Liverpool FC History

John HouldingLiverpool FC’s Founding

On the 12th of March 1892, President of Everton John Houlding, and Everton Football Club went their separate ways. Many issues surrounded the split, most importantly regarding Everton’s rent at Anfield and Houlding’s apparent desire to make the greatest profit out of the club. Houlding had helped Everton make great strides in their development, helping them get into the Football League as well a playing a massive role in moving the club from Priory Road to Anfield. Problems however arose with Everton board members about the level of personal profit Houlding was making from the club. The Sandon Pub was owned by Houlding and was used by the Everton players and fans. Houlding’s ales were the only drinks allowed to be sold at the ground and to the players and this certainly grew hostility among the local press.

This was the context for the dispute over the rent. Houlding wanted to sell the ground and surrounding land to Everton and make the club a PLC but the board members felt that the price was too high. Houlding felt that the ground would pay for itself over time and that it would be a great way of developing the club further. He did not want to see the club go under and felt an interest free loan to buy the land would suit all parties. The board however felt that such a sale was only in Houlding’s interest to maximise profit and a long term rent deal was really better for the club. For this to be workable in Houlding’s eyes, rent had to be set at a high price, over double what it was a decade before, something Everton board members flatly refused to pay.

On March 12th 1892, Houlding unexpectedly turned up to a board meeting chaired by an opponent George Mahon who offered his seat to the President. Houlding, feeling he had lost the battle for control, exclaimed “I’m here on a trial, and a criminal never takes the chair,” and left with 19 other members. The vast majority of the board and the players however left to build a new ground north of Stanley Park.

So what were Houlding and his allies going to do with an empty ground? The solution was to found a new club but it was not initially called Liverpool FC. Two months previous in January 1892, already knowing that a split was inevitable, Houlding had attempted to set up a ‘new’ Everton under the name “Everton Football Club and Athletic Grounds Company plc,” registering the name in London on the 26th January. He hoped to steal the name away from the ‘old’ Everton due to the fact they were not a plc company. The attempt was not successful though as a Football Council meeting in early February declared there could not be two clubs with the same name in the league.

So on the day of the split of 12th March, at Houlding’s home on Anfield Road, Houlding’s friend William E. Barclay suggested the name of Liverpool. Barclay was Houlding’s first secretary at Everton and the former president agreed to his suggestion, after failing to acquire the name Everton FC. Barclay became the first secretary of the newly formed Liverpool Football Club but he was one of the few who had made the switch from Everton to Liverpool. Most of Everton’s board and players stayed loyal to the Toffees and Houlding & Barclay had to start all over again from the beginning with new players and backroom staff. An entire club had to be formed but what helped was the name they adopted. “Liverpool” encompassed the entire city, and they utilised local representations including the Liverbird emblem and the city’s colour red. On the footballing side, an Irishman John McKenna stayed loyal to Houlding and he built an entire new team.

As a manager and administrator, McKenna utilised a £500 loan from Houlding to purchase 12 Scottish players. His knowledge of the game brought in some talented footballers from north of the border and the club were denoted the “Team of all the Macs” due to the surnames of the players. McKenna was a tremendously important person in the club’s genesis, and he would later become President of the Football League and Vice-President of the FA.

Liverpool’s initial application to the Football League was rejected and they started off life in the Lancashire league. Their first match at Anfield was played on the 1st September 1892 in a friendly against Rotherham which they won 7-1. Unfortunately few people turned up to watch the match compared to the 10,000 who watched Everton on the same day. The team was not deterred on the pitch though as two days later they beat Higher Walton 8-0 in their first competitive match in the Lancashire league. In their first season they won the League title, the Liverpool District Cup and the Reserve Cup, an impressive treble considering they had only been in existence for a short period of time.

It would not be long though before they were a fully fledged Football League member and they played their first game in the Division Two on 2nd September 1893, away at Middlesbrough Ironopolis. Goals from Joe McQue and Malcolm McVean in the second half sealed victory for the visitors in their first game in league football. The best moment of the season came in October as they thrashed Boro on the return fixture 6-0 in front of 6,000 supporters at Anfield. Success continued during the season and they finished top of the league, eight points ahead of Small Heath, to gain promotion to the top flight. It was an unhappy first season in Division One though, as they were relegated, but they bounced straight back at the first time of asking and established themselves as one of the top teams in England. Under legendary manager Tom Watson, they won their first league title in 1901, 17 more championships were to come over the next century.

Tom WatsonThe Tom Watson Years

The first great manager in Liverpool’s history, Tom Watson took over as manager on the 17th of August 1896. At his previous club Sunderland, Watson had a superb record after taking control in 1889 as he won three titles in four years at the club, only finishing runners up in his other season. A team, which like Liverpool, had risen quickly from obscurity, he also led them to three FA Cup Semi final appearances up until the day he left. At 37 years of age, Watson had already achieved a lot in the game and probably would have gone on to win more titles in the North East if he had continued at the club, but Liverpool owner John Houlding had other ideas.

He gave Liverpool’s chief administrative officer John McKenna permission to offer Watson a deal that he could not possibly refuse, and the young manager quickly changed allegiances to the Merseyside club in 1896. Success followed Watson to his new club, and he began to build a great side at Anfield. His side finished in a good fifth position during his first season in charge and would go on to feature in two FA Cup semi finals before 1900. In 1899, Liverpool had a chance of winning their first ever title, playing a crucial final day match against Aston Villa in Birmingham. With a superior goal difference, a draw would have been good enough to achieve that elusive first championship, but by half time, they had conceded five goals, putting to an end any hopes of a league title.

The disappointment of such a dramatic final day loss, affected next season’s form and they finished a lowly tenth in Division One, a stark contrast to the previous year’s successes. Watson did not take long to get the team back into top gear though and in the first full season of the 20th century, he gave the Reds their first League title in 1901. The championship was achieved with just a two point advantage over Watson’s former club Sunderland and no one was in any doubt as to who should be credited with the success. Watson always had an eye for talent and he brought many of the names which gave Liverpool their early years of success. Players who played a vital role in Liverpool’s title triumphs in the first years of the new century were all brought in by Watson, goalscorers Jack Parkinson & Sam Raybould, goalkeepers Sam Hardy & Elisha Scott and Scot Alex Raisbeck.

Despite their title winning success though, things took a turn for the worse a few years later as they were relegated from Division One. The Liverpool board however stuck with Watson and their faith was repaid when he got the club promoted at the first attempt and went on to win the club’s second 1st division title a year later, the first time any club had won the 2nd and 1st division titles in successive seasons. In the same season as their second league success in 1906, Watson continued his bad run of fortune in the FA Cup by losing his sixth semi-final to arch rivals Everton, who went on to win the trophy that season.

In the league, season performances never hit the heights of 1906 under Watson’s guidance again and the closest they came was runners up to Aston Villa in 1910. Four years later, just before the start of the Second World War, Watson finally made it to his first FA Cup Final, 25 years after his first attempt. It was to be another failure for the manager though as he lost out to Burnley 1-0.

After 19 incredibly successful years in charge of the team, the 1914/15 season would be Tom Watson’s last as manager and on the 6th May 1915 at the age of 56, he died. At his funeral, players lined up to pay their respects and they acted as pallbearers for his coffin, demonstrating their love and affection for a very popular manager. He was buried at Anfield Cemetery and a long, illustrious career had come to an end. 5 Championships at two different clubs was a fantastic achievement but above all else he helped Liverpool make their important first steps as an established club, winning their first titles in 1901 and 1906, and so he has a very particular place in the club’s history. A legacy which was going to take some doing in following.

David AshworthThe Inter-War Years

After the First World War, results for Liverpool had been poor under caretaker manager George Patterson and former Oldham manager David Ashworth was drafted in during December 1919. Before his appointment, the Reds had only won two in eleven matches, but with Ashworth in charge, the Merseyside club finished a respectable fourth. Another 4th place was to come in the 1920/21 season but it was Ashworth’s third year at the club which would see the Anfield faithful jumping for joy. During the close season, Ashworth bought Fred Hopkin for a big price of £2,800. His purchase added quality to an already experienced team including Elisha Scott and Ephraim Longworth, and it was enough for the Reds to challenge for the title during the 1921/22 season.

It was a side that was brimming with talent, none more so than up front where Harry Chambers and Dick Forshaw were neck and neck for the club’s top goalscorer, scoring 21 and 20 respectively. The highlight of the campaign came when the Reds beat Cardiff 5-1 in front of 50,000 fans at Anfield with Chambers scoring a fantastic hat-trick. Such results helped Liverpool to the league title and despite losing two of the last three games of the season, they finished six points ahead of runners up Tottenham.

Back to back titles were on the cards the following season, but bizarrely manager Ashworth left the club half way through the season in February to join his former club Oldham despite them being bottom of the league. It was a very strange decision with Liverpool on the brink of successive championships and the decision was never explained to fans. Ashworth would subsequently suffer relegation with Oldham and leave the club a year later.

The departure of Ashworth did not affect Liverpool’s title chances though as Chambers and Forshaw once again fired Liverpool to another title. They beat Sunderland 5-1, Arsenal 5-2 and most memorably a 5-1 victory in the Merseyside derby. A hat-trick from Chambers sealed victory after the Reds went a goal down in the first half. The striker finished top goalscorer once again with 25 goals, and Forshaw was not far behind with 20. They finished the season top of the league, six points ahead of Sunderland despite the loss of their manager.

Important players such as Chambers and Forshaw were crucial to achieving back to back titles but goalkeeper Elisha Scott was also irreplaceable. A legendary keeper at Anfield, Scott spent 22 years at the club and his small agile frame was crucial to keeping clean sheets while Forshaw and Chambers fired in the goals at the other end.

The next 5 years at Liverpool would be under the guidance of director Matthew McQueen. After steadying the ship after Ashworth left, to guide the club to their fourth league title in a temporary capacity, 60 year old McQueen stayed in charge until 1928. His time in charge after his first season wasn’t entirely successful as he led the club to 12th, 4th, 7th and 9th place finishes in his four full seasons in charge. He retired due to ill health in February 1928 with the club fighting a relegation battle and they only narrowly avoided the drop, finishing 16th along with six other clubs on 39 points with Tottenham on 38 and Middlesbrough on 37 relegated.

The summer of 1928 saw George Patterson appointed as manager once again but the most significant happening during the close season was the expansion of the Spion Kop. The Kop was already known as one of the loudest stands in the country but now after extending the capacity to 30,000 spectators and fitting an iron cantilever roof, vocal support from the stand would become deafening and would characterise the nature of the ground until the early 1990s.

With Patterson as secretary manager (a position that means joint club secretary and team manager) and a new stand, promising years look set to be ahead for the team. Patterson’s eight year reign was nothing but ordinary though as between 1928 and 1936, Liverpool never finished higher than fifth but never ever really looked like relegation contenders. There was only one real scare in the 1935/36 season as a run of three wins in 20 matches meant they were dangerously near the drop, but they managed to escape relegation by three points. Patterson’s time as manager was however at an end. The pressures of both being club secretary and team manager had taken its toll on his health and he resigned his position as manager in August 1936, keeping his role as secretary which he had held since the death of Tom Watson in 1915.

A new manager was needed and the club turned to an unlikely figure of George Kay. Although Kay was highly respected in the game, his time at Southampton was not that impressive but his experience and different approach to management, persuaded the Liverpool board to appoint Kay in August 1936. It was only another three years before the Second World War broke out and disrupted fixtures, ending the careers of many players.

bill_shanklyThe Shankly Years

After George Kay managed Liverpool to another league title success in the first post-war championship and guided the team to a losing FA Cup final against Arsenal in 1950, he retired due to ill health in 1951 and Don Welsh took over as manager. A team that had already spent a number of years in mid table and with a less than ambitious board, the Reds sunk lower and lower under Welsh until the lowest day in the club’s history in April 1954 when they were relegated from the first division. Phil Taylor took over from Welsh in 1956 but he couldn’t get the Merseysiders promoted in his three seasons in charge. It was time for another manager, it was time for a man called Bill Shankly.

Shankly had been asked to takeover after George Kay retired back in 1951, but refused due to the board of director’s insistence that they would pick the team. It was general practice at the time but Shankly insisted that a manager should pick the starting eleven. He got the job on his own terms in 1959 after Liverpool chairman Tom Williams approached him after Phil Taylor’s resignation. Taylor had two near misses in getting the club promoted but with crowds averaging 45,000, the club was really too big for the division. Shankly himself had not managed any really big club but he could see Liverpool were a sleeping giant ready to be reawakened. He set out to radically change the team, revolutionise training and the general upgrade of facilities. The stadium was old but the training pitches were horrendous and previous managers had resorted to training on tarmac, mainly doing running drills. Shankly knew this was not on and training quickly became firmly football based with small sided games predominant. Such training allowed the Scot to see who was up to scratch. Those who worked hard in training were generally excel on match day and he could see there was a lot of deadwood to discard.

To be up in the top league with the likes of Arsenal, you had to spend money. It is very hard for players to believe in themselves, when they are surrounded by decrepit old facilities and it something Shankly rectified. Once this occurred, he reinforced the players confidence with his excellent man management skills, and combined this with his footballing knowledge to find players to improve the team. Two such players were Scottish pair, striker Ian St John and defender Ron Yeats. Shankly had tried to sign them for Huddersfield but the lack of ambition at the Terriers saw the Scot being told the club could not afford them. The same thing occurred at Anfield when Shankly asked the board to buy them, but new director and local businessman Sawyer, who shared Shankly’s ambitions, agreed they had to buy the pair. They paid 37,500 to Motherwell, a record signing, for St John’s services and he rewarded the club by scoring 22 goals in his first season. Ron Yeats, who was bought for a mere 22,000 in comparison, wore the captain’s armband, and Shankly promised he would lead the side to promotion. The Scot was not wrong as they won Division Two by eight points, and during the season they scored 5 goals no less than six times, with 64 goals being shared by the legendary striker partnership of Roger Hunt and St John.

After a year in the top flight, Liverpool won their sixth league title and Shankly’s first as manager in 1964. The team consisted of some great players including goalkeeper Tommy Lawrence; defenders Tommy Smith, Chris Lawler and Ron Yeats; wingers Peter Thompson and Ian Callaghan, and the formidable striker pairing of Ian St John and Roger Hunt. The exciting attacking team scored 5 goals on an amazing seven occasions during the season.

The tremendous success of the team was not only down to Shankly’s great eye for talented players but also a great psychology to get the best out of the players he had. The season after the title success, Liverpool wore their all red kit for the first time. Shankly believed it would intimidate the opposition and he said to Ron Yeats when he put on the Red shorts,that he looked “7ft tall,” another masterstroke in boosting the confidence of his players. Shankly also believed the now legendary Kop anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” should be kept being played at Anfield before matches. Shankly was fundamental in shaping the character of what we now know of as the traditions of Liverpool football club.

On the pitch, Shankly’s team was going strength to strength and after losing in the European Cup Semi-final to Inter Milan, they won their first FA Cup in an extra time win over Leeds United. A year later, they had a chance of their first piece of European silverware but they lost out to Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in the European Cup Winners Cup final. The 1965/66 season did however see Shankly reclaim the League Championship ahead of Leeds United after beating Chelsea 2-1 in May to win the title.

A barren spell of seven years without a title then occurred. It was a transitional period for the club as the generation of players who guided the team to such success were nearing the end of their careers. A fundamental turning point came in February 1970 when the Reds were knocked out of the FA Cup by Division Two side Watford. Shankly later said: “After Watford I knew I had to do my job and change the team. It had to be done and if I didn’t do it I was shirking my obligations.” Out went St John and Yeats, in came Ray Clemence, John Toshack, Kevin Keegan and Steve Heighway to join the younger elements of the 60s squad, Emlyn Hughes, Callaghan, Lawler and Smith. The combination of experience and youth worked and in 1973, they won the league and the UEFA Cup. The Reds had been involved in a three way title battle with Leeds United and Arsenal for most of the season but a 2-0 victory over Leeds at Anfield on Easter Monday all but secured the title. A month later, they would beat Borussia Moenchengladbach over two legs to win their first European trophy.

A year later, the team finished runners-up to Leeds in the league but they won the club’s second FA Cup after beating Newcastle United 3-0 in the final. Kevin Keegan scored two for the Reds but the game would be Shankly’s last as manager. He resigned on the 12th of July 1974 to an Anfield press conference in stunned silence after the news. 15 years of incredible achievements had come to an end but the Scot later said he had begun to feel tired from all the years of management. The mantle would move to Shankly’s number two, Bob Paisley, a person who would become a legend in his own right.

Bob PaisleyThe Paisley Years

Bob Paisley was a reluctant successor to Bill Shankly. In every way a contrasting figure to the Scot, Paisley shunned the spotlight Shankly so excelled in and preferred to work in the shadows while the legendary Liverpool manager turned the style on in front of the media. He had worked alongside Shankly during his 15 year spell as manager and had been at the club for twice as long, as a player, assistant trainer, chief trainer, and assistant manager. Shankly had stated to the Liverpool board that best thing to do was to promote the current staff as they were sound, competent coaches and that meant Paisley as Shankly’s assistant was the only real choice as his successor.

Such reluctance on Paisley’s behalf to become manager was borne out of his loyalty to Shankly and the lack of confidence in his own ability to succeed in the role. According to former chief executive Peter Robinson, the chairman and board members basically had to gang up on him so he would take the job. After many days thinking over the offer from new chairman John Smith, Paisley accepted the position as manager. He said after his appointment

“I never wanted this job in the first place and I’m not even sure I can do it. I need all the help I can get from you the players. There will be no disruptions to the teams. Let’s just keep playing it the Liverpool way.”

Hardly an inspiring speech like his predecessor would have made but it shows the dramatic difference between Paisley and Shankly as characters. Paisley was always happier out of the limelight, he was an excellent coach, judge of player ability and new everything about Liverpool Football Club. His personality was the antithesis to Shankly’s flamboyant, charismatic style and he preferred his teams to do the talking. It was a style that was however, incredibly successful, and his tenure saw the most successful period in Liverpool’s history.

Paisley’s reign got off to an inauspicious start during his first season as he failed to win a trophy. A loss to Middlesbrough on the penultimate day of the season put an end to any title hopes after a poor start to the campaign, they lost to Ipswich in the FA Cup and lost in the second round of the Cup Winners Cup to Ferencvaros. Pressure grew on the manager at the start of the 1975/76 season with a poor opening day 2-0 loss to QPR followed by a 2-2 draw against West Ham at Anfield. Paisley’s men also found themselves 2-0 down in their third game against Tottenham but with the Kop behind them, goals from Keegan, Case and Heighway overturned the deficit and they came out of the game with a 3-2 win. The result kick started the Reds season and they began to play some good football with Toshack and Keegan up front, leading the table at Christmas. A dip in form however allowed QPR into the title race and the Londoners won 13 out of their last 15 games to lie top of the league, 1 point ahead of Liverpool after playing all of their games. The Reds needed a win against Wolves to lift the title and after being 1-0 down, the Merseysiders came back to win 3-1 to bring the title back to Anfield. The team would go on to secure a double, sealing a 4-3 aggregate win over FC Bruges in the second leg in Belgium to win another UEFA Cup.

The double was just a foretaste of more titles to come from Paisley’s Liverpool. Paisley team’s success was based on the gradual evolution of the side. Players such as Kenny Dalglish, Alan Kennedy, Graeme Souness and Terry McDermott were all brought in to replace others in different years, and the acquiring of such outstanding players was down to Paisley’s excellent player judgement. The 1976/77 season could be seen as the most successful in the team’s history. Paisley’s team needed three points from the last four games to win the League title for the tenth time. Draws against Coventry and QPR meant the Reds only needed a point when West Ham visited Anfield. They got what they needed with a 0-0 draw and another title was wrapped up, but a more significant game was on the horizon, the Reds’ first European Cup final. On a momentous night in Rome, in Kevin Keegan’s last game for Liverpool, the Reds won their first European Cup. Goals from Terry McDermott, Steve Heighway and a penalty from Phil Neal secured a 3-1 win.

To replace Kevin Keegan, who was on the move to the continent with Hamburg, Paisley went North of the border for Kenny Dalglish. Dalglish was already a legend at Celtic but he was to become most probably Liverpool’s greatest ever player. He helped the side to another European Cup success at the end of the season and although the Reds lost out to Nottingham Forest in both the league and the League Cup final, Dalglish scored the only goal against FC Bruges at Wembley with a delicate chip over the goalkeeper to make sure Liverpool were the first team to retain the European Cup. The team with the likes of Dalglish, Souness, Case, Fairclough, Clemence and Hansen excelled over the next few years. In 1979 they sealed the League title against Aston Villa after scoring 85 goals, conceding only 16 and amounting 68 points, a record under the two points for a win system. This was followed by another league title a year later, sealed once again against Aston Villa, given Paisley his fourth league title as manager and the club’s 12th in total.

The 1980-81 season would see Liverpool secure a third European Cup. Despite finishing a disappointing fifth in the league table that season, the Reds had secured their first ever League Cup triumph (they would later win four in a row under Paisley and Fagan) and faced Spanish giants Real Madrid in the European final in Paris. Left back Alan Kennedy scored the only goal after 83 minutes in a tight encounter and Liverpool had a third cup triumph. Paisley would go onto win his fifth and sixth league titles in 1982 and 1983 respectively before retiring as manager. His last title was won by an 11 point margin, all the more remarkable considering they only took two points from the last seven games and it was a fitting way for the Bob to end his time in charge. The legendary Liverpool coach had won six league championships, three European Cups, one UEFA Cup and three League Cups, it is a haul that makes him the most successful manager in Liverpool’s long and illustrious history.

dalglish managerThe Dalglish Years

After Joe Fagan’s brief spell in charge in which he won the League title, the league cup and the club’s fourth European Cup in 1984, Kenny Dalglish was the surprise appointment as Liverpool’s first player-manager. King Kenny was already a legend at Anfield but he had a big job on his hands picking up the pieces after the tragedy at Heysel. It was a difficult challenge for any manager but it was particularly so for Dalglish who was only 34.

Any doubts about Dalglish’s capabilities to cope with the pressure of being both Liverpool manager and player were allayed in his first season in charge. He presided over Liverpool’s first ever League and FA Cup double in the 1985/86 season. Dalglish played himself in the run-in to the double triumph and scored the winning goal at Chelsea to seal the league championship. They went on to defeat Everton in the FA Cup final meaning that both trophy triumphs came at the expense of their bitter city rivals. Dalglish’s second season as manager was however less successful and the Reds ended the year trophyless with the double whammy of star striker Ian Rush leaving for Juventus at the end of that campaign.

Dalglish knew he had to make some crucial acquisitions to keep the team competing for the title in the coming season and he bought John Barnes and Peter Beardsley to play with mid season signing John Aldridge. With Aldridge and Beardsley partnered up front, Dalglish’s time on the pitch invariably decreased and he increasingly spent his time on the touchline, but it wasn’t to the detriment to the team’s performances as Liverpool began to play some sublime attacking football. Many fans believe it was the best football that had ever been played at Anfield but it was also a winning formula. With Beardsley and Barnes providing goals and assists, John Aldridge finished the season the league’s top goalscorer with 26 goals as the Reds won the title with ease. A 5-0 win against Nottingham Forest was the highlight of the season but the only real disappointment was the shock 1-0 defeat to Wimbledon in the FA Cup Final to prevent Dalglish achieving another League and FA Cup double.

Legend Ian Rush returned to Anfield for the start of the 1988/89 season but the delight over his signing was to be overshadowed later on in the season by the Hillsborough disaster. 96 Liverpool fans died that day and emotions were high when Liverpool got to the FA Cup final to play arch rivals Everton. They were determined to bring the cup back to Anfield for the fourth time in the club’s history and they duly did with two goals from Rush to seal a 3-2 victory. The Reds did however lose out to Arsenal in the title race as a last gasp goal from Michael Thomas in the final fixture of the season sealed the championship for the Gunners with a 2-0 victory at Anfield.

The Merseysiders were determined to regain their title the following season and they duly did, beating QPR 2-1 and winning their 18th league title with two games to spare. The stand out performer of the season was John Barnes who scored 28 goals and was rewarded with the Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year. The season was to be however, Dalglish’s last full season in charge as the pressures of the Hillsborough disaster had begun to get to the Scot. The tragedy had affected Dalglish deeply and he attended many of the funerals of the victims personally, much to the appreciation of Liverpool fans. The start of the 1990/91 season appeared to show no apparent signs of stress with ten consecutive victories but at the turn of the year, Liverpool’s title defence began to unravel and the final straw came after an FA Cup Fifth Round replay when Everton came from behind four times to draw 4-4. Defensive problems were undermining Liverpool’s season and such difficulties did not help Dalglish with all the other stresses the last two years had given him. He resigned two days after the cup tie due to health problems and retired from football, ending his 13 year association with a club where he had become a legend as both a player and manager.

Gerard_HoullierThe Barren Years

The nineties could not be said to be as bad as the fifties or even the thirties in terms of the history of Liverpool Football Club, but in terms of the achievements that came before them, the lack of any real success during this time is amplified. After Kenny Dalglish resigned in February 1991, another Kop Hero Graeme Souness was appointed and although he missed out on the title in 1990/91 season, the future of the club looked in good hands. Souness had a successful 5 year spell at Glasgow Rangers and although Dalglish had left him with an aging squad, it was hoped Souness could rebuild the side and make a challenge for the title once again. It didn’t turn out like that though as stars such as Peter Beardsley and Steve McMahon were sold and lesser players such as Mark Walters, Paul Stewart and Julian Dicks came in. Injuries also took their toll on the team as key players such as Ian Rush, Ronnie Whelan, Jan Molby and John Barnes all had significant spells on the touch line. The 1991/92 season did however finish on a high note after winning the FA Cup but it would be the height of Souness’s reign. Youngsters such Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler and Jamie Redknapp were all developing as players but the rest of the team just did not live up to the billing as title contenders. The 1992/93 season saw the team slipping to 15th place in March before recovering to finish sixth. The writing seemed to be on the wall for Souness and despite a promising start to the 1993/94 season after new signing Nigel Clough scored two goals in a 2-0 win against Sheffield Wednesday, the team fell back and by the turn of the year lay in 7th place in the league. The last straw came for Souness when they lost an FA Cup Third Round replay to Bristol City 1-0 at Anfield and the board unceremoniously sacked the manager.

The tradition of promoting from within was revived when Roy Evans was appointed manager in 1994. Part of the old ‘Bootroom,’ Evans had been on the Anfield coaching staff for 20 years and was widely tipped to be Liverpool manager one day. A success as reserve team coach, he now had to start a rebuilding process to get Liverpool back to the top of the league. After the struggles under Souness during the 1993/94 season, Evans guided Liverpool to an eighth place finish and the future looked a bit more promising. It certainly looked that way in Evans’s first full season in charge as they were in third place by January 1995 with 45 points, just one shy of Man United in second position. The season also saw Liverpool lift their first trophy since the FA Cup in 1992 as they won the League Cup 2-1 against Bolton Wanderers. Young players such as Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman and Jamie Redknapp were coming into their own at this point. Fowler especially was a goal machine and was already worshipped as a Kop Idol. To make Liverpool’s attack even more exciting, the Reds purchased Stan Collymore from Nottingham Forest for a record fee of £8.5million before the start of the 1995/96 season. It proved initially to be a good capture as Fowler and Collymore formed a good partnership which helped Liverpool to a third place finish, 11 points behind Manchester United and into an FA Cup final against their Manchester rivals. Although the Reds had begun to get nearer the top of the league again, there were still some problems in the squad. Evans was perceived to be too lax with discipline and to be too nice to his players. A lad culture of drink, gambling and other excesses began to grow around the squad and it was typified by the white suits they wore to the FA Cup final. Derided as looking like playboys, they were denoted as the ‘Spice Boys,’ a term the generation of players such as Fowler, McManaman and Ruddock would not shrug off. The particularly poor performance in the final which saw them lose out to a late goal by Eric Cantona typified their tag of nearly men, of players who could have done a lot more with their talent.

This ‘nearly men’ tag was reinforced in the 1996/97 season when they had their closest shave with winning the title. With a good lead over Manchester United at the turn of the year, they lost their advantage in the second half of the season and were overtaken by United in the final stretch. Yet they still had their chances in April after United lost to Derby but they failed to take advantage by somehow losing to Coventry City at home before losing once more against United the following week. A 2nd third place finish in four years in 1998 was to be Roy Evans final full season in charge as Frenchman Gerard Houllier was drafted in to be in the unusual role of joint manager.

Such an arrangement only lasted until November 1998 and Evans resigned as Houllier took sole charge. The first manager from beyond the British Isles to manage Liverpool, Houllier had a tough task of turning the season around. He brought in Phil Thompson as his assistant manager but the 1998/99 season was one of transition as they crashed out early to Celta Vigo in the UEFA Cup losing in both home and away ties, while conceding two goals in injury time to crash out of the FA Cup fourth round to arch rivals Manchester United. The Reds finished the season seventh, outside of the European qualification places, and another rebuilding process had to get underway in the summer of 1999. Centre-backs Stephane Henchoz and Sami Hyypia joined the club in the summer and immediately set about building a strong partnership at the back. The emergence of youngsters Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen was also very promising and their seemed to be a good nucleus to build from. 5 defeats before the end of September 1999 however put pay to any title hopes and although they had a good second half to the season, they missed out on Champions League qualification after dropping crucial points in the closing fixtures of the campaign.

The 2000/01 season would be Houllier’s most successful time in charge for although they lost nine times in the league, it was in the cup competitions where they excelled. Purchases such as Markus Babbel and Gary McAllister in the summer gave the team some much needed experience and it was their defensive play which would get them to three major finals. It was an incredible treble success, they beat Birmingham City in the League Cup final on penalties, they sealed an FA Cup triumph in Cardiff after a late double strike from Michael Owen and they won the UEFA Cup after an amazing 5-4 win against Alaves which saw the Reds win by a golden goal in extra time.

Such success prompted hopes of a league title in the subsequent campaign and they came close finishing second with 80 points. It was a fantastic achievement considering Houllier had heart surgery in October which kept him out until March. Phil Thompson managed admirably in his absence and by the time Houllier had returned, the Reds had successfully qualified from both group stages of the Champions League. Although they went out to Bayer Leverkusen after only a narrow home victory set up a defeat in Germany, the second place finish meant that optimism was high going into the 2002/03 season. Such expectations were justified when Liverpool won nine and drew three of their first 12 Premier League games. The loss to Middlesbrough in the thirteenth match however proved to be the turning point of both the season and Houllier’s tenure in charge. A too cautious approach led to a 1-0 loss against Boro and they would not win again in the league until January, the worst streak since the relegation season of 1953/54. Criticism was levelled on Houllier on spending huge amounts of money on players such as Diouf, Diao and Cheyrou and also on the team’s failure to qualify from the Champions League group stage. A triumph in the League Cup final against arch rivals Manchester United probably staved off the sack but results continued to be poor in the 2003/04 season. Houllier targeted fourth place and he achieved his aim at the end of the season but with no Champions League or meaningful cup run, the Liverpool board weren’t placated and announced that Houllier would leave the club before the end of his contract.

The Benitez Years

It wasn’t an easy time for a new manager to come in at Liverpool in the summer of 2004. After the sacking of Gerard Houllier, rumours were circulating that important players such as Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen wanted to leave the club, and with a vast array of poor quality players already at the club, new coach Rafa Benitez had a mammoth task of changing the fortunes of a club in decline. The Spanish manager had experience in Spain of reviving the fortunes of a club in the form of Valencia, and now he was given the reins of the Merseyside club to do exactly the same thing.

During the course of the summer, he managed to persuade Gerrard to stay at the club despite overtures from Chelsea, but he couldn’t prevent Owen leaving and after the striker refused a new contract, he was sold to Real Madrid. Benitez then proceeded to put his own mark on squad personnel, bringing in a number of Spaniards including Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia to improve the quality of the team. Many of these initial Spanish signings did not work out but the purchase of Alonso and Garcia would prove to be rather more successful, both becoming almost immediate fan favourites among the Kop.

The league season was another disappointing one for Liverpool fans as key players missed crucial parts of the season, leading to a fifth place finish. However, the Reds excelled in cup competitions as Benitez’s tactical acumen came to the fore. They reached the League Cup final, losing to Chelsea 3-2 after extra time, but it was their Champions League run which would live long in the memory. After struggling through the qualifying round against Grazer, Liverpool needed Steven Gerrard to fire in a 25 yard screamer against Olympiakos to get them through the group stages. After memorable victories against Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus and Chelsea in the knockout rounds, Liverpool faced AC Milan in the final in Istanbul. In the most memorable European Cup final of all time, the Reds recovered from 3-0 down at half-time to level 3-3 in the second half before winning the match on penalties. In what was christened by Liverpool fans as the ‘Miracle of Istanbul,’ Benitez changed tactics at half-time and brought on Didi Hamann to neutralise the threat of Kaka. Heads were down in the half-time team talk but Benitez encouraged the players that they only needed an early goal in the second half to unsettle Milan’s nerves. Extra motivation came from the amazing 45,000 Reds supporters in the ground who continued to believe and sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ in the half time interval, and the fact that Reds coach Alex Miller believed that the Milan players were already celebrating a Cup triumph at half-time.

An early goal did come from Liverpool after half time after a great header from Steven Gerrard. It led to dramatic quick fire come back as Vladimir Smicer scored from outside of the box to make it 3-2 and then minutes later Gerrard went tumbling in the box to get a penalty for the Reds. Xabi Alonso stepped up to take the spot kick, and although his initial effort was saved by Dida, he hammered in the rebound to complete a magnificent comeback. The team held on for the rest of the game and extra time as last ditch tackles from lionhearted Jamie Carragher (who had been shifted to centre-back by Benitez during his first season as manager) and a miracle save from Dudek to keep out Shevchenko’s shot, led to penalties. For the shoot out, Carragher told Dudek to replicate Bruce Grobelaar’s antics in a previous European Cup final, and the trick worked as the Polish keeper saved Shevchenko’s crucial penalty to win Liverpool’s fifth European Cup. It was such an unlikely triumph for so many reasons, the 3-0 deficit at half-time for one, but what was most apparent was the lack of star players in the Liverpool team. Both the desire of the players as well as the tactics of Benitez had contributed to an astonishing victory.

Due to Liverpool’s poor league form during the 2004/05 season, speculation was still rife about club captain Steven Gerrard moving away from Anfield. No doubt the Champions League triumph helped make his decision but he rejected the possibility of moving to Chelsea and signed a new contract to stay at Liverpool. Benitez changed many members of the squad despite the win in Istanbul and players such as Igor Biscan, Vladimir Smicer, Antonio Nunez and Josemi came to be surplus to requirements. Signings such as Peter Crouch, Pepe Reina, Momo Sissoko and Daniel Agger bolstered the squad heading into the 2005/06 campaign and although there was to be no league title, performances on the pitch certainly improved as a third place finish, a point behind second, showed some progression in the Spanish manager’s second season in charge. There was also more silverware to be had as they won the FA Cup for the seventh time in the club’s history. Beating Chelsea, Manchester United and Luton in a magnificent 5-3 victory on the way, they faced West Ham in the final. After recovering from 2-0 down, they found themselves 3-2 down going into the final minutes of the match but once again Steven Gerrard was the man of the moment, firing in a fantastic shot from outside the box to send the match into extra-time. After no goals in the extra period, the game went to penalties and Reina saved three to bring the Cup back to Merseyside.

Optimism was high going into the 2006/07 campaign, many in the English press were predicting Liverpool would challenge for the title and the signings of Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy and Jermaine Pennant were signals of Benitez’s ambitions. Despite starting the season promisingly though after beating Chelsea 2-1 to win the Community Shield, the Reds’ title challenge faltered as their poor away form cost them valuable points. Their defence of the FA Cup did not last long as they were knocked out by Arsenal and they then proceeded to lose to the Gunners 6-3 at Anfield to be knocked in the League Cup, the biggest defeat at home since 1913. The saving grace though was Liverpool’s run in the Champions League. Despite an altercation between John Arne Riise and Craig Bellamy involving a golf club, the two combined to help Liverpool attain a famous 2-1 victory against Barcelona at the Nou Camp in the first leg of the last 16 tie. Progressing past Barca on away goals after losing 1-0 at Anfield, they proceeded to sweep aside PSV 4-0 on aggregate before meeting Chelsea in the Semi-finals once again, where they won a penalty shoot-out to reach another Champions League final. The final was remarkably against AC Milan again but this time they would lose 2-1 in Athens, despite playing better than they did in the final in Istanbul two years before.

During the season, new owners in Americans George Gillett and Tom Hicks had arrived at the club and Benitez proceeded to spend big on some key summer signings in an attempt to bring that elusive league title back to Anfield. Fernando Torres was bought from Atletico Madrid for £20million, Ryan Babel from Ajax for £11.5million while players such as Robbie Fowler, Craig Bellamy, Djibril Cisse and Luis Garcia left the club. A power struggle however ensued in the club that clouded Liverpool’s Premier League ambitions in the 2007/08 season. The new owners were rumoured to be talking to Jurgen Klinsmann about the possibility of taking over as manager and Benitez played out the dispute in the press. The loss of long term right hand man Pako Ayesteran also affected the club’s chances and they crashed out of the FA Cup to Barnsley. Despite reaching the semi finals of the Champions League again, they lost out this time to Chelsea and the Reds ended the season without silverware. Fernando Torres had however been a revelation and his goal record had demonstrated Benitez’s eye for talent if he had the money, but storm clouds were on the horizon as the credit crunch combined with the owners’ excessive debt on the club to make large transfer fees a thing of the past.

Robbie Keane was signed for a substantial figure during the summer of 2008 but Benitez was frustrated at the lack of movement on the signing of Gareth Barry. Liverpool started the 2008/09 season very well and Benitez achieved his first league win over Manchester United at Anfield in September as well breaking Chelsea’s 86 match unbeaten home run in the same month. A good run of results continued until December despite Benitez missing two games so that kidney stones to be removed. A remarkable outburst against Sir Alex Ferguson in January however proceeded a run of bad results including a loss to Everton in the FA Cup. Benitez was also still in dispute with the owners and rejected a new contract on the grounds that he wanted more control over transfers. He got his wish and signed a new contract in March 2009 and Rick Parry coincidentally, who was central to the dispute, also announced his decision to leave the club at the end of the season. Six months after he joined the club, Robbie Keane returned to join Spurs and with the absence of Fernando Torres for large parts of the season, there was a concern about the lack of strike power up front. Despite this, results began to pick up and a 5-0 aggregate win over Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League and a 4-1 win over Manchester United in the league at Old Trafford were highlights of the season. Remarkable successive 4-4 draws against Chelsea, which knocked them out at the quarter final stage of the Champions League, and against Arsenal in the league, hampered Liverpool’s trophy ambitions. They finished 4 points behind champions Manchester United in the league in second place but it was the closest they had come to a league title for almost 20 years.

Such a close shave meant expectations were high for 2009/10 season but the loss of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid (after the Spaniard had become unsettled the previous summer due to Benitez’s pursuit of Gareth Barry) meant that changes had to be made to a winning formula. Alberto Aquilani was purchased from Roma for £20million but an ankle injury would keep him out for the first few months of the season. Glen Johnson replaced Alvaro Arbeloa at right back but there were no other significant signings in the summer, except for a modest outlay for Greek defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos. The team lost 2 of their first three games and never recovered from their poor start as significant victories against Manchester United and Everton were followed by more poor results. The team crashed out of the Champions League group stages and lost to Reading in a FA Cup replay after losing 2-1 in extra time at Anfield. By February, Benitez had managed to stabilise the situation by ensuring a tight backline and his ambitions for the remainder of the season were to achieve a fourth place finish and winning the Europa League.