Going to Wembley is always exciting. The prospect of beating Liverpool and watching Billy Bonds raise the League Cup would make for more great Wembley memories! I already had my programs and tickets from both the Fulham and Arsenal F. A. Cup Finals; this would be my first League Cup Final.
The memory of Jimmy Neighbour scoring against Coventry in the 2nd leg of the semifinal was still fresh in my memory, and I was wondering who would be the hero today.
I love walking along Wembley Way. I always found the atmosphere electric, fans walking together, both sets dreaming of cup glory.
This time around the air was punctuated with those distinctive ‘scouse’ accents, and what I would describe as a sea of red, moving towards the stadium.
However, once inside, I was amongst the familiar claret and blue, and the countdown to the game began!
I remember it was a beautiful day, and I think both teams were wearing short sleeved shirts, and shorts that were shorter than most boxer shorts today!
Ah the singing.
It’s always the singing.
That moment when your voice is one of thousands, belting out “Bubbles”, is there anything like it?
The game itself.
I remember Liverpool being the more creative, yet the West Ham defense and Phil Parked, held the potent Reds attack at bay.
After 90 minutes, the score was 0-0. So there would be 30 minutes extra time.
As the game drifted towards a 0-0 tie and a replay ‘it’ happened.
Another Liverpool attack, saw Billy Bonds win the ball from behind, but referee Clive Thomas, blew his whistle for a foul. The initial shot was blocked and cleared, but then came the subsequent cross, that was headed away by Alvin Martin, who in the process knocked Sammy Lee to the ground. The ball looped to the top of the box. If I close my eyes, I can see the shot.
An absolute bullet from Alan Kennedy from the top of the box, almost hit Sammy Lee, who was still down and all ALONE, around the penalty spot, and he was facing Parkes. Had Sammy Lee lifted his head the ball would have taken his head into the net too.
The ball didn’t hit Sammy Lee; it just flew into the net, past Phil Parkes.
The far end of Wembley stadium exploded; a collective roar from the Liverpool supporters, while at our end nothing but silence. We were waiting for Clive Thomas to signal offside, give the free kick, and then “we” could mock those noisy scousers!
The referee didn’t do that. He took a few steps towards his Linesman, nodded and pointed to the center circle, indicating a goal. Pandemonium broke out.
West Ham players converged on both Thomas and his Linesman, a tumultuous roar of protestations from the West Ham fans, swept across the stadium.
I just remember screaming, probably nonsensical rubbish, but it was filled with passion!
Finally the game restarted. Two minutes left in extra-time. There was an air of disbelief amongst the West Ham fans, who felt that the team had been screwed, because we were West Ham and ‘they’ were the mighty, mighty Liverpool.
However, West Ham suddenly came alive and Liverpool, hacked down Devonshire at the edge of their box.
Ray Stewart stepped up and hit a bullet that found its way through the Liverpool wall, but was brilliantly saved by Clemence. From the corner Alvin Martin, majestically rose above everyone, and his header was going in, but an arm in a red shirt, tipped it onto the bar.
PENALTY…PENALTY…PENALTY…Ray Stewart equalized and the entire ground seemed to shake from the roar! West Ham had forced a replay!
Lady Luck deserted us in the replay and Liverpool added the League Cup to its trophy haul in the 80’s.
The non offside call against Sammy Lee always bothered me, but as with most bad memories, I pushed it deep inside me.
Fast Forward to 2000; living in New York City and coaching for Silver lake Soccer Club in the famed Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League.
To enhance my coaching knowledge, I enrolled in a 2-day coaching seminar at Connecticut College; the lead instructor was Howard Wilkinson’s assistant coach at Leeds.
The second instructor was Sammy Lee!
Yes, the man I blamed for West Ham not winning the League Cup Final back in 1981.
The Friday night before the seminar started, there was a ‘Meet and Greet’. I had been eyeing Sammy all night, and eventually along with my brother, we were pulled into a question and answer session, that Sammy was directing.
I was the last person to ask him a question. He looked at me and I said, ‘Sammy can you explain why you weren’t offside in the 1981 League Cup Final’?
He laughed and replied, ‘I knew you were going to ask me that question, and let me ask you, why was the goal Liverpool scored in the first half, ruled offside’?
I never said this to him, but I had forgotten all about Liverpool scoring in the first half, I have absolutely no recollection of it. We had a great discussion about the game and the subsequent replay, but neither of us could agree on his role in the Liverpool goal.
He was a very colorful character, and had a story or anecdote for every situation that happened during the next two days, whether it was in the classroom or out on the field.
I will never change my mind about Sammy Lee being offside back in 1981, but I do feel somewhat satiated that almost 20 years later, I was able to chat about it with the man himself!