Grand National Day 1976. Liverpool v Everton. With minutes remaining, the carrot-topped Fairclough went on a run and scored the goal that started Liverpool's domestic and European domination...
Whenever we ended up drunk at some family get together and the subject of football inevitably came up, my uncle Ronnie always loved to remind me, and especially whoever was with us, that I first saw the scorer of probably Liverpool’s most important ever goal plying his eventual trade as a young lad and scoring four goals in one game for his team on a council playing field in Cantril Farm.
For a brief period of time that will forever be recalled by hearing Slade’s ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’, Ronnie, who is sadly no longer with us, would take me and my younger brother along to watch whichever local school, pub or works teams were slugging it out on the vast playing field close to his home on the huge new housing estate on the outskirts of Liverpool. This happy event, usually made all the more merrier by a piping-hot sausage roll from Sayer’s on the way, could only occur whenever my mum visited her sister, Ron’s wife, my aunty Margaret, way out on ‘Cannibal’ Farm on a Saturday morning to do their weekly shop and to have their hair done together.
A few short years later, on a famous night in March 1977, the then twenty year-old hero of our tale would score that famous goal at the Kop end against St Etienne for which he will always be fondly remembered by Reds the world over. But, it is a goal that he scored at around lunch-time on Grand National day in 1976 at the tender age of just nineteen, which has remained unsurpassed during the last 35 years as my personal favourite ever Liverpool goal. I suppose that the closest that any player in red has ever come to matching it since, in terms of quality and importance, has been Steven Gerrard, on a couple of occasions. Firstly, against Olympiakos during the successful 2004-05 Champions League campaign and again against West Ham in the last minute of the following season’s FA Cup final. But none, so far, has actually ever beaten David Fairclough’s solitary derby goal; both for importance or for the sheer staggering jaw-dropping brilliance of the goal itself.
Last minute match-winners are always enjoyable and, being from Liverpool, the biggest match of any season for me will always be the derby. Gum-chewing, purple-nosed knights of the realm, satellite television voice-over artists and subscribers to the Evil Empire in Oldham, Oslo and Osaka might argue differently; but such people know nothing. No other kind of match, apart from maybe one of those European Cup finals which goes to a penalty shoot-out, makes my palms sweat like a game against Everton.
Liverpool would dominate English football for the next fifteen years and all because of an outstanding goal scored by the young lad who I’d first seen play on a field in Cantril Farm
On April 3rd 1976 the great Bob Paisley, successor to the legendary Bill Shankly, had yet to win a single piece of silverware as Liverpool’s manager. With the Grand National taking place just a couple of miles away in Aintree that afternoon, in which Rag Trade would pip Red Rum, the Merseyside derby at Anfield had been brought forward to an11am start. At kick-off Liverpool were fourth in the table with just six games of their season remaining. Still in the days of two points for a win they were only a single point behind the reigning champions, Derby County, and the newly promoted Manchester United and two behind the leaders, QPR, but with a game in hand. The previous four derbies had all been tedious goalless draws and to me as a ten year old back then it seemed an absolute age since Chris Waddle’s older cousin, Alan, had scored the previous derby goal at Goodison Park all the way back in December 1973. This game, officiated by future Everton nemesis, Clive Thomas, was living up to its reputation as a boring stalemate when, with just three minutes to play, Everton, attacking The Kop, got a throw-in on the halfway line.
Martin Dobson, Everton’s midfield play-maker, picked up the ball and threw it in the direction of Everton’s substitute centre-half, Roger Kenyon, standing five yards away. Kenyon’s first and only touch wasn’t good and his far too casual return pass to Dobson turned out to be the last time that any Everton player would touch the ball again until their goalkeeper picked it out of the back of the net. David Fairclough, who had come on as a 65th minute substitute for John Toshack, pounced upon Kenyon’s weak touch and shrugged off Dobson’s attempt to reclaim possession, an admirable piece of skill and determination in itself, but the scrawny carrot-topped lad from Cantril Farm wasn’t finished. He turned his body purposefully towards the Everton goal, glanced around briefly, and, seeing that he had no immediate support, set off on the kind of run that can probably only come from the naivety, confidence, optimism and electrifying energy of being just 19 years and 89 days old. Switching the ball from his right foot to his left he stepped almost nonchalantly inside the ageing Kenyon, pursued closely by Dobson and John Connolly. But Fairclough’s turn of speed took him briefly away from both men. Everton’s left back, future Southampton manager, David Jones, sensing danger, broke ranks and stepped forward to deal with the youngster. But with another deft and timely touch Fairclough also wrong-footed Jones and went outside him into Everton’s penalty area. Connolly was able to make up enough ground to challenge him by now, but Fairclough stayed on his feet and rode the Scot’s strong tackle, which took him deeper into Everton’s penalty area. With what seemed like half of Everton’s entire squad about to snap him in two, Fairclough’s speed, momentum and one final stretch of his gangly right leg enabled him beat the final desperate lunge of Jones to the ball and a shot was unleashed that The Blues’ Welsh international keeper, Dai Davies, clearly wasn’t expecting. Davies probably thought, as most would, that the young substitute would try and pull the ball back for Liverpool’s star striker, Kevin Keegan, who was lurking on the edge of Davies’s six yard box. But Fairclough’s snap shot managed to squeeze past Davies at his unguarded near post and into the empty net. Pandemonium ensued and Anfield visibly shook. The game and both points were won and the old foe defeated at the death.
Fairclough’s goal gave Liverpool the points to put them top, a position that they would consolidate over the next five games and beat Terry Venables’ QPR to the title by just one single point. They thereby qualified for the following season’s European Cup competition, which they would famously go on to win in Rome after the aforementioned encounter with favourites, St Etienne, in the quarter finals and then retain at Wembley a year later. Bob Paisley would go on to win a further five league titles in the next seven seasons and an unsurpassed three European Cups. Liverpool would dominate English football for the next fifteen years and all because of an outstanding goal scored by the young lad who I’d first seen play on a field in Cantril Farm, thanks to my uncle Ronnie.
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