1983 – 1985
Div 1 Champions 1984
League Cup 1984
European Cup 1984
Despite being 62 years old at the time of his appointment, nobody was surprised that Joe Fagan was asked to succeed Bob Paisley because of the club’s policy of promoting from within. Joe had been Bob’s assistant for 9 years and inherited an experienced, confident and relatively young squad of players. Michael Robinson was the only major summer signing of 1983 as Joe took over but he proved to be a disappointment, netting only 6 times in 24 league games but 3 of those came in a single match at West Ham in the Autumn. However, Robinson’s lack of consistency was more than compensated for by Ian Rush, who scored a remarkable 47 goals for the club in all competitions during Joe’s inaugural season as manager.
The league season started steadily if not in spectacular style with 4 wins and 2 draws from the opening 6 matches before being followed by successive defeats to first Manchester United and then Sunderland. But there would be only 4 more league losses in the rest of the campaign, including a 2-0 defeat at Southampton, the team that would run Liverpool closest to the title and more surprisingly a sound 4-0 thrashing at Coventry. One of the other losses was at home to Wolves in January; the Midlanders finished the season bottom of the pile 12 points adrift of the next-placed club. Even great teams have off-days and there can be no doubt that this was one of the greatest teams in Liverpool’s history. Seven men played in 40 or more of the 42 league fixtures, Souness figured in 37 and Dalglish would have managed more than 33 if he hadn’t received a nasty injury to his cheekbone on New Year’s Day against Manchester United. So it was a very settled side and very similar to the ‘œsame team as last week’ pattern of successful Liverpool teams in earlier decades.
The championship was eventually clinched with one game to spare with the point gained from a goal-less draw at Notts. County. By that time the League cup had already been won and the European cup was still to come. The League cup run was lengthy with a remarkable 13 matches because replays were needed to defeat Birmingham & Sheffield Wednesday and it took a second replay and an extra-time goal from Graeme Souness to dispose of Fulham. Liverpool’s opponents in the final would be Everton, the first time the two Merseyside clubs had met in a major final. The game at Wembley ended without a goal and it took a special long-range effort from skipper Souness to defeat the Blues in the replay at Maine Road three days later.
Joe’s first managerial F.A. cup run was a brief one. Newcastle were comfortably beaten before Liverpool were again paired with Brighton, the club that had knocked them out on their way to the final the previous season, a season in which they had also been relegated from the top division. Fagan must have been confident his side would progress but they were again embarrassed by the south coast club, this time by two goals to nil. At the time of this defeat, Liverpool had safely negotiated the opening two rounds of the European champions’ cup and knew that they would be playing Benfica in the quarter-final. Some of the team’s best performances of the whole season came in Europe. They won all four away legs on their way to the final, including a 1-0 victory in Bilbao thanks to Rush’s second-half header and a 4-1 thrashing of the Portuguese champions in their own Stadium of Light. But perhaps the most disciplined and commendable performance came in the semi-final with Dinamo Bucharest. Without being spotted by the officials, Graeme Souness had broken the jaw of one of the Rumanian players in the first leg at Anfield and the second game was played in one of the most hostile atmospheres the players can ever have experienced. Holding only a narrow 1-0 lead, Rush’s superb chip extended the lead and the same player saw Liverpool through to the Rome final after the home team had equalised before the interval. There were hopes for an all-British final but Roma turned a 2-0 deficit at Dundee United into a 3-2 aggregate victory and this meant that the final would be played at a far from neutral venue with the bulk of the spectators supporting the home team. Phil Neal was the sole survivor from the 1977 final at the same venue and it was he who put Liverpool ahead with a quarter of an hour gone. Roma equalised before half-time but the Reds held out to force extra-time and then came the lottery of a penalty shoot-out. Despite Steve Nicol missing the first kick, Conti and Graziani missed for the Italians and it was left to Alan Kennedy to stroke home the deciding penalty and give Joe an unprecedented treble in his first season as a manager.
John Wark had been signed in the Spring of 1984 and had scored two important goals in the run-in to the championship. John enjoyed a remarkably productive first full season as a Liverpool player with 27 goals from midfield. Even though that total included a few penalties, there were still hat-tricks against Lech Poznan in the European cup and York City in the F.A. cup. The other new signings did not enjoy similar success. Paul Walsh scored after 15 seconds of his home debut but only played in just over half the league fixtures, Jan Molby was more of a squad player than a regular in his first season and the same could be said about Kevin MacDonald when he arrived from Leicester City. Jim Beglin would not come into the side regularly until the closing weeks of the season.
Without their inspirational captain Graeme Souness who had moved to Italian club Sampdoria, the defending champions got off to a shocking start in their defence of the title they had won for the previous two years. There were only 2 victories in the opening 11 matches. Although only a quarter of the season had been played, the team was hovering just above the relegation zone when they went to play at Nottingham Forest after failing to score in the previous 4 league games. A 2-0 win steadied the ship somewhat and the team gradually climbed the table to finish runners-up to Everton but without ever being in a position to seriously challenge for the championship. In the cups though things went better despite a long, undefeated run in the League cup coming to an end at Tottenham after 4 successive victories in the competition. Liverpool marched on to the semi-final stage of both the F.A. cup and the European cup. In the domestic competition, a brilliant curled equaliser from Ronnie Whelan earned extra-time and subsequently a replay against Manchester United at Goodison. But despite taking a half-time lead in the replay at Maine Road four days later, United ran out 2-1 winners. In Europe old adversaries Benfica were again defeated before a convincing 4-0 victory in the home leg of the semi-final with Panathinaikos took Liverpool through to yet another final. Sadly, there was to be no happy ending for the club or for Joe. On a night of madness and mayhem in Brussels, Liverpool’s good name was blackened and although the match with Juventus went ahead and ended in defeat it was overshadowed by what had happened beforehand.
Joe retired in tears. It seems that his decision to leave had been taken before the European cup final and was not affected by what happened at Heysel. He was only manager for two seasons but he achieved a lot and it could have been even more. It was terribly sad that he had to leave under the circumstances he did but nobody can deny Joe Fagan his place in history for the 1984 Treble or his remarkable loyalty to Liverpool in several capacities during four different decades. Joe died after a short illness during the summer of 2001 at the age of 80.
Profile by Chris Wood, January 2005