Of all the cities in England, there’s a connection between Liverpool and Ireland that stretches far beyond the players who have represented Everton and Liverpool.
During Liverpool’s glory years, Aer Lingus was their main airline taking them all over Europe, until the English club ban following the Heysel disaster in 1985.
Peter Robinson, who was Reds chief executive that year, explained to the Irish Examiner how the link with Aer Lingus came about.
“The club had first entered European competition in August 1964 and during my first season at Anfield, 1965-66, they were using scheduled flights including those operated by BEA, which later became British Airways,” he said.
“The problem with being tied to scheduled flight times was that you could end up being away for two, three or, in the case of Iron Curtain trips, four days. So I suggested to the board that we should charter our own flights, so that we could travel at times to suit us and drastically reduce time spent away.
“Memories of Manchester United’s Munich disaster on a charter in 1958 were still fresh in people’s minds so, quite understandably, there was some resistance to my suggestion, including from the manager, Bill Shankly. Eventually, though, the board agreed to my suggestion to charter and I asked several carriers to quote me prices. In the 1966-67 season we had a KLM charter to Romania to play Petrolul Ploesti and a BEA charter to Amsterdam to play Ajax.
“The reason we switched to Aer Lingus was down to Jim Kennefick, who was in charge of the company’s new office in Liverpool. Jim’s a charming man who became a friend of mine and, later, joined the club staff as supporters’ liaison officer. He used to come to Anfield to see me and usually after my secretary had gone home, ensuring that he’d get in to see me! He told me what Aer Lingus could offer and we decided to go with them not because of friendship but because they quoted us the best price.”
Liverpool’s first charter trip into Europe with Aer Lingus was on a propeller Viscount for the opening Fairs Cup game in Malmo in September 1967, the launch of a long and successful link with the Irish carrier.
“It proved to be the start of a very enjoyable and efficient relationship,” added Robinson. “And Bill Shankly and the training staff were very pleased that by using charters we could drastically reduce our time abroad to just one night.
“Although the opposing club in Europe had to allow you to train at their stadium the night before the game, some could be awkward and make things difficult. So we decided on a pattern of the players training at Melwood in the morning before flying out early afternoon so that they didn’t need a session at the stadium on the eve of the game. We honed our European travel to a fine art.”
Captain Barney Croghan was the chief pilot for the majority of LFC’s continental adventures with Aer Lingus
“Initially I wasn’t interested in football,” he says. “Rugby was my game. But my son was a mad keen Liverpool fan and I took him to a match.
“While at Anfield we met Peter Robinson and got chatting about an upcoming Uefa Cup game with Dynamo Dresden. He asked if I’d be interested in taking the flight and when they put in the order he requested me as pilot. Then I travelled over to the home leg at Anfield too.
“That was 1976 and I was immediately hooked on LFC. From then on I went to lots of games through work and as a fan. There were even times when I wasn’t on duty but I’d still put on my uniform and get on the plane, just to go to the match. I’d be down the back handing out food and drinks to the press lads, directors and players.
“The players were supposed to sit up near the front, but Jimmy Case and Ray Kennedy claimed to be nervous fliers and asked if they could be seated near the back because they’d read it was the safest place to be. Coincidentally it meant Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Ronnie Moran couldn’t see what they were doing.
“Over the years I got to know a lot of the players very well. Graeme Souness even bought me a bottle of champagne for my 40th birthday.
“Aer Lingus always looked after the travelling party very well. There was plenty of fine food and some nice drinks on the return journey. It was a very warm relationship between the airline and LFC.
“Naturally other airlines wanted the business, transporting the champions of Europe was very prestigious. I think some of them complained about the set-up because they felt an English club should go with an English airline. Technically, I think they were correct. We didn’t have permission to fly into Liverpool from Dublin and pick up passengers. However the arrangement continued for a long time.
“It was so good that when Liverpool came to Dublin to play in friendlies, which they did quite regularly, a lot of the airline staff would go along. After one of those Kenny Dalglish got separated from the rest of the squad so I drove him to the hotel where the players were having a night out. On the way we found ourselves going in the wrong direction on a one-way street. A Garda stopped us and he didn’t look too impressed until he spotted my passenger. Immediately he halted the traffic and waved us through.
“LFC became a big part of my life. I went to the European Cup finals and watched them play all over the continent. It was a wonderful time for the club and for me.”
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