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mixed memories Old Inter Milan ghosts are never far away whenever Liverpool visit the San Siro


Tommy Smith would refer to the Inter Milan team of 1965 as 'bloody cheats'. Photo: Getty

Tommy Smith would refer to the Inter Milan team of 1965 as 'bloody cheats'. Photo: Getty

Tommy Smith would refer to the Inter Milan team of 1965 as 'bloody cheats'. Photo: Getty

The San Siro holds mixed memories for Kopites. Liverpool visit one of the world’s great stadiums tomorrow to play Inter Milan in the knockout round of the Champions League. It is just the third time the teams have met.

Many will recall a memorable night 14 years ago when Fernando Torres scored a superb goal in a 1-0 victory that eased the Reds into the quarter-finals. Older Liverpool fans shudder when they think of Inter. It is commonly believed that the Italian side cheated Bill Shankly’s team out of the chance to become the first English champions of Europe.

Rivals come and go but for the players involved in 1965 the sense of injustice lingers. The late Tommy Smith used to bridle when Inter’s name was mentioned. “Bloody cheats,” he would say. He is not the only one who took his resentment to the grave.

Back then Europe was a new adventure for Liverpool. This was the club’s first campaign in continental competition after winning the title the previous season. They reached the semi-finals of the European Cup and were drawn against Inter, the holders.

The first leg was played at Anfield three days after Liverpool won their first FA Cup with a 2-1 victory over Leeds United at Wembley. The trophy was paraded around the pitch before the game, which gave great offence to the Italian party. The home side won 3-1 and Everyone on Merseyside was convinced that the two-goal cushion was enough to secure a place in the final, which was to be held, by chance, in the San Siro.

Enter Jose Maria Ortiz de Mendibil.

The Spanish referee took centre stage in a match played in front of more than 75,000 howling Milanese. Inter opened the scoring in the eighth minute with a free-kick that infuriated the Liverpool players. They thought it was indirect but Mario Corso fired the set-piece directly into the net. A minute later Tommy Lawrence was bouncing the ball in his own area, preparing to punt it upfield. Joaquin Peiro sneaked up behind the goalkeeper and flicked the ball away before slotting it into the empty net. The midfielder made contact with Lawrence and Liverpool were apoplectic. The cushion was gone before the 10-minute mark.

This was before the introduction of the away goal rule but Shankly’s players lost their heads. They buffeted the referee in a way that would earn them bans today. They became more enraged when Ian St John had a goal disallowed. “I have no idea why,” the Scot, who died last year, said.

Giacinto Facchetti made it three for Inter on the hour but the dream was long over. Smith kicked De Mendibil at the end as the referee was manhandled again while leaving the pitch.

Footage of the game suggest that Liverpool did not have much of a case. De Mendibil waves his arms around before the free-kick but does not signal indirect in any obvious manner. Peiro surprised Lawrence with his quick thinking and his actions were not against the rules.

However, it later emerged that Inter’s secretary Angelo Moratti had worked with Dezso Solti, a Hungarian fixer, to bribe referees. In the semi-final the previous year, Borussia Dortmund had a man sent off in their 2-0 defeat in the San Siro. Twelve months on from Liverpool’s nightmare in Milan, Real Madrid faced Inter. The referee, Gyorgy Vadas, said he was offered enough cash to buy five luxury cars if he ensured the Italian team advanced. He said no and Real went on to win their sixth European Cup.

There was never any proof that De Mendibil favoured Inter but the suspicion has lingered. Victory for Jurgen Klopp’s team tomorrow might not lay any ghosts but if it happens it will make quite a few old men happy. (© Independent News Service)

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