Alan Hansen: A Class Act

Sport, Football, pic: 1982, Alan Hansen, Liverpool (Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images)

Alan Hansen was an accomplished sportsman. He represented his county at golf, volleyball and squash at junior level. His brother John Hansen had won the 1971 League Cup after Partick Thistle’s shock 4-1 win over Celtic at Hampden Park. Alan would play over one hundred games for the ‘Jags’ who were managed by Celtic legend Bertie Auld. In 1977 Liverpool snapped up the defender for £100,000. He was joined by his fellow Scot Kenny Dalglish that summer a record £440,000 signing.

Liverpool had won the European Cup for the first time and were reigning champions. All the talk before the 1977/78 season was how could the Reds replace Kevin Keegan who had joined Hamburg for £500,000 after a successful six year spell at Anfield. Hansen did not expect to go straight into the first team. As was the custom at the time, new players would have a long run in the reserves, to learn how to be Liverpool players. Phil Thompson, Emlyn Hughes and the veteran Tommy Smith were the established centre backs. It took a while for Alan to get used to the pace and physical nature of the English First Division. In his first season he played in nearly half of the league games and several in the cups. Newly promoted Nottingham Forest were their formidable rivals and under the extrovert Brian Clough they won the League title seven points ahead of Liverpool. In the European Cup Liverpool had battled through to another final where they would face Brugge at Wembley. The Belgians had beaten Italian giants Juventus in the semi final and would be stubborn opponents. An injury to Tommy Smith gave Hansen his opportunity to line up alongside Phil Thompson with Emlyn Hughes moving to left back. In a poor game Liverpool failed to take their chances before Kenny Dalglish chipped the winning goal. In a nervous display it was only a goal line clearance by Phil Thompson that kept Liverpool in front after Alan Hansen had mishit a back pass. Emlyn Hughes proudly lifted the European Cup and Liverpool were the Kings of Europe once again.

1978 Alan Hansen lifts the European Cup at Wembley

At the start of the 1978/79 Emlyn Hughes had joined Wolves and Hansen became the first choice centre back alongside Phil Thompson. Neither of them were blessed with great pace but Hansen was good in the air and read the game so well, his positioning always meant he could predict where the ball was going to go and he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Liverpool swept all before them that season winning the Championship with a record points tally under two points for a win. They scored 85 goals and conceded just 16 league goals. That was in no small part to the signing of another Scot Graeme Souness in January 1978. Along with Jimmy Case he provided the power and protection in front of the back four. Many supporters regard the 1978/79 team as Liverpool’s greatest ever. Alan Hansen had his first Championship medal and he would earn his first Scotland cap in May 1979.

Liverpool retained the title in 1979/80 and Hansen played almost every game. His playing the ball out from the back became a feature of the team’s play an he chipped in with the odd goal too. In 1981 Liverpool reached the League Cup Final for the second time where they faced FA Cup holders West Ham. A late penalty earned the Hammers a Replay at Villa Park and they took the lead midway through the first half. Kenny Dalglish equalised and Liverpool took the lead when Hansen headed home a corner. Ian Rush was outstanding as Liverpool won the League Cup for the first time after a 2-1 victory in their best performance of the season.

1981 Alan Hansen and Kenny Dalglish lift the League Cup at Villa Park

In Europe Liverpool won a famous semi final against Bayern Munich after Ray Kennedy’s away goal fired Liverpool into the Final against Real Madrid in Paris. In a physical game both teams cancelled each other out until Alan Kennedy fired home the winner from a narrow angle to give Liverpool their third European Cup.

1981 Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Alan Hansen lift the European Cup in Paris

At the start of the 1981/82 Mark Lawrenson joined Liverpool from Brighton for a club record £900,000. The versatile Irishman could play in midfield or defence and he would provide competition for Phil Thompson at centre back. Liverpool reached the 1982 League/Milk Cup Final against Tottenham but Hansen was injured and missed the game at Wembley. Ronnie Whelan was the two goal hero as Liverpool won 3-1 after extra time. In the First Division Liverpool lay in 12th place at the turn of the year after a miserable start to the season. Bob Paisley stripped Phil Thomson of the captaincy and Graeme Souness led his team to the Championship on the last day of the season after another win over Spurs. A new young team had evolved as Clemence, McDermott and Ray Kennedy were replaced by Grobbelaar, Whelan and Craig Johnston. Hansen featured in all three games for Scotland in the 1982 World Cup in Spain but a disastrous mix up, when he ran into Willie Miller meant the Scots went out on goal difference once again.

Sport, Football, pic: 15th May 1982, Division 1, Liverpool 3, v Tottenham Hotspur 1, Liverpool’s Alan Hansen shows the League Championship trophy to the Liverpool crowd (Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images)

Mark Lawrenson became Hansen’s regular partner in 1983/84. The Irishman had great pace and his last ditch tackles complemented the Scot’s positional play. Joe Fagan had replaced the retired Bob Paisley but it was business as usual at Anfield. Liverpool won their fourth League/Milk Cup in a row beating Everton in a Replay thanks to a Souness goal at Maine Road. Liverpool won their third Championship in a row and had also reached the European Cup Final. They faced hosts Roma and Liverpool struck first in the lions den. Phil Neal scoring for the second time in a European Cup Final. The Italians equalised before half time and with Souness dictating the pace of the game from midfield the game became a tense stalemate. With the score 1-1 at full time the Final would be decided with a penalty shoot out for the first time. Steve Nicol blazed over the first spot kick but the Roma players lost their nerve after Bruce Grobbelaar’s ‘wobbly legs’ and Alan Kennedy fired home the decisive kick. Liverpool became the first English team to win a Treble in Joe Fagan’s season as manager.

At the start of the 1984/85 Phil Neal took the captain’s armband after Graeme Souness left to join Sampdoria. Without his inspirational leadership Liverpool struggled and across Stanley Park Everton under Howard Kendall stormed to the First Division finishing a huge thirteen points clear of the Reds. After early exits in both domestic cup competitions Liverpool reached the European Cup Final again. On a night of shame and tragedy 39 Juventus fans were killed after rioting before the game at a crumbling Heysel stadium in Brussels. UEFA insisted the game went ahead and Juventus won the European Cup for the first time thanks to Michel Platini’s penalty. Joe Fagan resigned and Liverpool and all English clubs were banned from Europe.

Kenny Dalglish became Liverpool player/manager and his first act was to name Alan Hansen as captain. He was not a natural leader, he lead by example rather than being vocal in the dressing room. Hansen also suffered from pre match nerves but his consistency would inspire his team mates after the team had a difficult start to the 1985/86 season. Manchester United had made a flying start and Ian Rush was going through an uncharacteristic drought in front of goal. Steve McMahon became Kenny’s first signing from Aston Villa and the former Everton man formed a formidable partnership with Jan Molby in midfield. However after a 2-0 defeat to the Toffee’s at Anfield Liverpool were eight points behind their rivals at the end of February 1986. Dalglish brought himself back into the team for the run in and Liverpool reclaimed the title on the last day of the season. It was Kenny’s goal that beat Chelsea to give Liverpool their 16th League Championship. At Wembley Liverpool completed the Double coming from behind to beat Everton 3-1 in the FA Cup Final, thanks to Ian Rush’s two goals.

Football, 1986 FA Cup Final, Wembley, 10th May, 1986, Liverpool 3 v Everton 1, Liverpool captain Alan Hansen proudly holds aloft the trophy (Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images)

Liverpool would carry on where they left off at the start of the 1986/87 season holding a nine point lead over Everton at the start of 1987 but the Reds had a poor run in, losing five of their last ten games as Howard Kendall’s men were Champions again, nine points ahead of their great rivals. An injury to Mark Lawrenson proved to be decisive as Gary Gillespie would prove injury prone as his replacement. Liverpool did reach the Littlewoods/League Cup Final but they lost 2-1 to Arsenal at Wembley, the first time the Reds had lost a game when Ian Rush scored. Hansen lead his team up to collect their losers medals in an unfamiliar white away kit.

At the start of the 1987/88 season Liverpool would be without deadly marksman Ian Rush after the Welshman joined Juventus for £3.2M. How would Dalglish replace him? With three players it turned out. Peter Beardsley joined from Newcastle for a record £1.9M to replace Kenny and exciting winger John Barnes joined John Aldridge who had signed from Oxford at the end of the previous season. The front three were a revelation as Liverpool swept all before them. In October 1987 they beat QPR 4-0 at Anfield in front of Ian Rush to go top of the table. John Barnes scored a memorable goal after a run from the halfway line and Liverpool never relinquished top spot for the rest of the season. They went on a 29 game unbeaten run from the start of the season and Peter Beardsley’s goal against Tottenham gave the Reds the Championship again in April 1988. With Ray Houghton signed from Oxford, Liverpool reached the FA Cup Final. John Aldridge’s ‘Goal of the Season’ beat Nottingham Forest 2-1 in the semi final and the Reds were hot favourites to beat Wimbledon to claim another Double. However it was not to be. Liverpool lost 1-0 in the Wembley sunshine after Peter Beardsley had a goal disallowed and John Aldridge’s penalty was saved. The first time a penalty had been missed in an FA Cup Final at Wembley.

A few days later over 31,000 fans turned up for Alan Hansen’s Testimonial. Liverpool beat an England X1 3-2 at Anfield with England manager Bobby Robson presenting the league medals to the men in red. The 1987/88 Liverpool team were arguably Liverpool’s greatest ever, their pace, power and skill proved too much for any other team to handle.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – MAY 16: Alan Hansen, captain of Liverpool acknowledges the appreciation of the Anfield crowd and his team-mates as he steps out for his testimonial game in advance of the Alan Hansen testimonial match between Liverpool and an England XI held on May 16, 1988 at Anfield, in Liverpool, England. Liverpool won the match 3-2. (Photo by Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Alan suffered a bad knee injury in pre season missing much of the 1988/89 season. Ronnie Whelan became captain in a season overshadowed by the Hillsborough tragedy. Hansen returned in time to face Everton in the FA Cup Final. On an emotional afternoon Liverpool beat 3-2 Everton at a sun-baked Wembley. They were just moments away from their second Double when a last minute Michael Thomas goal snatched the Championship for Arsenal on goal difference, after a 2-0 victory at Anfield.

Glenn Hysen had joined from Fiorentina at the start of the 1989/90 season and was man of the match as Liverpool beat Arsenal 1-0 at Wembley in the Charity Shield, thanks to a Beardsley goal. Hansen was now 34 and despite knee problems he rarely missed a game that season. Liverpool beat Crystal Palace 9-0 at Anfield in September 1989. Aston Villa proved to be a tough rival for the First Division and Kenny Dalglish provided a masterstroke signing Israeli striker Ronnie Rosenthal on loan from Standard Liege for the run in. He fired seven goals including a hat trick against Charlton as Liverpool were Champions for the 18th time. Liverpool had only lost one league game from November until the end of the season.

As Alan Hansen lifted the famous old trophy nobody realised at the time that it was the end of an era and it would take Liverpool another 30 years to be Champions of England again. It would prove to be Hansen’s final season as a Liverpool player as knee problems prevented him for appearing in 1990/91 and he retired a few days after Kenny Dalglish resigned in 1991. Alan Hansen was arguably Liverpool’s greatest ever defender and the most decorated, as he won 21 medals. He went on to be a successful pundit and his analysis would prove as calm and incisive as his defending.

Sport, Football, League Division One, 1st May 1990, Liverpool 1 v Derby County 0, Liverpool captain Alan Hansen holds the League Championship trophy aloft (Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images)

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