1978/79: By Far The Greatest Team
By Dave Houlgate and Steve Kelly
Frm Issue 44, Autumn 1999
First love never dies. That's a line from a thousand
songs, but the one I always remember is the Walker
Brothers - probably because it's the title! It's
the truth though, isn't it? First band - Roxy
Music, never been bettered. First girl (well,
that's between her and me). First Liverpool team
I was 19. There's another line about love, I
forget who said it, but someone compared it to
the Measles - it's all the worse when it happens
late in life. It wasn't a glory hunter thing at
all. If I'd gone regularly for the first time
when I was 13, like most of my mates, I'd have
been watching Cormack, Keegan and Toshack clinching
a league and European double - the first of many.
They did it twice more before my life changed
for the better. That bolshie streak that rebelled
against my father and his love of the Reds was
to cost me dear. Wembley 74, Bruges, Molyneux,
St Etienne, Rome, Wembley again. Stories told
to me instead of cherished anecdotes, vague shadows
instead of emblazoned memories, minute sparks
instead of scorching flames. What can I say? I
was young and foolish, I was
what's the phrase
- thick as pig shit.
My cousin visited, and he wanted to go to Anfield.
God knows why. Standing in the Anny, cramped and
far too hot, with a squawking brat sitting on
the barrier, blocking the view of a game I didn't
want to see anyway. If it was keeping our Andy
happy, then okay - but I wouldn't be making this
mistake again. 90 minutes later, London's Fancy
Dans had been put across the knee and soundly
spanked. Hype (World Cup winning hype, but hype
nevertheless) would never triumph over total class.
Liverpool 7 Tottenham Hotspur 0. An afternoon
that changes lives.
Even as a novice, I could sense something important
was happening here. Like a duck to water, I picked
up on minute details immediately. Jimmy Case was
an unsung hero, but it should have been shouted
from every corner of Anfield - the man switched
to right back as if he had played there all his
life. When he left, he became every other team's
central midfield playmaker, but here he was 'just'
I knew that this was a team that hated to lose.
Ray Clemence took a player out, as blatant a professional
foul as you will ever see, then grabbed the ball
and went back to his line in case Spurs tried
to pull a fast one. After all, anything can happen
when you're five goals in front! Look at the mess
Man U get in when they lose Roy Keane - we lost
Emlyn Hughes after 10 minutes, and got even better.
Dalglish could give a fluke goal grace and beauty,
while Souness could chest a ball to the exact
spot he wanted it and thrashed it towards goal.
The Terry McDermott goal was voted the best that
Liverpool FC ever scored, and no one argued. No
one. That's how good it was.
Andy and I had such a buzz from that game that
we walked the whole way home to Netherton. We
couldn't stop talking about it. I knew enough
to realise that it wasn't always like this, but
then concerts weren't always Kraftwerk at the
Court and LP's weren't always Marquee Moon. You
still went to gigs, you still went to Probe and
spent £50 on mostly shite records. Greatness
is at a premium, it's never on tap. Even so, the
tickets that I bought for the home season of 78/79
still represent the closest I have ever come to
the perfect purchase.
Hungry for another game, I had to wait for the
second leg of the European Cup grudge match with
Forest. We didn't win. It didn't seem possible
that this bunch of brickies in their budgerigar
yellow could keep out the supermen of the 7-0.
They could, and they did. I was devastated. Early
in the game, a badly hit pass was sailing out
of play before Case did an overhead kick that
defied gravity and kept it in. I defy anyone who
was there not to remember it. The roar that greeted
it can make me shudder at the thought of it. How
could we lose when there were men prepared to
break their backs to win for us? The result was
wholly unfair, and yet thrilling in it's own way.
This wasn't going to be the Harlem Globetrotters,
we weren't just there to watch our players rack
up a cricket score. This was no exhibition. I
knew that now. As an introduction to Football,
few fans could have been better prepared for the
twenty exhilarating years to come. Pete Wylie
once said, "if a rollercoaster didn't have
ups and downs, it would just be a train ride".
This wasn't one of the 'double' years, but in
a way that only makes it more special. I used
to laugh at the bluenoses and their pathetic claims
of having a "fatal flaw" to excuse a
catalogue of failure, but thinking about it again
the seasons I loved the most weren't the massively
successful ones. 78/79, 87/88, 95/96. Oh, and
85/86 (well it was special for some reason!).
I think of the treble year, and the low crowds.
The Mancs will never shut up about last season,
and all I can think about for our Treble year
is how we slipped into the bottom three in the
Autumn of '84 and saw Everton go top. Liverpool's
average attendance rose that season by 5,000 -
because they needed us. 4 years later, Man U were
playing in front of 22,000 at home to Wimbledon
because their team just couldn't hack it and ours
could. That's the difference between us and them.
So what was the 'flaw' in the 78/79 team? Like
the 87/88 team, maybe they were too good? Complacency
can sabotage even the greatest of teams, and when
you think about it that season saw three body
blows; the first league defeat against the shite
for 7 years, knocked out of Europe by Forest and
the FA Cup semi final by the Mancs. It sounds
dreadful, but only four other teams beat us. Sheffield
United, Arsenal, Bristol City (thanks to a goal
from Big Fat Head) and Villa. Anfield was the
fortress; 19 league wins out of 21, and here we
are already having lost three out of the first
four. It makes you weep.
There wasn't a weakness in the team. Barney's
more scatterbrained moments were still to come,
but he and Phil Neal formed a defence that, with
Thommo and the new boy Hansen, provided whatever
cover the world's greatest goalkeeper could possibly
need. The midfield is now the stuff of legend,
and can be named without even thinking; Case McDermott
Souness Kennedy R. I shall listen to arguments
from Brazilians (Rivelino Gerson Pele Jairzinho)
or the French (Tigana Fernandez Giresse Platini)
- but not from anybody else. We had the greatest
club midfield ever, of that I am certain.
Whatever quality you would most associate with
any of the players, the others were no slouches
either. Case had the hardest shot, but the other
three could strike the ball with power and accuracy.
Souness was the Pass Master, I certainly never
saw a better player, but who put the ball through
for Ray Kennedy at Derby for the BBC's goal of
the season? Terry Mc, picking out a dazzling forward
run by Ray. The kind of run, in fact, that McDermott
almost had patented. Kennedy was a superb footballer,
Paisley's favourite, in many ways the archetype
Liverpool player. Gifted, strong, passionate,
without any noticeable weakness - he could do
Never a year goes by without regrets that Kenny
Dalglish is anywhere but here. While we must all
appreciate his Celtic connections, without which
we never would have got him in the first place,
the man should be here. Anfield is his home, and
I still haven't given up hope of his return. As
a player, 78/79 saw a display of the striker's
art that few have equalled. The predatory instincts
of a Rush, the passion of a Smith, the genius
of a Barnes - all wrapped up in the one body.
Shankly once called us "cocky", and
we had every right to be. When we were clinching
the championship against Villa, we sang "what
a waste of money" to the biggest bargain
of the century. His goal in the Maine Road semi
final was a masterpiece, but there were many others.
The irresistible cheek that fooled Tony Godden
at the Hawthornes, the strength vision and accuracy
at the Baseball Ground, the luck against Spurs
(even a genius needs it sometimes). Maybe I should
stop before I start crying again.
We will never see their like again. I've let
go of that particular hot potato. It would be
greedy and wildly optimistic to keep hoping for
it. Perhaps I should curse them all, for filling
me with a love so deep that it can even suffer
the slings and arrows of our current outrageous
fortune. But I know I never shall. I will drink
to their good health, especially to Ray Kennedy's,
and simply hope that I will see another Liverpool
team even half as good.
So what was our best ever championship team?
Not easy when you've 18 to choose from. Each one
has its merits, and each is a wonderful achievement
in itself, but certain ones stand out from the
rest. No one would argue (for long) that our last
success in 1990 was anything like as impressive
as their 1988 predecessors. Though most of the
players were actually the same, the '88 team is
regarded as the best by a lot of fans. I still
believe the majority would choose the 1978/79
team, and 20 years on it is time to pay tribute
to our record-breaking Reds.
Now at the time, I was too young to travel to
Anfield and had to be content with getting my
LFC fix either on the wireless or through the
cathode ray tube in the corner of the room. The
Reds were featured on 'Match of the Day' 9 times
(exhaustive research, see?) throughout the season,
though ITV's regional programmes on a Sunday showed,
er, some games too (okay, there's only so much
research you can do!).
What makes this particular Liverpool side so
damn special? Basically because they won an awful
lot of games, got an awful lot of goals, got an
awful lot of points and conceded very, very few
goals. And they did it using only 15 players.
One of them, David Fairclough, played in 4 games
and Sammy Lee played in just two. This was the
year of the perm, with half the team wearing the
Anfield Afro. The team were permanently on top
of the league
..well, for 33 consecutive
weeks to be exact.
In scoring 85 goals, the Reds also met the challenge
set by the Sun (would you believe) for a team
to average two league goals a game at the end
of the season. As a result, the players bagged
50 grand between them which was a lot back then
(what am I saying? It's a lot now!). How times
change; all Paul Ince had to do to get money from
that rag was to appear in that stupid advert.
"Dignity and class", indeed.
It's an appropriate time at this juncture to
mention the Dalglish/Johnson partnership, which
would prosper for another two years. It has often
been overlooked as the finest in favour of Hunt/St
John, Keegan/Toshack or Dalglish/Rush. Kenny,
with 21 goals, was far more the goalscorer than
the provider he would later become. He was at
the peak of his goalscoring powers. Johnson missed
two significant parts of the season, yet still
netted 16 times and would be even better in 79/80.
Steve Heighway also partnered Kenny but his appearances
were dwindling. In midfield Ray Kennedy, Graeme
Souness, Terry McDermott and the criminally underrated
Jimmy Case scored 33 goals between them.
Equally important, and increasingly relevant
to today, were the back four. Hughes featured
in 16 games only, mostly at left back, and he
would eventually be off-loaded to Wolves. That
left Neal, Thompson, Hansen and Alan Kennedy in
front of Ray Clemence. Time for a bit of perspective
methinks. Over the past ten years the Arsenal
back four has become sort of a modern legend.
If you're still looking for the silver lining
in 98/99's huge black cloud, it was Jimmy Floyd
Havawank's late goal against Arsenal that all
but gave the league to Man U. It was the 17th
goal Arsenal had conceded, and in a season of
38 games not 42. That would have mattered little
to the modern propagandists.
The Arsenal back four is legendary, but it isn't
as good as the Liverpool defence of twenty years
ago. Clemence kept 28 clean sheets - job offers
from nursing homes were received by the sackful.
If you can't remember or you weren't there, use
your imagination and think of the current team
conceding 16 goals all season. Imagine them conceding
just 4 at Anfield - no, not in one game! Clem
let one in against West Brom (one of our title
rivals, would you believe) and then went 6 hours
without letting another in until Andy King equalised
for the slime (I'm not making this up, but they
were title rivals too). Ray then thought "that's
quite enough" and went another 5 hours without
conceding a goal. One goal in 11 games. Not bad
for a defence that never put their arms up (obviously
you're forgetting Emlyn! - ed).
Liverpool won 30 games and drew 8, resulting
in a points total of 68. The final game of the
season was at Elland Road. The significance of
the opposition was obvious: it was Leeds who held
the then points record of 67. They were absolutely
desperate to hang onto their record, but failed
miserably as The Mightiest Reds won 3-0. The 68
points under the old system is still the record,
even when converted to the current '3 points for
a win' system. In an age of television interference
with fixtures, it's also worth pointing out that
Liverpool went EIGHT WEEKS without a home league
game - but what a pair of games they were; the
2-0 against Forest ("at Anfield the Forest
will fall") and the 2-1 against Albion. Both
championship rivals had been vanquished.
Managed by the incomparable Bob Paisley, and
playing for the very last time without the stain
of shirt sponsorship - Hitachi would feature on
the pristine Red for non-televised games in 1979/80.
We won the league that season too. Liverpool's
Finest, the Class Of '79.
"London Bridge Is Falling Down"
Throughout the season Liverpool handed out a fair
number of hammerings. Man City, Norwich and Bolton
were all beaten 4-1 on their own grounds, Derby
let in 5 at Anfield while Norwich (again) were
blitzed 6-0 in front of the Kop (and John Bond
It's the Tottenham game that everyone will remember.
On 2nd September 1978, the Londoners arrived with
their World Cup winners Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricky
Villa, along with some chap called Glenn Hoddle.
The game has had a rather tight-fisted 10 minute
segment featured on a few videos like Best &
Marsh The Perfect Nightmare and Greavie's 70's
Memories (short tape, that) but it is to be hoped
that our link with Granada will ensure that treasures
like the St Etienne 3-1 and the Bruges 3-2 will
once more see the light of day. For those who
simply cannot remember that brilliant day, here
are the goals again.
ONE NIL: Liverpool were kicking towards the Kop
first half. Presumably the Spurs captain won the
toss and decided to defend at the Kop first to
take the sting out of our attack. Oops! Jimmy
Case tries a long-range shot, mis-hits it to Kenny,
brilliant turn and shot under Barry Danes from
TWO NIL: Another mis-hit shot by Case to Dalglish
who deliberately re-directs the ball into the
THREE NIL: Deep cross from Terry Mac, Ray Kennedy
rises majestically to head and, er, Lacey makes
no mistake helping it in. It gets better, believe
Second half, with Liverpool now attacking the
Anny Road end. FOUR NIL: Dalglish shot saved by
Danes but Johnson (on as sub) blasts in the rebound.
FIVE NIL: Kenny puts Johnson in for his second,
a left foot shot under Danes from the edge of
the box. Bit of a girlie goal celebration, but
you can't have everything.
SIX NIL: After constant Liverpool pressure, Heighway
is fouled in the area and Danes saves Neal's initial
penalty. So the referee, quite rightly, decided
5 isn't enough and gives Phil another crack at
it. The Kop starts to sing "We're going to
win the league" to the tune of Boney M's
'Brown Girl In The Ring'
West' into perspective, I suppose!
SEVEN NIL: Along with the third at Wembley in
1974, the goal that most accurately epitomises
The Liverpool Way. It was voted the best goal
that the Reds have ever scored, and you will not
find me arguing the point. An apology is due in
advance, as the written word will never do any
goal justice, certainly not this one. Ray Kennedy
heads the ball clear on the edge of our box. Dalglish
collects, turns and passes to Johnson on the right
side of the centre circle. He sweeps the ball
diagonally forward to the left touchline - they
would canonise Beckham for such a pass, and this
is David Johnson. Heighway meets the ball on the
run and he crosses it first time to the far post.
Terry McDermott has taken 8 seconds to get from
the edge of his own box to the opposition six
yard box (Linford Christie knows the secret) and
heads emphatically home."Poetry in motion,
tra la la la la". DH
"Have you ever heard 50,000 people purr
with pleasure? Well, the Anfield spectators were
doing that constantly as Liverpool stroked the
ball around with one-touch moves of staggering
accuracy. This display confirmed for me, particularly
after the splendour of their wins at Ipswich and
City the previous week, that the current Liverpool
team is playing better, more exciting, attacking
football than any side I've seen since the war".
MICHAEL CHARTERS, LIVERPOOL ECHO, 4/9/78
On May 8th 1979, Bob Paisley celebrated a significant
day in his life. It marked the 40th anniversary
of his arrival at Liverpool, and it also saw the
Reds clinch the championship against Villa. Bob's
third, putting him on a par with the great Shankly.
Of course, he was already two European Cups ahead
by then. Recent debates on just who is the greatest
manager of all time have once more tried to deflect
away from the great man, so when the Shankly day
in December is in full swing, do not forget the
man who actually served us for 40 years (and more)
with dignity, class and distinction.
BOB PAISLEY R.I.P.