This story has been reproduced from today's media. It does not necessarily represent the position of Liverpool Football Club.
They won it five times, you know. Now that Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United have overhauled most of the other Liverpool claims to fame, the Reds' record in the European Cup seems likely to be the club's proudest boast for some time to come.
It is worth remembering too that but for the tragic events surrounding the 1985 final in Brussels, and the subsequent ban on English clubs in Europe post-Heysel, the dominance Liverpool had achieved by the mid-eighties could easily have seen the trophy return to Merseyside on one or two more occasions. Uninterrupted by events away from the pitch, Liverpool might be up there with Madrid and Milan by now.
There is no doubt which was the most dramatic of the five finals. Liverpool's incredible comeback against Milan in Istanbul in 2005 was arguably the greatest feat of all, since the old competition for title winners had now been reorganised into the Champions League, and in the knockout stages alone Rafa Benítez's team had to account for teams of the stature of Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus and Chelsea.
Now the biggest teams in Europe compete against each other every year the going is tougher than it used to be, though it could be said that winning the English title was the toughest test of all. Liverpool would not even have been in the 2005 tournament under the old rules, since Arsenal were the 2004 English champions.
Either way, the miracle of Istanbul stands apart from the years when Liverpool first began to use Europe as a playground. Not only did they win the European Cup four times between 1977 and 1984, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa joined in on the act, so that in the eight-year period immediately prior to the Heysel ban, only Hamburg in 1983 managed to interrupt a golden period for English football.
Liverpool led the way in every sense, becoming only the second English side to lift the European Cup in Rome in 1977, repeating the achievement at Wembley a year later, and reaching the final on three more occasions in the next seven years.
The first success was probably the sweetest, and Liverpool players as well as supporters still have imperishable memories of the army of fans that accompanied the team to Rome and vastly outnumbered the Borussia Mönchengladbach support inside the Olympic stadium. Intoxicated by the part they played in the uniquely memorable third round second leg against St Etienne at Anfield, a pulsating 3-1 victory sealed by a vital late goal from "supersub" David Fairclough, Liverpool supporters had got behind their side's European adventure in a manner rarely seen either before or since.
Mönchengladbach were a decent team in 1977, studded with prominent German internationals such as Berti Vogts, Rainer Bonhof, Uli Stielike and Jupp Heynckes, but they seemed unsettled by either the occasion or Liverpool's fervent support, and though Allan Simonsen cancelled out Terry McDermott's opening goal just after the interval, they had no comeback once one of Anfield's best-loved characters met a Steve Heighway corner with an unanswerable header.
Fans in the stadium went nuts, television viewers back home, and in those days that meant practically the whole country, savoured one of Barry Davies's finest commentary moments. "It's Tommy Smith! Oh what an end to a career."
Liverpool played such a perfect game in 1977 that Bob Paisley never had to turn to Fairclough, never even made a substitution. It was that kind of day. It is debatable whether that was their greatest team, however, as when Liverpool returned the following season to beat FC Bruges at Wembley after defeating Mönchengladbach again in the semi-final, they had made the notable additions of Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Alan Hansen and Phil Thompson to the side.
People thought that Liverpool would never be the same again once Kevin Keegan packed his bags for a new challenge at Hamburg, and they weren't. They were considerably better. While Paisley acted decisively in spending the Keegan money to bring in Dalglish, who scored the neatest of goals to secure victory at Wembley, around that keynote signing a whole new side was taking shape.
Now with two Kennedys - Alan as well as Ray - the 1978-79 edition was not quite good enough to get past Nottingham Forest when the two English hopes were paired together in the first round, but once Liverpool had returned to the top of the domestic league, they returned to the European Cup final in 1981 with a new striker just beginning to make a name for himself.
Ian Rush did not play in Paris against Real Madrid, where a single goal from the unlikely source of Alan Kennedy was enough to secure a third triumph, though he was a fixture in the side by the time Liverpool went back to Rome in 1984.
Never mind the fact that Liverpool beat Roma on penalties, with Bruce Grobbelaar claiming his first winner's medal by virtue of his famous spaghetti legs routine, consider the team Joe Fagan was able to put out that day. Grobbelaar; Phil Neal, Mark Lawrensen, Hansen, Alan Kennedy; Sammy Lee, Craig Johnston, Souness, Ronnie Whelan; Dalglish, Rush. Paisley had stepped down, Fagan promoted from within in the usual Anfield tradition, and once Roma had been beaten on their own ground by what many regard as the best of Liverpool's European Cup sides it appeared the club was set fair for a few more trophies if not another decade of glory.
Nothing happened in the run to the 1985 final to contradict that impression, with Liverpool coping with the loss of Souness to Italian football just as comfortably as they had survived losing Keegan to Germany, though if anyone at the club thought European Cup finals would keep coming along, and possibly getting easier with more experience, they were wrong.
Heysel came as a terrible shock, to Fagan, to Liverpool, and to the English game. Everton were among the first to feel the impact, winning the league in 1985 and 1987 but having nowhere to go as champions, and though many a Blue still feels bitter at missing out, it is possible that the Dalglish teams of the late 1980s, now boasting John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, Jan Molby and John Aldridge, would have done at least as well in Europe as their illustrious predecessors.
For quite a while in the 1970s and 1980s, Liverpool appeared to have found the secret of success, a bit like Barcelona two or three years ago. Just keep the game simple, pass and move, and always release the ball to a team-mate in a better position. Promote managers and coaches from inside the club so that they have grown up with the philosophy, and only buy players who will fit the way of playing so that the faces change, but the system remains the same. What could possibly go wrong?
On the pitch, almost nothing. Unfortunately the terraces of Heysel and Hillsborough were about to tell another story. English football, or at least British football, the game we used to play before the Premier League became an expensive contest to import talent from abroad, would never be quite the same again. Quite literally, because Hillsborough ushered in all-seater stadiums, price hikes and the spendthrift Premier League, and suddenly clubs began to think less in terms of conquering Europe than assimilating it.
In Rome in 1977, Liverpool's squad of 16 players comprised 14 Englishmen, plus Heighway and Joey Jones. Borussia Mönchengladbach named 15 West Germans, plus the Dane, Simonsen.
In Rome in 1984, Liverpool selected six English players, five Scots, three Irishmen, one Welshman and Grobbelaar, against Roma's squad of 14 Italians and two Brazilians. The breakdown for Manchester United squad in the 2009 final in Rome was as follows: England 5, Brazil 2, Portugal 2, Argentina 1, Bulgaria 1, France 1, Holland 1, Ireland 1, Poland 1, Serbia 1, South Korea 1, Wales 1.
Times change, but what a time Liverpool had. As well as being an inspiration to the world, they were the best of British, and though that title is unofficial, they are unlikely to be surrendering it in the foreseeable future. It is probably theirs to keep.