Friday, 8 September 2017

April 25, 1984: Britain's night of misery

After the night of April 11, 1984, there remained a strong possibility that all three European club finals would be the exclusive property of Great Britain; an exciting prospect, especially for anyone who had taken the 50/1 odds at offer for all six British teams to progress from their semi-finals. It wasn’t meant to be, though.

The story of how six became two involves a complex web of intimidation, corruption, disgraceful behaviour, violence, bribery, and heartbreak, an evening that the Daily Express described as Britain's night of misery. Yet this mini drama series was not only restricted to 1984; years later there would be anger, disgust, and tragedy added to the plot line.

Souness makes his mark

Liverpool had certainly been made to work hard in reaching the last four of the European Cup. Fine away performances against Athletic Bilbao and Benfica had set up the semi-final with Dinamo Bucharest, yet if anyone thought the Romanians would be a pushover, then they were in for a rude awakening. Dinamo could play, something they demonstrated in knocking out holders Hamburg, but they could also mix it if required.

"Nothing prepared us for the way they applied themselves at Anfield," Ian Rush wrote in his autobiography. "The Dinamo players hacked and kicked at us from start to finish, so much so we seemed to spend most of the game leaping in the air to avoid late or over-the-top tackles. I was punched, elbowed and spat at so many times that at the end of the game my shirt was covered in spit."

An analysis of some of the terms used in the various match reports highlights the contempt felt by journalists after witnessing Dinamo's visit to Anfield: "Dirty", "spoiling, cynical, smothering approach", "provocation on and off the ball", "play-acting", "tough-tackling", "spiteful, ill-tempered", "rough-house tactics", "time-wasting".

There were many running battles on the pitch, and one in particular would make the headlines. Lica Movila versus Graeme Souness had been bubbling under all night. Movila would eventually discover that it was unwise to have a pop at Liverpool's skipper. In the 70th minute, an off-the-ball tussle between the pair resulted in Souness landing a haymaker on Movila's jaw.

"Movila immediately hit the ground like a bag of spanners," Rush explains. "We were mounting an attack so neither the referee or the linesman saw the incident, which was just as well. When play was eventually stopped, Movila still hadn't moved. He was taken from the field and treated by medics, who discovered that his jaw was broken." In the days before multiple cameras at football grounds, Souness had got away with his moment of violence. But he would be a marked man for the return leg in Bucharest.

Liverpool took a 1-0 lead from the first leg, but the aggro created by the Souness punch had not made their task any easier. The anger regarding the Movila affair was felt immediately as Joe Fagin's team arrived in the Romanian capital. Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen, and Ronnie Whelan all relate in their autobiographies that police and soldiers were happy to perform "slit-your-throat" gestures, much as the Dinamo players had done to Souness as the first leg ended.

Through all the intimidation, Souness simply soaked it up, seemingly enjoying the attention he was getting. "He just sat in his seat, a little smile on his face and said to us: 'I'll take it all, you guys get on with the game'", Rush says in this Daily Telegraph article. Inside the ground, the 60,000-crowd booed every time Souness touched the ball in the warm-up. Whelan describes the atmosphere as "pure poison", Hansen agreeing that it was "the most hostile atmosphere any of us had ever known." 

Talking in 2009 on LFC TV, Souness recalls the teams walking on to the rain-sodden pitch and an incident before the kick-off: "I remember lining up in the centre circle and one of their midfield players, who was quite an aggressive guy, pointed at me and motioned as if to say, 'It's you and I tonight.' So I put my thumb up to him and said, 'Yeah okay, I'm looking forward to it.'"

Souness faced a few hefty challenges throughout the match, but an eleventh minute goal from Rush - his 100th for the club - quietened the crowd and settled any nerves within the Liverpool camp. Dinamo equalised through a Costel Orac free kick on 38 minutes, yet Liverpool comfortably kept their hosts at arm’s reach in the second half, and with just six minutes remaining, Rush capitalised on hilarious defending to book Liverpool's place in the final.

Fagin's men were praised for their self-control and discipline, with Whelan happy to have come through the ordeal: "There was nothing ever really going to frighten you after an experience like that. Many a team would have folded completely."

Souness came in for special recognition, Steve Curry writing in the Daily Express that "He finished the game with his stockings torn to threads - the legacy of an endless series of quite appalling tackles from the most cynical side I have seen in European matches." This page on Liverpool's official website notes: "But, with every boo, whistle and jeer, the Reds skipper grew in stature and orchestrated proceedings as a place in the final was memorably secured." After what they had been through in Bucharest, the final against Roma's in their Stadio Olimpico ground would hold no fears.

Mad dogs and Scottish men

That Roma had made the European Cup final at their own stadium was due to a memorable comeback against Dundee United. Yet the nature of the victory would leave a nasty taste in the mouth, and one that would refuse to go away as the years progressed. When the teams were paired in the draw, Dundee United manager Jim McLean understandably noted that "we will need two near-perfect performances" to see off Roma. Sadly, this would not be the case.

Roma’s squad may have been full of star players such as Toninho Cerezo, Falcao, Francesco Graziani, and Bruno Conti, yet a trip to North East Scotland was an eye opener for them. Midfielder Billy Kirkwood captured the mood of the Roma camp. "They just didn’t like that it was a shitty wee stadium," as Dundee United tore into their shocked opponents.

Dundee United's 2-0 win at Tannadice - with second half goals from Davie Dodds and Derek Stark - was fully deserved, Hugh Taylor reporting in the Times that another two goals would have been justified in "one of the most astonishing victories in Scottish football." United would pay the price for these missed opportunities two weeks later in Rome; and an innocent comment from McLean in a press conference would also play a significant role in dictating the outcome of the tie.

Accusations immediately circulated that United's players had performed so well because they were using performance enhancing drugs. "I hope we’re still on them for next game," McLean said, not realising that the allegations were serious. Somehow these words were twisted by the Italian press, some portraying McLean as cocky. When some Roma players accused McLean of calling them "Italian bastards", the blue touch paper had been lit.

When in Rome, the list of tactics employed to disrupt United's players reads like a script from a naff film. Motorbikes gathered outside the team hotel, with horns blaring all night long; the team bus was a target for keen egg and fruit throwers; and the match was moved to a 3.30pm kick off, conveniently coinciding with the scorching mid-afternoon sunshine in Rome.

The atmosphere inside the stadium was hot enough, anyway. A combination of the campaign against McLean and the desperation of Roma to reach the final created a pressure cooker environment. United's players, pelted with oranges when they warmed up, would have seen the none too subtle banners as they entered the arena: "GOD CURSE DUNDEE UNITED", "McLEAN FUCK OFF" and "ROMA HATES McLEAN HE'S A C**T".

Despite the frenzied atmosphere, United weathered the early storm, and really should have put the tie to bed when Ralph Milne missed a glorious chance. Three minutes later, Pruzzo nodded home from a Conti corner, and when the same man levelled matters on aggregate, United's advantage had been wiped out after 38 minutes.

Pruzzo was centre of attention again in the 57th minute, the centre forward brought down by keeper Hamish McAlpine, with Di Bartolomei converting the penalty that ended the Dundee United dream. At the final whistle, Roma's players celebrated wildly, swept along on the wave of euphoria filling the stadium. But some let themselves down in a big way.

Graziani was happy enough to strip to his pants and run around the athletics track, but the enduring image is one of Roma players surrounding McLean and his assistant Walter Smith, sneering and extending the middle finger towards the United boss. Smith and John Gardiner (the reserve keeper) protected McLean as the fracas continued up the tunnel. The police protecting McLean had disappeared faster than Graziani's kit.

To add to the ill feeling, it was later revealed that Roma had attempted to bribe referee Michel Vautrot with a £50,000 sweetener before the match. Vautrot has always denied the allegation, and many felt that United had simply frozen on the day, but this did not stop Paul Sturrock writing to the then UEFA President Michel Platini in 2014, asking for runners-up medals. Roma were banned from European competition after the revelations, yet this was little consolation to McLean and his men.

Roma would famously lose out to Liverpool in the final, but although many of their fans would have called this a tragedy, it was nothing in comparison to the events exactly ten years later. Captain Di Bartolomei, suffering from depression and financial difficulties, shot himself through the heart.

Cheated

If the allegations levelled against Vautrot were true, then he did a reasonably good job of hiding it, even disallowing a Roma goal after seven minutes. Alas, the same could not be said of Spanish referee Emilio Guruceta Muro during the second leg of the Anderlecht-Nottingham Forest UEFA Cup semi-final. The performance of Muro took the expression "homer" to a new level.

Brian Clough had expressed his doubts about the official before the match. "This man's appointment from the FIFA list has got me worried stiff," Clough admitted. "English teams never seem to get a fair deal from Spanish referees, because they are so biased against us. I don't know the quality of this particular individual, but I'm desperately concerned because my experience suggests the Spanish don't like us at all."

In truth, Clough was probably more concerned with the fact that Muro was labelled the "Spanish Clive Thomas", but according to Garry Birtles, it appeared that the Forest manager was suspicious that something was awry on the night of the match. Writing in his My Magic Carpet Ride autobiography, Birtles reveals that Clough left the Forest dressing room door open, and he was worried about the number of people going in and out of the referee's room.

Forest had won the first leg 2-0, with two late Steve Hodge goals giving Clough's men a handy advantage to take to Brussels. The tie was far from over, though; Anderlecht were the UEFA Cup holders, eight of their squad would make up the Belgian party that went to Euro 84, and there were other international players in the team such as skipper Morten Olsen, Kenneth Brylle and Luka Peruzovic.

In short, the Belgians were a fine team. Yet Anderlecht president Constant Vanden Stock wanted a bit of insurance to make sure his club would progress to the two-legged final. Vanden Stock contacted local criminal Jean Elst, who in turn sent a friend to Alicante to approach Muro. The referee agreed a fee of £18,000 to fix the match. Some reports state the figure as £27,000. Either way, it makes the skin crawl.

Anderlecht swarmed over Forest, with keeper Hans van Breukelen, playing with a broken finger, bravely repelling attack after attack. But an Enzo Scifo goal after 18 minutes brought Anderlecht back into the tie, as Forest struggled to get out of their own half. The inevitable equaliser arrived just before the hour mark, although the part Muro played in this was crucial.

Brylle drove into the Forest penalty area, and went down whilst standing in the rough vicinity of Kenny Swain. "Kenny must have been three yards away," Paul Hart revealed in this article. "It was a blatant dive anyway." Birtles was equally as convinced. "That penalty was the most embarrassing decision I have ever seen in football. The distance between Kenny Swain and their guy who went down was absolutely ridiculous."

Brylle tucked the penalty away, and when Vandenbergh completed the turnaround with just two minutes remaining, Forest were shell-shocked. Yet there would be one more cruel twist of the knife held by Muro. A perfectly good header from Hart was ruled out in the final minute, no one really sure as to why Muro had arrived at his decision.

"The ball flew past Ian Bowyer and into the net and that would have been us in the final," Hart recalls. "Their goalkeeper was already berating his defenders, and then the whistle went. Nobody had a clue why. I said to Ian: 'Were you offside? Did you push someone?' He said: 'Don't be silly.' But it was disallowed."

"There was no contact with a defender whatsoever," Birtles adds. "We were just looking at each other thinking: 'What on earth is going on here?' It was embarrassing." Clough and many of his players knew that Anderlecht had been superb on the night; yet they also knew they had been cheated.

When full details of the sordid deal were revealed in 1997, it probably didn't come as a complete shock to the players involved. Many tried unsuccessfully to claim financial compensation; UEFA, who had held evidence on the matter since 1992, attempted to ban Anderlecht from European competition for a year. But to add salt to the wounds, even that ban was overturned by a tribunal.

Muro never had to answer to the claims made against him, passing away in a car crash in 1987. And despite the scandal, Anderlecht still play in the Constant Vanden Stock stadium. "It was wrong then, it's wrong now and it will be wrong always," Birtles states. It's hard to disagree.

Ecstasy and agony

The remaining three European fixtures were slightly less controversial. Nevertheless, there was enough excitement to keep Sportsnight and Midweek Sports Special viewers entertained.

The build-up to Tottenham's semi-final with Hajduk Split had been dominated with the announcement that manager Keith Burkinshaw would be stepping down at the end of the season, the 48-year-old unhappy with the direction the club was going under the board. Could Burkinshaw go out in style by lifting the UEFA Cup? A 2-1 defeat away at Hajduk Split in the first leg left things on a knife edge.

Mark Falco's goal in Yugoslavia would prove crucial, as a 1-0 win at White Hart Lane saw Tottenham progress to the final on away goals. "There was a definite mood in the dressing room of winning for Keith," said goal scorer Micky Hazard, who had to leave the field for a brief period after his strike to replace a contact lens. Burkinshaw was now booked in for the perfect leaving party.

On to the Cup Winners' Cup, and the challenging task facing Manchester United. Paired with a Juventus team managed by Giovanni Trapattoni, and including stars Michel Platini, Zbigniew Boniek, and Paolo Rossi, United's mission was made significantly harder when Bryan Robson tore his hamstring in training, meaning the hero of the Barcelona quarter final comeback would miss both legs.

A referee would again take centre stage as the first leg at Old Trafford drew into focus. United wanted UEFA to remove Dutchman Jan Keizer removed from duty, after club officials accused the referee of meeting a Juventus representative in an Amsterdam hotel the week before. UEFA turned down the request, and fortunately talk would soon centre on whether an injury-ravaged United could take anything to Turin.

A deflected Rossi goal was answered by Alan Davies - sadly the second man in this blog who would later take his own life - and United really should have won, Frank Stapleton spurning a glorious chance. "How can you write us off after that?", manager Ron Atkinson asked the press, with few giving United any hope of now making the final.

With the odds stacked against them, United put in a brave performance, but came up agonisingly short. A Boniek effort was cancelled out by Norman Whiteside, and with twenty minutes remaining, the tie was up for grabs. Rossi had other ideas, though, his last-minute winner leaving Atkinson distraught. "I thought we were unlucky to lose out so cruelly."

The final British team to depart stage left was Aberdeen. The Cup Winners' Cup holders were seen as favourites as they prepared to take on Porto, but with nine members of Portugal's Euro 84 semi-finalists amongst their ranks, Aberdeen's opponents were dangerous. And so it would prove; two 1-0 defeats loosened Aberdeen's grip on the trophy. But Alex Ferguson's men would have plenty of other opportunities to celebrate that season.

2 comments:

  1. Great blog as usual Steve I was at OT for the June game Boniek got hit by a paper cup and went down like a sack ofs##t. I think Wilkins was out too and Godmanchester played in midfield. Great article on Aberdeen as well. I often think that was Fergies greatest achievement as a manager

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  2. For Godmanchester read Gidman sorry

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