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IN MUNICH tomorrow night, two five-time European Cup winners will play for a place in the last eight of the Champions League.
They last met in the competition in a dramatic semi-final 38 years ago. The Liverpool squad now contains several black footballers but at the start of that 1980-81 season no black man had ever represented the club.
In 1987, John Barnes became the first black player signed by Liverpool from another club, but a decade earlier they had produced one of their own.
Such was the impact of that 1981 European Cup semi-final against Bayern on Howard Gayle’s life that it was the title of his 2016 autobiography “61 Minutes in Munich.”
His electrifying cameo didn’t win the match nor was it enough to earn him an appearance in the final against Real Madrid but Gayle’s performance that night had significance beyond the pitch.
“It was constantly in the press that I was the first black player to play for Liverpool. It was a landmark as far as black people were concerned, and I was proud to represent the black community of Liverpool.”
Going into the tie, Liverpool and Bayern were the two superpowers of the European game, between them they had won five of the previous seven tournaments but while Bayern were on their way to winning a second successive Bundesliga title, Liverpool were having their worst season in a decade, out of contention for the league title.
Winning the European Cup was their only hope of appearing in it the following season for a sixth time in a row.
As is the case now, the first leg at Anfield had finished goalless. Gayle, a reserve team player since 1977, had watched the game in The Kop.
“I went home and sulked like every other supporter. The odds, indeed, were stacked against Liverpool reaching the final.”
Yet, two days before the second leg he was summoned into the office of manager Bob Paisley and told to “get your stuff ready because we’re going to take you away with us.”
In front of 75,000 spectators at the Olympiastadion, Liverpool needed to score but were dealt an early blow when their talisman Kenny Dalglish was clattered by Karl Del’Haye and left unable to continue.
Instead of sending on a young Ian Rush, who had started the first leg, Gayle was sent out to warm-up on the athletics track surrounding the pitch. It was a baptism of fire.
“That’s when the monkey noises started. I didn’t realise what was happening at first because all of my concentration was with the warm-up. … And then I looked around, away from the pitch. More monkey noises, a few grown men making nazi salutes.”
So little was known about him outside Anfield that BBC commentator Barry Davies described the 22-year-old Gayle as “an untried 19-year-old.”
“I enter the arena. Are they whistling because I’m a Liverpool player? Are they whistling especially because I am a black Liverpool player? Are they whistling because I am the only black player among the 22 on show?”
Almost immediately Gayle was played in by Alan Hansen and sent crashing to the floor by Wolfgang Dremmler in the penalty area. Portuguese referee Garrido pointed for a goal-kick.
“The noise of whistling washes over the moment and, looking up, you see the reality: no f***ing penalty.”
Encouraged by manager Bob Paisley to “keep going at them, son,” Gayle continues to excel. “I proceed to perform better in the second half than I did in the first. I know I have Bayern’s defenders on toast. The only way they can get to me is by fouling.”
A thrilling 60-yard run is ended by another crude foul by Dremmler who again escapes without a caution.
Instead it was Gayle who receives a harsh booking moments later and almost immediately a “devastated” Gayle was taken off by Paisley, thus gaining the distinction of being the first-ever Liverpool substitute to be then substituted in the same match.
With seven minutes remaining Ray Kennedy scored a vital away goal and despite Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s late equaliser, Liverpool were through to their third European Cup Final.
“Beneath the happiness, though, I was embarrassed. I’d become the first black player to play for Liverpool. But straight away, I was getting asked questions about becoming the first substitute to be substituted.
“It should have been the greatest night of my life. Instead, I felt as though I was back at square one.”
Gayle was rewarded with another trip abroad to Paris. As a non-playing substitute in the win over Real Madrid, he earned a European Cup winner’s medal but he was never to represent the first team again.
Rush scored 30 goals the following season and Gayle was forced to go out on loan before leaving for Birmingham City in 1983.
His performance in Munich meant Gayle earned a never-to-be-forgotten place in Liverpool’s European folklore but looking back he feels the failure of referee Garrido to award him a penalty that night in Munich shaped his career.
“It would have meant rather than just speaking of the impact I had on the game, my performance would have been marked by something palpable — something significant.
“‘Howard Gayle — he won us the penalty in Munich,’ people would say. Maybe the moment would have been the proof Bob Paisley needed to trust me.”
Speaking to Black History Month last year, Gayle explained the difficulties of being a black footballer at the time.
“As the first black player, some people at Liverpool didn’t understand the black culture. If they’d have known a little bit more about me and understood a lot of the challenges that I needed to go through to get to where I was, then maybe I’d have had a bigger role in the club’s history.
“Instead, I only made a small contribution. I felt I had more to offer. I trained with world class every single day and didn’t feel out of place. In the end it was a big decision to move away from a club and a city that I loved. But it was something I had to do.”
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