Liverpool FC News: OCTOBER 1976 and Liverpool are through to the second round of the European Cup.
A 7-0 aggregate win over Belfast part-timers Crusaders has set up a journey into the unknown to face Turkish champions Trabzonspor.
In contrast to the short hop across the Irish Sea, this next trip took Bob Paisley’s side to one of Europe’s furthest outposts.
Nestled on the Black Sea coast of north eastern Turkey it was the furthest flung venture in Liverpool’s fledgling travels.
It was also a journey Paisley’s European champions in waiting would never forget.
“Trabzonspor in 1977 was the worst European trip,” said Ray Clemence some years later.
“The pitch had rocks all over it. The hotel was awful, we were woken by the noise of farm animals at 5am, the food was terrible and we lost 1-0.”
In short, nothing went right.
As Liverpool host the Turkish Cup winners at Anfield tomorrow night ahead of next week’s return in the Europa League play-off tie, another player on that trip, David Fairclough, sheds further light on the last time the Reds travelled to Trabzon.
While he hopes standards in the old trade port have improved with the passage of time, Fairclough explains why there is greater emphasis on the Reds getting the job done at Anfield.
Welcome to hell? It was last time he was there.
“I’m not sure what it’s like now but in those days it was such a headache just getting to Trabzon,” explains Fairclough.
“The main runway was that small it would only accept internal flights.
“We actually stayed in Ankara initially, where we trained before flying on to Trabzon for the game. It was very much a reduced group that went on to Trabzon, with barely any media and no supporters.
“I remember it so vividly simply because it was so shocking.
“It was just one thing after another.”
With Liverpool chasing the game after Cemil put the hosts in front from the penalty spot in the 65th minute, Fairclough replaced Steve Heighway 10 minutes later as the sleep-deprived Reds looked to salvage something to bring back to Anfield.
“There’s no doubt the conditions contributed to our losing over there,” continues Fairclough.
“As we pulled up to the hotel I remember Bob Paisley coming out with the now infamous words ‘they’ve put us in a doss house. I had better rations in my bivvy in the western desert,’ he said.
“It wasn’t the most impressive of places. The modern player probably wouldn’t be too happy about staying there but we had little alternative in those days. We were still finding our way in Europe.
“Then the hotel turned out to be right next to a prayer tower. Of course, they pray five or six times a day through what was a very basic public address system that wails out across the town.
“Rest wasn’t really easy to come by.
“After that, there were continuous electricity failures. There are images from the trip of the lads sitting round eating and playing cards by candle light.
“I remember going out for a walk with Jimmy Case and Ray Kennedy. There was nowhere to go. It was a very basic place.
“We just had to sit around the hotel and bide our time for the game.”
At least it was an afternoon kick-off. The 25,000 capacity Trabzon Sehir Stadt had no floodlights. If it had, there would have been no electricity to power them anyway.
It was a steep learning curve along the road to European domination.
Hygiene concerns saw Liverpool’s backroom staff cook their own food and even the match ball wasn’t fit for its purpose.
“It looked a little bit past its sell-by date,” is Fairclough’s diplomatic way of putting it.
Paisley didn’t hold back, however. “It was worse than a pig’s bladder at a Durham miner’s gala,” barked the usually reserved Geordie.
Naturally, Liverpool were glad to get back to Anfield where three goals inside the first 20 minutes put Trabzonspor to the sword and Paisley’s men into the third round.
It was here when Fairclough’s career-defining moment arrived; his 84th minute goal in the second leg at Anfield disposing of French champions St Etienne and sending Liverpool into the semi-finals on the way to Rome.
Now there is nothing he would love more than to see Roy Hodgson’s Reds end a four-year barren spell by lifting a trophy this season.
The Europa League presents one option and Fairclough believes Joe Cole and Fernando Torres can be key to progression into the competition proper.
“It’s over 30 years on and you would imagine it won’t be quite as intimidating for Liverpool.” he says.
“But we know just how passionate the Turkish fans are from recent trips to Galatasaray and Besiktas.
“We can’t leave too much to chance tomorrow night ahead of the return.
“We need goals and Joe Cole and Fernando Torres could be vital for us.
“Joe will be keen to make the most of his game time in light of his Premier League suspension and will probably figure heavily in both legs.
“Fernando is still on his way back so the more time he gets the better. A goal would give him masses of confidence.”