73 year wait for Cup glory ends

01 May 1965

 

For 73 years, the FA Cup remained a notable absentee on Liverpool Football Club's roll of honour.

Between 1892 and 1965, the Anfield trophy cabinet welcomed the arrival of no less than six First Division titles. Yet, in their quest for success in the world’s greatest knockout competition, the Reds endured nothing but heartache and frustration.

That changed on the unforgettable afternoon of May 1, 1965 - a day forever remembered as the greatest in the club’s history.

It was an occasion that many supporters thought they would never see. Year after year, they saw Liverpool’s cup aspirations flounder, be it at the first or final hurdle and some genuinely believed there was a mystic jinx blocking the Reds’ path to FA Cup glory.

It was even joked that the mythical Liver Birds would fly from their perch the day a Liverpool team brought home the FA Cup such was the belief that they would never add their name to the cup's roll of honour.

But as the 1965 FA Cup campaign dawned there was a feeling of quiet optimism around Anfield that this could, at last, be Liverpool’s year in the competition. After all, they were the reigning league champions and, under the inspirational guidance of the great Bill Shankly, anything seemed possible.

Ron Yeats (LFC player & captain 1961-71): "The desire to win the cup for the first time ran right through the club. By 1964-65 we were a very confident side and very experienced. I had a feeling from before the third round that we were finally going to win the cup that year."

Ian St John (LFC player 1961-71): "We knew we were good enough to win the cup. I suppose every player thinks their team can win the cup before the start but I genuinely believed that we could win it that year."

A 2-1 victory over fellow First Division side West Brom saw the Reds safely negotiate the first hurdle and the draw for round four could not have been kinder to Liverpool - a home tie against Stockport County, the side propping up the entire Football League.

Progress into round five seemed a formality. So much so, that manager Bill Shankly decided to miss the match and instead embark on a spying mission to Germany, where he would run the rule over Liverpool’s forthcoming European Cup opponents FC Cologne.

It was the first senior game he had missed since taking charge in 1959 and he’d have been glad he did as the minnows from Manchester almost pulled off one of the biggest cup shocks ever - a 51st minute goal by Gordon Milne eventually sparing Liverpool’s blushes after the visitors had taken an 18th minute lead.

With Shanks back at the helm four days later Liverpool did not make the same mistake second time around and Stockport’s bubble burst when Hunt fired the Reds ahead six minutes before the interval. The second half was a stroll for Liverpool and Hunt confirmed their passage into round five with a second minutes from time.

It set up an intriguing clash with Second Division high-flyers Bolton Wanderers. Interest in the tie was immense and close on 60,000 packed into Burnden Park to see a late Ian Callaghan header settle a tensely fought contest.

Bogey team Leicester City awaited Liverpool in the last eight. Of all the teams left in the competition the Foxes were the side that the majority of Liverpool players and supporters wanted to avoid, but a creditable goalless draw at Filbert Street heightened the increasing belief that the Reds' name was on the cup.

With home advantage in the replay and the backing of a passionate Anfield crowd Liverpool finally smashed the Leicester jinx once and for all thanks to a spectacular Roger Hunt goal.

The season was now building up to an exciting climax and just three days after winning through an energy sapping European Cup quarter-final against FC Cologne in Rotterdam the Reds travelled to Villa Park to take on the much-fancied Chelsea in the last four of the FA Cup.

The odds were stacked heavily in favour of Tommy Docherty’s young team but Liverpool turned in one of their finest performances to book their Wembley ticket. For the opening hour there was little to separate the two sides and it took a piece of Peter Thompson trickery to break the deadlock.

A penalty by Willie Stevenson 11 minutes from time assured Liverpool of victory and joyous Liverpudlians poured onto the Villa Park pitch to mob their heroes at the final whistle.

Only Leeds United now stood between Liverpool Football Club and its holy grail. Not surprisingly every Reds fan was desperate to be at Wembley on the big day and a meagre allocation of just 15,000 tickets for each club caused a frantic scramble for a chance to witness some history in the making.

Requests came from all over the world but Shanks declared: 'Any tickets I’ve got are going to the boys on the Kop.'

Despite such a pitiful allocation the travelling Kopites were in fine voice beneath the twin towers and on a grey day in the capital they lit up the stadium with their red and white banners.

With such support Liverpool could not lose. 'You’re going to win because you’re the best team,' Shankly told his players before the game, 'Leeds are honoured to be on the same field as you. AND you’re not going to disappoint the greatest supporters in the world. If necessary - and it won’t be - you should be prepared to die for them.'

Only the slenderest of margins - 0.686 of a goal - had prevented Leeds succeeding Liverpool as champions and under the shrewd guidance of Don Revie and the inspirational leadership of former Everton star Bobby Collins there was no doubting that the Yorkshiremen were a formidable force.

But with Shanks' pep talk ringing in their ears Liverpool stepped out at Wembley with confidence sky-high.

A physical battle was expected and the game was only ten minutes old when Gerry Byrne sustained an injury that was to become part of Liverpool folklore.

It was a match that was to be littered with niggly fouls and one that will not be remembered as a classic. Despite Liverpool’s best attacking intentions, the dour defensive tactics of Revie’s men made for a dull spectacle and after the opening 90 minutes failed to yield a goal extra-time was played in a Cup Final for the first time since 1947.

Bill Shankly took great pride in the fact that his side was regarded as one, if not the, fittest team around and in extra time they proved this. Within three minutes the game suddenly exploded into life.

Roger Hunt: "Willie Stevenson beat a couple of Leeds players, pushed it forward to where Gerry Byrne was out on the left. Gerry cut it back from the line and it came to me about four feet high. I just stooped and headed it in. Maybe I’ve scored more spectacular goals in my career, but who cares? I felt ten feet tall. There were tears of joy."

The Liverpool fans went wild with delight and it took five policemen to remove one ecstatic supporter from the pitch, although he still managed to wave his rattle as he was carried off!

Liverpool’s joy though was to be short-lived and eight minutes later, out of the blue, Leeds hit back with a venomous strike from Billy Bremner that levelled matters.

With a two-legged European Cup semi-final with Inter Milan to come the Reds refused to settle for a draw.

On 111 minutes they pressed forward again. Callaghan floated a cross to the head of an unmarked Ian St John and from a central position on the edge of the six-yard box The Saint made no mistake with a diving header that nestled sweetly into the bottom of Gary Sprake’s net.

Ian St John: "The goal looked as big as the Mersey tunnel when I headed it in. It was a momentous goal in the history of the club and I’m very grateful that I was the guy on the end of the cross which enabled me to put the ball in the net."

The long wait was over and when Ron Yeats finally held aloft the trophy, supporters inside Wembley that day swear they had never heard a louder roar. ’Ee-Aye-Addio - We’ve Won The Cup’ bellowed around the famous venue as the emotion of the occasion took over.

Bill Shankly: "To think a club like Liverpool had never won the FA Cup was unbelievable. So many had prayed for it to happen over all the years but it had never come to pass. So when we beat Leeds at Wembley in 1965, the emotion was unforgettable. Grown men were crying and it was the greatest feeling any human could have to see what we had done."

Ron Yeats: "Evertonians had always ribbed Liverpudlians about the fact that Liverpool had never won the FA Cup and I received a tremendous amount of mail after the final, congratulating me, as captain, on our victory. Some letter were from older supporters who actually wrote that they could now die in peace after Liverpool had won the FA Cup."

Winning the cup for the first time meant that much. It had been an unforgettable day - the greatest in the history of the club and the Liver Birds are still sat on top of the Liver Buildings.