Bob Paisley announced at the start of the season that this would be his last. Reluctantly, he had taken up the reins at Anfield after Bill Shankly’s shock resignation after the 1974 FA Cup win, and yet had arguably been more successful in terms of honours. 17 major trophies had arrived in just 8 seasons. In terms of trophies per season, he remains Britain’s most successful football manager ever.
This current season would begin with a further title as an Ian Rush goal won the Charity Shield at Wembley against Tottenham in August. His career in management had begun with a Charity Shield win over Leeds in 1974, after a penalty shootout. This was now the 6th time he had won this particular trophy.
Paisley was on his 3rd different Liverpool side, having dismantled and re-built twice. Out had gone Terry McDermott, Ray Clemence, David Johnson and Ray Kennedy. In came players such as Ian Rush, Bruce Grobbelaar, Ronnie Whelan, Mark Lawrenson, and Craig Johnston had been brought in after a disappointing league season in 1981, when they finished 5th. Paisley’s new side bounced back with the League and League Cup double the following season.
Bruce Grobbelaar (age 24, 60 apps; 50 goals conceded) Born in Durban, he joined Liverpool from Vancouver Whitecaps in 1981. Had the unenviable task of replacing club legend, Ray Clemence, but managed it before finally leaving the club in 1994. An unpredictable keeper he could be brilliant and careless in equal measure.
Phil Neal (age 30, 60 apps; 11 goals) Paisley bought him from Northampton in 1974 and he became one of the most decorated players in English football history. Remained at the club until November 1985, after becoming club captain.
Alan Kennedy (age 27, 60 apps; 6 goals) Started his career at Newcastle. Made his debut for Liverpool in August 1978. Had the knack of scoring important goals in cup finals.
Alan Hansen (age 26, 52 apps) Born in Scotland, he joined from Partick Thistle in 1977 for just £100,000. Became one of the best defenders the English game has ever seen and one half of probably the finest centre-back pairing in the First Division, ever.
Mark Lawrenson (age 24, 55 apps; 7 goals) Started his career at Preston and Brighton before Paisley bought him in 1981 for £900,000. Was an accomplished and stylish centre-back but was also used as a useful midfield player and was the other half of probably the finest centre-back pairing in the First Division, ever.
Phil Thompson (age 27, 34 apps) Born in Liverpool, was an apprentice at the club before making his debut in April 1972. Club captain between 1979 to 1982.
Steve Nicol (age 20, 4 apps) Born in Scotland, he began his career with Ayr United. Paisley signed him for £300,000 in October 1981. A versatile player who could play in various positions, he remained with the club until 1994. Voted Player of the Year in 1988/89.
Graeme Souness (age 29, 59 apps; 11 goals) After starting his career with Tottenham and then Middlesbro, Paisley spent £352,000 for the tough-tackling Scot in 1978. Soon became a regular, moving to become club captain at the beginning of 1982.
Sammy Lee (age 23, 58 apps; 3 goals) Born in Liverpool, he worked his way through the reserves to make his debut in April 1978. Forced his way into the side to convince Paisley to let Jimmy Case and then Terry McDermott go. Lee only managed to gain a regular starting place from 1980-81 season.
Craig Johnston (age 22, 46 apps; 10 goals) Born in Johannesburg, but brought up in Australia, Johnston became a firm crowd favourite after making his debut in August 1981. Remained with the club until the end of the 1987-88 season.
Ronnie Whelan (age 21, 41 apps; 7 goals) Paisley bought Whelan from Home Farm in Ireland in early 1981. Became a regular in the team until he left to take over as manager of Southend in 1994.
Terry McDermott (age 30, 3 apps) Bought by Paisley from Newcastle in November 1974. Scored some memorable goals for the club until his departure in September 1982, when he returned to Newcastle. In 1980 became the first player to win the PFA and Football Writers’ awards in the same season.
Kenny Dalglish (age 31, 58 apps; 20 goals) Bought as a replacement for Kevin Keegan in 1977, for a British record fee of £440,000. Was a player until he took over as player-manager in 1985-86. Made his last appearance for the club in May 1990, and left the club as manager in 1991.
Ian Rush (age 20, 51 apps; 31 goals) Joined from Chester in April 1980 when Paisley paid £300,000, a world record for a 19-year old. Went on to become the greatest goalscorer in the history of the club before moving to Leeds in 1996
David Hodgson (age 22, 37 apps; 9 goals) This was his first season at the club having joined from Middlesbrough in September 1982. Scored 4 goals in his first 6 games but lost his place and moved to Sunderland in February 1984.
David Fairclough (age 25, 11 apps; 4 goals) Local boy, made his debut in 1975. Was nicknamed ‘Supersub’ for his ability to come off the bench and score important goals, including a famous one against St.Etienne in the 1977 European Cup. Never really forged a regular starting place for himself, and left at the end of this season.
The League season began with a 2-0 win at home against West Brom as Sammy Lee and Phil Neal (penalty) gave them a good start. The midweek goalless draw at Birmingham saw another new gem unveiled as Steve Nicol made his debut.
September saw a near perfect performance as 6 of the 7 matches were won. 5 of those matches were in the league as Arsenal (2-0), Nottingham Forest (4-3), Swansea (3-0) and Southampton (5-0) were put to the sword. The only blip was a 3-3 draw at home to Luton Town. Luton were back in the top flight for the first time for 8 years and had shocked the hosts by coming from 1-2 down to lead at Anfield before Johnston equalised to maintain the unbeaten record.
In amongst these league games in September, Liverpool beat Dundalk in the First Round of the European Cup, 4-1 and 1-0.
October began with a double-header against Ipswich Town. Liverpool suffered their first defeat of the season when Mich D’Avray scored the only goal of the game at Portman Road. Three days later, two Ian Rush goals gave Liverpool victory at the same venue in their defence of the League Cup. But Liverpool had hit a bad patch in the league and they were beaten at West Ham (1-3) and held by Manchester United (0-0) and Stoke City (1-1), before 2 goals from Kenny Dalglish helped them return to winning ways at the end of the month at home to Brighton. Remarkably, these were Dalglish’s first goals of the season. During October they had also been beaten away to Helsinki in the first leg of the European Cup Second Round.
Despite this form they still lead the table at the end of October but only on goal difference from West Ham and Manchester United.
November saw Liverpool really hit form as they had a perfect winning record from their 7 matches. They began by overturning their deficit to HJK Helsinki in the European Cup, winning 5-0. Back in the league and a derby day performance which is firmly lodged in the Hall of Fame of wins over Everton. Ian Rush scored 4 as Liverpool thumped their nearest rivals, 5-0. Injuries had forced Paisley to push Mark Lawrenson into midfield, and he was repaying that faith with goals including scoring in this one.
Back at Anfield and another comfortable win as Ian Rush scored another hat-trick as they beat Coventry, 4-0. Craig Johnston and Kenny Dalglish were then on the scoresheet as they won 2-1 at Notts County, before another brace from Dalglish helped them see off Tottenham at Anfield, 3-0. In between these matches, Liverpool progressed in the League Cup beating Norwich (2-0) and Rotherham (1-0). The Rotherham game was Emlyn Hughes final appearance at Anfield when he took the field as player-manager of Rotherham.
December began badly when they lost 0-1 at Norwich, which ended a run of 9 straight wins in all competitions. But from that they went on a 19-game unbeaten run in the League. Watford were the next visitors to Anfield. The Hornets were in their first ever season in the top flight and had surprised everyone as they lay 4th in the table. With Ronnie Whelan back from injury, Liverpool gave their guests a lesson and were 3-0 up by half-time. Ian Rush and two penalties from Phil Neal had settled the game halfway through. Wilf Rostron grabbed a consolation goal in the second half.
Liverpool then travelled to Villa Park to meet the European Champions. Aston Villa had just overtaken Watford to move into 4th and were in good form, but Liverpool’s form now was sublime. On a heavily frosted pitch, with players slipping all over the place David Hodgson put the visitors in front. Kenny Dalglish then scored direct from a corner and Liverpool were now cruising. On the half-hour mark, Allan Evans clumsy challenge on Ian Rush brought Liverpool a free-kick on the edge of the area. Alan Kennedy ran over the ball and Graeme Souness fired his shot at the Villa wall. The ball bounced off the wall and straight into Kennedy’s path, and he slotted it past Rimmer. Gary Shaw and Peter Withe then got goals back before the break, but Ian Rush made certain of a Liverpool victory.
Liverpool were now 5pts clear of Manchester United and Nottingham Forest. Next up were Manchester City. Having waited till end of October for his first goal in the League, Kenny Dalglish was now on fire with 7 goals in 8 games. This Christmas fixture was one for the ever-increasing library of vintage Dalglish performances. 16 minutes in, Dalglish curled a beautiful shot past Joe Corrigan. Three minutes later, Phil Neal struck a screamer from 30 yards before Dalglish grabbed his 2nd shortly after. City got a goal back but then Rush made it 4-1 in the second half before Dalglish completed his hat-trick 3 minutes from time. Liverpool eventually won 5-2, and Dalglish’s 3rd goal was the club’s 50th in 20 games so far this season..
One of the cornerstones to Paisley’s success this season was his attacking formation. He employed three strikers, Dalglish, Rush and David Hodgson, but Dalglish had developed a deeper role behind the front two which made it very difficult for teams to combat. The three had contributed 28 goals in the League, which was as many as some clubs had managed with their whole squad. The midfield was being run by Souness, who was now in the form of his life, with willing workers Ronnie Whelan and Sammy Lee either side of him. They were 5pts clear at this stage of the season, and such a contrast to this time the previous season. At that point, Liverpool had just been beaten at home by City, 1-3 and were languishing in 12th place with just 24pts. They went onto win the league that year, gaining an incredible 63pts in the 2nd half of the season.
Back in those days Christmas fixtures came thick and fast and Liverpool were in action the following day when they travelled to Roker Park to meet Sunderland. Sunderland were 2pts adrift at the bottom of the table, yet had to meet 3rd placed Man Utd and then leaders, Liverpool. However, having earned a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford they then held Liverpool to a similar score the day after. Sunderland eventually avoided relegation by 3pts, and could well point to these two matches as going a long way to contribute to that.
On New Year’s Day, Liverpool returned to their free-scoring ways with a 5-1 thumping of Notts County at Meadow Lane. Ian Rush scored a hat-trick to take his tally to 17 in the League. Dalglish scored the other 2. From the end of October when Dalglish scored his first League goal of the season, Liverpool had scored 34 goals in 10 games with Rush (13) and Dalglish (11) getting 24 of them. Liverpool were now 8pts clear of United and Forest. They then played their 4th game in 8 days when Arsenal visited Anfield. 1974 was the last time Arsenal had won at Anfield and this record continued as both Rush and Dalglish were on the scoresheet in a 3-1 win. The lead was now 10pts from 3 teams, Watford, Man Utd and Notts Forest.
The first weekend in January brought the tradition of the FA Cup Third Round. Liverpool were drawn away to Blackburn. At that time Blackburn were languishing just below mid-table in the Second Division. They took a surprise lead after 25 minutes, but then Liverpool took over as Hodgson and Rush scored to give them a 2-1 win.
Back in the League, Liverpool travelled to The Hawthorns to meet West Brom. The game looked to be heading for a goalless draw until Ian Rush grabbed the winner in injury time. This was Rush’s 8th goal in his last 7 games and his 19th in the League so far that season, and maintained the 10pt lead at the top.
Midweek saw a return to the League Cup and the visit of West Ham to Anfield. The Hammers had been Liverpool’s opponents for Paisley’s first League Cup win in 1981, and Liverpool were now looking to win this trophy for a third successive year. With snow on the ground making playing conditions difficult, David Hodgson opened the scoring in the 70th minute. Paul Allen then equalised for West Ham, with their first goal at Anfield for 7 years. Graeme Souness then won it for the holders with barely minutes to go. Liverpool then went onto beat Birmingham at home in the League, with an early goal from Phil Neal. Neal’s contribution to the scoring charts was always good, but mainly because he took all the penalties. However, this season he had now scored 8 times but only 4 of them from the spot. Liverpool had now won 13 successive games in all competitions at home, and this latest win came without Ian Rush who missed the game through injury. Rush was back for the Fourth Round FA Cup win at home to Stoke and, unsurprisingly, scored in a 2-0 win. Dalglish got the other and the two now had 40 for the season.
Luton weren’t able to repeat their heroics from Anfield back in September, when Liverpool arrived at Kenilworth Road. By now Luton were still one of only 2 clubs to take a point at Anfield, and yet they were swept aside at home as Alan Kennedy, Ian Rush and Graeme Souness scored in a 3-1 win. With Man Utd being held at Ipswich, Liverpool now opened up a 12pt lead.
Liverpool were now into their 4th successive League Cup Semi-Final and their 5th in 6 years. They were up against Burnley, who were battling against relegation from Division Two. The first leg of the Semi-Final was at Anfield, and Souness, Hodgson and a penalty from Phil Neal gave Liverpool an important 3-0 lead to take to the second leg. In the other Semi-Final Man Utd beat Arsenal, 4-2 at Highbury.
Ipswich visited Anfield at the weekend. Two years previously, Ipswich had been top of the league eventually finishing 2nd to Aston Villa. Now with Bobby Robson having left to take the England job, they were mid-table and a shadow of that side. A Kenny Dalglish goal midway through the 2nd half, ensured their record of never having won at Anfield would continue for another season. With Man Utd not playing, Liverpool were now 15pts clear of them at the top and United would be their next opponents in the League.
But before that, they had two more cup competitions to compete in and for the first time in the season there was a slight blip in the form. They travelled to Turf Moor for the 2nd leg of the League Cup (now called the Milk Cup after sponsorship from the Milk Marketing Board), and Derek Scott scored the only goal of the game to give Burnley a famous win. Burnley’s side consisted of players such as Brian Laws, Brian Flynn, Mike Phelan, Trevor Steven and Billy Hamilton, but it was Liverpool who went through 3-1 on aggregate to their 3rd successive League Cup Final. They were to meet Man Utd, who beat Arsenal 2-1 and 6-3 on aggregate. So the top two in the League would meet in the League Cup Final, and both were still in the FA Cup too. The FA Cup was up next as the Fifth Round stage took place. Liverpool were drawn at home to Brighton who were rock bottom of the First Division. In the Brighton side that day was former Liverpool player, Jimmy Case and future Liverpool player, Michael Robinson, and they were managed by another former player, Jimmy Melia. Liverpool had not been beaten in a cup match at Anfield since November 1974, a run of 63 games. Gerry Ryan gave the visitors a first half lead which Craig Johnston equalised midway through the second half. Within minutes Liverpool failed to clear a cross and Jimmy Case’s shot took a deflection past Grobbelaar to put Brighton back in front. Liverpool were then awarded a penalty but Phil Neal missed and Brighton pulled off one of their finest results of their history.
The Burnley defeat had ended a run of 10 straight wins for Liverpool in all competitions, and now they had lost twice in a week. February ended with the big game at Old Trafford. Man United needed to win to have any hope of closing the gap on Liverpool and Arnold Muhren gave them a first half lead, but Kenny Dalglish scored his 15th league goal of the season soon after, to earn a draw. The draw dropped United down to 3rd as Watford moved into 2nd place.
March began with a resumption of the European Cup. Liverpool travelled to Poland to meet Widzew Lodz. The Polish side had finished runners-up to Ipswich in the UEFA Cup in 1981, and had won the Polish title for the second season running to gain entry to this competition. Tlokinski gave the home side the lead just after the break and when Wraga doubled it with 10 minutes to go, Liverpool knew they would have a tough task in the return leg.
Liverpool had now gone 4 matches without a win, and back then the perceived wisdom was that someone, somewhere was going to pay for it. Stoke City arrived at Anfield on 5th March 1983 and were given such a lesson. Kenny Dalglish and Phil Neal gave Liverpool a first half lead. Dalglish grabbed his 2nd of the game in the second half and Craig Johnston and Graeme Souness rounded off the scoring. Liverpool won 5-1, with future Evertonian, Paul Bracewell getting the sole consolation for the visitors. With Craig Johnston in form, Paisley had reverted to a more traditional 4-4-2 with Hodgson on the bench, and the difference was starting to pay dividends.
West Ham were the next visitors to Anfield and they managed to hold on until Geoff Pike put through his own net just into the second half. Sammy Lee made it 2-0 five minutes later and then Ian Rush rounded off the scoring in a 3-0 win. It was Rush’s 27th of the season, yet his first for 4 weeks. Liverpool’s lead at the top was still 14pts, but there were only 12 matches remaining. They’d dropped just 4pts in 16 games at Anfield and Ian Rush’s goal was their 50th at home in the League this season.
Kenny Dalglish missed the second leg of the European Cup through injury, so Hodgson got another start. Phil Neal scored from the spot in the first half, but then Tlokinski scored a crucial away goal on the half hour. When Smolarek scored a 2nd for the Poles, Liverpool now needed to score 4. Ten minutes to go and Ian Rush got a goal back and then David Hodgson got a 3rd with a minute to go but Liverpool couldn’t find another and went out, 3-4 on aggregate. Paisley’s last season was going to end without him adding to his 3 European Cup triumphs. He still remains the most successful manager in European Cup history.
Liverpool were now out of two competitions, but still had the League and League Cup to compete in. Back in the League, Everton visited Anfield. In the League, Liverpool had won the 4 previous encounters, but this time Everton forced a 0-0 draw. That in itself could’ve been considered 2pts dropped but Man Utd were held at home by Brighton and Watford went down 0-1 at home to Tottenham. Liverpool’s lead was now 15pts. Midweek saw a trip to bottom club Brighton and two goals from Ian Rush gained a 2-2 draw. Rush now had 30 for the season.
Liverpool now looked forward to their 3rd successive appearance in a League Cup Final.
League Cup Final, 1983
Manchester United weren’t the force they are today, and had won just 1 trophy in the previous 15 years, ironically an FA Cup win over Liverpool in 1977. Both teams contained just one survivor from that final, Phil Neal (Liverpool) and Arthur Albiston (Man Utd). Much has been said of Liverpool never really being interested in this competition until they won it for the first time in 1981, and it was true of Man Utd too as this was their first ever League Cup Final appearance. Under Ron Atkinson they were desperate to re-live the glory years of the 50’s and 60’s. United were trailing Liverpool by 18pts in the League, and both meetings between the two sides that season had produced draws. Both sides adopted a 4-4-2 formation, but United played with more width through their wide players, Steve Coppell and Arnold Muhren. Liverpool’s ‘wide players’, Sammy Lee and Ronnie Whelan were more compact, allowing their full-backs more space to push forward. The real jewel in the crown for the cup holders was their strike partnership of Rush and Dalglish, who had 49 goals between them at that stage during the season. For United they had Frank Stapleton and 17-year old, Norman Whiteside. In an enthralling final, which the Daily Mirror claimed was ‘one of the best League Cup Finals witnessed, United started the brighter of the two, and it was Whiteside who opened the scoring after 17 minutes. In doing so, he became the youngest scorer in Wembley final. Liverpool didn’t panic, however, having gone behind in their two previous final wins they were soon into their stride and had much the better of the chances throughout. But it took until 15 minutes from time for them to level. Left-back Alan Kennedy provided the extra man in attack and his shot from 25 yards bounced past Gary Bailey in the United goal. Kennedy, not known for his goalscoring, had now scored in 3 major Finals, after his goal won the 1981 European Cup against Real Madrid and he also scored the opener in the League Cup Final in the same year. His equaliser took the game into extra time. The decisive goal of the game came in the 8th minute of extra time. Kennedy, pushing forward up from the back, picked up a loose ball midway into the United half after Macari had charged down Dalglish’s shot. He knocked the ball to his left where Ronnie Whelan was free on the edge of the area. Kennedy continued his run into the box and Whelan tried to play the ball through to him, but it hit Frank Stapleton and bounced back. So Whelan decided to switch to his right foot and curled a precision shot round the United player and past the hapless Bailey in the United goal. Whelan, who had scored 2 goals in the 1982 Final to beat Spurs, had now won the League Cup again for Liverpool.
During emotional scenes after the final whistle, the players eventually persuaded the modest Bob Paisley to lead the team up the steps and pick the trophy. Not one for the limelight, Paisley reluctantly took centre stage for his 20th trophy in 9 seasons.
More good news was to follow for Liverpool as on the same day, Watford lost at Stoke and so now only had 9 games to try and overhaul a 13pt deficit.
Liverpool began with another home win. This time Sunderland were the visitors in a game which saw a rare start for David Fairclough, but it was Graeme Souness who scored the only goal of the game. With Watford losing again, Man Utd moved back into 2nd place but Liverpool’s lead was now 16pts. Easter Monday saw Liverpool travel to Maine Road to meet Manchester City. Fairclough started again, and this time scored twice for his first goals in the League since September 1980. Liverpool won 4-0, to take their tally against City to 14 in their last 3 meetings. United dropped points at Sunderland and Watford thrashed Luton, 5-2 to move back into 2nd, but Liverpool’s lead was still 16 and Watford had just 7 games to try and catch them. A week later Swansea came to Anfield desperate for points in their battle against relegation. They left empty-handed as a fit again Ian Rush was back on the scoresheet along with Lee and another from Fairclough, who started on the bench again. Watford won, but could now not afford to drop any points, whereas Man Utd were mathematically in with a chance of the title, but would need miracles. Nobody knew it at the time, but that game would be Liverpool’s last victory of the season.
In the week, Liverpool travelled to Coventry, knowing a win would put them 1pt away from the title. They were held to a 0-0 draw, which ended their run of 3-straight wins since the Milk Cup Final victory. Bruce Grobbelaar had now conceded in just 1 of their 7 previous League games, and Liverpool were unbeaten in 19 league matches. All that changed when they went to The Dell to meet Southampton. Dalglish and Johnston scored in the first half, but Steve Moran and two goals from Nick Holmes gave The Saints a famous win. But things weren’t so disastrous as Watford were beaten at home and so ended their slim hopes of an incredible league title. Man Utd remained the only mathematical challengers. They travelled to Goodison Park the following Tuesday but were beaten 0-2. Goal difference was the only thing that could stop Liverpool now, but United would have to overturn a deficit of 46 goals in 7 games to manage that.
On 23rd April Liverpool’s unbeaten home record went. An own goal from Mark Lawrenson and a cracker from Martin O’Neill gave Norwich a 2-0 win at Anfield, and their first ever league double over the champions-elect. United kept up their slim title hopes with a 2-0 win over Watford. But on 30th April, United blinked. They could only manage a 1-1 draw at Norwich, and Liverpool were crowned champions, despite losing 0-2 at Tottenham. This represented an incredible 20th trophy for Bob Paisley and his 6th League title in 9 seasons.
May was a bit of a disappointment for Liverpool fans, with the title already claimed they picked up only 1pt from their 3 matches. They lost 0-1 at Nottingham Forest and 1-2 at Watford and were held 1-1 at home by Aston Villa. Craig Johnston scored the last two goals of the season to take his tally to double figures in only his 2nd season with the club. In the end Liverpool were 11pts clear of Watford in 2nd place with United in 3rd. It was another League/League Cup double for Bob Paisley and a fitting way to bow out from what had been a remarkable career in management. Paisley was suitably modest and low-key about his achievements. Never one to hog the limelight, he would’ve found todays goldfish bowl difficult to contend with, as he preferred his players to do the talking on the pitch. But his achievements are impossible to ignore and he continued the groundwork put in by Shankly and arguably took Liverpool to greater heights.
So ended the career of one of the most successful managers English football has ever seen.
Liverpool’s 87 goals had beaten their own record for a 42-game season, set in 1978-79. Ian Rush was top scorer with 31 goals, 24 in the league. Luther Blissett’s 27 goals was the highest in the league that season, but Rush’s performance was enough to get him the PFA Young Player of the Year vote. PFA Player of the Year went to Kenny Dalglish, who also picked up the Football Writers award. His 18 goals in the League represented his best performance for 4 years. This was their 14th League title and their 3rd League Cup win and their 2nd successive League and League Cup double.
How do you follow that?