I was interviewed recently by the BBC about the European Cup final in 1975. They had a film of the entire game and it was watched back by Keith Hackett, the ex-Premier League referee.
Keith took a look at the two key incidents – the goal I scored which was ruled offside and the trip by Franz Beckenbauer on Allan Clarke – and he had absolutely no doubt in either case. My goal was valid and Beckenbauer’s tackle was a definite penalty. Clear as day.
It felt reassuring to hear him say that because sometimes when I think back to that night I wonder if I’m overstating things by saying we were cheated out of the biggest trophy in club football. But the occasion was sickening and even now, from the point of view of the players involved, it’s a bitter experience to relive.
Don Revie had moved on by then, replaced as manager by Jimmy Armfield, but the squad was his and the one thing Don wanted was for us to be crowned champions of Europe. We’d won the Fairs Cup in 1968 but the European Cup was the one. To be robbed in the way we were robbed by Bayern Munich was incredibly hard to take.
Jack Charlton and Terry Cooper had moved on by then and rumour had it that Johnny Giles and Billy Bremner would be leaving the club before long. As a team at the end of a great era, Paris was our last chance to claim the European Cup and to put the icing on the cake. On the night it didn’t cross my mind that the opportunity might not come again but, unsurprisingly, it never did.
Cheating is the only way to describe what went on at the Parc de Princes 40 years ago. Sorry if that offends anyone but it’s how we felt. When it comes to apportioning blame, you’ve got to point the finger at the referee first and foremost. Twice in two years we fell foul of diabolical officiating in Europe. In those days, referees for European finals were usually appointed from the country where the final was taking place. So in Paris we got a Frenchman by the name Michel Kitabdjian. Quite often these guys were about to retire so appointing them was a bit of a ‘thank you for your service’. They were basically amateurs with regular day jobs.
As we found out in Salonika in 1973, some of them weren’t up to the job. They weren’t very good at handling the pressure or of dealing with some of the biggest players in Europe. Let’s not beat around the bush: Beckenbauer had a massive influence that evening and not just because of the foul he got away with.
Great player though he was, Beckenbauer was well known for getting in the ears of referees. It’s what he did. I’d seen it when he played for Bayern and I’d seen it when he played for Germany. I’m still convinced that he was responsible for persuading the officials to disallow my goal in the second half.
I can picture the finish clearly – me catching the ball perfectly on the volley and smashing it into the corner of the net. The first thing I did was look at the referee because I wanted to make sure he’d awarded it. He pointed clearly to the centre circle. There was no reaction from the linesman, or nothing I noticed, and when I looked at Bayern’s goalkeeper, Sepp Maier, I could tell that he thought it was a goal. Then Beckenbauer started having words with Kitabdjian and to our total disbelief, the goal was ruled out. It was the final straw for us in a lot of ways. We were an hour into the game and it felt like one kick in the teeth too many. They scored on the break with about 20 minutes to go and everything fell apart after that. They claimed a second and the final was over. Our players were shattered emotionally.
I’m well aware of how messy it got in the stadium after that and history shows that the trouble on the terraces led to a European ban for the club. All I’d say is that I don’t believe any of the violence involving our fans was premeditated. It was borne out of utter frustration about the fact that we were getting stiffed – just as we had been during the Cup Winners’ Cup final in Greece two years earlier.
That’s not simply my opinion. No so long ago I watched a programme about the Bayern Munich team of the 1970s – a great team, it has to be said. Uli Hoeness, their forward, was interviewed and asked about 1975. In his own words, he said that the result was a travesty. The better team lost and they lost for no other reason than the performance of the referee. I can’t disagree.
Does it still rankle with me? Of course it does. We wanted that trophy and we wanted it on our record. We wanted it for the club and the city, like Don would have wanted.
Lifting the European Cup should have been the pinnacle of an incredible era. Instead it was the disappointment of our lives.