When it comes to a rivalry as old and storied as the one between Liverpool and Manchester United, there aren’t a whole lot of “firsts” left. This rivalry has just about seen it all in the years since their first meeting in 1894, back when United was still Newton Heath. Yet occasionally these two institutions of English football venture into uncharted waters. For a long time the enmity between Liverpool and United was mostly confined to league play, only occasionally meeting in the Cup. It took 83 years before they would meet in a Cup Final. And when they did, it was something to behold.
This week we take a look back at the 1977 FA Cup Final and one of the biggest battles in the history of one of the world’s biggest rivalries.
Liverpool had already secured the First Division title while United had slumped to a disappointing sixth place finish. The Reds also had the European Cup Final four days later in Rome against Borussia Mönchengladbach. Liverpool came out of the tunnel salivating at the possibility of becoming the first English club to win the treble.
United mostly just wanted to shut Liverpool up.
The full match was a tense and fascinating tactical battle— and if you want to watch the whole thing you can do so here; but the game was settled in the space of about four minutes.
In the 51st minute, United center forward Stuart Pearson ran onto a headed through-ball to burn two Liverpool defenders before hitting a shot at the far post. It just squeezed out of Ray Clemence’s reach and slotted into the net to give the Red Devils the lead.
With United fans still bouncing from the opening goal, Liverpool midfielder Jimmy Case collected a long ball just inside the 18. With his back to goal, he chested it down, flicked it behind him, turned, and hit one of his trademark hard shots straight into the right-hand corner. 1-1 after 53.
One side of Wembley fell silent, the other exploded.
But two minutes after the equalizer United got the last word. With United midfielder Jimmy Greenhoff fighting to keep possession in the box— at roughly the same spot where Pearson scored not four minutes earlier— the ball came loose and Red Devils forward Lou Macari ran on to hit his shot. The ball deflected off of Greenhoff’s chest and looped over Clemence and over the line before Phil Neal could clear it out.
And that was that. United held firm against Liverpool’s pressure for the last 35 minutes and secured their fourth FA Cup title. But more important for them, they denied Liverpool their chance at the treble. Indeed, no English team would pull it off until, of course, Manchester United did it in 1999.
Liverpool of course went on to beat Mönchengladbach 3-1. Still, the failure to win the treble stuck with the players for years.
Liverpool and United are in the middle of writing another new chapter in their long mutual history. Their match-up in the Europa League Round of 16 marks their first clash in European play. The second leg of their tie kicks off later today as Liverpool head to Old Trafford with a 2-0 aggregate lead. Will the Reds hold on for the win? Or can United dig deep and pull off an upset? Kickoff is at 4:05pm EST on Fox Sports 1.