout’ in the build-up. Our Sports Editor Clive Tyldesley (still the best football radio commentator I’ve ever heard) had sent me ahead of the pack to make sure things worked smoothly for Liverpool’s commercial radio station come the big week.

To be honest, I hadn’t travelled outside the U.K. much in those days and being sent to Paris to ensure the biggest night of our season went well was quite a daunting task. On a previous visit I was entrusted with finding a hotel, making sure we could park our monstrous outside broadcast truck - for nothing - in the middle of the French capital, oh, and making a half hour documentary on what Liverpool fans should expect when they got there. I had 48 hours to do it all.

Where on earth do you start with a task like that?  I did what we all did in those days - asked Liverpool’s club Secretary, Peter Robinson, if he could help. In a typically terse telephone conversation he gave me the number of a friend of his - I’ll never forget him - Dr Pierre Huth - a dentist! ‘Whatever you need’, he said ‘he’ll fix it’. As he always did, - Peter hung up before I could say ‘thank you’ or ‘goodbye’.

A dentist? What the fuck? What use was he going to be? Anyway, armed with just his number - off I went.

 Peter was right, Pierre was the best connected man in Paris, or so it seemed. Everything I needed was sorted - even an exclusive interview with his mate - the legendary crooner Charles Aznavour - a PSG fan. The final was being played at their place. What a coup that was. I was so nervous I dried after 60 seconds and had no more than my first two questions. It was a good 60 seconds though! It would run on a flagship news programme and was heavily trailed but it wasn’t quite what I’d promised! Actually, thinking about it, it was shit!!

But, with Pierre’s help I’d fixed everything, including ‘parking the bus’, hotel rooms, documentary, broadcast positions at the stadium, all of it - all done. I was extremely grateful to Dr Pierre Huth and didn’t expect to ever see him again. How wrong I was.  I was later to find out once again that there is no such thing as a ‘free lunch’.

So, at last - the big night. My work was done. I could relax. Although Clive and I often shared the commentary duties during the season , quite rightly he always took the big games. As I said earlier, he was brilliant on the radio (and damned good when he made the transition to TV). Because I wasn’t behind then mic I hadn’t done had done any homework. I knew Laurie Cunningham was in their team - and that was it!  All I had to do was get the best post match interviews possible. Er - wrong again.

We couldn’t make contact with Liverpool. I won’t bore you with the details, but Clive had to abandon our commentary position for a seat in the Press Box, where he was able to borrow a phone and that’s how he covered the first half. There were no mobiles in those days, of course. 

I was left in the comms box where eventually we established contact with Radio City. That was significant because as half time approached I was told ‘fill until Clive joins you....’.

Easy. Except this is where we encountered another problem. The phone Clive was using needed to be ‘live’ with it’s owner at half-time. I forget who that was now, but words needed to be filed on the opening 45 minutes to his newspaper. I later found out Clive slammed the phone down on the whistle and waited for the 2nd half to start!

‘Fill’ they said to me. Two minutes became five - then 10 - ‘where is he?’ I kept thinking. ‘Where the hell is he?’ Ten became 15 and then - to my horror - the 2nd half started. Damn - now I doing commentary - on a match I hadn’t prepared a note for. Liverpool saw an awful lot of the ball for 10 minutes! Clive is a good mate but I’d never been so happy to see him as I was when he came into our comms box, sweating and out of breath. As he picked up his phone for the 2nd half he was told ‘Our line works. Get yourself back to the comms position’. He clambered 20 rows or more - over the top of the BBC’s Barry Davies, and onto us. I cued him as soon as I saw him. But - he couldn’t talk!  He could hardly breath. Carry on’, he gestured! ‘This isn’t getting any better’ I thought. Liverpool still dominated play. I think Cunningham saw the ball twice!

Eventually we swapped roles - I watched and he created his usual mix of poetry and magic.

Alan Kennedy scored. The stadium - as usual it was dominated by Reds - erupted. I set off for the dressing rooms to get the post match interviews.

The next thing I knew I had a rifle tip up my nose. The local Police weren’t prepared for an intruder in the dressing room area armed with a tape recorder. He was going to win any showdown that was going to occur!

Before I knew it the whistle had gone and I was dragged into Liverpool’s dressing room by Ray Clemence. There I sat - bewitched by what I was absorbing. ‘We’ had won the European Cup. I say ‘we’ because I was part of it all. I’d never been as close to anything like it - before or since. I got some top stuff. But what was wrong with Clem? He was so subdued. As it turned out he’d played his last game for Liverpool and I spent most of that summer trying to help organise him a move. That’s a story for another day.

My interviews were sent back to Liverpool. That was it - I had a post match celebration dinner to attend - the official LFC dinner. And now for another surprise.

Dr Pierre Huth turned up. ‘We’ll go when you and the guys are ready’ he said. ‘Go?’ What was he talking about? ‘Go where?’. It was payback time.

Pierre had promised the world famous Folies Bergere nightclub that Liverpool - and the trophy - would be attending after the match. There was a table for 30 or more waiting. All I had to do was persuade the lads to go - and take the trophy! Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Another problem was that Bob Paisley had fallen out with Radio City and wasn’t speaking to either me or Clive as a result. How the hell was I going to pull this off? 

Oh well - in a went. I approached Bob tentatively and explained my problem. Bob was a man of few words - but especially at this time in our relationship. ‘Ask the Chairman’, he said. That was it!  So I did.

The Chairman, of course, was John Smith, later Sir John. Can you imagine - all I wanted was the majority of the squad, their wives and girlfriends, AND the trophy - and the official after dinner party would be decimated.

‘Go and round up whoever you can’, he said. ‘I’ll come as well, and bring the Cup’. I couldn’t believe it.

Within half an hour the majority of the squad were walking into the theatre with the trophy, which the Chairman wouldn’t let hold of! It quite literally was a show-stopper. The audience stood and applauded. The artists on stage applauded - as we marched to the front of the theatre and sat down. It was an unbelievable high. To this day I have no idea how I did that. As for Pierre - I don’t know what he got out of it but fortunately our paths were never to cross again!

It’s different now. The school of 2018 won’t have a night like that - whatever happens in Kiev. But I do wish them all the best. I’d love to see them beat Madrid again. And I’d say the same thing if it was any other English club in the final, but working in Liverpool as I did for four years, gave me some wonderful experiences. And I’ll always have a soft spot for all three clubs in that part of the world - Tranmere included. Oh what a night we can expect on Saturday. Come on you Reds.....