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How a Liverpool legend was brutally replaced as captain on “awful day”

Phil Thompson and Graeme Souness were both legendary Liverpool captains, but the handover from former to latter wasn’t a harmonious changing of the guard.

A boyhood Liverpool supporter, Thompson was awarded the captaincy in April 1979 and had his crowning moment as skipper in 1981, when he lifted the European Cup after beating Real Madrid 1-0 in Paris.

Just six months later, though, Bob Paisley decided to pass the captain’s armband on to Souness who would also go on to lift the European Cup three years later.

Speaking on the podcast Football’s Greatest With Jeff Stelling, Thompson recalled his experience of having the captaincy taken from him after losing 3-1 to Man City at Anfield on Boxing Day, 1981.

“I can remember the awful day,” he began.

“We were coming back from training in between that and the third round of the FA Cup, playing Swansea away at the Vetch, and Swansea were then in the top division.

“And I remember coming back from training and Joe Fagan came down the bus ‘cos we always went by bus to Melwood and back.

Joe Fagan, as we’re coming back, came along the bus and said, ‘Thommo, the boss Bob Paisley wants to see you after training’, and I’m thinking what’s that all about?

“So I’m sitting next to Terry (McDermott), me mate, saying ‘I wonder what that’s all about?’

“‘I don’t know’.

1979, Liverpool players perform a lap of honour after winning 3-0 to clinch the League Championship for the third time in four years: (l-r) Alan Kennedy, David Johnson, Terry McDermott, Phil Thompson, Ray Clemence (PA Photos/PA Archive/PA Images)

“And in front of him, Ray Kennedy, God bless him, turns around and said ‘I know what it is.’ And I went, ‘Oh yeah, do you? What is it?’

“And he went ‘Can’t tell you’.

“And I went ‘Well you can’t do that! You can’t say can’t tell you now’ and he went, ‘Oh OK, you’re having the captaincy taken off you’.

“I said ‘You what?’ I said ‘You joking?’

“He said ‘No, that’s what he’s done’.”

Furious with the decision, Thompson got out of the bath and raced down the corridor to Bob Paisley‘s office.

He continued: “Bob wasn’t very articulate with the way he spoke and everything and he’s gonna bumble his way through this.

ET02KP Liverpool manager Bob Paisley celebrates with a glass of champagne in the dressing room at Anfield after his team had won the league championship for a record 13th time after a 3-1 victory over Spurs. 15th May 1982.

“‘Look, the captaincy seems as though it’s a burden to you and responsibility, you’re taking everything on your shoulders’.

“And I said, ‘So you’re going to take the captaincy off me’.

“I said, ‘Well you wouldn’t be giving it to that Graeme Souness by any chance would you?’

“And he went ‘Hmm, well we’ll do it for a few weeks and see what happens’.”

Unsatisfied with this happening behind his back, Thompson slammed the door on his way out and didn’t speak to Souness for about three or four weeks.

Reflecting on the decision, Thompson admitted he feels very differently now about the situation.

Scotland and Liverpool's Graeme Souness.

He elabortated: “Bob Paisley made the right call. At the time I was emotional and I was so angry, but I had taken too much responsibility.

“Bob was very, very clever and he’d watched and he’d seen me taking all this responsibility, and it was affecting my game and my performances from then.

“We were 12th in the league, 12 points behind the leaders, we went on to win the league by four points with three or four games to go.”

Ultimately, it was a stroke of genius from Paisley, but his lack of personal skills showed.