When Liverpool take on Sevilla in Wednesday’s Europa League final Gordon Wallace will be watching on television in the Shankly Hotel in the city.
Wallace’s name might not have the same cachet as Keegan, Dalglish or Rush but his place in Liverpool history is unassailable – he scored the club’s first European goal.
His landmark moment came in Iceland when he opened the scoring in a 5-0 win over K.R. Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur in 1964.
“The great Roger Hunt went to the by-line, squared it back to me and from all of those six yards out I powered it in,” said Wallace who was only playing because Ian St John was ill.
It’s more than 55 years since he left Llanelli for Liverpool, but Wallace has not lost a trace of his Welsh accent.
So how did the son of a Scotland international claim his place in footballing history? And why does he have a south Wales lilt when he speaks?
It’s a story that takes in one of Wales’ most famous rugby academies and Huddersfield Town. Wallace, now 71, recalls it all with fondness.
The king and I
Wallace was five years old when his father, former Scotland centre forward Dougie Wallace, was appointed player-manager at Llanelli AFC.
As a teenager he went to Gwendraeth School, where Barry John – nicknamed The King – and before him Carwyn James took their first steps to rugby stardom.
“The school was rugby orientated. Barry was two years younger than me and even then I used to love to watch him play,” Wallace told BBC Wales.
“But my childhood dream was to become a footballer. I wanted to be just like my dad.”
Wallace played in the Llanelli junior league between the ages of 11 to 14, before playing for Glan Morfa where his talent was discovered.
“It was late October 1959. I remember it well,” he says of the day Bill Shankly’s scout spotted him.
“There’s somebody I want you to have a look at” was the message sent back to Shankly, then manager of Huddersfield Town.
Wallace had trials with the Terriers and when Shankly went to Liverpool, he took Wallace with him.
“At the end of my third trial at Huddersfield, Bill Shankly signed on the Monday to become manager of Liverpool Football Club,” Wallace continued.
Starting Liverpool’s European adventure
After Liverpool won the Division One title in 1963-64, they were offered automatic qualification for the European Cup for the first time.
“Liverpool in the 60s was vibrant – The Beatles, 50,000 in the stadium, 28,000 in the Kop swaying to their songs. I remember it like yesterday,” Wallace said.
“I wasn’t always on the pitch but I was always part of the party. We had a fabulous squad. Ronnie Yates, Ian Callaghan, Roger Hunt, Ian St John. An odd person might get injured so you might get a game now and then.”
And it was sickness that gave Wallace his break when fellow Scot St John had suffered appendicitis a few weeks before Liverpool’s first European tie in Iceland.
Wallace recalls the journey was as memorable as the game, “Back then you couldn’t get a direct flight to Iceland. We flew to Glasgow with a six-hour wait,
“[Shankly] didn’t want us lounging around so off we went on a bus to a holiday camp. I’ll always remember the fella stopping us at the gate.
“The boss went over and said, ‘I’m Bill Shankly, I’m going to Reykjavik in Iceland and this is Liverpool Football Club’. The guy replied, ‘Well you’re on the wrong road, Mr Shankly, You should have taken a right back that way’.”
Wallace and the team got through the gate, onto the flight for Iceland, and a little piece of history followed.
“The goal came after three minutes,” recalls Wallace, “It hadn’t dawned on me it was the first-ever goal in Europe until about six months later when someone mentioned it would be a good quiz question.”
He also played a leading part in another landmark game, scoring twice in a 3-2 win over Arsenal – a game televised by the BBC on the first Match of the Day.
He spent another two seasons at the club before moving on to Crewe Alexandra in 1967 for £9,000.
“I would have loved to have played a lot more games than what I did, but I was so proud to be part of that squad. Shankly started what Liverpool Football Club is today,” he said.
Klopp the new Shankly
Wallace draws comparisons between Shankly and current Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who has steered the club to Europa League final in his first season at Anfield.
“They’re very, very similar,” Wallace said, “Klopp’s so enthusiastic, he’s got a great character about him. He’s got the players motivated.
“The Dortmund game [where Liverpool fought back to win 5-4 on aggregate in the Europa League quarter-final] – that was second only to the Inter Milan [European Cup] semi-final [first leg] in 1965 [which Liverpool won 3-1].
“To see Klopp on the line, chanting and running, when the players see that, they play for him like we played for Shankly.”