At the end of the 1976-77 season, Nottingham Forest finished third in the old Second Division (now The Championship). They had gained promotion back to the First Division. Twelve months later they were League Champions for the one and only time in their history. This then qualified them for the European Cup starting in September 1978.
Back then, the European Cup was only for the Champions of European leagues. 32 clubs entered a knockout competition with each tie played over two legs. The holders of the trophy automatically gained entry for the following season, and if they weren’t the reigning Champions of their league, that country would then have two clubs in the competition.
This is what happened in 1978-79. Liverpool had won the European Cup in 1978 and so were automatically entered, but they hadn’t retained their league title, which had gone to Forest, so England had two clubs entered.
Several things to note about these qualifiers is the political situation in Europe during this time. This was before the Berlin Wall came down in 1990 and so Germany is separated between West and East. The Soviet Union has now been broken up into many countries, including Ukraine, Estonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia and Russia. Yugoslavia has now been broken up into countries such as Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Serbia and Macedonia.
As there were 33 qualifiers, a Preliminary Round was played where Monaco beat Steaua Bucharest, 3-2 on aggregate.
The draw was made for the First Round. For the first time since 1968-69, England had two clubs in the European Cup. Unbelievably, this time round they were drawn against each other. Nottingham Forest would play Liverpool, with the 1st leg at the City Ground.
Over 38,000 packed The City Ground for Forest’s first ever European tie. But it felt like a league match. The home side poured forward, looking for the breakthrough and midway through the first half, it came courtesy of Garry Birtles. 22 year old, Birtles had replaced Peter Withe who’d moved to Newcastle after winning his League Championship medal. Liverpool pushed for an equaliser, something they may not have worried about if they had been playing a continental side, but just couldn’t get passed Peter Shilton. Then, with three minutes remaining, Forest gained a crucial advantage. Birtles pounced on a mistake in the Liverpool defence and Colin Barrett found himself free in the area to volley home Tony Woodcock’s knockdown. Forest had a 2-goal lead to take to Anfield.
When asked about his new goalscorer, Brian Clough said
“Birtles did well. Two years ago he was laying tiles. If he doesn’t score again on Saturday, he could be back there.”
One thing Clough had managed to master with this Forest side was the art of defending. Forest had turned up at Anfield in the final game of 1978 and gained a 0-0 draw. They managed this again, and so progressed to the next round. Liverpool, who had won the European Cup for the past two years, were out.
1st Leg – 13th September 1978
NOTTINGHAM FOREST 2-0 LIVERPOOL
Shilton; Anderson, Burns, Lloyd, Barrett; Gemmill, McGovern, Bowyer, Robertson; Woodcock, Birtles
2nd Leg – 27th September 1978
LIVERPOOL 0-0 NOTTINGHAM FOREST
Shilton; Anderson, Burns, Lloyd, Clark; Gemmill, McGovern, Bowyer, Robertson; Woodcock, Birtles
Glasgow Rangers were drawn against Juventus. The Italians, managed by Giovanni Trapattoni, contained 9 players who’d just competed in the World Cup in Argentina in the summer. One of the uncapped players, Virdis, scored the only goal in Turin. In the return, goals from Alex MacDonald and Gordon Smith won it for the Scots.
The previous season’s runners-up, Bruges were up against Polish champions, Wisla Krakow. They were 2-0 up in the 1st leg, before Kapka got a goal back for the Poles 7 minutes from time. Early in the second half of the 2nd leg, Jan Cuelemans had wiped out the away goal as the game stood 1-1 on the night. Into the final 10 minutes, with the Belgians leading 3-2 on aggregate, goals from Lipka and Krupinski surprisingly put Krakow through. So, both finalists from the previous season’s competition fell at the first hurdle.
Real Madrid 12-0 Progres Niedercorn (5-0, 7-0)
AEK Athens 7-5 Porto (6-1, 1-4)
Grasshopper 13-3 Valletta (8-0, 5-3)
Lokomotiv Sofia 4-3 Odense (2-2, 2-1)
FC Koln 5-2 IA Akranes (4-1, 1-1)
Rangers 2-1 Juventus (0-1, 2-0)
PSV Eindhoven 7-3 Fenerbahce (1-2, 6-1)
Austria Vienna 4-3 Vllaznia (0-2, 4-1)
Lillestrom 1-0 Linfield (0-0, 1-0)
Bohemians 2-2 Omonia (1-2, 1-0)
Dynamo Dresden 2-2 Partizan Belgrade (0-2, 2-0), Dresden won 5-4 on penalties
Brno 4-2 Ujpest Dozsa (2-2, 2-0)
Wisla Krakow 4-3 Bruges (1-2, 3-1)
Dinamo Kiev 4-1 Haka (1-0, 3-1)
Malmo 1-0 Monaco (0-0, 1-0)
Forest were drawn against Greek champions, AEK Athens in the Second Round. They would be away in the 1st leg. AEK were managed by Hungarian legend, Ferenc Puskas. Glasgow Rangers were drawn against PSV and Bohemians Dublin were up against Dynamo Dresden.
Forest went to Athens for the first leg. AEK contained several players who would appear for Greece in their first international tournament appearance in the European Championships two years later, including strikers, Ardizoglu and Mavros. But it was Forest who struck first as captain, John McGovern put them in front after 10 minutes. Right on half-time, Birtles then made it 2-0 and 2 away goals were like gold dust. Mavros converted a penalty for AEK in the second half but Forest had come away with a magnificent 2-1 win away from home.
The 2nd leg proved to be one of Forest’s finest ever performances in Europe. Already leading from the 1st leg, Dave Needham then put them further ahead as he scored after just 8 minutes. Woodcock then doubled the lead on the night, inside the final 10 minutes of the first period. Three minutes later and Viv Anderson made it 3-0 on the night and 5-1 on aggregate.
Five minutes into the second half and Bajevic got a goal back for the visitors but it was merely a consolation as midway into the half Anderson struck again. Anderson spent 10 seasons at Forest, scoring just 15 goals, 3 of them in this match as he completed his only ever hat-trick in the 72nd minute. The win was emphatic and Forest marched on.
1st Leg – 18th October 1978
AEK ATHENS 1-2 NOTTINGHAM FOREST
McGovern (10), Birtles (45)
Shilton; Anderson, Burns, Lloyd, Clark; Gemmill, McGovern, Bowyer, Robertson; Woodcock, Birtles
2nd Leg – 1st November 1978
NOTTINGHAM FOREST 5-1 AEK ATHENS
Needham (8), Woodcock (36)
Anderson (39, 66, 72)
Shilton; Anderson, Needham, Lloyd, Clark (Mills); Gemmill, Bowyer, Robertson; O’Hare, Woodcock, Birtles
Rangers were drawn away to PSV Eindhoven, who were packed full of internationals who had competed in the World Cup Final in Argentina. The Dutch had seen off Fenerbahce in the First Round, beating them 6-1 in the 2nd leg. The 1st leg ended goalless, and Rangers found them a goal down early in the 2nd leg. MacDonald equalised but then PSV were back in front. Derek Johnstone equalised for Rangers and then with just minutes to go, Robert Russell made things certain with the 3rd.
Another of the favourites, Real Madrid, also succumbed at this stage. They were up against Swiss champions, Grasshoppers of Zurich. These two were the top scorers from the First Round as Real put 12 past Luxembourg side, Progres Niedercorn. Grasshoppers had put 13 past Maltese side, Valletta, as Claudio Sulser scored 6 over the 2 legs. Real won the 1st leg 3-1 as Sulser grabbed the away goal. Sulser then put Zurich in front in the return too. With just 3 minutes remaining, Sulser scored his 9th of the competition to put the Spaniards out.
Grasshopper 3-3 Real Madrid (1-3, 2-0)
FC Koln 5-0 Lokomotiv Sofia (1-0, 4-0)
Rangers 3-2 PSV Eindhoven (0-0, 3-2)
Austria Vienna 4-1 Lillestrom (4-1, 0-0)
Dynamo Dresden 6-0 Bohemians (0-0, 6-0)
Wisla Krakow 3-3 Brno (2-2, 1-1)
Malmo 2-0 Dinamo Kiev (0-0, 2-0)
With Real Madrid and PSV out of the way, Forest were hoping to avoid West German champions, Koln. They did as they were drawn out of the hat against Grasshoppers of Zurich. Forest would be at home in the 1st leg.
The Swiss champions had put out Real Madrid in the last round. They were to be feared too, as they’d already hit 16 goals in 4 games. Striker, Claudio Sulser had already hit 9, including 5 in one match in the First Round.
Sulser, it was who scored first for Grasshoppers and Forest had conceded an away goal. But the rest of the game was a joy for the home fans as Birtles equalised, and then John Robertson converted a penalty to give Forest the lead early in the second half. That’s how it looked like it might end until Archie Gemmill grabbed a crucial third goal and then Larry Lloyd gave Forest a vital 4-1 advantage to take to Zurich.
In the 2nd leg, Sulser scored again as he converted a penalty after 33 minutes. Grasshopper needed 2 more goals to gain the advantage, but then Martin O’Neill wiped out their away goal as he scored 7 minutes before the break. The Swiss couldn’t break down Forest’s defence and Clough’s men were through to the Semi-Finals.
1st Leg – 7th March 1979
NOTTINGHAM FOREST 4-1 GRASSHOPPERS
Birtles (31), Robertson (47, pen)
Gemmill (87), Lloyd (89)
Shilton; Anderson, Needham, Lloyd, Clark; O’Neill, Gemmill, McGovern, Robertson; Woodcock, Birtles
2nd Leg – 21st March 1979
GRASSHOPPERS 1-1 NOTTINGHAM FOREST
Shilton; Anderson, Needham, Lloyd, Barrett; O’Neill, Gemmill, McGovern, Robertson; Woodcock, Birtles
Rangers dream finally came to an end. They travelled to Cologne for the 1st leg and the sides was separated by a goal from West German international, Dieter Muller. Back at Ibrox and Muller was again on target just after half-time. Rangers now needed to score three times, but could only manage once when Tom McLean scored 4 minutes from time.
Swedish champions, Malmo were a goal up away to Wisla Krakow, but lost the 1st leg, 1-2. Their away goal advantage was then wiped out halfway through the second period in the return leg. Then Andras Ljungberg then hit a hat-trick, which included 2 penalties, to help the Swedes to a 4-1 win.
Austria Vienna were the other qualifiers, as they saw off Dynamo Dresden of East Germany. The Germans went 1-0 up in the 1st leg in Vienna, but then the Austrians came back with 3 goals included two from Austrian World Cup star, Walter Schachner. The Germans won the 2nd leg 1-0, but it was not enough and the Austrians joined Forest, Koln and Malmo who were all in their first ever European Cup Semi-Final
FC Koln 2-1 Rangers (1-0, 1-1)
Austria Vienna 3-2 Dynamo Dresden (3-1, 0-1)
Malmo 5-3 Wisla Krakow (1-2, 4-1)
Forest looked to get the tougher draw as they were up against the West German champions FC Koln.
Koln had won their 3rd Bundesliga title on goal difference from Borussia Monchengladbach. To this date, like Forest, it remains their last success at that level. They were packed with internationals, such as Harald (Toni) Schumacher in goal, Herbert Zimmerman, Bernd Schuster, Dieter Muller, Herbert Neumann, Roger van Gool (Belgium) and the first Japanese to play in Europe, Yasuhiko Okudera.
The first leg at City Ground saw Koln take the lead early on as van Gool gave them an important lead in the 6th minute. 20 minutes in and then Dieter Muller made it 2-0 to the visitors and Forest’s dream had just started to fade a little. Birtles then grabbed a goal back and they went into the break 1-2 down. 8 minutes after the re-start and Ian Bowyer equalised. 10 minutes later and John Robertson had the home fans in raptures as he completed their comeback to put them 3-2 up. Koln brought on Okudera as sub for the final few minutes and he scored a crucial goal to level it up on the night.
Forest travelled to Cologne for the 2nd leg, knowing they would have to defend like demons to progress. Koln had Heinz Flohe back, although only on the bench, and they were confident of reaching their first European final. No score at half-time and the game was finely poised. Then Ian Bowyer scored a vital goal in the 65th minute and Forest managed to hold the Germans off to progress to the Final.
1st Leg – 11th April 1979
NOTTINGHAM FOREST 3-3 FC KOLN
Birtles (28), Bowyer (53)
Shilton; Barrett, Needham, Lloyd, Bowyer; O’Neill, Gemmill (Clark), McGovern, Robertson; Woodcock, Birtles
2nd Leg – 25th April 1979
FC KOLN 0-1 NOTTINGHAM FOREST
Shilton; Anderson, Burns, Lloyd, Clark; O’Neill, McGovern, Bowyer, Robertson; Woodcock, Birtles
Malmo 1-0 Austria Vienna (0-0, 1-0)
EUROPEAN CUP FINAL
Both clubs were appearing in their first ever European final. For Malmo, they still remain the only Swedish club to reach this far. They were managed by an Englishman, Bobby Houghton. Houghton had a brief playing career at Fulham and Brighton and had coached at non-league level before taking up the post at Malmo in 1974. He had taken them to three Swedish League titles by the time they turned up at the Final in Munich.
Forest manager, Brian Clough, had surprised many by leaving out Martin O’Neill and Archie Gemmill. He brought in Britain’s first £1m footballer, Trevor Francis, and Ian Bowyer. This would be Francis first European tie and this proved to be a masterstroke from Clough. Clough had bought Francis from Birmingham in February 1979. UEFA rules meant he couldn’t play in a European match for three months and so the first game he was eligible for was…..the Final.
A fairly dull game, finally burst into life just before the break as John Robertson took on the Swedish defence down the left. His cross to the far post was met by a diving Francis for the only goal of the game. Malmo created little for Forest to be worried about and, in the end, it seemed a fairly easy win. Nottingham Forest had made sure the European Cup stayed in England for a 3rd successive season.
30th May 1979
NOTTINGHAM FOREST 1-0 MALMO
Shilton; Anderson, Burns, Lloyd, Clark; McGovern, Bowyer, Robertson; Francis, Woodcock, Birtles
As Liverpool lifted the League Championship, England would again have two clubs in the following season’s competition.