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

Bob Paisley Boot Room

Slowly but surely, we are winding down to the final days of Bob Paisley – Liverpool’s most successful manager ever. So far, he has lifted all three of his European Cups, despite never really wanting the transition from Boot Room member to Boot Room superintendent.

Next in line for the managerial post was Joe Fagan, another quiet component of the Boot Room that would prove to fit right in at the helm, despite not wanting the job yet again. But for now, Paisley still had two years to go before he called time on his managerial tenure.

We start part seven with a look at the 1981/82 season.

It became a league campaign that contrasted the failures of the season before, with injuries being less of a constrictive feature.

1981-82: Domestic success restored

To begin this section by saying the English football pyramid was Bob Paisley’s bread and butter would be to do injustice to the rest of his titanic achievements. In reality, every competition that the Englishman entered was his bread and butter.

But last season’s fifth-placed finish undermined that statement, with injuries being the telling trait in an unsuccessful league campaign. It was clear in the season before that the tides needed to change in 1981 – and Paisley accomplished just this.

Using summer as his opportunity to reassemble his squad, Paisley let go of Jimmy Case in a deal that saw Mark Lawrenson join the other way from Brighton, while Ray Clemence joined Tottenham Hotspur at his own instigation.

By January 1982, Ray Kennedy had also left Liverpool to seek greener grass in Swansea, and Phil Thompson had been stripped from his captaincy.

David Johnson, another integral member of the Liverpool team throughout the previous three seasons, had struggled for form, and Paisley had begun to consider a long-term replacement for Terry McDermott, too.

Before 1982 had ended, both would be playing their football with clubs they’d starred for earlier in their careers; Johnson at Everton, McDermott with Newcastle.

But if Liverpool’s Boot Room had proven anything since its inception, it was that, while good players come and go, The Reds never needed to rely on key figures for success. The Liverpool Way would always remain intact, and new players will swing the pendulum in favour of more silverware.

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Among those who shone in the new-look Liverpool was Ian Rush, but his rise to stardom didn’t come until the club had to suffer a disintegration on and off the pitch in the opening months of the 1981/82 journey.

A slow start to the campaign had included two defeats and only one win in their first four league games.

Added to this, Kevin Keegan inspired Southampton to a 1-0 victory at Anfield in November, a month after a demoralising loss to Man United in front of the Kop.

In their first 11 league fixtures, Paisley was only able to guide his team to a dismal three victories. But despite their on-pitch decay, it was off the pitch that the club suffered most, with the sad news of Bill Shankly’s death hitting the city’s heart in September 1981.

The man that had catalysed the club’s meteoric rise to the pedestal of English and European football had passed away at Broadgreen Hospital, and the heart and soul that the lack of his presence removed from The Reds was felt on the pitch and across the city.

Something was missing, and Paisley knew something needed to change.

Thankfully for Paisley, though, the bottom of the barrel had been unwittingly reached, and an enforced 10-day break from league action did his side a massive favour.

Five league wins on the bounce made it a happy new year for Liverpool, a run in which they scored 16 and conceded only one. During this spell, the first two rounds of the FA Cup were also navigated.

The blossoming energy of Ian Rush and Ronnie Whelan seemed to have flicked a switch at Liverpool. Their effervescence was radiating across the team, and Bruce Grobbelaar’s early season mistakes were being ironed out at last.

Wonderful fluency returned to Liverpool’s football and, having been written off in the wake of the loss to United in October, by early February they had eaten up a significant amount of ground not only on Ron Atkinson’s expensively assembled pretenders but also on Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town.

A 4-0 league win over Ipswich was sandwiched by both legs of the League Cup semi-final against the same opponents. Suddenly, Wembley loomed large and a way had been found into a competitive race for the title.

An ominous figure to other teams, it came as a relief to the rest of the contenders when Liverpool went out of the FA Cup at Second Division Chelsea, swiftly followed by a league reversal at Swansea.

And soon after, The Reds suffered a shock defeat to Brighton, but it would end up being their last league defeat in the 1981/82 season as they steamrolled their way to another First Division title.

In the process, they would also retain their League Cup, beating Ray Clemence’s Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium by way of a Ronnie Whelan equaliser in the 87th minute to take the final to extra time. Another goal from Whelan and Rush’s first at the national stadium in the 30 minutes of extra time ensured The Reds hoisted their second-ever League Cup.

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Bob Paisley had completely changed the fortunes of the club at the turn of the year, and so the title charge continued in fine style. Although The Reds missed out on European royalty, losing to CSKA Sofia in the last eight, it gave them the platform to focus their attention solely on league triumph.

A resounding derby day victory at Goodison Park was quickly followed by redemption against Manchester United, setting the pace and tone of an epic comeback for The Reds.

Draws against Arsenal and Tottenham were accompanied by a flawless victory at Manchester City’s Maine Road to give Liverpool another League title.

Out with a swathe of the old and in with an influx of the new, Paisley’s final gift to Liverpool in terms of trophies came a year later, but a more valuable one was his 1981/82 restructuring of a team that was in danger of falling into regression and maybe even decay.

Paisley’s eye for talent was a totem pole for success during the Boot Room days, and in the second from last season of his managerial era, this was once more the case. His vision of the future ensured Liverpool could come back to win another First Division and carry their accomplishments forward.

1982-83: Paisley’s last hoorah

After nine successful seasons at the helm of Liverpool Football Club, Bob Paisley called time on his managerial tenure the only way he knew how; by winning silverware.

By retaining the League title once again and winning the League Cup for a third successive season, Paisley bowed out of Anfield as the most successful British manager of all time, having won six League Championships, three League Cups, three European Cups, one UEFA Cup, one UEFA Super Cup, and six Charity Shields in just nine years.

It was such a convincing league victory for The Reds that they were afforded all five of their defeats in the last seven games of the season as they picked up just two points in a monumental dropoff – although never catastrophic, while Manchester United posed little threat to Paisley’s title ambitions.

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Paramount to their successes domestically in the 1982-83 campaign was once more their defensive consistency. While Bruce Grobbelaar’s unorthodox shielding of the goal was aided by Alan Kennedy, Phil Neal, Alan Hansen, Phil Thompson, and Mark Lawrenson, The Reds would only concede 37 goals in a 42-game season, keeping a total of 19 clean sheets.

Impressively, that record could have been a lot better had Liverpool not put their feet up in those last seven games where they conceded 11 goals in that period alone.

The defence was harnessed by a midfield three that featured players who would be considered all to be a jack of all trades. Graeme Souness and Sammy Lee were joined by the burgeoning talent of 21-year-old Ronnie Whelan, who was very quickly establishing himself as one of the best youngsters around.

In front of them was the deadly combination of Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish – the club’s greatest ever attackers who still show their faces at Anfield today.

Rush and Dalglish managed 51 goals between them in all competitions that season. However one of the most impressive aspects of this side was the spread of goals throughout the team. The midfield regularly did their bit, contributing 31 goals, while event the defence did its bit for the cause.

Phil Neal was also paramount to the successes of the season, with his ruthlessness from the penalty spot and free-kick positions being significant in notching him 11 goals. The football that Liverpool played was of stellar quality – and among any of those who contributed, it was the demeanour of ‘King Kenny’ that prevailed the most as he rubberstamped his name into The Liverpool Way.

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The flying Scotsman ended the season by scooping both the PFA Player of the year and the Football Writer’s Player of the Year awards. Although by all means a team effort, Dalglish is still known as one of Liverpool’s greatest ever assets.

The talents of him and Rush combined to pose as a microcosm of The Liverpool Way – they were, in many ways, the authors of it during the 80s.

At the end of the 1982/83 season, the legendary Bob paisley declared his retirement from management. The decision was made so that he could spend more time with his wife and family, although he would later explain his boredom in life after football.

Paisley worked informally as a consultant and advisor to Kenny Dalglish for two years after the latter was appointed player-manager in 1985, before being appointed as a club director. In early 1986, then aged 66, he was interviewed by the Football Association of Ireland to take charge of the Ireland football team. Jack Charlton was eventually given the job instead.

The legacy of the Boot Room’s most successful bricklayer

The best way to paint the picture of Bob Paisley’s involvement in the Boot Room is to keep going back to that famous saying: ‘Shankly built the house, Paisley put the roof on it’. In essence, the miner’s son from County Durham was the finishing jigsaw piece to European royalty.

He was an understated, quiet tactician that led Liverpool to an unprecedented three European Cups in nine years. Nowadays, he’s viewed as the grandfather of Liverpool Football Club as the gates to Anfield commemorate his pioneering abilities.

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Even throughout his days as Shankly’s assistant, the former was the motivational go-getter, and Paisley was the tactician who was at the heart of everything the Boot Room achieved tactically – arguably alongside the brains of Joe Fagan, who would soon prove that he was worth his weight in gold at the helm of the club.

It was he who produced one of the best tactical observations of all time when Red Star Belgrade were playing with two astute ball-players as centre-backs in their European tie in 1973. And that would feel all the more important when Liverpool would go on to switch their tactical nous in favour of Red Star’s outlay to hoist them to European royalty – which came just three years later, under Paisley’s orchestration.

Playing midfielders in defence was alien, particularly to English football clubs, but that’s what Paisley did, with Phil Thompson and Emlyn Hughes replacing the ‘clear the ball at all costs’ attitudes of Tommy Smith and Larry Lloyd.

The decision ultimately made all-out attacking football redundant in the years after, with Paisley’s new-look blueprint having a lasting impact on the game.

His vision for the future and the talents of potential new signings were also significant and became woven into the fabric of his legacy even to this day.

He would take a hands-on approach to recruitment and opted to bring in Ian Rush, Bruce Grobbelaar, Mark Lawrenson and, most notably after Kevin Keegan threw his plans up in the air with a transfer request, one Kenny Dalglish. And it was the signing of the latter that was the final piece of the puzzle as his subtlety and ability to read the game allowed Paisley’s 4-4-2 to shift into a 4-4-1-1.

It would take opposition managers years to catch up with that development.

You could talk about what Liverpool accomplished during Paisley’s nine-year tenure for years and never get bored of it. In a period when the European Cup was immeasurably harder to win than it is now, with only league winners qualifying, Paisley became the first man in history to win the trophy three times, with only Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane matching that feat since.

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A humble personality that forged Liverpool’s relationship with the European Cup and kept the love affair going for a decade of dominance, Bob Paisley will forever go down as a defining character in the Boot Room.

His tactics and vision for talent are what make him a beloved grandfather of Liverpool Football Club, and to continue in his path, Joe Fagan was next to step in line.