When Gerry Marsden sang the words “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in 1963, little did he know that for the next 40 and more years, thousands of Liverpool football club fans would be using his song as their anthem and making Liverpool one of the most well-loved and biggest football clubs in the world. At Anfield, and on the famous Kop-end of the ground, the red flags and spread-eagled scarves have become a hallmark of the British game.
Liverpool has won more silverware than any English club. They dominated the English and the European game and have won the First Division/Premier League 18 times. Over the years the team-sheet has always prided itself with a scouse, Scottish and English contingent, but more recently they have looked to the cream of European talent.
Liverpool was built around a pass-and-move style. The club has a huge love for the game that is never more obvious than when looking at the fans. When you hear the noise of the Kop in full voice, football fans can’t prevent the hairs on the back of their necks from standing to attention when they hear “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.
The Starting Point
Although you’d never think it now, Liverpool were once Everton. In 1892, in the thriving and busy docklands of Liverpool, Everton were forced to vacate the site on Anfield Road due a dispute over the tenancy. The chairman of the club, John Houlding, wanted to stay where he was though, so on 15th March 1892 he and three of the first team players stayed at Anfield, along with a few supporters, and formed a new club called Liverpool FC.
John McKenna was appointed as the club director, which meant he called the shots from week to week. The newly named Liverpool FC received the best start possible and in their first home match they beat Rotherham 7-1. The Scottish McKenna brought in a number of young Scots to fill-out the new team and within their first season, Liverpool didn’t lose a single game and were rightly rewarded for such with promotion to the First Division.
A couple of years of yo yo-ing from the First to the Second Division followed, as Liverpool tried to find their feet and embed themselves in the ever-expanding English game. Finally, at the dawn of a new century, they won their first top-flight championship in the 1900/01 season. It would become the first of many for the Reds.
Before Bill Shankly
It would be unfair to disregard Liverpool’s history before Bill Shankly but many could argue that this was the milestone that marked the moment at which the club went from being big to gigantic. In the period before the war, Liverpool were always in the top section of the First Division but lacked any silverware to prove their worth. Although they won the First Division in 1906 and played in their first FA Cup Final in 1914, these occasions were quite few and far between.
Under legendary club captain and England defender, Ephraim Longworth, Liverpool won the League title back-to-back in 1922 and then again in 1923. However, during the 1930s Arsenal dominated and Liverpool would have to wait until just after the war before they started to even resemble a decent team.
Things needed to change at Anfield and this was never more evident than when they were relegated to the Second Division in 1954. That change came in a man who arrived in December 1959: a man who would transform Liverpool into the biggest club in Europe.
Many believe Shankly is the greatest manager in the history of the Reds, and he is almost as well remembered for his quotes, such as “If Everton were playing at the bottom of the garden, I’d pull the curtains”, as he is for his trophy successes!
Bill Shankly arrived at Liverpool from Huddersfield Town and would go on to reshape the entire ethos behind the struggling team. When he joined he was less than impressed with the routine of the players, the meagre facilities and the overall lack of professionalism at the club. He gathered his officers (Joe Fagan, Rueben Bennett and Bob Paisley) and set about installing strict training programs that would make the team’s game much simpler and more direct. The players would train to a regimented routine that would eventually lead to them remaining injury free for dozen of matches on the trot. They’d eat, shower and travel together and it was here that Liverpool’s ‘pass and move’ style was born.
Shankly released twenty-four players and brought in the likes of Ron Yeats, Ian St John and Gordon Milne. His new style of leadership started to pay off and, in his third season in charge, Liverpool won the 1962 Second Division and went to join the big boys again in the First Division. Beating their rivals Everton was top priority and in 1964 they did just that. They took the title from the Toffees as easily as stealing candy from a baby. Shankly then looked beyond England and into Europe. However, losing to Inter Milan in 1966 meant they would have to be more patient with their hopes of conquering on the continent.
Shankly was a staunch socialist and he pushed for the same work ethic in his players. In the same way one would act down the mines or on the docks, if a team member needed backing up on the pitch he would get it from another. Shankly loved the fans as much as the players and was famous for replying to numerous supporters’ letters everyday and handing out countless free tickets to them.
During the 1970s, Shankly drafted in a fresh crop of lads, consisting of Steve Highway, Ray Clemance and the young Kevin Keegan. His confidence with his new team was sky-high and he was famous for making jibes about other clubs like Man United and Arsenal. 1973 perhaps goes down as Shankly’s most triumphant year though. He took Liverpool to the First Division title and their first piece of European silverware, when they beat Borussia Monchengladbach in the UEFA Cup Final, but following victory in the FA Cup in 1974 Bill Shankly hung up his own boots and retired saying, “I was only in the game for the love of football”.
Bob’s your uncle and Fagan’s your aunt.
Close friend and able assistant to Shankly, Bob Paisley was another member of what became the famous ‘boot room’ at Anfield. The close knit community, which echoed around the city, made Paisley’s reign as prosperous as his predecessor’s. In Paisley’s second year in the hot-seat, Liverpool won the league title and the UEFA cup again. In the following year there were more trophies to come to Anfield and none shinier than the European Cup, when they beat Borussia Monchengladbach again to become champions of Europe.
Paisley was Liverpool manager for nine seasons and bagged the Reds a staggering 21 pieces of silverware. This would only be beaten by Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United during the nineties. When Paisley felt his time was up he repeated Shankly’s methods of passing the throne to his assistant Joe Fagan, who had been with Liverpool for most of his life.
Joe Fagan took over at the start of the 1983/84 season at the age of 63 and would become the first English manager to win his club ‘the treble’, which consisted of the League title, the domestic League Cup and the European Cup. Fagan achieved all this in only his first season as boss. The eighties would be the defining period for Liverpool’s domination of the game. To name a few of the key players in the side at the time, would include the captain Alan Hansen, who joined Liverpool in 1977 and would lead the defensive quartet throughout the entire eighties, Scottish wonder kid Kenny Dalglish, who would score some of the most important goals for the club, John Barnes, who was one of the first black players to play in England, and another key signing and goal scorer, Ian Rush.
Let’s forget the nineties
Another Scottish manager took over at Liverpool in 1991: Graham Souness. Souness was part of the conquering Liverpool team during the eighties with Dalglish and was therefore a strong contender to repeat the close-knit methods for success, but sadly this wouldn’t be the case. Although Souness won Liverpool the FA Cup in his first season in charge, he would eventually drag the Reds through their worst league run for many years, dropping them well out of the top four and far from any trophies, especially in Europe.
There were disputes in the boot-room, as Souness felt many of the old boys playing ought to be side-lined in favour of the promising new Mersey talent such as Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman. He might have been right but he wasn’t popular for it. To make matters worse, there was an incident where an interview with Souness was published in The Sun newspaper which showed him happy at the team’s win the day before. Unfortunately the article went out on the day of the third anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. Souness looked in dire straits and in 1994 another boot-room boy, Roy Evans, took over as manager.
Liverpool had some good players in the likes of Fowler, McManaman, David James and the ageing but still reliable Ian Rush. The problem was that all the other teams in the league, namely Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal, were looking much more potent. Evans wouldn’t prove experienced or dramatic enough for Liverpool’s high hopes. He was liked, but he wasn’t a success, and in his four years in charge, Liverpool only won the League Cup in 1995.
What followed was an unlikely but necessary foreign invasion of Merseyside. In 1998 the French coach Gerard Houillier came to sit next to Roy Evans to assist him. The dynamic didn’t work so Evans left and Houillier took over as top-dog.
For many years the dialogue in the Liverpool dressing room had been conducted in Scouse (or sometimes Scottish-Scouse) but at the dawn of the new decade, Liverpool would return to being serious European players and would look to Europe itself for men to lead them there. Under the proven success of the Frenchman Gerrard Houillier, Liverpool would have their best season for years in 2001. They finished the season with their hands on the FA Cup, the League Cup and the UEFA Cup. Despite all the new foreign players though, they were still bringing together some exciting English players such as Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.
In 2002 they finished second, which was the highest they had done since Dalglish was in charge. But there was trouble at the top for Houillier and he was suffering heart problems. He underwent major heart surgery in 2002, amazingly returned to Anfield in 2003 to clinch the League Cup, but wouldn’t make it with Liverpool beyond 2004. Houillier agreed to stand down and be replaced by the Spanish master tactician Rafael Benitez.
Benitez brought with him one key word and that was experience. He boasted great managerial success with Real Madrid and Valencia so his arrival was eagerly anticipated on Merseyside. He didn’t disappoint. Although in the Premier League that year his new look continental team finished fifth, in European competitions his experience shone. In the most dramatic Champions League Final of all time, Liverpool led by their captain and goal scorer Steven Gerrard they came from three goals behind in Istanbul to beat AC Milan in a penalty shoot out. They were finally champions of Europe once again.
Under Benitez in 2006 they beat West Ham Utd in another very dramatic cup final, where Steven Gerrard scored another paramount goal for his home team in the dying minutes. In 2007 they finished runners up in the Champions League final, where AC Milan got their revenge.
After reaching the 2007 Champions League final, it was another season without a title for Rafael Benitez and Liverpool FC. The only encouraging news for Liverpool was the return of ‘King’ Kenny Dalglish to Liverpool FC Youth Academy in 2009. During the leadership of Rafael Benitez, Liverpool FC two different owners of the club. The first was in 2007 when it was bought by George Gillett and Tom Hicks, with promises of fame and fortune they marched into Anfield claiming to build a new stadium and bring the glory days back. In reality they piled debt on the club and sold some of Benitez’s major assets. Rafael Benitez finally got pushed out on June 3, 2010 and was replaced by Roy Hodgson. In 2010 Liverpool FC was bought out by the New England Sports Ventures owned by John W. Henry. This looked like a lifesaver for Liverpool but they started the 2010 season with some poor results, the major one being the defeat by Division 2 side Northampton Town. The manager Roy Hodgson was out of his depth, having years of experience, but never at the top level, it was begining to show. In January 2011 Liverpool let Hodgson go and replaced him with Kenny Dalglish, this was welcomed by the fans and results began to improve. At the end of the January transfer window Fernando Torres decided he wanted to move to Chelsea, Liverpool got fifty million pounds for him and replaced him with Andy Carroll, a young and up and coming forward from Newcastle United. The problem was Carroll was injured when he arrived and didn’t feature much in the rest of the season. The club gave Dalglish an extension to his contract for the next 3 years. This started to become the era of the academy players with the likes of Kelly, Robinson and Spearing being given a chance to show what they could do. It also showed what a shrewd player spotter Dalglish was when he bought Luis Suarez from Ajax, and Sebastian Coates from Uruguay. In the 2011 – 2012 season Liverpool was fighting on 2 fronts for both the League Cup and the FA Cup. They brought home the League cup after beating a spirited Cardiff team in the final. The match went to penalties and thankfully Liverpool scraped through. In the 2012 FA Cup Liverpool lost to Chelsea in a dramatic final that ended 2-1. Liverpool looked poor in the first half and gave up an easy goal with some woeful defending. Chelsea scored again in the beginning of the second half, and it looked like it had won the game for them. Liverpool started one of their famous comebacks, with a great goal from Andy Carroll Liverpool started to dominate the play. A second goal did not materialize, and a great header from Carroll was ruled out by the officials. It showed later that the ball had crossed the line and it was a goal. So one cup instead of two and qualification for Europe, it still wasn’t enough for the new owners and Dalglish was replaced as manager. The new manager is Brendan Rodgers, he was manager of Swansea City and is regarded as one of the best young managers around the game today.