Liverpool's Jordan Henderson lifts the English Premier League trophy during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. (PA-54697236)

Why it hasn’t been ’30 years of hurt’ for Liverpool FC

The time between Liverpool lifting league title number 18 and 19 is widely referred to as ’30 years of hurt’, but it has been far from that for the Reds, writes Erik Somaville.

We’re league champions once again, after a 30-year wait. In case we didn’t know how many years it’s been, we’ve been reminded many, many times.

That’s annoying enough, but some of the comments I’ve heard from so-called supporters of other clubs over the last few months have been more ignorant than annoying. Take for example the Manchester United “supporter” on TV outside Old Trafford. She was being asked what she thought of some Liverpool supporters’ comments on Ole as a future great manager for their club.

Her response was she didn’t care what we thought since they’ve won the Premier League 20 times and we’ve never won it. There in itself was clearly a lack of understanding of a few simple facts.

Then, when it was all but inevitable that we’d be champions, I saw an online comment sarcastically congratulating us for joining the elite group of one time winners, Blackburn Rovers and Leicester City. Again, clearly not understanding a few facts.

Recently, while a group of us were waiting outside our pub before this season’s opener a car pulled up at the traffic lights and the driver yelled something to us. I couldn’t make out what he said, but the passenger pointed to him and yelled: “he’s a Tottenham supporter.”

“My condolences” I yelled back, to which he responded, “It must finally feel good after having to wait 30 years, but I know how it feels to keep waiting so long.”

So I answered back, “Well we haven’t done too badly in between, picking up a few cups here and there …” but he moved off before I could add “…including a big trophy about a year ago in Madrid!”

I’ll have to save that one for another time. Yes, it’s been a long time between league titles, but it’s worth looking back over that time period to see how our fortunes have compared to the other ‘big’ clubs.


The former ‘big five’

Liverpool's Ronnie Whelan and Manchester United's Steve Bruce with the Charity Sheild

Way back in the autumn of 1990, Liverpool were defending champions and were one of the ‘big five’ of English Football which included Everton, Manchester United, Tottenham, and Arsenal.

The fortunes of those clubs would change in the proceeding years, however.

Firstly, Everton were fierce rivals throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s having won seven major honours in that time, but by the 90’s their fortunes had fallen drastically, with no more than an FA Cup (1995) to show for their efforts.

Their league performance varied from a high of fourth place in 2005 to a low of 17th in both 1994 and 1998. Since 1990, they’ve finished below 10th place no less than 14 times – a far cry from the 70s and 80s when the two Merseyside clubs dominated English football.

There’s no doubt, meanwhile, that Manchester United have been tremendously successful since their first trophy at the turn of the decade, starting with the FA Cup in 1990. That win needed a replay to overcome Crystal Palace, but it was the start of a period of domination that we can only envy – as much as it hurts to say it.

They’ve been Premier League champions 13 times, FA Cup winners five times and League Cup winners five times. In Europe, they won the now-discontinued Cup Winners’ Cup in 1991, the Champions League in 1999 and 2008, plus a Europa League title in 2017. That’s a grand total of 27 major domestic and European trophies.

But is it just coincidence that all but the last three cups were won under Alex Ferguson?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 6, 2011: Manchester United's manager Alex Ferguson before the Premiership match against Liverpool at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Compared to our period of rise and subsequent domination in the mid-20th Century, we had a succession of managers who regularly picked up silverware – Shankly, Paisley, Fagan and Dalglish.

When Kenny resigned late in 1990, it was the start of a barren spell for us with no more than a single FA Cup and a League Cup until the turn of the millennium. Man United supporters must be worried that this could be their fate since losing their most successful manager in 2013.

Fellow ‘big five’ member Tottenham were last crowned league champions in 1961 when they won the double with the FA Cup. Since the period beginning in 1991, they have won one FA Cup (1991) and two League Cups (1999 and 2008). Their league form during the same period has been sporadic, finishing no less than 11 times in a position 10th or lower in the table. Their closest European success was in 2019 as runners-up (we know all about that one!).

As for Arsenal, they “robbed” us of the First Division in 1989 with the last kick of the season. That ended a barren period for them of only two league titles and two FA Cups since 1951 and triggered the start of a successful spell, taking the league title from us in 1991 and winning it a further three times (1998, 2001, and 2004). They also picked up nine FA Cups, until present day, and one League Cup.

In Europe, Arsenal were winners of the 1994 Cup Winners’ Cup but otherwise have had little success outside of England. Similar to Man United, is it a coincidence that most of those trophies were won under one manager – Arsene Wenger?


Two new faces make it six

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND. TUESDAY, MAY 3rd, 2005: Liverpool's manager Rafael Benitez and Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final 2nd Leg at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Everton’s fall from the ‘big five’ and the ever-increasing investments in Premier League clubs led to the formation of a ‘big six’, with the Toffees replaced by nouveau riche clubs Chelsea and Manchester City. Perhaps coincidentally, both clubs were promoted to the top division of English football in 1989.

But how does their respective ‘history’ compare to the rest over that 30-year period?

For Chelsea, their first trophy of the 30-year period was the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1998 and a subsequent Super Cup title, later followed by the FA Cup in 2000 and a Premier League title and League Cup triumph in 2005. They’ve since been league champions a further four times, FA Cup winners five times and League Cup winners an additional two times.

In Europe, they won the Champions League in 2012 in addition to the Europa League in 2013 and 2019, a total of 21 honours. Before this period, however, their most recent success was the FA Cup in 1970, the League Cup in 1965 and the league title in 1955.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Monday, August 23, 2010: Manchester City's Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak (L) with Owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan sees his side take on Liverpool in his first ever Premiership match at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

As for Manchester City, as aforementioned, they were promoted to the top flight in 1989 and finished 14th in their first season back with the big boys. In 1996, they were relegated after finishing 18th and by 1998 they were in the third tier.

From there they would make their way back up to the Premier League for the 2000/01 season, only to be relegated once more before becoming a permanent fixture by 2002/03 and bankrolled by Sheikh Mansour in 2008.

It ensured their first major trophy throughout this period was the FA Cup in 2011, followed by four league titles between 2012 and 2019, a time frame which has also returned five League Cups and an additional FA Cup. That’s 11 major trophies in 10 seasons, but, again, no success in Europe.


30 years of hurt?

Now we come back to Liverpool. It’s easy to point fingers and laugh at us for not winning the league for so long, but as I mentioned to the Tottenham supporter we’ve had a pretty good run otherwise – and it was far from 30 years of hurt.

Clearly we struggled throughout the 1990s after Kenny Dalglish left, picking up just one FA Cup in 1992 and a League Cup in 1995. But silverware then started trickling in with the treble season of 2000/01 under Gerard Houllier, with the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup added to the trophy cabinet.

Another League Cup would follow in 2003, and then with Rafa Benitez we were back dining at the top table of European football having won the Champions League with the miracle that was Istanbul in 2005.

Rafa then led us to the FA Cup in 2006 before a period of decline followed as the club was under calamitous new ownership from early 2007 to 2010. That was until current owners Fenway Sports Group took over and kickstarted a new era for the club, which really took flight with the arrival of Jurgen Klopp who would deliver our sixth European Cup and our 19th league title in less than five years.

Not to mention the club’s fourth Super Cup and the first-ever Club World Cup.

Of course, that’s not all there is to our form over the 30 years. We’ve never finished lower than eighth and we were league runners up on five occasions (1991, 2002, 2009, 2014, and 2019), not to mention we’ve also been runners up in the FA Cup in 1996 and 2012; the League Cup in 2005 and 2016; the Champions League in 2007 and 2018; and the Europa League in 2016.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, July 22, 2020: Liverpool’s captain Jordan Henderson lifts the Premier League trophy after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. Liverpool won 5-3. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It’s certainly a far superior record than either one time winners in Blackburn or Leicester and both Everton and Tottenham. Arsenal were consistently competitive in the league until recent seasons having scarcely dropped out of the top four, while Chelsea and Man United haven’t been as dominant as they were a few years ago. And the big question for Man City is how long can they maintain their form?

While we might not have dominated over the ‘30 years of hurt’, we’ve certainly been competitive throughout and have added no less than 14 major honours between league title No. 18 and 19.

With the constant improvements we’ve seen from the Reds in recent seasons there is certainly no reason why this could only be the start of another era of dominance, so my advice to Pep, Jose, Ole, Frank, and Mikel is: Don’t bother looking for us over your shoulder, we’re up above. Sitting proudly back on our perch!

* This is a guest article for This Is Anfield. If you’d like to contribute a piece for consideration please see this page.