Reds endure cup final misery

29th April 1950

It should have been a momentous occasion in the club's history but on a grey day in the capital, a 2-0 defeat prolonged the Reds' wait for FA Cup glory.

The demand for tickets to see Liverpool at Wembley for the first time was understandably immense. The club received a meagre allocation of just 10,000 tickets and with over 100,000 applicants it was nowhere near enough to go around.

Eric Doig (LFC fan): I was very lucky to get a ticket for that game. In those days the allocation was much lower that it is nowadays. You were very lucky to get a ticket because I think it was under 20,000 that were able to go.

Billy Liddell (LFC player 1938-61): During those few weeks before the great day we all discovered we had far more friends that we had realised. Some of them I couldn't recall, but they all wanted a Cup final ticket! It got worse in the last fortnight, when the excitement gradually mounted and it seemed that half the male population of Liverpool wanted to be at Wembley to cheer us on.

Those lucky enough to obtain tickets travelled south in a confident frame of mind. The Reds had already defeated the Gunners twice in the league that season and were marginal favourites to bring the Cup home.

Albert Stubbins (LFC player 1946-53): Two weeks before the Cup final, we played Arsenal at Highbury and we beat them. And a few weeks previous to that we played them at Anfield and also beat them, without any bother, so we fancied our chances at Wembley

Eric Doig: In those days it was all standing, well, major portions of the ground were standing and we were packed in like sardines. There were certainly 100,000 people. It was raining quite substantially I think, but it was just the whole thrill of being there for the first time. It was magnificent.

Albert Stubbins: Wembley really was a wonderful pitch. We had a preliminary tour the day before of the stadium so that we could check the pitch and it really was a beautiful pitch. The whole occasion was one I'll never forget.

But for one Liverpool player the club's first visit to Wembley was to result in huge disappointment. Despite scoring in the semi-final victory over Everton, Bob Paisley was controversially omitted from the team to play Arsenal. Injury had ruled him out of the Reds' four league games prior to the final and, although he had proved his fitness, Bill Jones was selected ahead of him.

The decision was made not by manager George Kay but by a selection committee of nine directors, who voted 5-4 in favour of playing Jones. Paisley was distraught at being left out and with the use of substitutes still a long way off he could not even take consolation from being named the twelfth man.

Bill Jones (LFC player 1938-54): Bob and I were the best of pals. We more or less did everything together at the club. I felt so sorry for him and it put me in a position. I know Bob felt it; he felt it very much.

Bob Paisley (LFC player 1939-54): I can't describe just how I felt when I learned I was out of the Wembley side. It is the sort of thing you only dream, or rather have nightmares about.

Laurie Hughes (LFC player 1942-60): Well I usually played centre-half and Bob played left half, but Bill Jones, who had played centre-half in the previous games went to left-half. I don't know whether it was a good move or not, but I don't think the whole side performed as well as they could do on that day.

Captain Phil Taylor proudly led the team out alongside opposition skipper Joe Mercer, a familiar figure with the Liverpool team. The former Everton star, who continued to live in Hoylake following his transfer from Goodison, had been training regularly at Anfield up until a couple of days before the big day.

Joe Mercer (Arsenal captain): When Arsenal and Liverpool qualified for Wembley I was no longer allowed to train with the Liverpool players. I used to train on my own in the afternoon but whenever I bumped into the Liverpool players I told them they were certain to beat us in the final. I fostered their confidence and it gave us an advantage.

To avoid a colour clash both clubs were forced to sport their change strips. Liverpool took to the field in white shirts and black shorts, while Arsenal donned old gold shirts and white shorts. On a greasy playing surface, Liverpool began sprightly but after just 17 minutes they fell behind to a goal from Reg Lewis and failed to recover from this setback.

Phil Taylor (LFC player 1936-54 and captain in 1950): Tactically, Arsenal won it before they went out on to the field. Forbes made it his business to stop Liddell. All our forwards scored goals of course, but we all considered Billy Liddell our match winner. He played as an outside left but used to cut in and score some great goals. Forbes knew this and saw to it that Liddell didn’t do too much.

Eric Doig: Arsenal made sure that Liverpool weren't going to win, because they nobbled Liddell as far as I remember, very early on in the game and of course he was the danger man. I was very aggrieved about it because obviously they had some very aggressive tacklers and their half-backs went out to seemingly negate Liverpool’s attacking force, but it’s just one of those things.

Bill Jones: I remember that Billy Liddell took a bit of a hammering from Alec Forbes, which wasn't too good.

Billy Liddell: One tackle by Alec upon me aroused a lot of controversy but far be it from me to impute any malicious motives. I am absolutely sure he had none. We had played together for Scotland, and always got on extremely well.

Phil Taylor: Throughout the course of the game we had more of the play, but very little when it came anywhere near goal.

Bill Jones: I hit the crossbar with a header which would have made it 1-1.

Albert Stubbins: The interval was approaching with Arsenal leading 1-0 when the ball left Billy Liddell's left foot on the wing. Over it came, up I went – only to fail to connect with the centre by the proverbial hair's breadth. I believe that if I could have levelled the scores at that point we could have won the match.

The goal that clinched the Cup for Arsenal came on 62 minutes. Again the scorer was Lewis. Freddie Cox crossed from the right and Lewis, 20-yards from goal, hit a first time shot past Cyril Sidlow.

Billy Liddell: We fought tooth and nail in the last twenty minutes to draw level, and it took the Arsenal defenders all their time to keep us out. Jimmy Payne, Bill Jones and Willie Fagan all went close but the ball would just not go into the net.

Albert Stubbins: Even though the result did not go our way, to be a member of the first Liverpool team to play at Wembley was very special. I'd rather get there and lose than not get there at all because to play in the FA Cup Final was a marvellous experience.

Ranger (Liverpool Echo correspondent): Liverpool fought gallantly, but they were just not quite good enough in attack to overcome Arsenal's cast-iron defence.

Joe Mercer: We beat them fairly and squarely. We just clicked that day and the rain – it never stopped – suited us.

Billy Liddell: We gave it as good as we got, and did not disgrace the thousands of Liverpool folk who were there to give us their support. But Arsenal were worthy winners.

Albert Stubbins: Arsenal, they were on form that day and we weren't, it was as simple as that. They played very well. There was no luck about it, they scored two goals and that was it.

Despite defeat the Liverpool party returned home to the city 48 hours later with their heads held high and an astonishing welcome awaited them. Over 100,000 people lined the streets of the city centre to greet the losing Cup finalists and the reaction of the Liverpool public could not have been greater if they had won the Cup.

Liverpool: Sidlow, Lambert, Spicer, Taylor, Jones, Hughes, Payne, Baron, Stubbins, Fagan, Liddell. Manager: George Kay

Arsenal: Swindin, Scott, Barnes, Forbes, Compton L, Mercer, Cox, Logie, Goring, Lewis, Compton D. Manager: Tom Whittaker

Attendance: 100,000.