Wembley Stadium, London
May 4, 1974
Liverpool – 3 (Keegan-2, Heighway)
Newcastle United – 0
“A beautiful ball to Smith, he didn’t have to move to get it. Hall to Smith. Heighway, Liverpool showing their party pieces, he wasn’t offside, Smith … yes! Keegan’s second and Newcastle were undressed! They were absolutely stripped naked!”
Uttered by David Coleman, these words have since gone into football folklore. In a way this statement signifies more than just an expression of complete and utter dominance in a particular football match. It also demarcates the start of an unstoppable run of success of a truly great club side. Liverpool FC’s 3-0 demolition of a plucky Newcastle side in the 1974 FA Cup final was just a little spoiler of an experience scores of clubs across will get in the following decade.
When Bill Shankly took over the reins of Liverpool they were floundering in second division. One and half decades of tireless labour from Shankly and his legendary ‘Boot Room’ crew saw the Reds transform themselves into one of the major forces in English football.
Before this final, Shankly had already delivered three league titles, a FA Cup title and Liverpool’s maiden European honour – the UEFA Cup in 1973. The Reds had lost their last trip to Wembley against Arsenal in the 1970/71 FA Cup final. An excellent run of form after Boxing Day saw them lose just two matches but they couldn’t prevent Don Revie’s Leeds from wrapping up the league title as they finished 5 points behind in second place. Liverpool had a wobbly start in the FA Cup as they needed replays to defeat Doncaster Rovers and Carlisle United with identical 2-0 scorelines. As if this wasn’t enough, they had to go through a replay again in the semi-final to see off a spirited Leicester City side with Kevin Keegan scoring a delightful goal past Peter Shilton.
Newcastle United had not lost an FA Cup final since 1911 and had won each of the last five finals they played. However, recent patchy form saw the Toons finish just two points above relegated Southampton in the league despite being in the top-2 in November. Joe Harvey had embarked on a moderately successful coaching career in Newcastle United after spending nine years as a player at Tyneside. Under Harvey, Newcastle had captured the 1969 Fairs Cup after beating the likes of Feyenoord and Rangers. Like Liverpool, they needed replays to see off Hendon and Scunthorpe United in the first two rounds. The sixth round saw a lot of controversy thanks to a riot during their home game against Nottingham Forest but Newcastle sneaked into the semi-final after winning the second replay. The Magpies were free scoring on their way to the final having notched up 12 goals. Malcolm Macdonald, Newcastle’s top scorer for three seasons, was in prime form, scoring eight times in the competition. Much of the pre-match talk revolved around the boastful statements of the striker, whose Newcastle home debut involved a hatrick against Shankly’s Liverpool, insisting he would cause his opponents all sorts of problems.
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Liverpool (4-4-2): Ray Clemence; Alec Lindsay, Phil Thompson, Emlyn Hughes, Steve Heighway; Brian Hall, Tommy Smith, Peter Cormack, Ian Callaghan; John Toshack, Kevin Keegan
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Willie McFaul; Alan Kennedy, Pat Howard, Bobby Moncur, Frank Clark; Terry Hibbitt, Tommy Cassidy, Terry McDermott, Jimmy Smith; John Tudor, Malcolm Macdonald
100,000 spectators had gathered at the Wembley for the big occasion and they were treated to some pre-match entertainment from Bruce Forsyth.
Liverpool settled down in the match faster and by the 10th minute the Reds had taken a firm control of the match. In the 11th minute, Callaghan switched play from right to left flank near the Newcastle box and found Lindsay. The left-back’s cross was nodded on by Toshack towards Keegan but 19 year-old Kennedy made a last gasp clearance. Three minutes later Newcastle had half a chance of their own but Hibbit’s dangerous cross was headed out safely by Hughes.
Keegan almost punished Terry McDermott for a missed interception in the 24th minute as he stole possession and dribbled inside the penalty box. However, his pass towards Toshack eluded the Welshman as McFaul collected the ball cleanly. Newcastle right-back Alan Clarke went into an overlap on 27 minutes as Jimmy Smith set him up for a shooting chance. However, his shot lacked power as Clemence made an easy save. Liverpool were looking increasingly dangerous while the only consolation for Newcastle in first half hour was that their strikers were winning most of the aerial duels.
The Keegan-Toshack combo had hit their groove by this time and the latter should have done better when Keegan knocked down the ball for him on the edge of the penalty box in the 33rd minute but he pulled his shot wide. The Reds should have taken the lead towards the end of the first half after a beautiful move. Callaghan threaded the ball towards Keegan, who looked to shoot but slipped in a little pass releasing Hall inside Newcastle box. The midfielder drilled a dangerous low cross but none of his team mates could connect with it as it flew across the goal. Few seconds later Heighway skipped past Clark into the box and drilled in another low cross with Toshack rushing in to meet it at the far post. This time Pat Howard cleared it just in time as the Magpies hung on for dear lives. At the stroke of half time, Liverpool fans were wondering how the scoreboard still showed 0-0.
Liverpool took mere seconds to register their first shot in second half. Hughes’ long ball was knocked down by Keegan towards Toshack, with his back towards the goal. Toshack passed towards Cormack who set up Keegan for a perfect shooting opportunity. Keegan’s fierce right footer kept the opponent striker rooted to his spot but flew just wide.
Six minutes later Alec Lindsay scored the greatest FA Cup final goal that never was. He won possession in his own half from Smith then bombed through the left flank unchallenged before passing to Keegan on the edge of Newcastle penalty box while continuing his run. Keegan failed to trap the ball which hit Howard, who was behind him and fell back on Lindsay’s path as he unleashed a first time left footer past McFaul. However, the official incorrectly judged that Keegan had touched the ball and the goal was cancelled.
Three minutes before the hour mark Liverpool finally had their goal. Hall’s cross from right flank fell for Keegan. The ex-Scunthorpe man’s first touch set up his second, an unstoppable right footed volley in the top corner. It was a well deserved strike for both Keegan and Liverpool.
A minute after that goal, Cormack set up Hughes from a freekick on the edge of the box but the Liverpool captain’s shot flew fractionally over the goal. In the 65th minute, a delightful team move saw Liverpool stretch Newcastle all over the park after a dozen passes before Heighway’s long ranger flew wide of the goal.
Liverpool’s second goal was just a matter of time and it came in the last quarter of the game. Toshack knocked down a long pass for Heighway who ran diagonally into the Newcastle box, taking a couple of touches before putting the ball into the net. The final was done and dusted more or less.
The Liverpool supporters had broken into unison chanting Shankly’s name but Newcastle United fans tried to motivate their players by chanting “Super Mac”. Macdonald, however, would disappoint them, missing two chances in the second half. Liverpool could have added a third, minutes before actually scoring it as the tireless Lindsay robbed possession from Howard before crossing it towards the goal but Toshack was fractionally late in his movement as the ball flashed across the goal.
Two minutes before the final whistle Liverpool scored their third goal. This Guardian article perfectly describes the goal in David Lacey’s words, “Liverpool’s third goal will never be bettered as an example of their style. Seven of the team were involved and there were 11 passes in the movement. The ball went from Ian Callaghan to Brian Hall to John Toshack and then to Tommy Smith on the right; Smith passed across the field to Lindsay, who found Keegan near the left-hand touchline; Keegan dodged away from two opponents and sent a high ball back to Smith who exchanged passes with Hall, then Heighway and finally sent a low ball back from the goal-line to the far post for Keegan to touch it over the line. Possession, positioning, accuracy of passing and finishing, they were all there. It was a most satisfying end to a largely predictable afternoon.”
Liverpool’s movement on the wings made the biggest difference on the day. It was always supposed to be a match which would be dominated by the team which took better control of the flanks and the Reds were too strong in that department. Newcastle full-backs put up some fight in first half, especially Alan Kennedy, who was yet to turn 20. The Reds made a slight modification in the second half as Heighway played in a much more advanced role, turning Liverpool’s system into a somewhat staggered 4-3-3 formation with Keegan dropping deeper and drifting towards the right wing. Ian Callaghan took up a more centralized position while full-backs Smith and Lindsay pushed higher up the pitch. This completely negated any wing movement Newcastle had in the first half and left their strikers completely bereft of possession. Newcastle did try to attack through central midfield few times but Liverpool had a numerical superiority in central midfield as well with Callaghan drifting inside and they had no problem in cutting down any attempts Newcastle made through the center.
Captain Emlyn Hughes did a stellar job marking the dangerous Malcolm Macdonald. “Super Mac” had scored in every round of FA Cup that season and was Newcastle’s primary goal threat. Hughes stayed closed to him and often forced him to play with his back towards the goal. Macdonald was kept in check tightly for most of the match and he registered just two shots on goal, both late in second half. By that time Hughes’ tight marking had robbed Macdonald of all confidence as both of his efforts went hopelessly wide.
Though the Welshman failed to find the back of the net, the Toshack-Keegan combination caused Newcastle defence unsolvable problems. They were the classic striker pairing in a 4-4-2 formation. Toshack, the aerially dominant and strong center-forward, who would knock down crosses on the path of the skilled Keegan. Only they weren’t. For a physically strong striker, Toshack had wonderful football intelligence and didn’t over-rely on his physique. Keegan on the other hand did his fair share of knocking down for his fellow striker despite not being physically towering. The Newcastle defense struggled all game trying to figure out which role each of the strikers would be taking. With Heighway joining the duo in attack in second half, the Newcastle back four was caught even more flat footed as they failed to mark any of the three players.
Man of the Match
Keegan was easily one of the greatest and most talented English players of his era. The man who scored within 12 minutes of his Liverpool debut would go on to become a rare example of English players finding success abroad. He was technically adept and his brilliant movement ensured that he covered a lot of ground and was difficult to be marked.
Ironically, he was signed the day Liverpool lost their last FA Cup final before this one. In this particular FA Cup final he was in his full flow. Though his starting position was that of the striker, he dropped back to the left wing very often as Liverpool midfielders pushed up. By dropping deeper he dragged out Newcastle center-backs out of their positions frequently. He scored two goals and could have had at least one assist had Toshack been more clinical. The 1974 FA Cup final was by all means a “Keegan final”.
Bill Shankly would shock the football fraternity by announcing his decision to retire two months after the FA Cup triumph. Club chairman John Smith presided over a press conference on 12th July, 1974 to declare the news which was unexpected in most quarters. The iconic manager had this to say regarding his decision, “After the FA Cup Final I went into the dressing room and I felt tired from all the years. I said to a bloke who was looking after the dressing room, ‘Get me a cup of tea and a couple of pies, for Christ’s sake.’ When I sat down with my tea and pies, my mind was made up. If we had lost the final I would have carried on, but I thought, ‘Well, we’ve won the Cup now and maybe it’s a good time to go.’ I knew I was going to finish.”
Bill Shankly left Liverpool but he was leaving Bob Paisley in charge, a man who had partnered him in Liverpool’s rise. Led by Paisley, the Reds would start an even more successful era which would also involve European dominance not replicated by any English club ever since. Kevin Keegan’s career graph would continue to rise and would reach its peak during his stint in Hamburg when he would win back to back Ballon d’Or awards.
This match signaled the beginning of the end for Harvey. Big spending in the following season would not change Newcastle’s form curve and Harvey had to finally step down in 1975. Two seasons later they would get relegated and would get back into first division only in mid-1984, inspired by the same man who scored 2 goals against them in the 1974 final.