The History Of English Clubs In European Cup Finals

Graham Lister looks back at the previous occasions on which English teams have contested the final of Europe's leading competition....
1 - Busby's Mission

Wednesday will see the first Champions League final between two English clubs, but one of them was also the first English club to appear in the final of Europe's premier club competition, then known as the European Champions' Cup. Indeed, Manchester United were England's pioneers in Europe, the first club to represent the country on that prestigious stage, and the ones who, in their second campaign, were decimated at Munich on their way home from a tie in Belgrade.   

United had entered the European Cup in defiance of their own short-sighted Football League. Ironically, their opponents this week in Moscow, Chelsea, had been the first English team to qualify for the European Cup when they won the League title in 1954-55. But the insular Football League asked the Blues to "reconsider" their participation because it claimed the extra fixtures might be difficult to fulfil. Chelsea bowed to the unsubtle pressure and withdrew.  

When Manchester United won the domestic title in 1955-56 and 1956-57, their manager, Matt Busby, had no intention of missing out on the new continental adventure. The League continued to whinge that United's participation in the fledgling competition was "not in the best interests of the League," but the Red Devils would not be bullied. Busby declared:  "Prestige alone demanded that the continental challenge should be met, not avoided."

United initially reached the semi-finals, where they were defeated by all-conquering Real Madrid; but the following season the Busby Babes were destroyed in their prime on 6th February, 1958, having just reached the semi-finals again. Busby, who miraculously survived the air crash at Munich, would not rest until the new side that he built had won the European Cup and honoured the memory of those who had died trying. It would take exactly ten years for the dream to be realised...

1968: MANCHESTER UNITED 4-1 Benfica (aet, London)

Celtic had stolen a march on all their English rivals by becoming the first British club to reach the final, in 1967 - when they made it count by defeating mighty Inter Milan in Lisbon. But the following season United laid the ghosts of Munich to rest - and they did so at Wembley, England's national stadium.  
They had to come from behind against Real at the Bernabeu in the semis to get there, but after Bobby Charlton gave them the lead against Benfica in the final with a rare headed goal, Graca's equaliser nine minutes from the end transformed the Portuguese champions, who looked set to win when Eusebio burst through in the final minute one-on-one with Alex Stepney. Yet the United keeper made a reflex save to keep out the great man's thunderbolt and force the final into extra-time.

George Best scored a stunning individual goal three minutes into the extra period after a mazy dribble, and a minute later Brian Kidd, on his 19th birthday, added United's third. Kidd passed to skipper Charlton - a Munich survivor - who lashed home the fourth, and United were champions of Europe at last.

An emotional Busby said: "The moment when Bobby took the Cup it cleansed me. It eased the guilt of going into Europe. It was my justification."

2 - The Era Of English Domination

United's victory was a one-off: Busby's team seemed to lose some of their drive and break up soon afterwards, while the Dutch took over at Europe's top table, one of their big clubs appearing in each of the next five finals. Then there was a hat-trick of German triumphs from Bayern Munich, the second of which saw them beat English champions Leeds United on an infamous night in Paris.

1975: Bayern Munich 2-0 LEEDS UNITED (Paris)
Under Don Revie, Leeds United had become England's most formidable side, if hardly the best loved. Revie had left to take over the England team after guiding Leeds to their second League title in 1974, and after a turbulent 44 days under Brian Clough, the Yorkshire Whites appointed gentlemanly Jimmy Armfield as manager. He steered them all the way to the European Cup final, something Revie had never achieved, and they had high hopes of beating holders Bayern at the Parc des Princes.

Typically, it was a physically robust affair, Bayern's Andersson being carried off after four minutes after a clash with Terry Yorath, and Uli Hoeness also having to limp off before the break. With Bayern forced to reorganise, Leeds dominated for most of the match. Their fans were convinced they should have had two penalties for infringements by Franz Beckenbauer, and when Peter Lorimer had a goal ruled out for offside on 66 minutes, all hell broke loose on the terraces.

Off the pitch French riot police sought unsuccessfully to restore order, while on it Bayern scored through first Roth and then Gerd Muller, each goal igniting further unrest. Uefa responded by banning Leeds from Europe for four years (reduced to two on appeal) in an eerie portent of what would happen ten years later.

But two years after the Paris debacle, Bob Paisley's Liverpool were involved in the first of six consecutive triumphs by English clubs...

1977: LIVERPOOL 3-1 Borussia Moenchengladbach (Rome)

Liverpool clinched a second successive domestic League title with a game to spare and looked on course for an unprecedented treble until arch-rivals Manchester United beat them in the FA Cup final. But they responded to that set-back just four days later, in Rome, with an outstanding performance that earned them their first European Cup triumph.

Liverpool took a deserved lead with a goal from Terry McDermott, but Allan Simonsen equalised for Borussia early in the second half and the Germans began to dominate. However, after a superb save by Ray Clemence, doubts crept into the German side and Liverpool roared back. A Steve Heighway corner was headed emphatically into the net by the unlikeliest of scorers, Tommy Smith, in his farewell appearance before retiring.

Suddenly Borussia had no answer to Kevin Keegan, also playing his final game for the Reds before joining Hamburg. Berti Vogts tripped Keegan in the area on 83 minutes and Phil Neal coolly convered the resulting penalty.  Footballer of the Year Emlyn Hughes lifted the trophy to spark a Roman night of prolonged partying. Liverpool fans later found the team's hideaway and a few of the players were thrown into the hotel pool in celebration, though nobody seemed to mind.

1978: LIVERPOOL 1-0 Bruges (London)  

Bob Paisley had brought in Scots Kenny Dalglish and Alan Hansen, but while Liverpool endured an indifferent domestic season by their standards at that time, in Europe everything went like clockwork as they progressed inexorably to a second successive final.   

It was staged on home soil at Wembley, giving the Reds a psychological advantage over Belgian opponents Bruges, whom Liverpool had beaten in the Uefa Cup final two years earlier.  Bruges went for an ultra-defensive approach, sitting back and absorbing Liverpool pressure. But in the 66th minute, Dalglish was allowed too much space to attack the Bruges defence. As Jensen advanced, he deftly chipped the ball over the keeper from close range for the game's only goal, and Liverpool became the first English club to retain Europe's top prize.

1979: NOTTINGHAM FOREST 1-0 Malmo (Munich)
The next season Liverpool, the holders, were seeded in the competition; but Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest - impressive winners of the league title the previous term, were making their European debut and were unseeded.  They were duly paired in the first round. And Forest won 2-0 on aggregate after two enthralling encounters. It was the springboard for a stirring campaign that included a memorable 4-3 semi-final success over Cologne, the second leg of which Clough described as his "finest hour."

For the final against Swedish side Malmo, managed by Englishman Bob Houghton, Forest were without midfielders Archie Gemmill and Martin O'Neill, but their record signing Trevor Francis, British football's first £1million pound player, could play. Clough had signed Francis in February but the ex-Birmingham striker would only be eligible for one match in the European Cup - the final. That was enough for both manager and player.

After a nervy start, Forest began to put some incisive moves together, with Francis the creative fulcrum. And just before half-time he timed a long run from midfield to perfection to meet John Robertson's cross at the far post and head the only goal from a tight angle. With Robertson, Francis and captain John McGovern maintaining Forest's grip on the game, the East Midlands side, whom Clough and his assistant Peter Taylor had rescued from the lower reaches of England's Second Division, were now the kings of Europe.

1980: NOTTINGHAM FOREST 1-0 SV Hamburg (Madrid)       
Forest made a successful defence of their crown despite a campaign of increasingly difficult ties that included Dynamo Berlin, Ajax and, in the final, Kevin Keegan's Hamburg. They were handicapped by the loss of Francis, who had torn an Achilles tendon and could not play, while goalkeeper Peter Shilton had to hobble through the game with a pain-killing injection in a pulled calf muscle. As well, Stan Bowles had unhelpfully walked out on Forest before the final.

In response, Clough and Taylor erred on the side of caution, packing the midfield in the hope of nullifying Keegan, and hitting the Germans on the break. After 20 minutes, the tactics bore fruit when Robertson climaxed a swift counter-attack with a shot that went in off the post. Shilton stood firm as Forest pulled the shutters down, and afterwards Clough beamed: "The odds were stacked against us but it was the best 90 minutes we ever had. It was absolutely marvellous."

1981: LIVERPOOL 1-0 Real Madrid (Paris)
In 1980-81, Paisley's side finished fifth in the First Division - their lowest placing for 16 years - but compensated by winning the League Cup for the first time and saving their best performances for the European Cup. They got past Bayern Munich on away goals in the semi-final, to set up a clash with (then) six-time winners Real Madrid in the Paris final.

The game was something of a let-down after having been keenly anticipated, littered with fouls and lacking in rhythm. But Liverpool gradually got on top, and with eight minutes to go, a throw by Ray Kennedy released his namesake, Alan Kennedy, who took the ball past a weak Cortes challenge and beat keeper Agustin from the tightest of angles at the near-post. Liverpool had become the fourth team  to win the European Cup three times - and Paisley the first manager to complete a hat-trick of triumphs.

1982: ASTON VILLA 1-0 Bayern Munich (Rotterdam)
In 1980-81, Ron Saunders led Villa to their first League title success since the Edwardian era, but walked out in February 1982 over a contractual dispute, leaving his assistant, Tony Barton, to take up the reins. To his credit Barton guided the club against the odds to the European Cup final, where they would meet the last non-English club to win the tournament - Bayern Munich, who boasted the experienced Paul Breitner, Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in their ranks.

If Barton was a novice, so were his team: their only previous European experience was two undistinguished Uefa Cup campaigns, the most recent of them four years earlier. And after just nine minutes of the final, goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer had to go off with a  neck injury. His replacement, Nigel Spink, had previously played just one first-team game for Villa, and that was back in 1979.  But the young keeper pulled off a series of outstanding saves when Bayern threatened to overrun Villa. And in the 67th minute, Gary Shaw fed Tony Morley on the left wing and his trickery allowed him to get to the by-line and cross low for Peter Withe to knock it in off the post and make it a record six wins in a row for English clubs in European Cup finals.

1984: LIVERPOOL 1-1 AS Roma (aet; Liverpool won 4-2 on penalties) (Rome)
The sequence had been broken by Hamburg against Juventus in 1983, but he following year Liverpool, now managed by Joe Fagan - another veteran of the Anfield Boot Room - were back in the final of the European Cup. They were also back in Rome, scene of their first triumph in 1977; and their opponents were the local team, the Giallorossi.

Fagan had led the Reds to the League title and League Cup - their third and fourth successive triumphs, respectively, in those competitions. Now they were bidding for their fourth European crown. Phil Neal put them ahead a little fortuitously on 15 minutes before Pruzzo headed an equaliser just before half-time. But there were no more goals, either in the regulation 90 minutes or the extra 30, so the game went to penalties, which were to be taken at the end where the Roma fans were thronged.

Steve Nicol began the shoot-out by blazing over, and Di Bartolomei put Roma ahead. Neal got the Reds off the mark, and Conti fired over. Graeme Souness and Righetti both scored before Ian Rush reliably despatched his kick. With Liverpool keeper Bruce Grobbelaar doing his off-putting 'wobbly legs' routine,  Graziani went for power but to his horror the ball clipped the bar and flew over. Then Alan Kennedy tucked his kick just inside the post and Liverpool were champions again, having won the first of 28 finals to be settled by a shoot-out.

Kennedy explained afterwards: "I was really confident. I took a penalty in training and put it in the same spot. Just like that!"

1985 Juventus 1-0 LIVERPOOL (Brussels)
The football was incidental, almost an obscene irrelevance, the long-delayed kick-off at the Heysel Stadium coming only after the criminal disaster that unfolded on its crumbling terraces when Liverpool fans charged for a third time at Juventus fans, who stampeded in panic as they attempted to flee the rampaging mob, causing an old wall to collapse. Italian supporters were crushed to death as a result - 38 were killed there and then, one more died later in hospital, and more than 400 were injured.    

The carnage was watched by a horrified global television audience. Violent English hooliganism, the scourge of football at home and almost everywhere English teams played in Europe during the 1970s and early 1980s, appeared to take stadium officials and the Belgian police completely by surprise.

When the game started an hour and 25 minutes later, the decision being taken to avoid an escalation of the trouble, Juventus won it with a disputed penalty converted by Michel Platini, but the result lacked any real meaning in the circumstances.

In the aftermath, which also saw the downfall of the Belgian government, Uefa banned all English clubs from European competition indefinitely, with Liverpool receiving an extra three-year ban to apply when English clubs were allowed back.

3 - United Lead The Way Out Of The Wilderness

1999: Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich (Barcelona)

English clubs' exile from Europe ended in 1990, but European football had moved on in their absence, and now there was a yawning tactical gulf to be bridged. It took almost the entire decade before an English side - now representing the Premiership - reached the final of what was now the Champions League. And, in line with the changed format, the club that did so had not won the domestic League the previous season. But Manchester United travelled to Barcelona looking to complete an unprecedented treble of Premier League title, FA Cup and European Champions League. And they succeeded, in dramatic fashion.

Yet United were outplayed for most of the match, on what would have been Sir Matt Busby's 90th birthday. Mario Basler's fifth-minute goal for Bayern had looked like being enough, and the Bavarians had hit the woodwork twice in the second half as Alex Ferguson's side were tactically out-thought by their impressive German opponents. But despite missing Paul Scholes and captain Roy Keane, suspended, United refused to give up - and in stoppage time they staged on of the great smash-and-grabs of European history.

In the first minute of added time, David Beckham took a corner and, with goalkeeper-captain Peter Schmeichel pressuring the Bayern defence in desperation, the ball was headed back by Dwight Yorke for Ryan Giggs' scuffed shot to be hooked in by substitute Teddy Sheringham to equalise. Extra-time beckoned, but within a minute Gary Neville forced another corner. Beckham sent over another perfect delivery, Sheringham glanced it on and fellow substitute Ole Gunnar Solskjaer pounced at close range to volley home. Two set-pieces at the death had seen United snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and Schmeichel, in his last match for them, hoisted high a trophy that had already been adorned with Bayern's ribbons which had to be hastily replaced by stunned Uefa officials.

4 - Premier League To The Fore

2005: LIVERPOOL 3-3 AC Milan (aet; Liverpool won 3-2 on penalties) (Istanbul)
There would be an all-Spanish and an all-Italian final - and a compensatory win for Bayern Munich - before an English club reached the final again. But if United's 1999 triumph had been an unlikely sensation, Liverpool's victory in 2005 was little short of miraculous.

Milan were imperious and Rafael Benitez's side had no answer as the Rossoneri swept into an emphatic 3-0 first half lead.  There were only 52 seconds on the clock when Paolo Maldini opened the scoring by volleying Andrea Pirlo's free-kick past Jerzy Dudek to punish Djimi Traore's foul. In the 29th minute, Milan had the ball in the net again, but Andriy Shevchenko's effort was disallowed for offside. It was only a stay of execution. For although the Italians survived a penalty shout against Alessandro Nesta for a suspicion of handball, Shevchenko on the counter-attack found Hernan Crespo (on loan from Chelsea), whose first-time finish made it 2–0 to Milan. And five minutes later, a through-ball from Kaka found Crespo who made it three. The Cup was seemingly headed for Italy, the only question being by how many Milan would win.

Benitez sent on Dietmar Hamann for the injured Steve Finnan for the second-half, and switched to a three-man defence, which freed up influential captain Steven Gerrard to attack from midfield. The skipper was inspirational, heading home John Arne Riise's second attempt at a cross in the 54th minute. The goal gave Liverpool hope and Gerrard, full of belief, was driving his team-mates on. Two minutes later Hamann passed to Vladimír Smicer, who, 20 yards from goal, hit a low shot that flew past Dida into the bottom corner of the goal. Before Hamann received the ball, a linesman had been flagging for an earlier Liverpool offside, but the referee decided against giving a free kick to Milan as they had initially regained possession and the advantage had been played.  

Liverpool's tails were most certainly up, and a back-heel from Milan Baros was collected by Gerrard bearing down on goal, and he went down in the area. The Reds were awarded a penalty and although Dida dived low to push out Xabi Alonso's spot-kick, the Spaniard smashed the rebound into the roof of the net to haul Liverpool level, unbelievably, at 3–3.

Both teams then created but couldn't convert further opportunities, and it went to extra-time. With Liverpool tiring after their remarkable endeavours, Milan were the better team in the extra period. And in the 116th minute, they nearly won the game when Shevchenko's goal-bound header was saved by Dudek, who then somehow saved the Ukraine striker's volley from the rebound with an outstretched hand at point-blank range.

So it went to penalties. Liverpool had won that way against Roma in 1984; Milan had beaten Juventus in a shoot-out two years earlier. Serginho blazed over, Hamann scored (despite having a fractured bone in his foot), and Pirlo's kick was saved by the dancing Dudek. Djibril Cisse extended Liverpool's lead before Jon Dahl Tomasson got Milan off the mark. Dida then saved from Riise, and Kaka scored for Milan, levelling the score at 2–2. But Smicer, in his last kick as a Liverpool player, converted his effort. So Shevchenko had to score with Milan's fifth kick.  He'd succeeded against Juventus two years before, but this time he fired down the middle of the goal, and although Dudek dived to his right, he managed to beat the ball out, winning the trophy for Liverpool.

2006: Barcelona 2-1 ARSENAL (Paris)
Signs that the Premier League's riches were underpinning a revival in English clubs' dominance were confirmed when Arsenal reached their first final in the competition the following season. The Gunners, wearing yellow shirts against the Blaugrana, had become London's first representatives in the final, which was staged at the Stade de France in Paris.

Arsenal had two chances to score in the opening minutes, Thierry Henry getting on the end of Emmanuel Eboue's cross, but seeing his shot blocked by Víctor Valdes. From the corner the Barca keeper again had to push away Henry's effort. But after Jens Lehmann had saved from Ludovic Giuly and Deco, the German keeper's game ended in the 18th minute when he brought down Samuel Eto'o on the edge of the penalty area and became the first player sent off in a final. Giuly had followed up and knocked the ball into the empty net, but the goal was disallowed because of Lehmann's foul. Manager Arsene Wenger sacrificed  Robert Pires in what proved to be his last Arsenal game, as substitute keeper Manuel Almunia came on.

Yet Arsenal scored first, on 37 minutes, after Eboue was brought down by Carles Puyol and Sol Campbell - also in his lat Arsenal game - headed home  Thierry Henry's free kick.

Almunia pushed Ronaldinho's shot onto the bar, and Deco and substitute Andres Iniesta also forced saves from the Spanish keeper, but Henry should have doubled Arsenal's lead when he shot straight at Valdes, and the Gunners were made to pay in the 76th minute, when Eto'o levelled, played in by substitute Henrik Larsson and breaking through on the left side to beat Almunia from close range. Another sub, Brazilian defender Juliano Belletti, put the Catalans ahead in the 81st minute when he collected another Larsson pass and shot in off Almunia's right leg at the near post from a narrow angle. Barca held on to record their second triumph in the competition.

2007: AC Milan 2 - 1 LIVERPOOL (Athens)
An English club reached the final for the third year running to set up a re-match of the Istanbul epic of two years earlier. Milan fielded the oldest starting eleven ever in a Champions League final, with an average age of 31 years, 34 days, and in Paolo Maldini had the oldest outfield player ever in a final at 38 years and 331 days. Liverpool fielded five of the players who'd started the 2005 final - Xabi Alonso, Jamie Carragher, Steve Finnan, Steven Gerrard and John Arne Riise.

Unlike the first half in Istanbul, Liverpool dominated - but Milan scored against the run of play in the 45th minute when Filippo Inzaghi deflected in Andrea Pirlo's  free-kick, awarded when Kaka was brought down by Alonso. Replays showed that the ball was deflected in by Inzaghi's upper arm, but the referee did not judge it to have been a handling offence. Inzaghi later said that although the deflection was intended, he did not mean to hit the ball with his arm.

Liverpool continued to dominate possession but in his search for an equaliser, Benitez sent on Peter Crouch for Javier Mascherano, who had been shackling Kaka. Suddenly freed, the Brazilian played Inzaghi in with a pass that beat the offside trap, and he made it 2-0. Dirk Kuyt gave the Reds late hope with a header from Daniel Agger's flick-on at a corner, but Milan held on to win.

Graham Lister