When you think back to the glory that was Rome in 1977, what instantly comes to mind?
Is it Terry McDermott, complete with his trademark perm hair, diverting the ball beyond the reach of the giant Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper Wolfgang Kneib?
Perhaps Tommy Smith’s iconic header, Phil Neal’s ice-cool penalty or the cheeky grin of Emlyn Hughes when he got his hands on Old Big Ears?
We certainly think of the occasion as the first time the great Bob Paisley guided Liverpool to become kings of Europe for the first time, but what about the club’s 12th man who have stood by the team through thick and thin?
The lengths that travelling Kopites went to in journeying to Rome for the 1977 European Cup final have gone down in folklore and the memories of a gruelling yet rewarding trip still linger for many some 40 years on.
As we salute that history-making Liverpool team, it seems highly appropriate that we also pay homage to the unsung heroes of the night – the supporters.
After losing the FA Cup final to arch-rivals Manchester United at Wembley on the Saturday, the fans were then preparing for a trip to Italy, and they were going to get there by any means possible – air, rail, road and sea.
The backing wasn’t taken for granted either, as record appearance holder Ian Callaghan told Liverpoolfc.com: “Our fans must have travelled straight from Wembley to get to Rome!
“I remember going out onto the pitch before the game and it was just a sea of red, absolutely amazing to see the amount of fans that were in the stadium to cheer us on.”
One supporter whose arduous journey brought rich rewards is acclaimed local playwright Dave Kirby.
The Scouser joined a party of hundreds who boarded special trains at Liverpool Lime Street to begin a journey that would never be forgotten.
In taking up the remarkable tale, he told Liverpoolfc.com: “We were all dejected after losing to Manchester United and in my case I had to hitch-hike back from Wembley because I fell asleep and missed my lift back in a transit van!
“If the FA Cup final had been our last game of the season I think our pain would have lasted all summer but in reality it only lasted a day because there was a European Cup final to be won.
“We were also going to Rome for the first time and personally I hadn’t been out of Liverpool because I had only ever been outside of the city on holiday to go to Rhyl and Talacre in Wales!
“So all of a sudden we were going on this big adventure to Italy. We were supposed to leave on the Tuesday but because there was a French rail strike we had to leave Liverpool on the Monday.
“We got the bus from Kirkby into Lime Street and I remember the driver didn’t charge us and saying ‘Good luck, lads!’
“Some of the things the lads did just to get to Rome have gone down in legendary folklore. My mate Jimmy had a Ford Capri and he sold it, despite telling his missus it had been stolen!
“Jegsy Dodd, the famous Red, sold his entire treasured record collection just so he could afford to support Liverpool in the European Cup final!”
Travelling by train in those days didn’t carry the luxury it does today, with air-conditioned carriages travelling at high speed featuring restaurant cars, replacing the old-fashioned buffet bar.
Kirby continued: “I don’t think people probably realise there was actually 12 special trains that day that went straight from Liverpool to Folkestone and they each took seven hours to get there.
“We then had to cross the channel on an old ferry that took almost five hours and I can remember it being so rough and we were thrown all over the place and everyone was green!
“The other problem was I only took four sandwiches and an apple. The apple was used to clean my teeth as nobody had any toothbrushes never mind any toothpaste!
“We were then stood on the platform in Ostend in Belgium feeling very rough after the overnight crossing and one of the lads was shouting ‘Don’t worry, lads, these trains on the continent are well better than ours and they are great!’
“The next thing we hear this chugging sound of an old engine pulling into the platform with these battered carriages and one of the lads said it looks like something out of The Railway Children!
“It was horrendous. There was a small buffet which was more like a little tuck shop and that ran out in less than an hour, and we still had to travel through Belgium, Germany and Switzerland before reaching Rome!
“In our carriage all of the windows were jammed and wouldn’t close. I remember playing cards and the whole pack was blowing all over the place and into the other coaches.
“You literally can’t describe how bad the toilets were as well. They were in a terrible state and it looked like someone had poured three bags of King Edwards down the pan!
“It was absolute chaos and there was no water in any of the sinks so you couldn’t wash your hands. Jegsy had this big bottle of orange squash and he still had a little bit of it left, so he was using that to wash his hands and face with!”
After hearing this tale of what sounds like a living nightmare, you begin to imagine a picture of what makes Liverpool supporters so unique and why this golden ticket for Rome just had to be grasped, no matter what the cost.
Despite a serious lack of sleep, and dehydration, Kirby insists it was all worth it.
He said: “I remember seeing the Swiss Alps for the first time on the Tuesday evening and I had only ever seen pictures of them before in books and it was stunning passing through them with all of our Liverpool flags hanging out of the carriages. I just wish I had taken some pictures at the time because that was some sight.
“When we eventually got to Italy we were warned to be very wary of pickpockets and that happened exactly to one of the lads, who got done by an Italian dipper. The policeman emptied his pockets and it was full of giros and over 200 sick notes!
“The whole day of the game was just fantastic and it was full of Scousers. Don’t forget you could go in the Trevi Fountain and after three days without a wash we were all jumping in it!
“The sight that greeted us in Rome was just like a panoramic view of Liverpool flags, with the famous Joey Jones ‘Frogs Legs’ one right in the middle of it.”
Another amusing tale from the day of the final took place in a local cafe in the centre of Rome, with Kirby’s recollections of a quite extraordinary conversation with a local waiter resembling a scene only previously seen on television screens in the classic comedy Fawlty Towers.
He said: “My mate Jimmy ordered spaghetti and when it arrived on our plate of course it was white and not the yellow colour we were used to back in Liverpool.
“Jimmy says to the waiter: ‘What’s this? It isn’t cooked! Have you got any Heinz lad!’ This waiter is standing there shouting ‘Heinz, who is that?’
“There was like a naivety about it because, as I said, nobody had been outside of Liverpool on a holiday before.
“It’s incredible to look back 40 years ago now and remember this was documented at the time as the biggest mass exodus of people from Great Britain since the D-Day landings! There were 26,000 Liverpool supporters in Rome, quite incredible if you think about it.”
Kirby believes words can’t do justice to what the importance of the triumph meant for Liverpool FC and its fan base.
“To see the lads win the European Cup for the first time, you can’t put into words just what that meant. It was just a stunning adventure,” he added.
“I remember Jimmy Case, who played in the game and his brothers travelled with us on the special trains, telling me: “We knew we had to win the game, we couldn’t let those supporters down.
“I remember Emlyn Hughes bringing the European Cup over to us during the celebrations and he had this big beaming famous smile on his face. There were old fellas next to me crying and that just shows you what it meant.
“One guy said to me ‘I remember watching us 20 years ago in the Second Division and now we are the best team in the world.’
“After the game we had to go straight back to the train station and do that journey all over again, sitting in the same carriage, they must have got Dyno-Rod in to clean the toilets, but we didn’t care, we were the undisputed kings of Europe!”