Michael Robinson: “I left the European Cup in Rome airport!”
In this, the second part of Michael Robinson's interview from 2018 with AS, he tells us all about the 1984 European Cup final in Rome, which Liverpool won in the penalty shoot-out.
Player and commentator Michael Robinson died today, Tuesday 28 April. Here's an interview (the second part, the first is here) he did with AS back in 2018, where he talks about the 1984 European Cup final between Roma and Liverpool at the Olimpico in Rome, which the Reds won in the penalty shoot-out after extra-time. Robinson started the game on the bench and came on as a late sub for Kenny Dalglish with the score locked at 1-1.
Where did the Liverpool squad stay in Rome for the 84 final?
In the Holiday Inn. And they didn't let us sleep because they were making so much noise outside. We were like Christians thrown to the lions.
That was the first final to be decided by penalties...
During the previous pre-season, we had lost a summer tournament in a penalty shoot-out. We had taken about 15 and scored just five. So there was this mental block, almost psychosis...
The players didn't practice taking penalties before the final?
No because in a training session, you can't recreate the kind of atmosphere you'll be in, you cannot simulate that moment, the tension. I was quite suprised, in my first month of training, I hadn't taken one single penalty (laughs).
I mentioned it to Fagan's assistant. “We don't usually practice them”, I was told, “...because of our keeper. It would only demoralize the rest of the lads”. And I tell you what, it was true - there was no way of putting one past that bugger.
They could see I was put out, so Grobbelaar agreed to go in goal for a while to give us some shooting practice. By the way, he never did goalkeeping drills in training, in the mini-matches he was always centre-forward…
Did anyone score past him?
Not very many went in. He was very athletic and agile. We tried to beat from the 'D', from outside the area... and he'd be taking the piss out of us! He'd stop a shot with just one hand, then make gestures… He'd be making fun of us, and after a while you'd just get fed up and think 'sod this'.
Electing penalty takers for the shoot-out
Let's get back to Roma and the final. What happened when it went to penalties?
Joe Fagan came up to us with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. “Lads, you've done well. We haven't lost. I'm proud of you”. Souness, the captain and the team's leader, shot back: "That's great. But who's going to take the penalties?". Fagan, took one puff on his cigarette and replied: “Well don't look at me. I'm not going to take one”, then trotted back to the bench and sat down.
So what happened next?
Souness was always the leader in these kinds of situations. He said, "Ok, I'll take one". Phil Neal, who was a penalty specialist said he'd take one… but nobody else came forward.
There was only two players up for taking a penalty?
Not quite, Allan Kennedy who, let's say wasn't exactly a virtuoso, stepped forward: "I'll take one too". But Souness was having none of it: “Alan, come on, let's be serious here...”
So what happened?
Steve Nicol, who was a young right-back, although he played in midfield that day, said he'd take one. He said he'd take the first one to get it over and done with and not be bricking it waiting for his turn.
So that's three penalty takers, you need two more…
Alan Kennedy kept insisting, and Souness was firm with him and kept telling him no. Ian Rush said he'd take one, so I put myself forward to take the fifth one.
Get in there Michael!
But Souness disagreed: “No, Michael, if we are tied by the fifth penalty and it goes to sudden death, we'll need a striker to take the first one”. So it was agreed that Alan Kennedy could take the fifth one.
So the shoot-out begins...
We were close to where our families were sat in the stands. We could see them and all of us couldn't stop looking over. My wife must have been thinking: “If we lose, this could sink us for the rest of our lives”. And my Dad: “My son's not going to be able to leave the house after this, he's going to balls it up”.
And what were you thinking?
About the small house I was going to buy in Mongolia to disappear off the radar. Steve Nicol missed the first one. And believe me, a few of us were quite relieved about that. At least someone else would have made a pig's ear of it! (laughs). But then, Bruno Conti hit his over the bar… That was the moment when I really did start shitting it.
Nichol fires over...
That's the trouble with shoot-outs...
As it unfolded, it went to the fifth spot-kick and Alan Kennedy to take. As he was walking up to the penalty spot, he turned around and raised a finger. None of us could watch, it was excruciating. When he started walking up to the spot, I said: “He's telling Tancredi where he's going to put the ball!”.
He'd saved nine penalties that season. He liked to really study penalty takers in depth, but obviously, he couldn't have done his homework on Kennedy penalty skills (laughs). Tancredi guessed correctly, but I think Alan's idea didn't exactly go to plan.
He struck the ball with his ankle and it entered in the other side. I just felt a huge wave of relief: now I didn't have to take one and we'd won the European Cup.
Beating Roma on home turf didn't go down well with the locals
So a happy ending all round
In terms of supporters, Liverpool were outnumbered. We played that final in front of 80,000 Romans. And I think Souness was the only captain of a European Cup-winning team that wasn't presented with the trophy. Our fans were let out of the stadium first. We were planning on doing a lap of honour… but everyone was leaving the stadium - there was only the press left!
Dalglish and myself were picked out to take an antidoping control. When we got back to the team bus, we saw it had been attacked - they'd stoned it and smashed windows. We were ordered to take refuge under the tables between the seats. It was brutal the way our team bus had been attacked.
How did the team celebrate?
The partying seemed to go on forever… We'd won the treble. The trophy was shared around between all of us. First, the Scottish players had it, then the single players, then I can't remember who had it. And last of all, Chris, my wife and me were left in charge of it and were trusted to take it from the hotel to the plane. After we'd checked in at the airport I was walking past the Duty Free Shop and thought: “I'll just pop in and get some cigarettes for my Mum”. Once we were on board I turned to Chris and said: “Where's the trophy? I thought you had it”.
I'd left it in Fiumicino! My heart sank. I've never ran as fast as I did then to get that trophy back. Thank God, it was still there, right by the till. Can you just image us arriving back in Liverpool… with no trophy...
Liverpool have recovered an identity
How do you see the current Liverpool side?
Better than we have been in a long time. When we beat AC Milan in 2005 we finished behind Everton in the league - they ended fourth and we were fifth. I think we won a lot of games without understanding why. There was no defined pattern to our game.
They lost the passing game, which was Liverpool's style. Benítez was a very tactical coach but the team didn't really have an identity. Klopp has recovered a style of play. Now there is a Liverpool style. I can see how we finished top four and reached the Champions League final.
I think we're going to see a final with a lot of goals in Kiev. With this Liverpool side, the ball doesn't spend very long in the centre of the park. They are a very attacking side but those attacks are started from deeper positions. Most teams defend in a determined zone, but Liverpool are usually five metres deeper. Because for them, it's a question of where to find spaces.
Is that to free up space for the forwards to run into?
It wouldn't make sense for Liverpool to try and emulate the way Barça play. They would reach the rivals area but Salah, Mané and Firmino wouldn't have anywhere to go. By dropping the defensive line back five yards, they effectively make the pitch longer.
Do you like the way Zidane's Madrid play?
They might have a plan and a style but I just can't see it. Last season they did, they were a side which like to play the ball around and they were a joy to watch. At that time I really thought then that they were going to define an era. I think about how Klopp must be thinking and I feel it will be difficult for him to have a plan against Madrid. How can he grasp Madrid's game if even Madrid themselves don't understand how they play? Having said that, they do have a group of superb players.
No favourites in Kiev
Are Madrid favourites?
They are serial winners of the Champions League. But this final will be contested by two teams who finished third in their respective leagues. All logic goes right out of the window. So with that in mind, it's not logical that Madrid start as favouritea. Neither of them have been very consistent this season.