Brian Reade on Liverpool's love affair with Europe

As part of our celebrations of Liverpool FC's 125th anniversary year, we have asked several esteemed writers to offer their view on what exactly makes the club unique.

The latest piece comes from Mirror columnist and lifelong Reds supporter Brian Reade, who reflects on the club's special relationship with European competition.

The love affair between Liverpool and Europe dates back to a special time in Scouse hearts.

In the first week of May 1965, the city was at the centre of popular culture: The Beatles were at number one, Huyton MP Harold Wilson was in Number 10, Z-Cars was Britain's top TV show, Ken Dodd and Jimmy Tarbuck its highest-paid comedians, and Merseybeat poets Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten were the toast of the literary world. It's why American counter-cultural icon Allen Ginsberg declared: "At the present moment Liverpool is the centre of consciousness of the human universe." 

And he hadn't been at Wembley on the Saturday to witness the invention of mass terrace singing in the national stadium as Liverpool won the FA Cup, or travelled to Anfield on the Wednesday to see Inter Milan, the most formidable defensive side in the world, frozen by the passion of the Kop and floored by the power of Bill Shankly's finest. 

A European Cup not only sits permanently in the Anfield trophy cabinet as a result of winning it five times, it flows through the arteries of the club and its people. Those lung-bursting nights at Anfield, those ultimate victories in London, Paris, Rome (twice) and Istanbul, not to mention the three UEFA Cup triumphs, spawned the global legend of Liverpool FC. 

But its impact goes deeper. By recognising the city as a centre of excellence in mankind's most popular pursuit, European football has kept a swagger in the Scouse soul. Those crumpled old flags that tell of sunny days and raucous nights, hellish train journeys and week-long benders, have also acted as comfort blankets in troubled economic and emotional times. 

It wasn't an easy ride. When Liverpool travelled back to Inter Milan after the 3-1 Anfield win they received a crash course in the dark arts which stopped them becoming the first British side to reach a European Cup final.

The following year saw defeat at the hands of Borussia Dortmund by a freakish goal on a rain-sodden night in Glasgow in the Cup Winners' Cup final. And in '67 Johan Cruyff's Ajax handed out a lecture in modern football, battering the Reds 5-1 on a grim European Cup night in Amsterdam. 

When Red Star Belgrade's possession game put Liverpool out of the European Cup in 1973, it was to be Bill Shankly's final European night. Happily, although he'd never managed to emulate his great pal Jock Stein by lifting the top club trophy, he had led the Reds to UEFA Cup glory months earlier. 

Happier still, waiting in the wings was a wily old sage who would lift Ol' Big Ears three times. Bob Paisley recognised the need for 11 players all tuned in to a subtle, slow-slow-quick approach that beat the Europeans at their own game.

In his second season he'd won the UEFA Cup and in his third he delivered Anfield's greatest European night up to that point in the quarter-final against Saint-Etienne.

When David Fairclough waltzed past two defenders and delivered the fatal blow, 26,000 Kopites were sucked towards the goal by a giant Hoover of emotion. Then on to Rome, when Kopites outnumbered Borussia Moenchengladbach fans by the same ratio as the scoreline: 3-1. 

In that summer of '77, Britain threw street parties to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee, but the red half of Merseyside declared independence and raised toasts to the kings of Europe, who were on a roll.

A sublime chip from Kenny Dalglish was enough to see off Bruges the following year at Anfield South (Wembley). And in 1981 Real Madrid were put in their place in Paris thanks to a trademark smash from Alan Kennedy, allowing the first Scouse captain, Phil Thompson, to raise the cup above his head before leaving it in the boot of his Cortina outside his Kirkby local.

By now the club possessed the nous and confidence to achieve something no other side had done before, or probably will again: beat Italians in a European Cup final on their own ground. In 1984 only the most professional, most feared team in Europe could have gone to Rome's Olympic Stadium and walked out with the cup. That team was Liverpool.

The following year in a dilapidated tip called Heysel Stadium 39 lives were lost and Liverpool's 20-year journey through Europe ended in tragedy, grief and recrimination. The club was banned from UEFA competitions for six seasons, but really it was a generation. By the time they were allowed back in, European football had moved on and Liverpool had been left behind.

But eventually Anfield started to witness those great European nights again. The club's first non-British manager, Gerard Houllier, led them to UEFA Cup glory in 2001 and back into the European Cup, rising from his sickbed to inspire a tidal wave of emotion which pushed Liverpool towards a memorable 2-0 win over Roma. 

Kopites, realising what they had been missing, wanted those nights and those trips back. Fortunately, Rafa Benitez, a man with a top European pedigree, tuned straight into the Anfield mindset and made them dream again. 

By 2005, a combination of Benitez, a new generation of Anfield iron in Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard, and a reawakened belief on the Kop, produced one of the most astonishing triumphs in European Cup history.

Olympiakos, Bayer Leverkusen and Juventus were brushed aside. The semi-final with Chelsea was played at a decibel level never before or since heard at Anfield and Liverpool's character and will blew them over the line to Istanbul, where players and supporters dug deep, remembered their lineage and took the European Cup home for good. 

Despite Liverpool making two finals since, there's been no more European silver to put in the trophy cabinet. But plenty of memories of epic nights in the footballing cathedrals of Madrid, Barcelona, Milan and Anfield to store in the memory bank.

On February 14 it's Porto. Flights booked. Excitement building. Thrills guaranteed. Why not?

Where else would any true Liverpudlian wish to be on the most romantic of nights than at the heart of their greatest love affair? 

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