On the 19th May at the Fußball Arena München, an unexpected side will lift the Champions League trophy. Given the scale of drama provided by Chelsea and Bayern Munich in the tournament so far, knocking out the cream of Spanish football in a series of epic encounters, the night promises to do justice to a city with a pedigree of stellar finals.
Thirty four years ago, a few miles south of the Fußball Arena München at the Olympiastadion, John McGovern lifted the European Cup when Nottingham Forest defeated Malmö 1-0 in the first final to be played in Munich. When the whistle is blown on the 19th May, McGovern will be watching from the sidelines, a guest of UEFA by virtue of his cup exploits in 1979. I asked McGovern about his memories of the famous night for Forest:
In the build up to the final, it’s more a feeling of excitement that you have rather than nerves. We had a couple of days in Munich before our game against Malmö, no more than that. Brian Clough didn’t want us there any longer; if you stay in the one spot for too long you get bored and the tension begins to build. We spent most of our time in the hotel, broken up with the little bit of training we needed to do. We didn’t get to do any sight seeing...
The only thing that we were worried about in the run up to the match as players was whether we were going to be in the starting line up; to reach such a significant final and go over with a squad that wasn’t really that big, you’re still wondering if the manager will pick someone ahead of you. Working with Brian you had to expect the unexpected. I was just pleased that when the team was announced that I was in it. There was a little bit of a shock though; Martin O’Neill and Archie Gemmill who’d been injured before the final both expressed themselves as being 100 per cent fit. Brian said to them, ‘Well I’m delighted, but you’re not playing.’ The dejection that they suffered must have been horrific.
When we got out there on the pitch all we wanted to do was win. We were very confident, and we knew Malmö had done exceptionally well to get to the final, but they had two of their main strikers missing so we thought that would at least hand us the advantage. When the match started we were on top and dominated large stages of the match without getting the goals to really prove the point that we were a good side. As it was our first European campaign the media had labelled us as over night wanders, saying that the bubble was going to burst – all these clichés about a second-rate team who were never going to make an impression. We managed to put one over them by not only winning the final but then following it up and doing it again the year after.
It might sound strange, but we came off feeling a little bit disappointed that we’d won only 1-0. I thought we’d go on and get another goal, and then another to make it safe. I think John Robertson hit the post, but that was the closest we came after Trevor Francis scored. We were delighted to get the first goal obviously, as in any match it’s important and can be a major psychological advantage to us. But at 1-0 anything can happen; someone can slip, the goalkeeper can miss a ball – there’s always a little bit of tension if you’re leading 1-0 and it’s getting close to the end of the match.
We celebrated with a few drinks after the match. We were just warned by the manager that when we got back we would be welcomed by all the Forest supporters and the entire media of Britain – he told us to try and look ‘presentable’. He said, ‘You’ve played like a team, I want you to go back looking like a team.’ It still wasn’t going to stop us having a celebratory drink. I don’t think anything was done in excess – we saved that for when we were back amongst our family and friends in this country.
Who's the greatest ever player?
I think Pelé still holds that title. The game is so much less physical now that Messi wouldn’t have survived in the era that Pelé was playing – he would have been kicked from pillar to post. Players like Pelé, George Best and Johan Cruyff were a lot stronger physically. Messi would have still been a great player along side them, don’t get me wrong. But Pelé pretty much single handily won two world cups with Brazil. Messi still hasn’t reached that level on the world stage yet – he has at club level. George Best never reached it on the world stage, though I played against George a few times and I can tell you he was different to anybody else on the football field. Messi is in that class – but you can’t describe him as the greatest ever. He’s the greatest at the moment, and because he’s got a lovely green playing surface to play on and the game’s less physical.