There have been many great emotional European nights at Anfield. Even with the rise of the modern game Anfield stands apart from other grounds with it’s unrivalled passion. It’s not only an opinion shared by Liverpool supporters, it still remains a mythical citadel of football to most supporters, players and managers, regardless of their era. Just watch them all line up for the photo touching the “This is Anfield” sign if you are in left in any doubt.
On 16th March 1977 Liverpool started a European Cup Quarter-Final against the excellent French Champions St. Étienne at Anfield. Trailing 0-1 from the first leg in France, Liverpool had work to do. What transpired that night was one of those mythical, magical European nights that will remain etched in the memory forever. It also carved the name of a certain David Fairclough into Liverpool history, and earned Liverpool another supporter for life.
The game kicked off in front of a capacity crowd whose emotion and passion was always going to benefit the team. Two minutes into the game Kevin Keegan tried his luck from near the corner flag, the French goalkeeper had a bit of a flap at as it passed him by to settle in the top corner. Liverpool were level, the Kop responded with a wall of noise.
The game continued flowing from end to end, with both teams going close. Ray Clemence was called on twice to make great saves and Toshack and Keegan were causing the French Champions plenty of problems, but at half-time the tie was still on a knife’s edge.
In the second half Dominique Bathenay gave Jimmy Case the slip and crashed a 30 yard swerving shot which got the better of Clemence and all of a sudden Liverpool needed two goals to progess.
Ray Kennedy blasted Liverpool back ahead in the leg, but they still were behind in the tie. At 74 minutes Bob Paisley looked to the bench to replace John Toshack with local lad David Fairclough.
Fairclough, born in the shadow of Anfield, had joined the LFC youth setup in 1972 and moved through the ranks until he made his full debut for LFC against Middlesbrough in November 1975. He was a striker full of pace and was gifted with a natural abilty to control a football. The shock of red hair made him instantly recognisable on the field. He scored his first goal for the club 3 days after his debut in a UEFA cup match against Real Sociedad in a 6-0 battering of the Spaniards at Anfield.
In the league that season Fairclough managed 7 goals from 14 appearances, 9 of which were from the bench. This was to result in Fairclough earning the title “Supersub”. Whilst it seemed a fitting title, often his impact off the bench was invaluable, the man himself was not so keen on the tag, hence it’s omission from the title. These goals were to help Liverpool win the title and moved Fairclough up the pecking order of striking options as the direct challenger to Keegan and Toshack.
Injuries to Toshack did allow Fariclough to start for the first team, but Toshack always seemed to displace him on his return to full fitness. Fairclough’s opportunities in the first XI were to remain limited. Nothing to do with lack of ability or commitment, rather he found himself fighting for his place with two men who already had legendary status at LFC in Toshack and Keegan. While it was the perfect scenario for Bob Paisley to have such a resource primed and ready to spring from the bench, Fairclough would later speak of his disappointment with Paisley and how he felt this treatment was detrimental to him reaching his full potential.
To better understand Fairclough’s comments one need to look no further than the St. Etienne game and the events that unfolded when he arrived on the pitch on 74 minutes. Ten minutes later with 6 minutes remaining, he ran onto a looping long ball from Ray Kennedy’s boot, charged past the St. Etienne defence and dispatched a right foot shot with power into the net. Fairclough fell to the ground under the weight of his team mates piling on top of him, Anfield went wild. And the name David Fairclough had its own very special place in our history.
He went on to play both games against Everton in the FA Cup Semi-Final where he felt he had finally arrived and was going to get a regular starting place. Paisley sadly had other ideas. After promising Fairclough a starting spot in the FA Cup Final, he ended up not even getting on the subs bench. Paisley tried to console him by telling him he was saving him for the European Cup Final in Rome. Ironically he was recalled to the team for that game, but only as a substitute, but never made it onto the pitch.
Whilst its easy to sympathise with the plight of Fairclough, one needs to consider the embarrassment of riches Liverpool had on the field in those days. In the current squad a player of the calibre of Fairclough would have been an instant starter, but Bob Paisley did what he believed was best at that time, and the results speak for themselves. Liverpool were magnificent in the Final against Borussia Mönchengladbach, and the services of Fairclough were sadly not needed as the Reds powered their way to their first European Cup.
The following season was a much better time for Fairclough. Kevin Keegan departed for SV Hamburg being replaced by Kenny Dalglish and Fairclough finally found himself ahead of Toshack in the pecking order. The 77-78 season saw Fairclough make 34 appearances for the reds, scoring 15 goals in the process. He also got to play in the European Cup Final where Liverpool defended their European crown against Club Brugge, making up for the disappointment of the previous year.
Paisley would once again disappoint Fairclough in the 78-79 season. Paisley preferred Steve Heighway for the number 9 shirt, but had expected Heighway to tire after the start of the season and made a promise to Fairclough that the 9 shirt was his when the inevitable happened. In this period of our history one thing was inevitable, we mostly won games of football, and that season was no exception. Fairclough found himself on the bench again as Heighway’s good form continued. It was December before Fairclough would get to start a game. Injury also played its part keeping Fairclough on the sidelines and he was out for the run in to another League title.
The 79-80 season saw Fairclough score 13 goals in 26 appearances, 14 of which were from the bench. Injuries had started to reduce the number of opportunities to play. This was to become a common feature in the following seasons and his last opportunity for a permanent place in the team was in 1980 where he scored 7 goals in 7 consecutive games until he was hit by injury again.
During this time – when Fairclough was struggling with fitness – Liverpool signed yet another striker, Ian Rush, who along with Dalglish, would rise to legendary status and yet again overshadow Fairclough’s first team aspirations. In an attempt to get himself ready for the 82-83 season Fairclough took a summer long loan to Toronto Blizzard. On his return he found himself playing for the reserve team at Liverpool. He scored 20 goals, and when he was finally recalled to action in April of 1983 he scored 3 goals in what was to be his last 4 appearances for the Reds.
Fairclough left Liverpool in the summer of 1983 and jumped from club to club never truly finding a club where he settled. His legacy in Liverpool lives on. There are not many players in today’s world can boast the haul of winners medals that Fairclough amassed at Liverpool: 6 League titles, 3 League Cups, 5 Charity Shields, 3 European Cups, 1 UEFA Cup and a UEFA Super Cup.
David Fairclough still remains close to the hearts of Liverpool fans and history has been kinder to him as fans polls ironically give him a higher rating than the 2 players, John Toshack and David Johnson, who kept him out of the starting eleven. But one thing is for sure, he is and will forever remain, a Liverpool legend