Alan Kennedy on surviving nightmare Liverpool debut to become 1981 European Cup hero


As we reach day three of our European Cup finals anniversary week, we find Liverpool on the verge of greatness and Alan Kennedy on the edge of legendary status.

Bob Paisley’s side faced down Real Madrid in Paris on May 27, 1981 to claim their third crown in five seasons, making Paisley the first manager to secure a hat-trick of European Cups, even if No.3 came courtesy of an unlikely goalscorer.

Alan Kennedy leans forward, squinting slightly at the tiny camera in his phone. “I didn’t actually want the ball. I was making a run to create space.”

Zoom is new to him, but the frown lines quickly disappear around his eyes. He has pictured what happens next. The run did create space. For him. In the Real Madrid penalty area. In the 1981 European Cup final. With the scores level. Eight minutes from time.

He is an unlikely hero. He admits cheerfully that he often doubted himself despite a career full of medals, the move to Liverpool opening questions in his own mind, which he hilariously sums up in a story about his debut at Anfield.
Liverpool's goalscorer Alan Kennedy celebrates with the European Cup (Image: EMPICS Sport)

“It didn’t go well. The pressure was a little bit too much for me. On the touchline, I could see (the coaches) Ronnie Moran and Joe Fagan saying, ‘what had we bought here’.

“At half time, Bob Paisley the manager who bought me, came in the dressing room, I was sitting there with my head in my hands, and Bob came over, and said, ‘Alan, I think they shot the wrong Kennedy’!

“Sometimes I didn’t always have the confidence in my own ability.”

It is a strange thing to hear from a man who has won not one, but two European Cup finals. And by winning, that means scoring the goal which delivered the trophy. Back to the first, in ’81.

Madrid were the kings of the European Cup, winning the first five. But they hadn’t been back to the final since their sixth triumph in 1966, and by 1981, came into the final against a dominant Liverpool side fearful and defensive.
Kennedy (R) scores the only goal during the European Cup Final in Paris against Real Madrid (Image: PA)

It made for a shocking showpiece, brutal and unrelenting, with few chances. Then that moment of destiny. Ray Kennedy takes a throw in on the left, near the corner flag. To his darting namesake, Alan.

“I burst forward, lost my marker, the ball bounced, hit my chest and the defender in front made a wild swing missing everything, including me,” he says, a grin emerging.

“Suddenly it has all opened up. I’m in space in the box, sweat is running down my face. Should I cross to David Johnson in the far post area. Or I could have a go?”

Inevitably, Kennedy is asked about this moment frequently. This time, he is fielding questions from supporters in a live Facebook link with Hotel Tia on Anfield Road, an event to help raise funds for Fans Supporting Foodbanks, as they look to help struggling families in Liverpool.

In the past, he has talked about the keeper moving, spotting space at the near post. But all that, he concedes, is fanciful. “It was an instinctive moment. It just happened without really thinking about it.
(L-R) Graeme Souness, Kenny Dalglish and Alan Hansen celebrate the memorable triumph (Image: Hulton Archive)

“I’m not sure what I did if I’m honest, but it flew in. And that was probably the greatest moment - could anything else happen in my life that would take that away?”

It almost didn’t happen. He’d broken his wrist in the semi final, against Bayern Munich, and hadn’t played since. “Bob wasn’t going to pick me, I wasn’t in the team. But he took the risk in the end.” Thank goodness.

It took away his doubts. “I had been unsure whether I was good enough. But they were such a great group. Terry McDermott had been a team-mate at Newcastle, and he let me into the secret of Liverpool - have a bevvy with the lads as often as you can!”

McDermott is happy to return the compliment and it serves as the final word. “Alan was underrated. He scored two goals to win European Cups. He probably didn’t get the credit he deserved at the time. Now…he never shuts up about them!”
Manager Bob Paisley celebrates after the game (Image: Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images)

1981: The lowdown

Liverpool 1 Real Madrid 0

Parc des Princes, Paris

May 27, 1981. KO: 7.15pm

Liverpool (4-4-2): Clemence; Neal, Thompson, Hansen, A Kennedy; Lee, McDermott, Souness, R Kennedy; Dalglish, Johnson.

Manager Bob Paisley.

Real Madrid (4-3-3): Rodriguez; Garcia Cortes, Garcia Navajas, Sabido, Camacho; Del Bosque, Angel, Stielike; Juanita, Santillana, Cunningham.

Manager Vujadin Boskov.

Scorer: A Kennedy 82.

Attendance: 48,360.

Referee: Karoly Palotai (Hungary).


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