FA Cup eases Liverpool's pain
In 1989, just five weeks after the shocking, tragic events of the Hillsborough disaster that saw 96 fans lose their lives, Liverpool won the FA Cup with a 3-2 win against local rivals Everton. The cathartic nature of the success helped to heal the wounds of the disaster and manager Kenny Dalglish revealed that the match "meant more to me than any other game in which I've been involved".
April 15, 1989, is a date that is forever entrenched in the minds of football fans. The events of the Hillsborough disaster in the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the home of Sheffield Wednesday can never be wiped from history but, in the following weeks, Liverpool had to decide whether or not they would continue in the competition.
Having beaten Celtic 4-0 in a charity match that raised £300,000 for the disaster appeal fund, the club returned to competitive action in the First Division against Everton on May 3 in front of 45,000. The result was 0-0, with the minute's silence and strong show of Merseyside unity that preceded the game something to behold; a banner in the Liverpool end read: "The Kop thanks you all. We never walked alone."
But the replay against Forest was scheduled for May 7, earlier than Liverpool had anticipated. "We listened closely to the players, who had been in close contact with the relatives of the deceased," chairman John Smith said at the time. "They convinced us that an overwhelming majority of people in Liverpool wanted the match played."
And so, at Old Trafford, Liverpool took to the pitch in the FA Cup once more and saw off Forest with a 3-1 win thanks to a brace from John Aldridge and a Brian Laws own goal. The Reds already knew their opponents at Wembley as local rivals Everton had beaten Norwich 1-0 through a Pat Nevin goal. It would be the second all-Merseyside FA Cup final in four seasons after Liverpool had secured the Double in 1986 with a 3-1 win over the Toffees.
In the midst of such pain, a great sense of occasion preceded the match itself as Gerry Marsden, of Gerry & The Pacemakers, led a pre-match rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone and the minute's silence was observed wonderfully. ''You could hear a pin drop," one fan remembered. "It was very moving."
Liverpool began well and scored after just four minutes: Steve Nicol's superb early pass to Steve McMahon caught Everton square and his through-ball found John Aldridge, who curled it over the advancing Neville Southall for his 30th goal of the season - a goal that went some way to making amends for his penalty miss in the final defeat to Wimbledon a year earlier.
The Reds dominated for another 85 minutes in what was described as ''monotonously one-sided football". Indeed, David Lacey of The Guardian wrote: "For more than an hour, it appeared that the passion of the preliminaries, combined with a temperature on the pitch of 90F and Liverpool's overwhelming superiority, was going to turn the contest into an anticlimax. It was rather like watching Steve Davis win one of his snooker titles: faultless technique but at times a bit soulless."
But Everton had other ideas: the equaliser came on 89 minutes and 58 seconds against the run of play. Substitute Stuart McCall poked the ball home after Nevin had found the advancing Dave Watson and Grobbelaar pushed out his cross-cum-shot. Tony Cottee's part in jumping over the ball as it crossed the line while blatantly offside made little difference, and it was the final action of the 90 minutes.
Later, Everton manager Colin Harvey said that he thought his side would go on to win the trophy after McCall's first effort, but Liverpool's own 'super-sub' Ian Rush, who had replaced Aldridge, took over as the game went into extra-time. Controlling Nicol's cross to smash home in the box, the striker put Liverpool in control again before McCall levelled with a stunning volley from outside the box seven minutes later. But, with only a few seconds of the first-half of extra time remaining, "[John] Barnes's cross bisected the centre-backs like a scimitar" and Rush netted the winner with a delicate flick of the head to set a new record of 21 goals in Merseyside derbies and send his side to glory.
"Goalscorers score goals, don't they? And that is what Rush is," Harvey said. Kenny Dalglish, who did not sit down throughout the entire game, revealed: "This game has meant more to me than any other game in which I've been involved... It was an emotional experience, one that gave me a deep sense of happiness." Gary Allsop, a 19-year-old Liverpool fan interviewed in the Daily Express, added: "Somehow you feel those who died wouldn't mind the celebrations today. After all, they were at Hillsborough hoping to see their team win."
There was, however, a stain on the day as fans continually invaded the pitch, notably ruining the coronation of the winners. Nigel Clarke in the Daily Mirror wrote: "It needed only a few... And Liverpool's day of glory left football with another bad smell under its nose."
With the Reds denied their lap of honour due to the pitch invasions, Wembley Stadium chairman Brian Wolfson - later backed by FA chairman Bert Millichip - called for the re-introduction of fences: "We escaped by the skin of our teeth. That was the last cup final under the present circumstances. Next season we shall have an all-seater stadium and the fences will be up."
They were, although not for long, and, despite the actions of a few, Dalglish was left to praise the attitude of both Merseyside clubs under a Daily Express headline of 'The day that Liverpool's pain ebbed away on a tide of shared joy', saying: "The Everton players, manager and all those fans were so helpful it was sad that they had to lose. Their attitude is what this city is all about."
In an incredible act of solidarity, Merseyside united. The Guardian's Michael Morris wrote after the final of the victory procession: "Red and blue scarves were waved by people who climbed trees, lamp-posts and bus shelters. Hybrid scarves along the way read: Liverpool and Everton. We will remember April 15, 1989." Goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar recalled: "Everton fans were leaning out of sun roofs, clapping us. That would not happen anywhere else." Defender Alan Hansen added: "You never saw anything like it: reds and blues together."
What happened next? The hiatus caused by the Hillsborough disaster meant that Liverpool had to play their final league games after the FA Cup final and the climax to the First Division season was incredible as Arsenal pipped the Reds to the title with the last kick of the game on the final day thanks to a late goal from Michael Thomas that gave them a 2-0 away win at Anfield. Liverpool would be back to win the 1992 final with a 2-0 win over Sunderland, while Everton got their hands on the trophy in 1995 when they saw off Manchester United 1-0. All-seater stadiums were installed in all top-flight clubs by 1994 to ensure that the tragedy of Hillsborough would never be repeated.