The 1980s produced some incredible stories when it came to the League Cup. It was a decade which brought a remarkable four consecutive successes for Liverpool, as well as unforgettable fairytale moments for both Oxford United and Luton Town.
Having made the first-ever successful defence of the trophy, Nottingham Forest attempted a second in 1980, against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Forest’s Semi-Final victims had been Liverpool, whose quest for the League Cup would continue into another year, as Forest made a third consecutive Final. On the day, one of the most bizarre Final-winning goals in history denied them a third consecutive triumph, as a mix-up in the Forest defence gifted Wolves, and Andy Gray, an open goal.
Forest manager Brian Clough: “Any goals we concede look terrible, and this one looked like a disaster. It looked like a morgue in here [the dressing room] at 5pm and it still does now. If this is what defeat tastes like, we don’t want the taste ever again. It’s rotten.”
That Semi-Final defeat at the hands of Forest had given Liverpool a real hunger for League Cup success, and they would win the trophy in each of the next four seasons. Europe’s most practiced trophy lifters had added another to their collection.
In each of their triumphs though, they were made to work hard for the trophy, twice going to extra-time and twice to a replay. The first of those was at Villa Park in ’81, against Second Division West Ham United, which Liverpool won 2-1.
In 1982, sponsorship introduced a second trophy, the Milk Cup, and Liverpool delivered both, coming from behind to beat Tottenham in extra-time. Two goals from Ronnie Whelan on his first-ever Wembley appearance, and one from Ian Rush, helped the Merseysiders to a 3-1 win.
Liverpool returned 12 months later, looking for a leaving gift for manager Bob Paisley in what was his retirement season. It was his 12th and final visit to Wembley. The Final saw Liverpool beat rivals Manchester United in extra-time, thanks to another stunning goal from Whelan. A first-ever hat-trick of League Cup successes.
Graeme Souness: “I said to the lads, let’s let him [Paisley] go up first for the trophy, and he didn’t need much persuasion! He more or less sprinted up.”
The first-ever all-Merseyside cup final. Liverpool was a ghost town on 25 March 1984, with thousands gathering at Wembley, and in their homes, to watch Liverpool take on Everton at the National Stadium.
In the end, it finished goalless at Wembley, meaning a replay was needed the following Wednesday at Manchester City’s Maine Road. Liverpool won it narrowly, thanks to a moment of brilliance by Souness, who went up to lift the trophy once again.
The contestants for the next Final were of a somewhat different pedigree. It was two relegation-threatened sides in Norwich City and Sunderland AFC that made it all the way, with the former coming out on top. An own goal won it for Norwich, while Sunderland were made to rue a missed penalty, the first in a League Cup Final.
Oxford United didn’t take part in the inaugural League Cup as they weren’t a League club at the time, but took less than 25 years to make it to the top flight, and the Final. Their performance when they eventually arrived was even more remarkable, and their victory the most comprehensive the Final had seen, as they beat QPR 3-0.
72-year-old club physio Ken Fish was sent up to collect a medal by manager Morris Evans, in recognition of his service to the U’s.
In 1987, Littlewoods became the new backers of the League Cup. Liverpool returned to centre stage with a record 10-0 win over Fulham, and faced Arsenal in the Final.
It was Arsenal who would win the Littlewoods Cup for the first time though, coming from behind with an inspired performance from Charlie Nicholas.
Arsenal had a chance to become the second winners of the competition in its new guise, too, reaching the Final again to face Luton Town.
Gunners boss George Graham was appearing in his second Final as a manager, and fifth League Cup Final overall. What followed was an incredible story, thanks in part to an incredible goalkeeping display from Luton’s Andy Dibble, who saved a penalty with his side trailing 2-1.
The Hatters scored twice in the last 12 minutes, including a last-minute winner, to record an unforgettable 3-2 victory. Dibble: “It didn’t really sink in until a week or so later, after all the fuss had died down. It’s a nice thing to look back on.”
Luton kept up the tradition of returning winners, and also returning was Brian Clough, manager of Nottingham Forest. His son, Nigel, played a starring role, as Forest won 3-1 at Wembley.