As Liverpool prepare to meet Ajax, Liverpoolfc.tv looks back at a famous meeting between the two clubs in 1966/67 European Cup...
In December 1966 Liverpool Football Club suffered their most comprehensive thrashing in European competition against Ajax of Amsterdam. As the current Reds squad prepare to face Ajax again, Liverpoolfc.tv recalls the famous tie that sent shockwaves through the red half of Merseyside...
December 7, 1966
European Cup 2nd round, 1st leg
Olympic Stadium, Amsterdam
Ajax: Bals, Suurbier, Pronk, Soetckouw, Van Duivenbode, Groot, Muller, Swart, Cruyff, Nuninga, De Wolf.
Bill Shankly harboured realistic aspirations that his Liverpool side could become the first British club to win the European Cup in 1966/67.
In their previous two seasons of continental competition Liverpool had acquitted themselves admirably - reaching the last four of the European Cup in 1965 and the final of the Cup Winners Cup in 1966 - and were nurturing a reputation as one of the fastest emerging sides in Europe.
The majority of players in his squad were at their peak and confidence was high that Liverpool could succeed where so many others had failed.
After disposing of Romanian outfit Petrolul Ploesti in round one the Reds were drawn against the Dutch champions Ajax, managed by the legendary Dutch coach Rinus Michels and containing the precocious talents of a 19-year-old Johan Cruyff.
However, they were not considered a real threat to Liverpool's European Cup ambitions. They had created little impact in continental competition previously and Shankly's men were overwhelming favourites to progress.
But as Roger Hunt was to recall in later years: "Little was known about Ajax in those days, but they were a far better side than we imagined. Cruyff was absolutely marvellous, obviously a world star in the making."
Interest in the tie was enormousand the first legin Holland was switched from Ajax's home ground to the much larger Amsterdam Olympic Stadium that held 65,000.
On the day of the game Amsterdam was shrouded in thick fog and at one stage it was touch and go whether or not the match would actually take place. Shankly was keen for a postponement but not a 24-hour delay, which was also mentioned as an option.
Visibility inside the stadium was reportedly down to just 50-yards but following an inspection, the Italian referee declared that the game would go ahead, much to the delight of the Ajax officials.
The home side took the lead as early as the third minute through debutant De Wolf. By half time the Reds were staring their most humiliating European defeat in the face. Cruyff, not yet the world superstar he would become in the seventies but showing signs of his magic, scored a second after 17 minutes and brace from Nuninga made it 4-0 before the interval.
Conditions had deteriorated so much during the opening 45 minutes that on the half-hour mark Bill Shankly encroached onto the field of play unnoticed. "You couldn't see the game at all," he later recalled. "We were 2-0 down, so I went out on to the pitch to have a word with my players and the referee never even saw me."
Following a roasting from Shanks during the interval Liverpool came out for the second half and produced a much more spirited display. Ajax were forced to defend in numbers as the Reds went in search of a crucial away goal.
With 16 minutes left, and Liverpool committing almost everyone into attack, Ajax broke swiftly and added a fifth through Groot. In the final minute Chris Lawler provided Liverpool with a glimmer of hope when he managed to snatch a late consolation goal.
Realistically though any hopes the English champions had of lifting the coveted trophy come the end of the season had been lost in the fog of Amsterdam.
At least that was the belief of the majority. Bill Shankly thought differently and he incredulously told the press afterwards: "This tie is by no means over yet. We will win easily. We will smash in at least seven goals. This was ridiculous. Ajax played defensive football on their own ground. We never play well against defensive teams."
Even more incredulous was the fact that the Liverpool fans believed him!
Only Bill Shankly could have convinced over 50,000 Liverpudlians that was Liverpool could overturn a four-goal deficit against Ajax at Anfield.
Such were the legendary Scot's power's of motivation and persuasion, he had the entire red half of Merseyside, including his own players, believing that they were about to witness the comeback of all comebacks the night Ajax arrived in town for the second leg.
"Even with a four-goal deficit, Shanks gave us belief that we might get back in it at Anfield," remembers Roger Hunt, who took his place in a Liverpool line-up that showed only one change from the team that was crushed in Amsterdam. Gordon Milne taking the place of Bobby Graham.
Roared on by an exultant Kop, Liverpool, in an unfamiliar change strip of canary yellow shirts and black shorts, swept forward from the onset and who knows how Ajax would have coped had efforts from Geoff Strong and Peter Thompson not struck the woodwork during a pulsating opening half.
With the score goalless as the teams emerged for the second half the pre-match optimism on the packed terraces began to wane. In the 49th minute even the ever-optimistic Shankly must have conceded defeat when Cruyff increased the Dutchmen's aggregate advantage with the opening goal of the night.
Roger Hunt quickly levelled for the Reds but the brilliance of Cruyff shone brightly in the Anfield mist and he restored the visitors' lead on 71 minutes. Not to be outdone by the young Dutch maestro Hunt scored his second of the night late on in the game to preserve Liverpool's unbeaten home record in Europe but it failed to disguise the fact that over two legs they had been totally outclassed by a team that would go on to dominate the competition in the early seventies.
The general consensus among the Liverpool players who played that night and the majority of fans who witnessed the tie was that the Reds had been soundly beaten by a great side.
But Bill Shankly, who's loyalty to his players was legendary, was quick to defend his side in the face of stinging press criticism and he told the Liverpool Echo: "It annoys me to read all this criticism of Liverpool because we failed to beat the defensively minded Ajax. I can say straight out that Ajax would never be able to beat us at Anfield. They scored two goals against us because we had to come out and attack them because of their first leg lead. But I say that if we wanted to play defensively that night, Ajax would not have scored against us."
Thirty-five years on and Liverpool are still seeking revenge.