1984/85 Fagan’s Farewell

1984/85 Liverpool Squad

The Summer of 1984 was arguably the most glorious in Liverpool’s long and proud history. Many in the press and media had questioned whether the Reds could still be successful after inspirational manager Bob Paisley had retired after winning 20 trophies from 1974 to 1983. Veteran assistant Joe Fagan took over the reigns at Anfield but at 64 he was clearly not going to be the manager in the long term. With three great Scots, captain Graeme Souness, Alan Hansen and Kenny Dalglish to the fore, Liverpool won an historic Treble the first ever by an English club in 1983/84. They retained the First Division Championship for the third year in a row, the first time a club had done so since the 1930s. In the League/Milk Cup Liverpool beat their Merseyside rivals Everton 1-0 in a Replay at Maine Road with a goal by Souness. They completed the season in Rome by beating hosts Roma to win the 1984 European Cup, Liverpool’s fourth win in four Finals.

1984 Liverpool celebrate winning the European Cup in Rome

How do you top that? How do replace Graeme Souness, a world class midfield general who had joined Seria A side Sampdoria? Liverpool signed Jan Molby from Ajax, a versatile 21 year old Dane, who could play in defence or midfield for a bargain £200,000. He was joined by Scot Kevin McDonald a ball winning midfielder from Leicester City, who signed in November 1984. To add goals up front, as Kenny Dalglish increasingly played in a no.10 role behind the strikers, Liverpool splashed out £750,000 to sign England striker Paul Walsh from Luton Town. Southampton has surprisingly finished as runners up to the Reds in 1983/84, and Manchester United, Everton the FA Cup Winners and Tottenham were expected to push Joe Fagan’s men all the way in their quest for an unprecedented fourth consecutive First Division Championship.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – AUGUST 1984: Jan Molby transfers to Liverpool for £200,000. He stands infront of the Liver building for an official publicity shot shortly after putting pen to paper in August 1984. Note: sign on Liver building advertises the Garden Festival.(Photo: Steve Hale, August 1984)

Liverpool opened the season in the Charity Shield at Wembley, the traditional season curtain raiser. They faced Everton, reborn under former player Howard Kendall. In an entertaining game played under a hot Summer sun, both teams had chances but Everton ran out 1-0 winners after a bizarre Bruce Grobbelaar own goal. Paul Walsh made his debut in the second half but Liverpool had looked lethargic. However few observers believed that the result would have any bearing on the season ahead.

August 1984 Paul Walsh on his Liverpool debut in the Charity Shield at Wembley

August 1984 Kenny Dalglish celebrates with Lee and Molby in the 3-3 draw at Norwich

Liverpool drew their opening game 3-3 at Carrow Road as the Canaries equalised with a last minute Mike Channon penalty to earn at point. It was a slow start to the season, as Joe Fagan’s men only won two of their opening ten league games, suffering defeats at Arsenal Tottenham and famously to Everton at Anfield on the 20th of October 1984. Graeme Sharp scored the BBC Match of The Day Goal of the Season to give the Toffees their first league victory at Anfield since their last Title winning season of 1970.

In the League/Milk Cup Liverpool’s dreams of a record fifth successive win were ended at White Hart Lane after a mistake by Grobbelaar. Liverpool were not clicking and Ian Rush was going through a rare barren spell in front of goal. It was only the goals from Scottish midfielder John Wark, who would go on to be Liverpool’s top scorer with 28 in 1984/85 that kept Liverpool in the Championship race.

In Europe Liverpool had progressed confidently to the European Cup Quarter Finals after despatching Polish Champions Lech Poznan 5-0 on aggregate and Portugese giants Benfica 3-2 on aggregate.

John Wark of Liverpool celebrates after scoring his 3rd goal during the Liverpool v Lech Poznan European Cup 1st Round, 2nd Leg match played at Anfield, Liverpool on the 3rd October 1984. Liverpool won the match 4-0. (Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images)

Tokyo 9th December 1984: Liverpool line up before the World Club Final

Liverpool ended the year with another disappointing defeat as they were beaten by South American Champions Independiente, with the Argentinians claiming a 1-0 victory. The World Club or Intercontinental Cup was one of the few trophies that Liverpool had yet to win.

January 1985 Juventus Scirea and Phil Neal before the European Super Cup Final in Turin

Following a 2-0 defeat to European Cup Winners Cup holders Juventus in Turin, in a game played at the start of the year in a one off match to ease fixture congestion, the press turned against Joe Fagan. He went from being a Treble winning manager to being old and out of touch. Merseyside rivals Everton were sweeping all before them and by February 1985 they were too far ahead for Liverpool to catch them.

However Liverpool could still win an FA Cup and European Cup Double. After beating Tottenham 1-0 at Anfield live on ITV in the fourth round, Liverpool reached the FA Cup Semi Finals against Ron Atkinson’s Manchester United. In a thrilling first game at Goodison Park a late equaliser by Paul Walsh in the last minute of extra time earned Liverpool a fortunate 2-2 draw and a Replay at Maine Road Manchester.

April 1985 Paul Walsh celebrates his equaliser against Man.Utd at Goodison Park

In the replay Manchester United came from behind to beat Liverpool 2-1 at Maine Road. Bryan Robson’s superb strike had drawn the Red Devils level before Mark Hughes ran through to fire the winner. Joe Fagan protested that the Welsh striker was offside and television replays seemed to confirm that view. Liverpool would have won, had Steve Nicol not missed a clear chance to give the Reds a 2-0 lead and without the injured Ian Rush Liverpool could not find an equaliser. It was a painful memory for me watching the highlights on TV as an eleven year old fan.

Liverpool went on a fine late season run to finish second to Everton but the Toffees finished on 90 points, 13 ahead of Liverpool. It had been a very poor season and the rumours were rife that it would be Joe Fagan’s last in charge. As speculation mounted Liverpool prepared to try and retain the European Cup against Juventus at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels. In the hours before the game Joe Fagan announced that he was stepping down and Kenny Dalglish would become Liverpool’s first ever Player/Manager.

May 1985 Liverpool line up to face Juventus in the European Cup Final at Heysel

The 29th of May 1985 will be remembered as one of the darkest in football history. In a crumbling stadium, drunk Liverpool and Juventus fans clashed and without segregation, tragically thirty nine fans were crushed to death as a wall collapsed underneath fleeing Juventus fans. UEFA decided that the game should go ahead in spite of the horrific loss of life and Captains Phil Neal and Gaetano Scirea both appealed to their supporters to stop rioting so that the game could go ahead.

The Final was an eerie event as Liverpool went through the motions. They were the better side but perhaps fittingly Juventus won the game 1-0 after French midfielder Michel Platini scored from a controversial penalty kick, as a trip by Gary Gillespie was clearly outside the box. In the second half Ronnie Whelan was hacked down but no penalty was given. The final whistle would signal the Italian giant’s first European Cup victory.

UEFA under pressure from football hating British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, banned Liverpool and all English clubs from European competition for five years. Sadly Everton would not have the chance to compete for the European Cup in 1985/86. Joe Fagan wept and was comforted by coach Roy Evans on the team’s arrival at Speke Airport.

How would Liverpool emerge from that tragic Summer? Please read my blogpost: 1985 The Year the changed everything to find out.

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