How it feels to win the League Cup for Liverpool – by those who did it

No club has a more profound love affair with the League Cup than Liverpool.

They have won the competition nine times, one more than Manchester City, and could make it 10 in this Sunday’s final against Chelsea at Wembley — the first leg of a possible quadruple of trophies for them this season.

We spoke to some of the men who helped deliver Liverpool’s League Cups over the past 43 years, uncovering the stories behind those victories. A special Walk On podcast version of this piece is available below.

Liverpool’s first League Cup came with victory over West Ham in a replay at Villa Park. Alan Hansen got the winner after Kenny Dalglish had cancelled out Paul Goddard’s goal. The initial meeting at Wembley ended 1-1 after extra time.

Phil Thompson, defender and captain

“I must have been the only player happy that it went to a replay, because I was injured for the first game at Wembley. It was a big moment for me and not just because we won the trophy for the first time. I’d given away the penalty when we lost the final to Nottingham Forest in 1978. Although if VAR had been around back then it wouldn’t have been given as the foul was outside the D!

“After going 1-0 down to West Ham, we produced one of our best performances to turn it around. We always told big Al (Hansen) the winner was a Billy Bonds own goal to wind him up, as it came off his thigh.

“It was the night when a young Ian Rush (making just his second start for the club) really announced himself as a Liverpool player. It was a lightbulb moment for him and for us. I thought, ‘This boy is special’.

Alan Hansen and Kenny Dalglish with the League Cup (Duncan Raban/Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

“When we got back to Anfield we all went out in town for a few scoops to celebrate. The next morning I got a call from (club secretary) Peter Robinson asking me what happened to the trophy. He explained that the driver had been cleaning the coach out when he got back to (his base in) St Helens and found it on the back seat.

“He told me that, as captain, it was my responsibility to look after trophies and, if necessary, I should have taken it home. So when we won the European Cup a couple of months later Peter’s words were ringing in my ears. I took it to The Falcon pub in Kirkby!”

Liverpool had started the 1981-82 season poorly, winning only six league games before Boxing Day, before an inspired second half of the campaign carried them to another First Division title. Their second League Cup win came after a gruelling battle with Spurs, who dominated for long spells. 

Mark Lawrenson, defender

“It was my first trophy with Liverpool. At Brighton, I had a 10-year contract, would you believe, but (in the summer of 1981) I said to them that I just wanted to go and win things. I’d had four years there and we’d had two promotions, but I wanted trophies and this was the first one. So I felt justified in making the move, which was for £900,000 — mad money at the time.

“I’d already played at Wembley for the Republic of Ireland, so I wasn’t walking around looking at the Twin Towers and pointing people out because I’d already done all that.

“Tottenham were on top of us that day but we were just used to winning things. When we went a goal down (to Steve Archibald), nobody panicked, including the backroom staff. There was so much ability in the team that, eventually, we would right the wrong.

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Tottenham’s Steve Archibald scores at Wembley – but Liverpool hit back (Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images)

“Tottenham had a lad called Tony Galvin, who played on the left wing, and he was causing us loads of problems until Graeme Souness two-footed him and that was the end of him.

“Although we celebrated, it was very much a case of celebrating for a day because the season’s still on — so turn up tomorrow because you’re working. It might not sound particularly romantic, but that’s the way that the club was. You wouldn’t even see the cup. It had been put away upstairs in the cabinet.”

Bob Paisley had announced the previous August that this would be his last season in charge, and Liverpool marked it with another League Cup and First Division double. Paisley retired having won 13 major honours.

Mark Lawrenson, defender

“People ask me what Bob was like and I always say it was like my grandad being in charge of the team. He never had too much to say — we’d have a meeting every Friday and he would name the team. If we hadn’t played particularly well the week before he might mention a couple of things, but that was it.

“He didn’t say, ‘Oh we’re playing Tottenham tomorrow and they’ve got X, Y and Z’. We had none of that whatsoever. We didn’t practise free kicks. And honestly, at first, you think, ‘What the hell?’. But basically, they were saying, ‘We trust you’.

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Paisley, far right, with Liverpool’s 1983 League Cup winners (Steve Hale /Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

“I remember we signed Souness and the day before he made his debut, he went to (assistant manager) Joe Fagan and said, ‘How do you want me to play?’. And Joe said, ‘For f***’s sake, we just paid £450,000 for you. If you don’t know how to play, why are we signing you?’. And that’s the way that they were. But then you realise how good the players are and they didn’t need to be told what to do.

“You never felt like you were under pressure. I can remember Fagan once coming in after a game we’d lost at Anfield on a quagmire pitch, and we’d had a few injuries. And he walked in, looked at everybody in the eye and said very softly, ‘There are some people in this dressing room who just aren’t giving everything’. And that was it. But the clever thing was that you then started to ask yourself, ‘Does he mean me?’.”

1984: Liverpool 1 Everton 0 (replay)

Liverpool beat neighbours Everton in a replay at Maine Road — their 13th game of a marathon campaign in the competition. 

Mark Lawrenson, defender

“We probably caught Everton at the right time because they became an even better side. You knew at some stage of the season there was a high probability that you’d play against one of Everton or Manchester United in a cup final.

“We didn’t play particularly well in that game, either. But, again, you get this belief that an Ian Rush goal or a bit of Kenny Dalglish magic was always possible.

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Mark Lawrenson tackles Adrian Heath during the 1984 Milk Cup final (Allsport/Getty Images)

“We used to call Kenny ‘dog’s balls’. He was the best player I played against or with. He couldn’t run, he couldn’t head it, and he had a big fat a**e — but he was a genius. And a proper professional: he went for a sleep every afternoon and he hardly ever drank, despite us having loads of nights out.

“When he became player-manager (in 1985), me, Hansen, Ronnie Whelan and Gary Gillespie would drive in together to training every day. But Kenny changed straight away: he’d say, ‘I might be a team-mate on Saturday, but I’m now the manager and it’s different’. He was very single-minded but in the right way.

“If you tweaked his tail a little bit, he would come down hard on you. But it was great because when he scored or we won, you’d see that massive smile.”

Roy Evans claimed his first trophy as Liverpool manager courtesy of Steve McManaman’s brace. It was the only silverware won by the ‘Spice Boys’ — the nickname bestowed on that Liverpool side after they wore all-white Armani suits to the following year’s FA Cup final.

Rob Jones, defender

“It was the Steve McManaman final — he played them off the park. When you’re playing in those games, you’re aware of how well he’s doing, but it’s when you look back at it (on television) that you really see how he ran the show. Bolton put three or four players on him and still couldn’t deal with him.

“We had a good mixture — the experience of John Barnes and Ian Rush, but also the young lads like Steve, Robbie Fowler and Jamie Redknapp. I was just happy to play for Liverpool — it was the club I’d supported as a kid, so it was a dream for me to win anything for them. I’d been to a few Wembley finals before I joined. My dad used to take me as a kid. It was so strange walking on that pitch and my mum and dad are up in the stands. Surreal.

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McManaman with the League Cup and his man-of-the-match award in 1995 (Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

“If you look at the players we had, you’d have thought we’d have possibly won more. Looking back, you think, ‘Should we have done better? What could I have done?’.

“Obviously the suits in the 1995-96 FA Cup final always get a mention. But a lot of us didn’t even know what those suits were until a week before the game. If we’d have won the final or gone on to do better things, it would have been fine. You get away with wearing suits like that. But it just put more pressure on us. And we knew that. And when we did get beat, we got absolutely crucified.”

2001: Liverpool 1 Birmingham City 1 (extra time, 5-4 on penalties)

Gerard Houllier’s first trophy in charge at Anfield came in nail-biting fashion, with Jamie Carragher scoring Liverpool’s fifth penalty in the shootout and Sander Westerveld saving Andy Johnson’s effort for second-tier Birmingham.

Jamie Carragher, defender

“When you’re at a big club like Liverpool, playing is not enough. You’ve got to win playing for Liverpool, and this did feel like the start of something — and not just because it was the first trophy won. It was with Houllier, a foreign manager, different to what Liverpool had had in the past. So while it didn’t feel like it was this massive thing that we’d won the trophy, it did feel like it was the start of something.

“That’s the great thing about the League Cup, you can almost tick that box in February, and it takes a little bit of the pressure off the other things that you’re going for. You get that trophy under your belt, you know what it takes to get over the line.

“I wasn’t too nervous if I missed the penalty. I’m not a big believer that, whoever misses the penalty, it’s his fault the team have lost. That day, I was still a little bit frustrated that we hadn’t beaten Birmingham in normal time. I went up almost with an attitude of anger. I did a long run-up and put my foot through it and it sailed right into the top corner. I’m not sure I was aiming to put it in the top corner, but that’s where it ended up.”


2003: Liverpool 2 Manchester United 0

Liverpool returned to Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium two years after their 2001 triumph there to this time defeat bitter rivals Manchester United, courtesy of goals from Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen.

Jamie Carragher, defender

“It was extra-special, because it was United. We weren’t having a particularly great season, but Manchester United went on to win the title as well that season. We were in the UEFA Cup, playing Thursday-Sunday, and had played three days before we faced United. I was a little bit paranoid about how I’d feel physically.

“But under Houllier, we were always confident we could beat United. We beat them quite often and felt we had their number — we didn’t take them on at their own game. We were quite defensive and made it awkward for them. And that was the same that day, although we knew they were a better team.

“Stevie’s goal took a nick off David Beckham’s shinpad and that was perfect for us — once we were ahead we could sit in and make it difficult for United and hit on the counter-attack. It was a typical sort of Houllier performance against United.”

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Gerrard celebrates his goal against Manchester United (Ben Radford/Getty Images)

Dietmar Hamann, midfielder

Cardiff was such a great venue for us. It started there against Birmingham with the 2001 final, which we probably should have lost. Then we went back there and won the FA Cup (against Arsenal, in Liverpool’s treble season where they also lifted the UEFA Cup). Our fans just seemed to love the place. With the steep stands and the noise, it was a brilliant place to play.

Sami Hyypia and Stephane Henchoz were immense at the back. They were so reliable as a partnership.

Stephane was probably one of the most underrated players I ever played with. He was quiet but so strong in challenges. When anyone went shoulder to shoulder with him, there was only ever one winner. He also had the technique of a midfielder — so calm in possession. Sami was so good in the air, two-footed and the ultimate team player. He rarely ever made a mistake. We were so strong defensively under Houllier.

At 1-0 up, we were clinging on a bit when a United player tried to head it back to Rio Ferdinand and left it short. I intercepted it close to the halfway line and pretended that I was going to go through myself. I was never going to beat them for pace but I knew that Michael Owen would be making a run on the outside.

Once I put it into his path, nobody was going to stop him.

2012: Liverpool 2 Cardiff City 2 (extra time, 3-2 on penalties)

Liverpool were overwhelming favourites against second-division side Cardiff but were pushed all the way. Dirk Kuyt scored in extra time and again in the penalty shootout before Steven Gerrard’s cousin Anthony Gerrard missed the decisive spot kick.

Dirk Kuyt, forward

“You come to Liverpool to win trophies. I’d been there five years and not won anything, and I’d also lost the World Cup final with the Netherlands in 2010. I knew I’d be leaving Liverpool in the summer of 2012 and I was so desperate to go with some silverware. Yes, it was only the League Cup but for me, it was really important. It felt like an Olympic gold medal, and I had 35 friends and family over for the day.

“I decided I needed to leave Liverpool because I wasn’t starting as much as I wanted to. Liverpool had signed Jordan Henderson and I was losing my position with Jordan playing on the right. But I still respected Dalglish so much as a manager and even more as a person. He’s everything that Liverpool is all about.

“We (the squad) already had a good connection before he came in and he made things very easy for us. He lifted the mood around the club after a tough period. Winning that final at Wembley meant so much to him.

“I didn’t win as much as I wanted to at Liverpool but this club made me a winner. After I left, I went to Fenerbahce and Feyenoord and won big trophies. It started with that Carling Cup final.”



Dirk Kuyt interview: ‘I could have been a fisherman’

2022: Liverpool 0 Chelsea 0 (after extra time, 11-10 on penalties)

After a tense final failed to produce a goal, the penalty shootout proved to be epic. It was finally decided when goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher scored Liverpool’s 11th spot kick, moments before his opposite number Kepa Arrizabalaga blazed his over the crossbar.

John Achterberg, goalkeeping coach

“In our last training session before the final, I told Caoimhin to take a penalty himself before we went in because you never know, but it was more a joke than being serious. I didn’t think it would come down to him taking one in front of 85,000 under so much pressure.

“Caoimhin deserved his chance to play on such a big occasion. Some doubted it (not bringing back first-choice Alisson, who had played only once in the competition that season) before the game and if it hadn’t come off, there would have been some criticism. You never know how things are going to work out but it was always the right call.

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Kelleher scores his penalty against Chelsea (Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)

“He had played in big Champions League and Premier League games before. He had shown he has the mentality and the temperament as well as the talent to perform at that level. We see his quality every day in training.

“We’d been saying that the mural at the training ground (of Liverpool’s famous goalkeepers) might need updating if the final went to plan. It’s a source of inspiration and motivation for all the goalies and Caoimhin deserves to be up there now.”

(Top photo: Getty Images; design: Daniel Goldfarb)

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