Liverpool: A Captain’s Tale

1977 Emlyn Hughes lifts Liverpool’s first European Cup in Rome

Emlyn Hughes 1973-1979

Emlyn Hughes was signed from Blackpool in 1967 for £65,000. Bill Shankly had tried to sign him for over a year and he slotted in at left back. His all action style earned him the nickname ‘Crazy Horse’ and his versatility meant he became a strong running midfield player in a Liverpool team that was struggling in the late 1960s. A shock FA Cup defeat by Watford in 1970 meant Shankly had to rebuild the team and let go of the old guard. Players like Ron Yeats, Roger Hunt and Ian St John were moved on. In 1970/71 Liverpool reached the FA Cup Final but lost in extra time to an Arsenal team that won the Double. However Shankly had built a team of exciting young players. Kevin Keegan had joined from Scunthorpe, John Toshack a powerful striker had arrived from Cardiff and winger Steve Heighway provided a constant supply of crosses for the strike duo. Liverpool won their first Championship in seven years in 1973 and Shankly’s men also won their first European trophy, after beating Borussia Monchengladbach in the Uefa Cup.

In 1973 Emlyn was made Liverpool captain replacing Tommy Smith. He moved to centre back alongside young local lad Phil Thompson. Hughes scored two memorable goals at Goodison at the start of the 1973/74 season but Leeds United won the First Division Championship after a record breaking 29 game unbeaten run from the start of the season. Liverpool did reach the FA Cup Final. All of the pre game talk had come from Newcastle striker Malcom MacDonald boasting about home many goals he would score against a poor Liverpool defence. In one of the most one sided Finals Liverpool ran out 3-0 winners and MacDonald had a nightmare game missing several chances. Hughes proudly lifted the FA Cup after Kevin Keegan’s two goals gave the Reds the Cup for the second time.

After Bill Shankly’s shock resignation Bob Paisley took over but Liverpool finished 1974/75 empty handed. The following season Liverpool won the Title on the last day of the season after a 3-1 victory at Wolves meant they finished one point ahead of QPR. In the Uefa Cup Liverpool came from 2-0 down to beat Brugge 3-2 in the Final first leg. Kevin Keegan’s freekick earned a 1-1 draw in the 2nd leg and Liverpool won the Uefa Cup 4-3 on agg. In 1976/77 Liverpool retained the Championship after a close race with Manchester City and reached the FA Cup Final after a controversial Replay victory over Everton. Referee Clive Thomas had disallowed a late winner for the Toffees in the first game which finished 2-2 at Maine Road. Liverpool won the replay 3-0 to reach the Final. However their Double dreams were shattered by Manchester United who beat them 2-1 at Wembley, despite Jimmy Case’s memorable goal in a game Liverpool had dominated. Emlyn had a fine season and was named 1977 Football Writer’s Player of the Year.

As Liverpool waited to take the train back to London, goalkeeper Ray Clemence began a silly song and dance on the platform and the other players joined in lightening the mood before the biggest game in Liverpool’s history. On the 25th May Liverpool arrived in Rome to face German Champions Borussia Monchengladbach in the European Cup Final. Thousands of fans had made the epic journey and the stadium was a sea of red. Bob Paisley commented that the last time he was in Rome was in a tank at the end of the Second World War. Any nerves were not evident as Liverpool produced their best performance of the season to win 3-1 thanks to goals from Terry McDermott, Tommy Smith and a late Phil Neal penalty. As Emlyn lifted the huge trophy his smile was as wide as the River Mersey. Liverpool were now the best team in Europe and they wasted no time in adding to their squad in Summer 1977. Kenny Dalglish was signed from Celtic for a British record £440,000 to replace Kevin Keegan who had joined Hamburg for £500,000. Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest won the title in 1977/78 a season after they were promoted to the First Division. They also denied Liverpool from winning the League Cup for the first time after a controversial Replay win. The Reds had the consolation of reaching the European Cup Final at Wembley. They outplayed a defensive Brugge team who had beaten Juventus in the Semi Final. It was a deft chip by Kenny Dalglish that won the game and Emlyn Hughes lifted the European Cup again.

In that Final Hughes played at left back with classy Scottish defender Alan Hansen taking his place alongside Phil Thompson at centre back. Emlyn only made 16 appearances in 1978/79 his last game was an FA Cup Semi Final Replay defeat to Manchester United at Goodison Park. After a total of 655 appearances and 49 goals in August 1979 Hughes joined Wolves for £90,000 and led them to a League Cup win in 1980. Emlyn had a fine international career for England winning 62 caps and captaining his country several times. He went to the 1970 World Cup but did not play and Emlyn Hughes remains the only man to play for England in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. He died in 2004 aged just 57 after being diagnosed with a brain tumour. He will always be regarded as a Liverpool legend and his energy, passion and enthusiasm always shone through every time he pulled on the red shirt. Liverpool unveiled a statue of Emlyn being lifted by Bob Paisley in January 2020 a fitting tribute to a great captain.

1981 Phil Thompson lifts Liverpool’s third European Cup in Paris

Phil Thompson 1979-1982

Phil Thompson was a local lad made good. He joined his hometown club in 1971 and made his debut the following year. In his first season 1972/73 he featured mainly in midfield as Liverpool became Champions after a seven year gap and won the Uefa Cup for the first time. He then established himself alongside Emlyn Hughes at the centre of defence and won the FA Cup in 1974 after Liverpool thrashed Newcastle 3-0 at Wembley aged just 20. Further success would come in 1976 as Liverpool won the title and Uefa Cup again, with Phil scoring the winner against Barcelona in the Semi Final. Liverpool retained the First Division in 1977 but Thompson missed the European Cup Final in Rome due to a cartilage operation. However Phil made the Final in 1978 and it was his goal line clearance after a mistake by Alan Hansen that ensured Liverpool retained the European Cup after beating Brugge in a dull game at Wembley.

In 1978/79 Liverpool swept all before them. Many people regard that as the greatest ever Liverpool team as they won the Championship with a record breaking 68 points (under two points for a win). Their record was: P42 W30 D8 L4 F85 A16 PTS 68. In April 1979 Thompson captained the Reds for the first time and he took over the armband from Emlyn Hughes at the start of the 1979/80 season. His first trophy was the 1979 Charity Shield as Liverpool beat Arsenal 3-1 at Wembley. Phil would be an ever present that season and he led Liverpool to the title again in 1980. Alan Hansen and Thompson formed a formidable defensive partnership and Bob Paisley commented:

“I regard Phil as one of the best possible examples of a true professional. His greatest asset as a player is his ability to read the game, he showed that gift even as a teenager. He is not the biggest man physically for his role in defence but his football brain is outstanding.”

Thompson became an England regular earning 42 caps, captaining the team and playing in the 1982 World Cup. In 1980/81 Liverpool had a poor league season finishing 5th behind Champions Aston Villa. They had more success in the Cups, Phil became the first captain to lift the League Cup in 1981 after a 2-1 Replay win over West Ham at Villa Park. In May came the pinnacle of Phil’s career as his lifted Liverpool’s third European Cup after victory over Real Madrid in Paris. Mark Lawrenson a record £900,000 signing from Brighton eventually became Hansen’s regular partner at centre back and after a poor run Bob Paisley replaced Phil with Graeme Souness as Liverpool captain in early 1982. Thompson would win further Championship medals in 1982 and 1983 to become one of the most decorated players in English football history. Phil left for Sheffield United in 1984 initially on loan then permanently after making a total of 477 appearances and scoring 13 goals. He would later return to Anfield as reserve coach and assistant manager under Gerard Houllier. Thompson would step in after Houllier underwent heart surgery in October 2001 and when Houllier returned in March 2002 he led them to second place in the Premier League, the club’s highest ever finish.

ROME, ITALY – MAY 30: Liverpool captain Graeme Souness lifts the trophy after Liverpool had beaten AS Roma to win the 1984 European Cup Final on penalties at the Olympic Stadium on May 30, 1984 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by David Cannon/Allsport/Getty Images)

Graeme Souness 1982-84

Edinburgh born Graeme Souness made his name at Middlesbrough helping Jack Charlton’s team gain promotion to the First Division. He caught the eye of Bob Paisley and in January 1978 he became a Liverpool player after his record £352,000 transfer. Souness made a flying start scoring the ‘Goal of the Season’ on his debut in a 2-0 win over Manchester United at Anfield. In May 1978 it was Souness who set up fellow Scot Kenny Dalglish who scored the only goal in the European Cup victory over Brugge at Wembley. It was the following season 1978/79 that Graeme established himself at the heart of midfield alongside Jimmy Case, Terry McDermott and Ray Kennedy. Souness would be a driving force for Liverpool often taking the initiative, his strength and passing ability a key feature of a dominant Liverpool team. He collected his first Championship medal in 1979 and another in 1980. In 1981 Souness fired a hat trick in the European Cup Quarter Final against CSK Sofia at Anfield. Liverpool won a famous Semi Final against Bayern Munich on away goals and Graeme won his second European Cup medal after a 1-0 victory over Real Madrid in Paris.

In 1981/82 Liverpool were a team in transition. They had finished fifth the previous season and Bob Paisley was trying in incorporate new young players like Bruce Grobbelaar who had replaced Ray Clemence in goal. Mark Lawrenson and Ronnie Whelan also came into the team but Liverpool were in twelfth place at Christmas 1981. Changes were needed and Souness was made captain in early 1982. Bob Paisley had produced another masterstroke and Liverpool charged back to win the Championship on the final day of the season. The image of Souness throwing the trophy to Ronnie Whelan before a lap of honour at Anfield became iconic. In Summer 1982 Bob Paisley announced that 1982/83 would be his last season as Liverpool manager. Souness desperately wanted to win the FA Cup the only trophy Paisley had not won as Reds boss but they lost to Brighton at Anfield after ex Liverpool player Jimmy Case fired the winner. They reached the Final under former player Jimmy Melia but lost in a Replay to Manchester United. In the First Division Liverpool cantered to the title eleven points ahead of newly promoted Watford. On Paisley’s last visit to Wembley he became the first manager to lift the League/Milk Cup after Liverpool beat Manchester United 2-1 at Wembley in March 1983. It was the Reds third League Cup win in a row.

Liverpool continued their policy of promoting from within and Joe Fagan moved from the boot room to replace Paisley at the start of the 1983/84 season. Liverpool were still the dominant team in England and Fagan led them to their third Championship in a row. In the League/Milk Cup Final it was a fine drive from Souness that was enough to beat Everton in a Replay at Maine Road. It was a record breaking fourth League Cup victory in a row for Liverpool.

In the European Cup Liverpool fought their way past Romanian Champions Dinamo Bucharest in the Semi Final. Quite literally as Souness broke the jaw of Molvia unseen by the referee at Anfield. He was a marked man in the return in Romania but the rough treatment did not seem to bother him as he lead Liverpool to a 2-1 victory and a place in another European Cup Final. Liverpool faced hosts Roma in Rome but an end of season trip to Israel with plenty of ‘refreshments’ relaxed the players. Souness led the team out into the lions den but he relished such occasions. In arguably his best game in a Liverpool shirt he dominated midfield and controlled the pace of the game. In a tense game Souness led by example scoring in a penalty shoot out following a 1-1 draw. Alan Kennedy was the hero as Liverpool won the European Cup for the fourth time in four Finals. It would be Graeme Souness’s last game in a red shirt. He joined Sampdoria in the Summer and enjoyed two years in Serie A.

Souness captained Scotland in both the 1982 and 1986 World Cups winning 54 caps and scoring 4 goals. He made a total of 359 appearances and scored 55 goals for Liverpool. He returned to Scotland in 1986 leading Rangers to three League Championships as player/manager. In 1991 Graeme Souness made an ill fated return to Anfield leading Liverpool to the FA Cup in 1992 before resigning in 1994. It is for his achievements as a player that he should be remembered for. His will to win and determination made him arguably Liverpool’s greatest ever captain. His critics would point out that he was dirty but Souness claimed he was hard but fair and was only sent off once for the Reds, though he played in an era where referees were far more lenient. Graeme Souness would make any Liverpool Greatest Team and was a born winner.


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