Date: 14th March 2008 at 1:53pm
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Having drawn Liverpool in the Quarter Finals of the Champions’ League, I thought twice about whether to produce my usual spiel about our next European opponents. But Fridays are always really quiet at work so I thought, ‘yeah, why the fuck not, who’s gonna stop me? You? Of course not.’ Obviously Liverpool are a club whose history is intimidating, particularly in European competition. Their present is not quite so illustrious though, with constant turmoil surrounding ownership shenanigans and having failed to land a domestic championship in eighteen years. (That means there are now people drinking in pubs who have never lived under the reign of Liverpool as it were).

Liverpool are English football’s most decorated football club, they have won more trophies than any other English side. Their itenary includes eighteen league titles (11 of which were won between 1976 and 1990), seven F.A. Cups, seven League cups and five European Cups. Liverpool F.C were founded in 1892 and have played at the world famous Anfield ground since their inception. They are noted for the legendary Kop stand, the Shankly gates which stand alongisde a touching Hillsbrough memorial. (No Heysel memorial has ever been constructed). Their supporters are indellibly associated with the anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ traditionally belted out at the Kop end when the teams emerge and as the match draws to a close. Interestingly, Liverpool were originally going to be annointed as Everton Athletic. Their existence came about from when Anfield leaseholder John Houlding increased the rent on Anfield, the then home ground of Everton F.C by 150%. Everton refused and moved to nearby Goodison Park. Liverpool F.C were formed by Houlding as a splinter club. They were to win their first top flight title in the 1900-01 season, an apt declaration of intent for a century they were to dominate.

The domestic trophies began to collate in the 1920s, but Liverpool underwent the longest barren spell in their history when they failed to land a cup from 1923 until 1947. However, Liverpool’s history was to change irrevocably in December 1959 when they appointed the now legendary Bill Shankly as manager. He gained the Reds promotion to the top flight in 1962 and Liverpool have stayed ever since. Shankly went on to win three league titles, two F.A. Cups and a UEFA Cup before handing over the reigns to Bob Paisley in 1973. Liverpool were about to embark on some fifteen years of dominance. They won their first European Cup in 1977, beating Borussia Moenchengladbach 3-1 in the Final. During Paisley’s nine seasons in charge Liverpool obtained 21 trophies, 3 European Cups, 1 UEFA Cup, 6 league titles and 3 consecutive League Cups. (They didn’t win the Peace Cup though Spurs fans). Paisley made way in 1982 and continued the ‘boot room boys’ culture endemic upon their appointment policy. Just as Paisley had been Shankly’s assistant, Paisley’s assistant Joe Fagan took the reigns, winning a European Cup, league title and league cup in his first season. (Newcastle United would probably have sacked him for that).

But tragedy struck Liverpool at their pomp and their name became besmirched. They reached the European Cup Final again in 1985, before the match in the Heysel Stadium in Belgium some Liverpool fans charged gathered Juventus fans, causing them to retreat. Ultimately, a feeble wall in a decrepit stadium collapsed under the pressure and 39 fans, mainly Juve, died. The match was played anyway and Juventus won 1-0. As a consequence, English teams were banned from competing in European competition for five years. Kenny Dalglish took the reigns on 1985 and oversaw a further three league titles and two F.A. Cups. Tragedy was to strike again in April 1989 when 96 Liverpool fans were perished in the Hillsrough disaster as they were crushed against perimeter fencing. The tragic incident initiated the Lord Justice Taylor Report which insisted that all top flight football grounds be made all seater from 1992. Liverpool won the last of their league titles in 1990. But the Hillsbrough disaster, as well as an incredible league title victory for Arsenal (more on that in a second) seemed to put paid to Liverpool’s dominance. Aptly coinciding with the conclusion of the Cold War, as with the international Communism, the Reds time as a major global force had been spent. Despite indifferent league campaigns, Liverpool have still amassed three F.A. Cups, 2 League Cups a UEFA Cup, a Super Cup and a European Cup since 1990. Their latest European Cup success being possibly the most incredible in their history, coming back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 with A.C. Milan and win on penalties. The triumph was all the more incredible as Liverpool finished fifth in the domestic league behind local rivals Everton.

Liverpool began life in the blue and white colours adopted by Everton, but in 1894 changed to Red and White and adopted the city’s emblemic liverbird as their club crest. In 1963 Bill Shankly decided to send Liverpool out in all red, deciding it would have an implicit psychological effect on their opponents. They have kept their all red home strip ever since. Being two of English football’s giants, Liverpool and Arsenal have taken part in many historic clashes. Arsenal defeated Liverpool in the 1950 Cup Final, and sealed an historic double by beating them in the 1971 F.A. Cup Final, Charlie George’s famous winning goal and subsequent celebration have now passed into Arsenal folklore. However, in 2001 Liverpool defeted Arsenal in the first ever F.A. Cup Final hosted outside of England. Arsenal battered Liverpool for 85 minutes, but only had a solitary Freddie Ljungberg goal to show for their dominance. Michael Owen grabbed two goals in the last five minutes to snatch the Cup for Liverpool. (Heartbreak tends to be a common feature of life for a seventeen year old lad. This was my biggest!)

But undoubtedly the most famous (or infamous depending on your loyalties) match between the two occured in 1989. Due to a quirk of the fixture list in the wake of the Hillsbrough disaster, Arsenal had to travel to Anfield on May 26th, 1989 for the last game of the season. (Incidentally, the day of my fifth birthday). The Gunners had led the league for most of the season, but a series of unspectacular results gave their chasers the incentive (sound familiar?) Arsenal travelled to Anfield requiring a two goal victory or else Liverpool would be crowned champions. The Arsenal players distributed bouquets to random members of the Liverpool crowd pre match in a show of solidarity for the victims of Hillsbrough. With 52 minutes gone, an Arsenal free kick was flicked in by Alan Smith. A heart pounding delay ensued as the Liverpool players implored the referee to consult the linesman over an offside call. But the goal was given and Arsenal were half way there. The match stayed 1-0 into injury time, notoriously Steve McMahon was caught by ITV cameras holding one finger aloft and encouraging his players, ‘one minute! one minute!’ Co commentator David Pleat told a watching nation that it was ‘poetic justice’ that Arsenal were to win the game, but ultimately not win the league having blown such a big lead at the First Division summit. I’ll let Brian Moore take up the story from here,
‘And it’s a good ball by Dixon finding Smith, and it’s Thomas, charging through the midfield…..Thomas…’s up for grabs now……Thomas, right at the end. What an unbelievable climax to the league season.’ Arsenal had done the unthinkable and clinched the league title with the last kick of the league season. Michael Thomas summersaulted, Gooners everywhere went wild, Barnes was down, McMahon was down, Dalglish just stood there. Let’s hope that come mid April at Anfield, we’ll see van Persie lying on his back in celebration, while Kolo Toure summersaults over him at the Anfield Road End.LD.