The Boot Room: Liverpool’s engine room for European royalty – part six

Liverpool Boot Room Part Six

Welcome to the sixth part of our Liverpool Boot Room series. The end is in sight as we enter the 80s in this edition.

Last time out, Bob Paisley’s team completed a record-breaking 1978-79 First Division campaign. All there was left for the Englishman to do was to wear the crown at Anfield for as long as he wishes to add to his trophy collection – there was nothing else to win.

Today, we pick things up where we left them at the start of the 1979-80 title-winning campaign.

1979-80: Another season, another major trophy

The 1979/80 campaign proved to be another fight at the top for Liverpool, who were looking to retain their League title for a historic third time in club history. And in their 88th competitive season since their establishment, The Reds started their epic fight in fine style.

Whether fans love it or hate it, the Charity Shield presents the two clubs competing with their first taste of action for the new season. It is the perfect opportunity to lay down the ground rules.

And it was an opportunity that Paisley took.

To the chorus of 92,000 spectators, Liverpool thumped Arsenal 3-1 to win the trophy. A double from Terry McDermott and another strike from Kenny Dalglish put Liverpool 3-0 up, and although Alan Sunderland found the net in the 88th minute, it could not prevent Paisley from notching another trophy.

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There was an air of inevitability about it all, especially from the British press, who, at the time, labelled English football as a two-horse race. In one lane, you had Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest, and on the other, you had Bob Paisley’s Liverpool.

It was a statement made by the media that turned out to be accurate.

Manchester United were planning on spending upwards of £15 million in the transfer window, while Liverpool endured quiet business through the signings of Israeli international Avi Cohen and youngster Ronnie Whelan from Irish club Home Farm.

Despite heavier spending from Liverpool’s rivals and the departure of club captain Emlyn Hughes, who found new adventures in the form of Wolverhampton Wanderers, the Reds would pip Manchester United to the title by two points, having won 35 of their 60 league games, losing just 10.

Paisley had built a dynasty in the years leading up to 1980, but in the 1979-80 season he relied on an irreplaceable spine to lead him to another title. Kenny Dalglish, Phil Neal and Phil Thompson were ever-presents in the starting eleven. Graeme Souness and Ray Clemence, meanwhile, also featured in 59 of the 60 fixtures.

Their unbelievable fitness levels, which were drilled into them by pivotal Boot Room members Reuben Bennett, Roy Evans, and Ronnie Moran, meant that they could often outlast their opponents and would go on to score 66 of their 111 league goals in the second half of games, with 24 of them in the last 15 minutes.

Although not as accomplished in their defensive efforts as the season before, Liverpool still maintained their standards at the back with 19 clean sheets across the campaign, with Alan Hansen’s injury failing to derail their title ambitions.

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The retention of the league title was Liverpool’s bread and butter, but a first-round exit in the European Cup and semi-final losses in the FA Cup and League Cup would have ruffled the feathers of Paisley, whose Boot Room staff always expected 110%.

1980-81: A third European Cup

A chaotic season that saw injuries strike the core of the club failed to stop Liverpool from winning their third European Cup in four years under Paisley in 1981. In the absence of European success, the Reds had to ‘settle’ for domestic league triumphs in 1979 and 1980, but the season that followed was one of contrasts in the opposite direction.

No major signings were made by Paisley in the summer of 1980, perhaps mindful of where he could fit any new expensive arrival after the peculiar case of Frank McGarvey the previous season, who had been purchased from St Mirren for the not inconsiderable sum of £270,000 only to be sold to Celtic in March for the very same fee. He never made a first-team appearance.

Paisley was so reluctant to disrupt the core of his squad, which became the key to success in the previous seasons, that he even resisted the temptation to re-sign Kevin Keegan from Hamburger SV.

Instead, Paisley spent big on potential, swooping for Ian Rush and giving Chester City £300,000 for his services. Beyond this, Paisley was happy with the squad he had – the backup that was waiting in the wings, and the youth that would eventually break into the first team.

However, a season of very little change in terms of summer business saw its downfalls midway through the league campaign.

Usual proceedings seemed the right way to describe Liverpool’s emphatic start to the season as they retained their Charity Shield and slammed Terry Venables’ highly-regarded Crystal Palace on the opening day of the domestic league season 3-0.

But as the campaign trudged along, Liverpool became guilty of too many draws, having drawn almost half of their first 18 league fixtures. At that point, the injuries started to set in, restricting Liverpool’s hopes of winning Division One for the third straight season.

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Alan Kennedy was first to fall victim to an onslaught of injuries, while further time on the sidelines for Thompson, Case, Johnson, Fairclough, and Hansen would later prove detrimental to Liverpool’s league position.

Although entering the new year as league leaders, it was soon after the turn of the year that the Reds faced an ambush from rivals in their conquest to a third successive league title.

Having eased past Altrincham in the FA Cup Third Round, an early January trip to Villa Park also indicated a change in fortunes in the league for Liverpool as a 2-0 Aston Villa win crushed Paisley’s makeshift defence.

The downward spiral persisted domestically for Liverpool through the shape of league form and FA Cup exits in the remaining weeks of January.

Before the month was over, Paisley’s men fell to defeat against bottom club Leicester City for the second time and bowed out of the FA Cup at Goodison Park, against Everton, in the Fourth Round.

Another loss was sustained at West Bromwich Albion in early February, which left Liverpool six points adrift of both Ipswich and Aston Villa. Three days later, however, an in-form Manchester City were edged past, in the second leg of the League Cup semi-finals, giving Paisley hope of some sort of a domestic triumph.

The Reds had never won the League Cup, so when Liverpool found themselves in the final, Paisley was determined to add the lesser-regarded domestic trophy to his collection.

At Wembley, it was runaway Second Division leaders West Ham United that Paisley’s injury-stricken squad would face.

Missing Thompson and Johnson, Liverpool were on the brink of an extra-time victory until McDermott was compelled to punch a goalbound Alvin Martin header from under the crossbar.

Penalty expert Ray Stewart converted from 12-yards to equalise following Alan Kennedy’s opener which sent the game to a Villa Park replay, two and a half weeks later.

Brushing off the blow of conceding early in the replay, goals from Dalglish and Hansen turned the game around before the half-hour mark on a night when Rush was brought in to lead the line, and Lee was switched to central midfield to cover the loss of Souness.

Paisley had secured Liverpool their first League Cup success after a 2-1 victory, and with it came a guaranteed place in Europe for the following season.

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In the League, however, Paisley was unable to fix the glaring problems that were unlocked through the multitude of injuries that the squad faced. Further draws against sides lower in the division and losses against title-chasing rivals meant the Reds finished in a Paisley-low fifth position.

But the inconsistencies that engulfed the domestic league were quickly shelved to bring a third European Cup to Anfield by the end of the 1980-81 adventure.

Their continental journey began against Finnish side Oulun Palloseura in the first round. Although the first leg finished 1-1, Paisley was quick to stamp his authority in the changing room and alter the path of the second leg in his favour.

To this day, Liverpool’s 10-1 second-leg victory at Anfield stands as the club’s third biggest in their European history. Hattricks from Terry McDermott and Graeme Souness were completed by a brace from David Fairclough and singular strikes from Sammy Lee and Ray Kennedy to showcase unnecessary firepower to the rest of the competition in the opening fixture.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen were dispatched 5-0 on aggregate in round two, and then CSKA Sofia were beaten to reach the semi-finals.

Bayern Munich awaited Liverpool in the final four, and a goalless draw ensued in the first leg, leaving Paisley needing a victory in Germany to reach the final. He was already without Phil Thompson and Alan Kennedy and lost Kenny Dalglish just nine minutes into the game.

However, Ray Kennedy’s 83rd-minute away goal was enough to book a spot in the showpiece, despite Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s equaliser on the night.

“That’s got to be our best performance,” Paisley said afterwards. “It was as good as when we won in Rome.”

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In the final, Real Madrid’s galacticos were waiting for Bob Paisley’s squad in Paris. By then, the Spanish giants had already lifted the trophy a record six times, which added to the mounting pressure that the Reds felt after an uncomfortable finish in the domestic campaign.

The anxiety heading into the big night had only been made worse by Alan Kennedy’s race against time to be fit – along with the fact Dalglish hadn’t played a single minute in the six weeks up to the final. Nevertheless, they both featured in the matchday squad.

On the day of the final itself, the squad went about their usual routine – a steak lunch, followed by a nap and then a pre-match snack. The players were only informed of the starting line-up when they arrived at the Parc des Princes.

Unusually, though, the team’s preparations in the hours before kick-off also involved covering up their kit manufacturer’s logo with sticky tape due to a row over advertising.

It was a final ‘that seldom approached the high standards set in the competition’s early years’, read David Lacey’s Guardian match report. But it was a tense one throughout.

The decisive moment of the Parisian final came in the 81st minute and has been regularly described as a fluke since.

Kennedy edged forward as his namesake Ray took a throw-in near the touchline and unexpectedly received the ball. The left-back controlled the ball on his chest with the quality akin to the nearby Dalglish. Then it was time to advance towards the goal.

He waltzed passed an onrushing defender to leave himself with a decision to make. David Johnson was beside the 26-year-old, shouting for the ball, but instead of giving the glory to someone else, Kennedy slotted the ball home to etch himself into the history of the European Cup.

“To be honest, I thought I miskicked it,” the full-back said afterwards. “The ball seems to take a long time to hit the back of the net but I can’t describe the feeling when it did.”

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The Boot Room, together with a reduced playing squad, had brought European Royalty back to Anfield for the third time in four years, but the parties started long into the Parisian night. Some players hit the nightclubs and others enjoyed a drunken night of karaoke, but one thing was certain – those players boarded the flight home the next morning, all steeped in headaches from the night before.

“To be honest, I thought I miskicked it!”

But the iconic tale of the celebrations belongs to Thompson.

After becoming only the second Liverpool captain to lift Ol’ Big Ears, the Scouser took the hefty trophy he’d been tasked with looking after to his local pub.

Indeed, the prize every footballer in the world craves spent time perched behind the bar at The Falcon in Kirkby.

“After we had won the League Cup that year, club secretary Peter Robinson rollicked me for leaving it on the bus,” Thompson recalls. “He told me that it was my responsibility to look after it as I was the captain.

“He told me I should have taken it home. So when we won the European Cup I didn’t need telling twice – and in my boot it went!

“There were no mobile phones then and everyone was queuing up at the pub payphone to ring around and tell their mates to come down and see the European Cup.

“The next morning, I was woken up by Peter Robinson asking where the cup was. The reason was because it was needed at a press conference at Anfield.

“Thankfully, even though I was bleary-eyed, I had remembered to take it home with me.”

What next?

By 1981, Bob Paisley was closing on his final three seasons holding the Anfield crown. He had won every trophy he had competed for, including three European Cups. Working away with his Boot Room was producing consistent silverware-laden seasons.

It would soon be time to hand the baton to Joe Fagan, an impending genius waiting to make his mark on Liverpool folklore. But for now, Paisley was in full control of an engine room reaping the rewards of European Royalty.