Title Winning Legends, It Wasn’t Always Easy

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Twenty-five games in and the title race is in full swing. Nerves are starting to kick in, my sphincter is pulsing like a teenager’s heart after five cans of Red Bull and I’m pretty sure I’ve aged a few years in the past few weeks.

I digress. The point of this article was to discuss previous title wins for Liverpool, how they won them and who challenged them. Without any spoiler alerts, if social media had been around in the eighties I think my dad would have been so pissed off with it all there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have been conceived. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not but you wouldn’t be feasting your eyes on this red hot content if not. You be the judge.

 

1983/84 Season

Winners – Liverpool (OBVIOUSLY)

  • Played – 42
  • W – 22
  • D – 14
  • L – 6
  • Points – 80

 

If you think this season is tough, I suggest you read this on the toilet. Ok so you know how the story ends, it’s not that bad but Liverpool should have secured the league title on the 14th April but they suffered a shock 2-0 defeat away to Stoke City, who at the time were in the midst of a relegation battle with Notts County, Birmingham and Wolves. Ian Painter and Colin Russell would come their rescue that day, much to the disappointment of Liverpool fans. Stoke would later escape relegation that season by just two points, securing first division football at the Victoria Ground for another season.

 

That left the reds two points ahead of closest rivals Manchester United with just four games to go. They also had Nottingham Forrest, Southampton and QPR breathing down their necks at the time. Can you imagine that now? Unbelievable.

 

Southampton could have been considered well out the picture at this point but with two games in hand and striker Danny Wallace in prolific form, they weren’t to be ruled out. Wallace would go on to score a total of 12 goals that season, a number somewhat dwarfed by Ian Rush’s 32!

 

Fast-forward to May the 5th and Liverpool had another challenge, Birmingham City. Also battling relegation. 18,809 crammed into St Andrews to both cheer Joe Fagan’s side to win the league and to spur a poor Birmingham side who were desperately hanging onto 1st Division football by just a matter of points. The game ended 0-0 leaving Liverpool on 75 points and Birmingham on 46 points. Not enough to prevent them from relegation. The result meant Liverpool could have lost their lead in the title race on goal difference that weekend. Fortunately, Manchester United also drew. Sound.

 

A few days later Liverpool annihilated Coventry City, oddly also in the relegation battle, 5-0 to create a five-point gap. Ian Rush banging in four and Alan Hansen joining in with one goal in front of a packed Anfield crowd. 33,393 to be precise.

 

United were beaten by Nottingham Forrest. Leaving United and Southampton the remaining challengers in the league with just a few games left to go. QPR had played an extra game at this point. Not sure how that all worked but it’s all very confusing.

 

 

Liverpool were left needing two points from two fixtures and they secured the title the very next weekend. A trip to Meadow Lane on the 12th of May against Notts County, who were also frantically clinging on for survival, would prove to be enough for Liverpool despite the 0-0 draw. No such luck for County that season. Ah well.

United had a difficult away trip to Spurs who were 8th in the league going into the game, thirteen points behind United. The game ended 1-1 and Spurs actually did us a favour.

Southampton had to travel to St Andrews to take on a Birmingham side who were level on points with Stoke and Coventry (47) at the time as the last slot for relegation was beckoning for one for them.

That game also ended 0-0 so the title was handed to Liverpool, in turn making them the third club in English history to win three back to back titles.

Despite those late threats Liverpool remained in pole position from November 24th right until the 8th of May. Some achievement.

Top three

1st – Liverpool –  80 pts

2nd – Southampton – 77 pts

3rd – Nottingham Forrest – 74 pts

 

1985/86 Season

Winners – Liverpool (OBVIOUSLY)

  • Played – 42
  • W – 26
  • D – 10
  • L – 6
  • Points – 88

This season, conducted under the heavy shadow of the Heysel Stadium Disaster, had one of the closest title races of all time, with Liverpool just about edging it. Liverpool were not the most effective at times with us lacking the cutting edge at times, though finishing ahead of those impressive Everton and West Ham sides was no small feat. Liverpool did slip up numerous times throughout the season but as the race intensified, the losses dried up and the side seemed to revel the pressure of such a high-stakes game of cat and mouse.

Whilst Liverpool did lose away to Newcastle, QPR, Arsenal, Manchester City, Ipswich, and at home to Everton, we were pushing for more than just the title with Kenny Dalglish’s side also intensely pursuing the FA Cup – they won it too after beating Everton 3-1 at Wembley.

Liverpool’s side was largely unchanged, perhaps down to the club’s tarnished reputation following the Heysal disaster, and the only additions to the squad were Mike Hooper from Wrexham who had joined for £50,000 and Steve McMahon who had joined from Aston Villa for £400,000.

Liverpool weren’t early favourites for the title as Manchester United had such a strong start to the season, being comfortably top of the league until November and at one point had a buffer of 10 points – hugely impressive at such an early stage of the season. However, their poor run of form was pounced upon by Liverpool and Liverpool got as close as 2 points from the top before a loss to Arsenal on December 14th allowed Manchester United to put 5-point cushion between themselves and Liverpool.

 

 

By the midway point of the season Liverpool were still trailing their rivals, by 4 points, with Manchester United flying high on 49 points. What made this particularly exciting is that every team in the top 6 had 40 points of more with only 9 points between first and sixth place – Liverpool were second but were only there because of West Ham’s inferior goal difference.

The following round of fixtures made the race even more exciting with Manchester United, Liverpool, and West ham all losing and therefore allowing Chelsea to join Liverpool and West Ham on 45 points – though they were still 4th on goal difference. The next round saw Liverpool’s title aspirations take a hefty dent though with the draw to Nottingham Forest seeing us slip down to 5th place.

After weeks and weeks of chasing and trying to close the gap on Manchester United, Liverpool finally went top after beating Southampton on match day 33 – albeit only because of goal difference. Liverpool forfeited their lead 2 weeks later with a draw against Sheffield Wednesday allowing Everton to go 2 points clear before we again regained the top spot again on goal difference. The remaining fixtures saw Everton continue to push hard but Liverpool ended the season 2 points clear at the top of the league and were deserved winners of the First Division.

 

Liverpool ended the season with Welsh maestro Ian Rush as their top scorer – he bagged 22 in the league and a further 10 in other competitions. Liverpool won the domestic double having won the FA Cup against Everton shortly before clinching the title with our neighbours finishing as a runner-up in the league too.

 

1987/88 Season

Winners – Liverpool (OBVIOUSLY)

  • Played – 40
  • W – 26
  • D – 12
  • L – 2
  • Points – 90

Liverpool’s 26th consecutive season in top flight football would see the reds pick up yet another league title. Number 17.

Questions were raised as there were a few key transfers that year. Ian Rush was sold to Juventus for £3.2m on July 1st  and Mark Lawrenson had retired earlier in the year, leaving significant gaps in the Liverpool side.

Step forward Ray Houghton, John Aldridge, John Barnes and Peter Beardsley.

This Liverpool, often hailed as our best footballing side ever, were much more convincing and had a bit more swagger about them compared to previous years. So much so Sir King Kenny Dalglish’s side were unbeaten in the league until the 20th of March when they suffered their first defeat to…

… Everton at Goodison. Bastards.

Wayne Clarke’s strike in the 14th minute was enough to end the terrific run in which Liverpool matched a record of 29 games unbeaten previously set by Leeds in 1973/74.

Everton were no mugs in those days, none of this ‘winning the second half’ talk set by Bisto tits Allardyce in the modern era.

 

Ok so they weren’t exactly setting the world alight. But they were certainly in the mix. Let’s give them some credit.

Despite the loss Liverpool had a 14-point gap on closest rivals Manchester United and had two games in hand. Something you probably worked out yourself from the image. But you know, word count.

Liverpool’s next two fixtures would prove vital for the reds, a 2-1 defeat to away to Nottingham Forrest, their second and last league defeat that whole season despite a late penalty from John Aldridge in the 70th minute wasn’t enough for Liverpool in the end.

Not to worry, just two days later on the 4th of April they played Manchester United at Anfield. Resulting in one of their highest attendances that season, 43,497. And by the sounds of it an absolute belter of a game for a neutral.

Liverpool went behind in third minute thanks to a Bryan Robson goal but managed to recover and get themselves back in front before half time. Peter Beardsley levelled the score in the 38th minute and Gary Gillespie changing the half time team talk from Player/Manager Kenny Dalglish by slotting the ball in the onion bag in the 41st minute.

Whatever that team talk was, it was certainly effective, for a short period, Steve McMahon put the reds two clear in the 46th before Bryan Robson bagged his second in the 66th and Gordan Strachan 77th minute meant the game ended in a somewhat enthralling 3-3 draw. Not sure I’d cope with that nowadays. Sounds entertaining but my pants would literally paint a different picture.

The result may have been disappointing at the time but Liverpool were still in control of the situation. Eleven points clear and two games in hand left Liverpool requiring four points from the seven games they had remaining. Something which would make us all feel better in today’s climate. But like a lot of things in life it’s easier said than done.

Liverpool snotted Nottingham Forrest 5-0 in their next fixture. These boys meant fucking business. Houghton, Aldo (2), Beardsley and Gillespie all getting on the scoresheet for Kenny’s reds.

Manchester United had beaten Luton 3-0 the night before so it still left Liverpool in the same position.

Carrow Road and David Stringer’s Norwich side up next for Liverpool. The Canaries were 14th going into this game and Liverpool had pretty much walked the league at this point. Defo three points? Nope, a 0-0 draw. Kenny would have to wait to see his side lift the title once more.

 

The wait was just three days.

So April 23rd, Spurs at Anfield, Kop in full voice, flags and banners a jubilation. 44,798 people inside a fortress inspired by the King himself, a team awash with talent; Grobbelaar, Ablett, Hansen, Aldo, Johnston, I could go on.

Peter Beardsley 34th minute, BANG, Anfield erupts and another title secured into Liverpool history.

Liverpool end the season champions of England with games points remaining, fighting off the likes of Manchester United and Everton.

Kenny Dalglish’s side also reached the FA Cup final that season but were surprisingly beaten by Wimbledon. Didn’t stop Kenny winning Manager of the Year though!

 

1989/90 Season

Winners – Liverpool (OBVIOUSLY)

  • Played – 38
  • W – 23
  • D – 10
  • L – 5
  • Points – 79

 

Having being pipped to the title by Arsenal in the most infamous of circumstances in 1989, the reds were keen to get back on top. This season was different to most given Liverpool’s dominance. Their maturity really showed at times with the Reds only losing five times and looking a lot sharper at times than even the previous seasons.

Liverpool did falter at times though, with losses to Southampton, Coventry, QPR, Sheffield Wednesday, and Spurs not doing us any favours, but good performances against those who were also pushing for the title meant that Liverpool never seemed to be in any genuine danger and that was down to their hard work and their willingness to push themselves harder than their rivals.

The additions of Glenn Hysen from Fiorentina for £600,000 and Steve Harkness from Carlisle for £75,000 didn’t set the world alight but they did bolster the squad and that definitely helped the squad when injuries and niggles were picked up along the way.

The loss of John Aldridge to Real Sociedad before the season started was a major blow but the £1,250,000 that Liverpool received as payment would have certainly softened that with that money being used to bulk out the squad. Liverpool did lose the injury prone Jim Beglin to Leeds but the club hierarchy were more than happy to sanction the free transfer and it was beneficial for all involved parties that he moved on.

Liverpool topped the table after only 5 games following a 3-0 win away to Derby, partly down to the slow start of their rivals and giving Liverpool the perfect opportunity to start strong and make a real statement of intent. The win at Derby put Liverpool just ahead of Millwall on goal difference but that doesn’t matter, the psychological importance of being at the top of the league so early will have done so much good for the players.

Everton briefly overtook Dalglish’s side after Liverpool drew at home to Norwich, but Everton’s stint at the top was brief and Liverpool regained their spot following a 3-1 win at Goodison – the perfect response to Everton overtaking you at the top.

A poor run of form at the end of October and November saw Liverpool slide down the table a little and a 3-2 loss at QPR left us languishing in 3rd, behind both Chelsea and Arsenal. Liverpool did respond though and firmly put that blip behind them with us again reclaiming the top spot on match day 15, though this didn’t last too long as a draw at home to Aston Villa saw Arsenal again go above us.

 

Liverpool again reclaimed top spot on Boxing Day after we beat Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal lost 1-0 to Southampton and the Reds reached the half way point of the season as leaders. The following weeks and months saw Aston Villa stay within 2 points of us and the constant hounding seemed to make this Liverpool side hungrier and more determined to end the season as champions.

It wasn’t until game 28 that Liverpool managed to open up a more sizeable gap and increased the space between us and Villa to 4 points. This was further widened thanks to a 3-2 win over Southampton (having trailed 2-1 at half time) and the Villans losing at home to Manchester City – this gave Liverpool a 7-point buffer and a league title looked all but certain.

Liverpool were pushed hard by the Midlanders but they were unable to really close the gap, despite playing very well, and Liverpool’s title was confirmed on the final day of the season as we thrashed Coventry 6-1 in their own yard.

 

That’s just four examples of Liverpool winning titles, I could have gone on. With that said, there’s a common theme. It not easy to win a league, it never has been and it never will be. Alright, City pissed it last year. Point taken.

But besides that, Liverpool sides filled with legends of the game, record breakers, top scorers and our most successful manager have had their ups and downs, blips and pressure put on them. I’m sure there were also times in which fans had mixed opinions on if, how and when those Liverpool sides would secure the title.

In some cases there have been only a few games to go before the title was sealed. Were those Liverpool sides expected to walk away with the title? Even with European and other domestic trophy success? I very much doubt it.

Even in the days of playing 42 or 40 games a season, it wasn’t easy. You could argue the quality of football or even the level of competition wasn’t the best during the 70’s or 80’s but in the days before billionaires owning football clubs, it was a level playing field. You made your own success. Smart recruiting, hard work and a solid team ethic would see you there or there abouts.

Some of the teams and players within those title winning sides have gone down in Anfield folklore. And quite rightly so. I’m not comparing the players to those, merely the situation and the mentality of everyone behind it.

Football was much more of a tradition back then too. And by that I mean there was a lack of coverage. 3pm kick offs, Match of the Day highlights…maybe a bit of Teletext. That was it. You were free to get on with your life, communicate verbally with your mates or family, read the paper the following day to gain a journalists perspective. Have a sensible conversation with your work mates on the Monday, or debate, depends if they were a dick or not.

The likes of Shankly, Fagan and Dalglish were the only people you really wanted to hear from, you’d hang on their every word. Post match interviews were messages for fans.

Everything nowadays is exacerbated by social media, peddled by Sky Sports sensationalism. If they had their way every time someone tied their shoe laces it would be title defining. “Salah ties up his left boot. AND IT’S LIVE!”

Fuck off, mate.

They need a story, they need clicks, they need the hysteria.

Make your own mind up.

Every word, every answer, every body movement and every result from either Klopp, Guardiola and Pochettino (Because Spurs are still in this too) will be scrutinised, used to stir up fan bases on Twitter and it all adds to the stress.

But you know what, it’s part and parcel of a title run in. It’s where we’ve all wanted to be for years, it’s something we’ve longed for well before Klopp turned up. Yet there are sections of the fan base that aren’t happy, that still want more and an even smaller section that think we’ve ‘bottled it’ already. Not sure how that works when we didn’t have it in the first place.

Had City beaten Newcastle and Liverpool beaten Leicester, the fume and worry would have never have started despite the gap being smaller than it was before the West Ham game. I fully appreciate the concern in performances and fans striving for success and a bigger gap between us and City. You’d have to be daft to not want that.

City walked the season last year, but did anyone really challenge them? Let’s not use that to measure our success. History has shown us, other than last season, that it is never easy winning becoming a champion.

Let’s enjoy the ride. 

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