“We always give Bruce Grobbelaar the most terrible stick. How can a goalkeeper be the hero in a penalty shootout when he didn’t get near any of them?”
Mark Lawrenson is laughing as the memories come flooding back. It’s been 34 years since Liverpool beat Roma in their own backyard, securing a famous fourth European Cup triumph, but the night remains fresh in the mind.
“It’s the greatest night of my career,” Lawrenson tells Goal. “You got used to winning trophies at Liverpool, but to know at the end of the season that you were the best team in Europe? That was a step above, it felt like we were part of the elite.”
The story of that night in the Stadio Olimpico is well-told, but with Roma travelling to Anfield this week for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final, it is one which is well worth revisiting. Whether it’s Grobbelaar’s ‘spaghetti legs’, Alan Kennedy’s nerveless spot-kick, the majesty of Graeme Souness or, from the supporters’ perspective, memories of a darker kind in and around the city, everyone has a tale to tell.
“It was some occasion,” Lawrenson says. “You probably don’t appreciate it at the time, but looking back you do. Beating a team in front of their own fans in a European Cup final? It’s some achievement.”
Liverpool at the time, of course, were European royalty. They’d won three of the last seven European Cups under Bob Paisley, and were unstoppable domestically. Joe Fagan, Paisley’s successor, had already landed the League title and the League Cup by the time Roma came around.
“The aim at the start of every season was the same,” Lawrenson points out. “You want a trophy, two if possible, all of them if you can. We never said one was more important than the other, we just went for the lot.”
They had assembled a fearsome side. Souness led it from midfield, Lawrenson and Alan Hansen were a formidable defensive pairing, while Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush provided the most potent of forward lines. Rush enjoyed his best ever scoring season in 1983/84, netting 47 times.
“We were a top side,” Lawrenson says. “We rarely worried about the opposition. We just went out and played. And if we played, we reckoned nobody would stop us.”
In the league that was certainly true. Liverpool took the title despite winning just two of their last eight games. It was their third in a row, a feat not achieved since the 1930s.
Europe was where the real challenges lay. They breezed past Odense in the first round, then squeezed beyond an excellent Athletic Bilbao in the second, Rush scoring a second-leg winner in San Mames.
Benfica were beaten in the quarter-finals, the tie sealed with a rousing 4-1 win at Estadio Da Luz. “We seemed to perform better away from home that season,” Lawrenson says.
That was the case in the semi-finals too; Liverpool seeing off a tough Dinamo Bucharest side in a bad-tempered tie.
“People always ask about being intimidated playing Roma,” Lawrenson says. “But that Bucharest tie was 10 times more scary.
"Souness had broken their best player's jaw in the first leg at Anfield, so they wanted to kill him over there. They wanted to kill all of us!”
Roma, meanwhile, overcame Dundee United in the other semi, overturning a 2-0 first-leg deficit in controversial fashion. Two years later, the Italian club’s president, Dino Viola, would be banned by UEFA for four years for having attempted - unsuccessfully - to bribe the referee with 100million Lire (£50,000). Viola’s son, Riccardo, would eventually reveal the whole story in 2011.
"A shameful act," he called it, but pointed out that "going out of the competition would have had serious repercussions.”
In any case, it was Nils Liedholm’s side who progressed, with the final to be played at their home stadium.
Liverpool, having wrapped up the title, had a fortnight to prepare for the final. They did so by taking on Newcastle in a Kevin Keegan farewell match two days after their last league fixture, drawing 2-2, before heading off to a week-long ‘training camp’ in Israel.
“Usually, we’d play the national team and then it’d be party time,” Lawrenson remembers. “This time, we had to train every day. But we still enjoyed ourselves!"
The Italian tabloids had a field day, depicting the Liverpool players as drunken tourists. The Reds' preparation for the final, though, was stellar.
“I remember returning to Melwood on the Monday before the final, and we were absolutely flying in training," says Lawrenson. "The five-a-sides were of such a high standard. Joe just turned to Ronnie Moran and said ‘they’re ready’.”
Well, not quite. Before leaving for Italy there was one more drill. A penalty shootout, against the youth team.
“We lost!” Lawrenson remembers. “Bruce got nowhere near any of those, either!”
Once in Rome, it was back to business.
“You’re aware you’re walking into the lion’s den,” Lawrenson says. “When we walked around the pitch about an hour before the game, the Roma fans were already inside. They went nuts!”
The game, though, was controlled by Liverpool. They were not cowed by the atmosphere. As the players lined up in the tunnel, the men in red broke into song.
"I don't remember who started it," Lawrenson says. "But it was the Chris Rea song 'I don't know what it is but I love it'. It was just one of those spontaneous things really. The Roma players must have thought we were off our heads."
Liverpool's composure spread to the pitch. Phil Neal gave them the lead, while Souness, playing his last game for the club, was immense.
“You don’t get the likes of Graeme Souness anymore,” Lawrenson remarks. “He had agreed with the club that he could leave at the end of the season, and I think he gave perhaps his greatest performance in that game.
"It wasn’t like it is now. Now, I can watch any game of Roma’s on YouTube or wherever. Then, we had very little info. I remember Joe’s team talk mentioned Agostino Di Bartolomei, and told us to get close to him, but that was about it.
“They had good players with the likes of Falcao and Conti, but we never felt too troubled.”
Roma equalised though, from a header by Roberto Pruzzo. “Hansen’s mistake!” laughs Lawrenson, though it is interesting to note that the scouting notes of Tom Saunders, released by Liverpool for the first time earlier this month, made note of the striker’s tendency to drift in and score with glancing headers.
Still, Liverpool felt in control without finding the breakthrough. Penalties came, and volunteers were requested.
“I know that Bruce was down to take the ninth,” Lawrenson recalls. “And me and Hansen were arguing over who was taking the 10th. He said it was me, and I said it was him!”
Steve Nicol missed Liverpool’s first, but with Grobbelaar doing his best to put off the Romans, Conti’s miss got it back to all-square. When Rush scored and Francesco Graziani blazed over, it was left to Kennedy to seal the trophy.
“As he walked up, Hansen and I looked at each other and said ‘no chance’,” Lawrenson laughs. “We couldn’t believe it when he slotted.”
Lawrenson remembers the aftermath, being taken by Crown Paints, the club sponsors, to “what can only be described as a Mafia-style mansion in the hills” and being told to “fill your boots.” The party lasted 24 hours.
“Like I say, it was the best night of my career,” he says. “It would have been rude not to enjoy it!”
Now a radio pundit for the BBC, he will miss Tuesday’s game but will be in Rome for the second leg next week. “It’s always nice to walk through those gates,” he grins.
He’s been impressed by Liverpool’s progress under Jurgen Klopp this season. “He’s the perfect fit,” he says. “He’s got a big-club mentality, he understands history and he understands the fans, and that they can be the 12th man.”
Lawrenson believes the Reds should be seen as favourites to progress to the final, and the chance of a sixth European Cup. Having watched Roma closely against Barcelona in the quarters, however, he is wary of their threat.
“They’ve got something about them,” he says. “Even in Camp Nou they missed loads of chances. They are to be respected.
“I’d take a 1-0 at Anfield, no question. I’d prefer a 5-0 though!”