• David Fairclough was Liverpool’s famous ‘Supersub’ in the 70s and 80s
  • Former striker was ready to hand in transfer request before 1978 European Cup final against Bruges 
  • Bob Paisley had told Fairclough he would feature in 1977 finals but the attacked played in neither 
  • However, Fairclough was selected to play in the Wembley showpiece final a year later as Liverpool won the European Cup 
  • Fairclough has published his brilliant autobiography, entitled Supersub

Ian Ladyman for the Daily Mail

It says much about David Fairclough’s Liverpool career that he arrived for one of the biggest nights of his life with a transfer request hidden in his jacket pocket.

The 1977-78 season had been relatively kind to Fairclough. Anfield’s eternal substitute had actually played 29 league games for Bob Paisley’s team, scoring 10 goals. Ahead of the club’s European Cup final against Bruges at Wembley, he was fancied to play.

Fairclough, though, was still carrying memories of the painful end to Liverpool’s glorious season the year before, memories of promises broken. Told by Paisley that he would feature in both the 1977 FA Cup final and the European Cup final in Rome that followed, Fairclough actually played in neither. 

Liverpool 'Supersub' David Fairclough was ready to hand in a transfer request before winning the European Cup in 1978
The Reds beat Bruges at Wembley - Fairclough poses with the European Cup and Sammy Lee

Liverpool ‘Supersub’ David Fairclough was ready to hand in a transfer request before winning the European Cup in 1978 (right) as the Reds beat Bruges at Wembley

Former Liverpool striker Fairclough has just published his brilliant  autobiography, entitled Supersub

Former Liverpool striker Fairclough has just published his brilliant autobiography, entitled Supersub

‘I decided on the day of the Bruges game that if I wasn’t playing then that was it, I was leaving,’ Fairclough said. ‘I had been here before and suffered and I feared the worst.I went to my room and wrote a transfer request. I thought, “If I don’t play then he’s getting that tonight”.

‘Why hadn’t he told us the team? Why hadn’t he put me out of my misery? It was the worst way for a manager to manage his players on a big day.

‘At Wembley, 90 minutes before the game, he sent us out on to the pitch to have a look around. The envelope was in my pocket, ready to go. We came back and all the boots had been laid out. Mine were there. I was playing and that is how I knew. It’s just not a nice method, though, is it? But we won the cup so he’s a genius, isn’t he?

‘That letter is probably still in a bin at the Holiday Inn at Swiss Cottage in London!’

Fairclough is 58 now and has just published his brilliant but provocative autobiography, entitled Supersub. The title, however, does not fully reflect the fluctuations of a career that does not sit entirely comfortably with one of Anfield’s favourite sons.

His is the fascinating story of life on the periphery, one lived too often alone on the substitutes’ bench at a time when there was only one replacement allowed.

During eight years as a first-team player, Fairclough played 154 times and 62 of those appearances came as a substitute. On a further 76 occasions — the equivalent of two modern league seasons — Liverpool’s most famous No 12 sat on the bench and never came on. 

Fairclough played 154 times during eight years at Anfield with 62 of those appearances coming off the bench

Fairclough played 154 times during eight years at Anfield with 62 of those appearances coming off the bench



League appearances: 98 Goals: 34

FA Cup appearances: 15 Goals: 4

League Cup appearances: 21 Goals: 10

European appearances: 19 Goals: 7

Other appearances: 1 Goals: 0

TOTAL – Appearances: 154 Goals: 55

Starts/goals: 92/37

Sub/goals: 62/18


3 First Division titles,

2 European Cups, 1 x Uefa Cup,

1 League Cup

Other clubs: 

Toronto Blizzard (loan)







When we met at Liverpool’s Hope Street Hotel, Fairclough was lovely company, a man who claims to have come to terms with what he was, even if his book presents his emotions as rather more raw.

‘I have had to change the supersub thing in my mind,’ he said. ‘When I retired, my acceptance changed. What’s the point of battling against it? I appreciate now that it’s said positively. It’s brilliant and flattering to be part of this great club’s history. But at the time it was how people wanted to think of me and I hated it.

‘I had to be honest in the book and give Bob Paisley some criticism because it’s what happened. I kept diaries at the time. I don’t want to tarnish Paisley’s name, just give my version of events.

‘My mum read the book, she was emotional because she recognised the truth. I still give Bob lots of credit as he was doing what was right for the club. That it didn’t work out perfectly for me was my problem and not his. But being on the fringes was soul-destroying at times, I won’t lie about that.’

Fairclough’s complicated relationship with Paisley — Liverpool’s most successful manager — is fundamental to the book and to his recollections of his career.

There is some fondness there. During our conversation, he takes a call from former team-mate Terry McDermott and the pair lapse into impressions — passable, as it happens — of their old boss.

‘All the players from that time do that,’ he smiled. It is clear, though, that Fairclough feels he should have played more. In particular, his memories of the conclusion to the 1977 season remain painful.

Fairclough will always be remembered for the winning goal he scored against St Etienne six minutes from the end of Liverpool’s European Cup quarter-final at Anfield.

That season, though, ended without romance for the lad brought up in a council house just round the corner from Anfield. 

Fairclough (top row, second left) and manager Bob Paisley (right) celebrate Liverpool's 1983 Milk Cup victory 

Fairclough (top row, second left) and manager Bob Paisley (right) celebrate Liverpool’s 1983 Milk Cup victory 

Fairclough’s  relationship with Paisley - Liverpool's most successful manager - is fundamental to the book
Fairclough is fondly remembered for his cameos off the bench which earned him the name 'Supersub'

Fairclough’s relationship with Paisley – Liverpool’s most successful manager – is fundamental to the book

‘Bob told me a couple of weeks before that I would be in his Cup final team,’ he said. ‘I was only 20 and my dad Tommy was in hospital after a heart attack. He wanted to be out to watch me on TV, though.

‘In London at the hotel we were all avoiding the boss. We knew he was indecisive so none of us wanted to catch his eye in case he dropped us. But Friday morning I opened the door of my room and there he was, just standing there. I wondered how long he had been there.

‘We went to his room and that was it. Didn’t even sit down. He said, “You won’t be in the 12 but I will need you in Rome”. I was speechless and in tears that afternoon. I can’t say I wanted us to lose to Man United (Liverpool did, 2-1) but I definitely had mixed emotions. Deep down, sitting there at Wembley, I was thinking things I didn’t want to think. My impression of Paisley was set now. In Rome I was on the bench. At 1-1 I was warming up, then Tommy Smith scored. I never came on.

‘After Rome my dad told me I had been given the rough end of the stick and I should think about my future. He died on the second day of pre-season training that summer. He was 50.’ 

One of Fairclough’s most memorable Liverpool goals came as a 16-year-old before he had even made his debut. Still an apprentice, the young forward was playing in a seven-v-seven game on a rough corner of the club’s Melwood training ground. It was staff versus ‘prennos’, a Liverpool tradition.

‘On that team there was the whole boot room,’ recalled Fairclough fondly. ‘Reuben Bennett, Bob Paisley, Bill Shankly, Joe Fagan, Ronnie Moran, Roy Evans. I was playing against them once and it was 5-5 and next goal wins. Anyway, Shanks used to pass in a certain way — he would open his body up — and I read it and intercepted it. Paisley was in goal but he was so small I just chipped it. The winner. 6-5. Shanks was furious.

‘Of the goals I scored that’s one of the ones I always remember. I was made up. It was Shanks who signed me but Bob did take a shine to me back then. I had a good relationship with him as a young lad.’ 

Fairclough shares a joke with team-mates Phil Neal (left), Phil Thompson (second right) and Terry McDermott

Fairclough shares a joke with team-mates Phil Neal (left), Phil Thompson (second right) and Terry McDermott

Born in 1957, Fairclough was a teenager as Shankly began to build the first great Liverpool team. He used to ‘mind’ cars for sixpence on match day before darting into Anfield for the last 15 minutes of home games. Eventually, he was spotted playing street football in a tournament on the car park where he now parks before matches.

‘Every school holiday I was there at 9am getting autographs,’ he said. ‘Shanks and Reuben Bennett would turn up and take the milk in off the step. Roger Hunt was my hero. I got his autograph 132 times.I signed as an apprentice at 16 and a half and we got two brown envelopes a week. Each had £8 in it. One for you and one for your lodgings. So mine went to my mum.

‘We did all the jobs: mopping floors, cleaning baths, pumping balls up, cleaning boots.

‘We were all assigned a professional and I had John Toshack. Nobody wanted Toshy because he didn’t pay. It was kind of accepted that you got between 50p and £1 a week from your pro. But Toshy once gave me a pair of Puma King boots and that made up for everything. Yellow and black. But I loved him. I absolutely loved Toshy. I would have done his boots for nothing all day.

‘I was lucky as I was only an apprentice for six months as I signed pro at 17. Some of the lads did those jobs for two and a half years. My wages went up to £30 a week. It’s a good grounding. Nothing wrong with it at all. Some of the lads could do with it today, even if it sounds archaic. When I was breaking into the first team I was still travelling on the bus and living at home. I didn’t move out until I was 21.’ 

Fairclough was still living at home, albeit on a new estate, on the most memorable night of his career. Anfield in the European Cup. Liverpool versus St Etienne. Red versus green.

Winning 2-1 on the night but heading out on away goals, Liverpool were saved when Fairclough — all bouncing orange hair — galloped through to score in front of the Kop.

Those who were there claim the ground shook. The YouTube footage is hypnotic. Liverpool — Keegan, Toshack, Neal and a gloveless Clemence — were breaking new ground and it was a seismic victory against the previous year’s finalists.

Fairclough reveals in his book that Michel Platini, France’s greatest footballer, has never let him forget it. At the end of the game, though, Fairclough, brought on in the 74th minute, is seen leaving the field without fuss. He is barely smiling and it’s a peculiar image.

‘People still come up to me, three or four times a day,’ he said, a fact illustrated during the interview. 

Fairclough is best remembered for scoring the winner for Liverpool against Saint Etienne at Anfield

Fairclough is best remembered for scoring the winner for Liverpool against Saint Etienne at Anfield

‘People want to talk about it and that’s lovely. They say they listened under their blankets in bed. Others say they were there. I’m very flattered of it now and how the lads remember it. It’s embarrassing sometimes. Maybe I didn’t realise the significance. All I knew was that as I ran through I had to score. Scoring goals was my identity. It was who I was. Afterwards I had a bottle of orange in the dressing room and there was some lemonade about. It was either that or a cup of tea.’

Fairclough’s transport home to his parents’ house that night was his first car. ‘An orange Ford Escort, not a new one,’ he said. ‘It was about 10.15pm so me and my mate Bernie said we would drop in for a pint with our mates at our local. But when we drove past it was heaving. We thought we wouldn’t get to the bar in time so we went home.

‘I watched the highlights with mum and dad on Granada and then I went to bed.’

The next morning Fairclough was photographed by the newspapers being served breakfast by his mother Ivy. Still a kid, in a single bed in a council house box-room. 

The Liverpool career of football’s most famous substitute came to an end in 1983. A dwindling number of appearances suggests it probably should have happened sooner. Ultimately, he left when Paisley offered him a new contract on reduced pay, from £600 a week down to £425.

Spells in Canada and Switzerland followed for a player who was only 26 before he returned home for unhappy times with Norwich and Wigan.

Fairclough — a grammar school student tipped for university — admits he overthought things, that he was too sensitive and he might have enjoyed a longer, more successful career had he been more phlegmatic. Deep down, he knows he underachieved.

‘I think I was too nice for my own good,’ he said. ‘But also, if you leave a Toshack or a Steve Heighway out then you are going to have more of an issue than if you leave out some kid from a council house.

‘It’s hard to say but I think Paisley used that a bit. He knew I wasn’t going to rock the boat. I found it very hard to confront him. I used to find out I wasn’t playing when I read it in the paper. Once Paisley blamed the directors. It’s only now I realise how seriously I took things. I was too sensitive. I overthought things, got too low. I took the pressure of the world on and I didn’t have to.’

Retired by 1991, Fairclough subsequently built himself an admirable career as a capable journalist. 

Former striker Fairclough admits he overthought things and was too sensitive during his playing career

Former striker Fairclough admits he overthought things and was too sensitive during his playing career

He suffered a mild heart attack while running in 2010 and, a year later, his dear wife Jan died suddenly. His standing at Anfield is reflected by the fact that Liverpool honoured Jan’s memory with a minute’s silence. His eyes moisten when I mention this. ‘That was awesome of them,’ he said.

Above all else, Fairclough remains proud of his club and of his place in its history. He understands it now. Voted Liverpool’s 18th most favourite player, he is ahead of some stellar names. ‘If you had offered me the top 50 I would have bitten your hand off,’ he said.

As he disappears briefly to feed the meter outside, he is stopped once again for a word about that night. He obliges with a smile and the obligatory selfie follows.

Old footballers remain footballers at heart, though, and Fairclough is no different. And perhaps it’s harder for those who feel they could have contributed more.

Fairclough’s one Liverpool hat-trick, for example, came in a 5-3 win at Norwich in 1980, a game remembered for a superb BBC ‘Goal of the Season’ from Norwich’s Justin Fashanu.

‘I saw it again on TV not long ago,’ he said. ‘I scored the first three goals and then I get a chance to make it 4-3. I’m clean through but Kevin Keelan saves it. I saw that again and couldn’t believe I had missed it. It bothered me.

‘This is 30 years after. I didn’t blast it over the bar or anything but I was, like, “Jeez”. That night I couldn’t sleep for thinking about it. It was as though I had played the game that day.’

David Fairclough’s autobiography, Supersub, is out now, published by deCoubertin Books. RRP: £18.99.

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