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Liverpool’s History in the Europa League: 1976

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As Liverpool prepare for the 2016 Europa League final, we look back at the club's history in the competition and to 1976 when the Reds won their second UEFA Cup.

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Liverpool had to wait a long time for their first piece of silverware in Europe, and when it came, it offered a fitting capstone to Bill Shankly’s time in charge of the club, as the legendary manager won both the league and the UEFA Cup in 1973. A year later, Shankly handed Liverpool over to his assistant, Bob Paisley, who would build on his predecessor’s foundations and turn Liverpool into true European giants.

Initially reluctant to take over from Shankly, in only his second season in charge of the club, Paisley would guide Liverpool to their second major European trophy—and their second UEFA Cup. A year later, he took Liverpool to their first European Cup in 1977 before successfully defending the trophy again in 1978. He won the continent’s top prize one more time in 1981 before retiring two years later and handing the club over to his assistant, Joe Fagan.

Along with his four major European trophies—the UEFA Cup and three European Cups in the competition that would eventually be rebranded the Champions League—Paisley guided the Reds to unprecedented success in the England, winning the league six times and finishing runners-up twice. In his nine seasons in charge, they only finished lower than second once, coming fifth in 1980-81. They won the European Cup and League Cup that season.

The UEFA Cup, though, came first for Paisley, who had guided Liverpool to second in the league in his first season in charge and earned entry into Europe’s second cup competition.

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Liverpool's European campaign started slowly in the autumn of 1975, with a 1-0 loss on the road to Hibernian in Edinburgh. Things weren’t looking all that good for the Reds in the return leg, either. John Toshack put Liverpool up early in the first half, but it didn't take long for Hibernian to equalise—and with the away goal, it meant that Liverpool would have to win the game by two goals to go through.

A pair of second-half goals but Toshack to complete his hat-trick and a penalty save by Ray Clemence gave Liverpool that two goal edge and a win against the odds, as they rallied at Anfield in the second half of the second leg in Europe and got their 3-1 victory—3-2 on aggregate—to advance to round two of the competition. At the time, the UEFA Cup involved 64 teams playing their way through five rounds, home-and-home, before two sides were left in the final.

Round two went rather more smoothly, as Liverpool smashed Real Sociedad 9-1 on aggregate, running out to a 3-1 lead on the road in the first game before piling on the goals at Anfield. Slask Wroclaw was next in line, and they fell 5-1 on aggregate—again with Liverpool winning on the road, this time 2-1, before stretching their lead in the second leg at Anfield. Liverpool’s home was becoming a fortress, and drawing the second leg at home was proving key.

The quarter-finals again saw Liverpool draw the second game at Anfield, and though Dynamo Dresden held them scoreless in the first leg, that home advantage once again was key as Liverpool earned a 2-1 victory in the second leg. As against Hibs in the first round, Ray Clemence was key, with another penalty save that prevented the Reds going out of the competition on the away goal rule, while Jimmy Case and Kevin Keegan found the goals at the other end.

The semi-finals took Liverpool to Barcelona’s Camp Nou first, and the Reds took the advantage of a 13th goal by John Toshack all the way back to Anfield. Given their home form, an appearance in the final seemed inevitable, but Barcelona gave them a scare—a minute after Phil Thompson scored early in the second half, Carles Rexach levelled the match. A second goal would have seen Barcelona advance, but Liverpool held on for a draw that set up a date against Club Brugge.

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It was a first European final for Brugge, who had fought past Olympique Lyon, Ipswich Town, Roma, AC Milan, and Hamburg, and for the first time in the tournament, it would be Liverpool hosting their opponents in the first leg before travelling to Brugge for the second. Having the second game at home had been key to the Reds’ run, and they struggled to adjust to having the first leg at home for the first time, stumbling to a 2-0 deficit within the opening 15 minutes.

It took until the second half for Liverpool to fully find their feet, but when they did, they again used that home crowd to help power them to a 3-2 victory with goals from open play by Ray Kennedy and second half substitute Jimmy Case and a penalty marker by Kevin Keegan. Liverpool had earned a a slight lead, but thanks to their early struggles Brugge had a pair of away goals that would give them a massive edge in case a tiebreaker was needed after the second leg.

In Brugge, Liverpool's fears were realised as the Belgians struck early again. A Liverpool handball in the penalty area earned Brugge a chance from the spot and they duly converted. Liverpool, though, reacted well—and quickly—pinning Brugge back and converting their own chance just four minutes later after a sustained spell of pressure led to a dangerous spot kick just outside the area. Emlyn Hughes stepped up and laid off to Kevin Keegan, who side-footed home.

It was, rather shockingly, the first goal Brugge had conceded at home in the entire tournament, and their fearsome defending at home meant they were confident that if they could get another goal, they could take the tie on the away goal rule. They had chances, too, hitting the woodwork early in the second half and forcing a diving stop from Clemence minutes before the final whistle blew. It was tight, and it was nervy, but Liverpool had taken their second UEFA Cup in just four years.

The next season would see Liverpool win the European Cup for the first time, and beginning in 1972-73 with Bill Shankly’s UEFA Cup, it was part of the beginning of Liverpool’s glory years—over eighteen seasons, they won two UEFA Cups, four European Cups, and won the league 11 times. For many, it’s the European Cups that are remembered, but it was in the UEFA Cup where it all started.