History of Liverpool F.C. (1959–85)

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This article is about the history of Liverpool F.C. from 1959 to 1985. For an account of the club's history before 1959, see History of Liverpool F.C. (1892–1959). For an account of the club's history after 1985, see History of Liverpool F.C. (1985–present).
Four trophies inside a glass cabinet. The trophies have ribbons on them and there is memorabilia next to them
Replicas of the four European Champion Clubs' Cup Liverpool won from 1977 to 1984 on display in the club's museum

The history of Liverpool Football Club from 1959 to 1985 covers the period from the appointment of Bill Shankly as manager to the club's expulsion from European competition following the Heysel Stadium disaster.

Liverpool were in the Second Division when Shankly arrived. He decided to overhaul the team, releasing 24 players and converting a boot storage room into a meeting place where he and his coaches discussed strategy. Shankly's appointment led to a revival in the club's fortunes, as Liverpool were promoted to the First Division after winning the Second Division in the 1961–62 season. Two seasons later the club won its first League championship since 1946–47, qualifying Liverpool to compete in Europe for the first time. The next season Liverpool won their first FA Cup. They won a further League championship in the 1965–66 season, but it was not until 1972–73 that Liverpool won another trophy, when they regained the league championship and won the UEFA Cup, their first European trophy. The following season the club won the FA Cup in what was Shankly's final year as manager. He was replaced by his assistant, Bob Paisley.

Paisley's appointment ushered in the most successful period in the club's history. Liverpool finished second in the 1974–75 season, Paisley's first in charge, and won the League championship and UEFA Cup the following season. Liverpool won the European Cup in the 1976–77 season and retained it the following season, the first English club to do so. Further success followed with successive League championships in the 1978–79 and 1979–80 seasons. The club won a third European Cup in 1981 when they beat Real Madrid 1–0. Paisley won a further two League championships before retiring at the end of the 1982–83 season, to be replaced by his assistant, Joe Fagan. During Paisley's tenure the club won 21 trophies.

Liverpool won an unprecedented treble of trophies during Fagan's first season as manager, winning the League championship for the third year in succession, the Football League Cup for the fourth year in succession and a fourth European Cup, defeating Roma. The following season was less successful as the club was involved in one of the worst disasters to occur at a football stadium. Before the start of the 1985 European Cup Final against Juventus, Liverpool fans breached a fence separating the two groups of supporters, and charged the Juventus fans. The resulting weight of people caused a retaining wall to collapse, killing 39 fans, mostly Italians. The incident became known as the Heysel Stadium disaster and resulted in the expulsion of English clubs from European competition for five years.


Shankly became manager midway through the 1959–60 season, when the club was in the Second Division. During his first season in charge Shankly gave debuts to two players: Ian Callaghan, who became the club's record appearance maker and Roger Hunt who went on to become the club's leading goal-scorer in the League. Despite their introduction Shankly's impact was not immediate, as the club finished the season in third place, outside the promotion spots. Shankly had been musing on which players to keep and which to move on, and he eventually decided that 24 players should be released; by the end of his first season they had all left the club. Shankly retained the existing back room staff,[1] and converted a boot storage room into a meeting place where he and his coaches could discuss strategy. The "Boot Room", as it came to be known, was to be an integral part of the club's future success.[2]

Statue of a man with his arms held aloft
Statue of Bill Shankly outside Anfield. Shankly won promotion to the First Division and the club's first league title since 1947.

The club again finished third the following season, despite a run of 14 games without defeat; five defeats in the opening 11 matches cost Liverpool the chance of promotion.[1] The following season new signings Ian St. John and Ron Yeats helped the club win promotion to the First Division; they won the Second Division with 62 points, and were unbeaten at their home ground Anfield all season.[3] Liverpool were back in the First Division for the first time in eight years during the 1962–63 season. Despite an uneasy start, they began to find their feet in the division, and on the back of an unbeaten run that ended in March they had risen to fourth place. They also reached their first FA Cup semi-final since 1950, but were defeated 1–0 by Leicester City. Liverpool's form subsequently suffered, and a poor run of results including a 7–2 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur saw the club finish the season in 8th place.[4]

The following season Shankly's rebuilding of the team came to fruition. He signed Peter Thompson from Preston North End to provide the side with much needed width. [5] The 1963–64 season started poorly, with only nine points from the first nine games. A 2–1 victory over Everton, their first since 1950, provided the impetus for Liverpool's move up the table. They amassed 47 points from their next 30 games to secure their sixth League championship.[5] Success led to the average attendance at Anfield increasing to more than 50,000. The fans also became more vocal, and it was around this time that the fans on the Kop adopted You'll Never Walk Alone as their anthem.[6]

Liverpool's League championship qualified them to compete in European competition for the first time, in the 1964–65 European Cup. They reached the semi-finals, but were beaten by Italian club Inter Milan. The tie was not without controversy; Shankly felt that the referee showed bias towards the Italians, as he had allowed questionable goals by the Italians to stand.[7] Liverpool's form in the European Cup carried over into the FA Cup, in which they reached the final against Leeds United. The game was goalless for the first 90 minutes, but Liverpool took the lead in extra time courtesy of a goal by Hunt. Leeds equalised shortly afterwards, but a St. John goal secured a 2–1 victory for Liverpool and their first FA Cup triumph.[8] Liverpool's form in cup competitions did not translate to their performance in the League, as the defence of their championship ended with the club finishing in seventh place.[9]

Lean spell[edit]

Ron Yeats, who captained Liverpool from 1961 to 1970.[10]

Victory in the FA Cup meant Liverpool would participate in the European Cup Winners' Cup during the 1965–66 season. They went one stage further than the previous season, as they reached the final where they faced German team Borussia Dortmund. The two sides were level at 1–1 at the end of 90 minutes and the match went into extra time. Liverpool were unable to score and conceded a goal to Dortmund, who won the match 2–1, to win the Cup Winners' Cup.[11] Their defence of the FA Cup ended in the third round, with a defeat to Chelsea.[12] Their lack of success in cup competitions was offset, as they regained the League championship on the last day of April, when they beat Chelsea, courtesy of two goals from Hunt.[13]

The next few seasons were not as successful for Liverpool. A return to the European Cup in the 1966–67 season ended in the second round, where they were eliminated by Dutch side Ajax 7–3 on aggregate.[14] The League campaign was equally disappointing, with the team finishing the season in fifth place. One significant event during the season was the arrival of future team captain Emlyn Hughes from Blackpool for £65,000.[15]

The 1967–68 season started well, with Liverpool in second place by Christmas, three points behind Manchester United. An accumulation of matches due to participation in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, FA Cup and Football League Cup impacted negatively on Liverpool's League form. They finished the season in third place behind winners Manchester City.[16] The 59 games Liverpool played during the season,[17] did not result in success. The furthest the club progressed in any competition was to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.[18]

The following season saw an improvement in League form, but there was no reward. Poor performances in the cup competitions meant that Liverpool had less fixture congestion than the previous season, but that did not translate into a League championship as they finished in second place, six points behind Leeds United. Shankly's team was beginning to age, and a number of players had been moved on or retired. Gerry Byrne, who had been the club's left back for a number of seasons, retired after making 273 League appearances. Shankly now had the task of replacing the players in his squad. He started the process with the purchase of Hughes and then Ray Clemence the season before, but his signings did not always work out. Tony Hateley was signed for a record of fee of £96,000 from Chelsea, but injury and poor form meant he was sold to Coventry City after a year.[19] During the 1968–69 season Shankly signed Alun Evans for £100,000 from Wolverhampton Wanderers, a record fee for a teenager at the time. Despite a good start, Evans suffered a series of injuries that cut his career short.[20]

The 1969–70 season was the beginning of a transitional period for Liverpool, as a number of players including Hunt, St. John and Yeats made their last appearances for the club.[21] A sixth-round loss to Watford in the FA Cup convinced Shankly that some of his older players should be moved on. Liverpool nevertheless started the season well, and were unbeaten in their first ten League matches until a 1–0 defeat by Manchester United.[17] But they were unable to maintain their early season form and eventually finished in fifth place.[22] Success in the other cup competitions was not forthcoming, as Liverpool exited in the early rounds of the Football League Cup and Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.[18]


Shankly's new squad began to take shape during the 1970–71 season, with many of the young players he had signed playing in the first team. As a result, the average of the team was 22.[21] Players such as Clemence, Larry Lloyd, Alec Lindsay and Steve Heighway, who was signed towards the end of the season, began to establish themselves in the team. John Toshack was also signed from Cardiff City to replace Hunt.[23] Liverpool were unable to improve upon the previous season's League position, finishing in fifth place, but they had more success in cup competitions. They reached the semi-finals of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, but lost to Leeds United over two-legs.[24] Liverpool progressed to the final of the FA Cup against Arsenal. Despite Liverpool taking the lead in extra time after a goalless 90 minutes, Arsenal won the match 2–1 to complete a League and cup double.[25]

A set of gates with the inscription "Paisley Gateway" at the top. In the middle of the sets of gates are two emblems
The Paisley Gateway is a tribute to former manager Bob Paisley, who is the most successful manager in the club's history.

Before the final against Arsenal, Shankly signed Kevin Keegan from Scunthorpe United. Keegan became a key player for Liverpool and his impact was immediate, as he scored 12 minutes into his Liverpool debut.[26] The addition of Keegan almost helped Liverpool to the League championship. They went into the final day of the season a point behind Derby County, who had already finished their campaign, but were unable to secure the victory they needed against Arsenal to win the League, finishing in third place.[27] The 1972–73 season was when Shankly's new Liverpool team delivered, winning the League and the club's first European trophy, the UEFA Cup. They started the season well and were top of the League after a 5–0 victory over Sheffield United. They maintained that position throughout the remainder of the season, securing the League championship after a win over Leeds United on Easter Monday. It was the club's eighth League title, equalling the record held by Arsenal. Further success followed in the UEFA Cup, as the club reached the final against German team Borussia Mönchengladbach. A 3–0 victory in the first leg and a 2–0 loss in the second leg, meant Liverpool won the tie 3–2 on aggregate to win their first European trophy,[28] and become the first English team to win the League and a European trophy in the same season.[29]

The biggest change to Anfield in recent years occurred in 1973, as the old Main Stand was demolished and a new one constructed. The stand was officially opened by the Duke of Kent on 10 March 1973.[30] Their triumph in the League meant Liverpool would compete in the 1973–74 European Cup. They were not as successful as the previous season and were eliminated in the second round by Yugoslav team Red Star Belgrade.[31] Liverpool made a poor start to their League campaign, losing early on to Coventry City and Derby County, as opposed to Leeds United who won 23 points from a possible 26 to go top. Liverpool reduced the gap, but a poor end to the season, during which they won only one of their last eight matches, meant they finished second to Leeds.[32] Despite their lack of success in other competitions, Liverpool reached the final of the FA Cup against Newcastle United, winning the match 3–0 to win the cup for the second time. Shankly bought Ray Kennedy from Arsenal at the end of the season, his last act as Liverpool manager; he resigned soon afterwards and was replaced by his assistant Bob Paisley.[33]

Paisley's tenure began at the start of the 1974–75 season, which started well; Liverpool were unbeaten in their first six League matches and recorded their biggest ever win, when they beat Strømsgodset 11–0 in the 1974–75 European Cup Winners' Cup.[34] Liverpool were nevertheless knocked out by Hungarian side Ferencváros on the away goals rule in the next round.[35] The club's participation in domestic cup competitions ended early as well, exiting in the fourth round in the FA Cup and Football League Cup.[36] Liverpool's good start to the season in the League could not be sustained and they eventually finished in second place.[33] Paisley made some important signings during the course of the season. He signed Phil Neal, Terry McDermott and Jimmy Case, who would become regulars in the successful team that Paisley was to build.[36]

Sustained success[edit]

Man in a white shirt, wearing sunglasses.
Kenny Dalglish, who scored the winning goal in the 1978 European Cup Final

The 1975–76 season did not start well, as Liverpool lost their first match of the season to Queens Park Rangers 2–0. Their form had not improved by mid-October, by which time they had won only six of their first twelve matches.[34] Liverpool's form picked up in the second half of the season; a late-season run in which they dropped only one point in nine matches left them a point behind Queens Park Rangers going into the their final match of the season.[33] Victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers would secure the League championship, as Queens Park Rangers had already finished their league campaign. The match did not start well, and Liverpool were a goal behind at half-time, but Liverpool won the match 3–1 with three second-half goals to take the League championship.[37] Liverpool exited early from the FA Cup and League Cup but fared better in Europe, where they progressed to the final of the UEFA Cup. A 4–3 aggregate victory over Belgian team Club Brugge meant the club won the trophy for the second time.[38]

Liverpool began the 1976–77 season in good form, losing only two of their first sixteen games in the League, a run that put them top by September.[39] A blip during the Christmas period, which included a 5–1 defeat to Aston Villa, did not prevent Liverpool from winning their tenth League championship.[40] Liverpool were again successful in Europe, reaching the final of the European Cup for the first time and beating Borussia Mönchengladbach 3–1 to become champions of Europe.[41] Victory in the final of the FA Cup against Manchester United would have secured an unprecedented treble of trophies, but Liverpool lost the match 2–1.[42]

Keegan had been sold to Hamburg for £500,000 before the start of the 1977–78 season. Kenny Dalglish, whom Paisley signed as Keegan's replacement from Celtic, would be instrumental in the club's success over the coming seasons. His impact was immediate, as he scored 20 goals in 42 league games.[43] His most important contribution was scoring the winning goal in Liverpool's 1–0 victory over Club Brugge in the 1978 European Cup Final, as the club retained the trophy,[44] becoming the first British team to do so.[45] Despite their success in Europe, Liverpool were unsuccessful in domestic competitions. They finished seven points behind Nottingham Forest in the League, who were also their opponents in the 1978 Football League Cup Final.[46] After ending goalless the match went to a replay, which Forest won 1–0.[47]

Liverpool started the 1978–79 season in contrasting fashion. They were drawn against Nottingham Forest in the first round of the European Cup and were eliminated after a 2–0 aggregate defeat. There was also an early exit from the League Cup, as they lost 1–0 to Sheffield United in the second round. But those setbacks were offset by Liverpool's start in the League, where they won their first six games and did not lose until their twelfth, when Everton beat them 1–0.[48] Their form continued over the season and they won the League by eight points from Nottingham Forest.[47] Their performance in the League broke a number of records; the 68 points they gained during the season beat the 67 earned by Leeds United in the 1968–69 season. The 16 goals conceded all season was another new record.[43]

Liverpool maintained their League form into the 1979–80 season, and retained the League championship. Early defeats to Southampton and Nottingham Forest did not set the team back, once they topped the table in January they stayed there for the remainder of the season. A 4–1 victory over Aston Villa in the penultimate game of the season secured the League championship.[49] Key to the club's success was their home form; they were unbeaten at Anfield all season, conceding eight goals.[43] Despite their impressive form in the League it did not translate to Europe, as Liverpool were knocked out in the first round of the European Cup by Soviet team Dinamo Tbilisi.[50] They fared better in the FA Cup and League Cup, but were unable to progress past the semi-final stage in either competition.[47] The 1980–81 season was a contrast to previous seasons as the club struggled in the League, but excelled in cup competitions. Despite losing eight games, the same as eventual winners Aston Villa, Liverpool drew seventeen to finish in fifth place, their worst position for sixteen years.[51] Liverpool's form in the cups was much better; despite an early exit in the FA Cup, they reached the finals of the League Cup and European Cup. They won the League Cup for the first time, beating West Ham United 2–1 in a replay, after the first match ended in a draw.[52] Real Madrid were their opponents in the 1981 European Cup Final, as Liverpool won the cup for the third time thanks to an Alan Kennedy goal.[53]

Triumph and tragedy[edit]

Following their fifth-place finish in the League the previous season Liverpool were eager to regain the League championship. Their goalkeeper, Clemence, had signed for Tottenham Hotspur and been replaced by Bruce Grobbelaar. Liverpool did not perform well in their early games, losing their first match and drawing several others.[54] Their poor form continued, and by the end of December they had won only six out of seventeen games played and were in the lower half of the League.[52] Their form in the second half of the season improved, and a run of 11 successive wins towards the end of the season meant they won the League by four points from Ipswich Town. Liverpool retained their League championship in the 1982–83 season, winning the League by 11 points from Watford, despite a run of five defeats and two draws in their last seven games.[55] Liverpool exited the FA Cup and European Cup in the fifth round and quarter-finals respectively, but there was success in the League Cup. A 2–1 victory over Manchester United in the final meant Liverpool won the competition for the third year in succession. At the end of the season, Paisley announced that he would be stepping down as manager; he had won six League championships, three European Cups and League Cups during his reign, the most successful manager in the club's history. He was replaced by his assistant Joe Fagan.[56]

Plan of the Heysel Stadium, showing the section of the stadium where the disaster occurred.

The 1983–84 season was one of unprecedented success for Liverpool, as they won three competitions to secure a unique treble of trophies. The club did not begin the season in good form, but by November they were top of the table and stayed there to win the League by three points from Southampton.[57] As a result, they equalled the record of three consecutive League championships held by Huddersfield Town and Arsenal.[58] Key to their success was striker Ian Rush, who scored 32 goals during the league campaign, including a further 13 in other competitions.[57] Liverpool again reached the final of the League Cup where they faced Everton. A 0–0 draw in the first match at Wembley meant that the match was replayed at Maine Road the next week. A Graeme Souness goal secured a 1–0 victory and the club's fourth successive League Cup victory.[59] Liverpool performed well in Europe, reaching the final of the European Cup. They faced Roma in their home stadium the Stadio Olimpico. A 1–1 draw after 90 minutes and extra time meant the match went to a penalty shoot-out, which Liverpool won. Alan Kennedy scoring the winning penalty after Grobbelaar had distracted Roma player Francesco Graziani, causing him to miss his own penalty.[60]

Fagan's second season in charge was not so successful, as Liverpool finished the season without a trophy for the first time in nine years.[61] The defence of their League championship was all but over in October, when Liverpool were in the relegation zone. The club's form picked up afterwards, but they were unable to catch Everton, and finished thirteen points behind in second place.[62] The defence of the League Cup ended in the third round, although the club reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup, losing to Manchester United.[63] Liverpool reached their fifth European Cup final against Juventus, but events off the pitch would overshadow events on it. Before the start of the match Liverpool fans breached a fence separating the two sets of supporters. As the Juventus fans fled to safety, the accumulation of people against a perimeter wall caused it to collapse, killing 39 fans, most of whom were Italians.[64] The collapse of the wall led to rioting by Juventus fans at the other end of the ground. As a result the match was delayed by two hours, but was played regardless, as it was feared the abandonment of the match would lead to further violence.[65] Juventus won the match 1–0.[66]

In the aftermath of the match, the blame for the disaster was laid on the Liverpool fans. UEFA official Gunter Schneider stated, "Only the English fans were responsible. Of that there is no doubt."[67] As a result The Football Association withdrew English clubs from European competition, two days later UEFA banned English clubs for "an indeterminate period of time". A condition was added, stipulating Liverpool would serve an additional three-year ban when the ban was lifted.[68] Fagan resigned after match, he was replaced by Dalglish, who became the club's first player-manager.[63]


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