Trophy lift to banish Liverpool’s 30 years of title hurt

By Richard Morgan

Football journalist – @Richiereds1976

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Last Updated: 21/07/20 11:58pm

Liverpool will finally get their hands on the league championship on Wednesday night after 30 years. But while there have been many highs during that time, there have also been some spectacular lows
Liverpool will finally get their hands on the league championship on Wednesday night after 30 years. But while there have been many highs during that time, there have also been some spectacular lows

Liverpool are back at the summit of English football after 30 long years of frustration and strife. While there have been many highs – including two Champions League triumphs – during that period, there have also been some spectacular lows.

​​​​​​Kenny calls it quits – February 1991

On February 22, 1991, Kenny Dalglish shocked the football world by resigning as Liverpool boss, two days after a titanic 4-4 draw at Everton in an FA Cup fifth-round replay.

There were plenty of tears in the Anfield boardroom that day, including from the at times emotionless Scot, as the man who had not only been one of the club’s greatest players – if not the greatest – but also one of their most successful managers left the club.

King Kenny had won the title in three of his first five seasons in charge, including the Double in his debut campaign in charge in 1985-86, and even came within a whisker of repeating that achievement in three successive seasons between 1988 and 1990.

However, the strain of the Hillsborough disaster in April 1989 had finally taken its toll on an exhausted Dalglish and despite Liverpool still leading the First Division and on course for title No 19, enough was enough.

Arsenal would go on to beat them to the league that season and so began a tortuous 30-year wait to be crowned champions of England again.

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Robins leave Souness red faced – January 1994

Souness left his role as Liverpool boss after a home loss to Bristol City in the FA Cup in Jan 1994
Souness left his role as Liverpool boss after a home loss to Bristol City in the FA Cup in Jan 1994

Graeme Souness’ arrival as Liverpool manager in April 1991 after the shock resignation of Kenny Dalglish had initially been met with great fanfare on Merseyside.

However, three years on and with just one FA Cup to show for his efforts, the former trophy-winning Liverpool captain was living on borrowed time as he struggled to keep the club challenging for the game’s top honours.

Not only had Liverpool lost its undisputed status as the kings of English football, but to make matters worse arch-rivals Manchester United had replaced them as the summit after ending their 26-year wait for a top-flight title in 1993.

But it all came to a head for Liverpool – and Souness – in January 1994 in an FA Cup third-round replay with First Division Bristol City, who deservedly claimed a surprise 1-0 win thanks to Brian Tinnion’s second-half strike.

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Graeme Souness speaks candidly and frankly about his time as Liverpool boss and admits he still has regrets about his time as a manager at Anfield
Graeme Souness speaks candidly and frankly about his time as Liverpool boss and admits he still has regrets about his time as a manager at Anfield

The Scot resigned shortly after, but in truth his days as Liverpool boss had been numbered ever since he gave an ill-advised interview to the Sun – a paper reviled on Merseyside for the role it played in the aftermath of Hillsborough – after recovering from heart surgery that came out on the three-year anniversary of the disaster.

Souness has since acknowledged the mistake, telling Monday Night Football in 2018: “There are other things that happened there while I was manager that I deeply regret, but I can’t turn back the clock. How I wish that I could, but I can’t. And it hurts me badly that I am perceived by some people to be something I’m not.”

However, with United already a yawning 21 points ahead of Liverpool at the top of the Premier League at the time of Souness’s departure, and well on their way to a second title in a row, there was no way back for him.

Houllier’s near-death experience

Houllier on his return to the Anfield dugout in 2002, but the Frenchman's trophy-winning days at Liverpool were numbered
Houllier on his return to the Anfield dugout in 2002, but the Frenchman’s trophy-winning days at Liverpool were numbered

Gerard Houllier is the man often credited with dragging Liverpool into the modern era and starting them out on the road to recovery. But it came at some personal cost to the much-loved Frenchman.

Houllier – who took sole charge of the club in November 1998 – won an incredible Treble of League, FA and UEFA Cups in 2000-01 – before guiding Liverpool to runners up behind Arsenal the following campaign, the first time they had finished above United in the league since the Premier League’s inception.

But it was what happened to Houllier at half-time of a game with Leeds earlier that season that left everyone at Anfield shaken, with the Liverpool boss rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack.

It turned out the 54-year-old had suffered a dissected aorta that required him to undergo an emergency bypass operation lasting over 11 hours and while he actually returned to work in March 2002, things were never really the same thereafter.

Liverpool could only manage a disappointing fifth-place finish the following season, while they also failed to progress out of their Champions League group.

While he did manage to steer the club back into Europe’s premier club competition after finishing fourth in the Premier League in 2003-04, time was up for the man who nearly died trying to bring that elusive 19th league title back to Anfield.

Adios Senor Benitez

Benitez said goodbye to Liverpool in the summer of 2010
Benitez said goodbye to Liverpool in the summer of 2010

For a period at Liverpool, Rafael Benitez could do no wrong. Whether it be that miraculous comeback from 3-0 against AC Milan to win the 2005 Champions League, or the following year’s penalty shootout triumph over West Ham in the FA Cup final, the Spaniard was the architect of some of the most memorable moments in the club’s glorious and trophy-laden history.

Despite eventually losing out to of all sides, United, in the race for title in 2008-09, Benitez’s side had still accumulated 86 points that season, their most in Premier League history, while losing just twice all campaign.

All of which made the following season’s struggles all the more painful as they slumped to an underwhelming seventh-place finish, while their Champions League campaign also ended prematurely in the group stage.

Benitez paid the ultimate price by losing his job, but what was more galling for Liverpool fans was their team was now back in the same slump they had been enduring when the Valencia head coach first arrived at the club six years earlier.

In other words, they had gone full circle and were now back at square one, further than ever away from getting their hands on that coveted 19th top-flight title.

‘We were only a day away from administration’

Gillett and Hicks (right) endured a turbulent three years owning Liverpool
Gillett and Hicks (right) endured a turbulent three years owning Liverpool

“We only sell the family silverware once, we have to get it right,” then Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry famously said. While hindsight is a wonderful thing, boy did those in charge of selling the club back in 2007 get it spectacularly wrong.

Parry had actually wanted Dubai International Capital to become Liverpool’s new custodians, but a late change of heart saw the then owner David Moores sell to American businessmen George Gillett and Tom Hicks.

That decision would ultimately prove disastrous as the pair themselves fell out, while their wealth was also brought into question as a whole host of top players were sold in order to pay off increasingly crippling debt repayments.

In May 2010, accounts were published showing Liverpool’s holding company to be £350m in debt, with losses of £55m, meaning creditors – such as the Royal Bank of Scotland – took Gillett and Hicks to court to force them to allow the board to proceed with the sale of the club.

As a result, the High Court ruled in favour of the creditors, allowing Fenway Sports Group [FSG] to buy Liverpool for £300m.

But it was a close-run thing and as the managing director at the time, Christian Purslow, recalled in 2012: “People have short memories, it’s only 15-16 months ago we were a day away from being in administration.”

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

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Evra spoke to Monday Night Football about the problem of racism in football and how it should be tackled
Evra spoke to Monday Night Football about the problem of racism in football and how it should be tackled

In November 2011, The Football Association charged Liverpool forward Luis Suarez with “abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour contrary to FA rules”, including “a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race of Patrice Evra” after an incident in a match with Man United at Anfield the previous month.

Liverpool immediately announced they “fully supported” their star man, claiming: “No one else on the field of play – including Evra’s own United team-mates and all the match officials – heard the alleged conversation between the two players in a crowded Kop goalmouth.”

Liverpool's players controversially wore T-shirts in support of Suarez in Dec 2011
Liverpool’s players controversially wore T-shirts in support of Suarez in Dec 2011

However, after a six-day hearing that December, the FA handed Suarez an eight-game ban and a £40,000 fine for racially abusing Evra, resulting in Liverpool’s players wearing T-shirts in support of the Uruguayan in the warmup ahead of match at Wigan later that month.

To make matters worse, though, when the two sides next faced each other at Old Trafford in February 2012, Suarez refused to shake the France full back’s hand prior to kick-off, an action both he and his then manager Dalglish were subsequently forced to apologise for by the club’s American owners.

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Evra told Super Sunday in Jan 2020 that Liverpool CEO Peter Moore had personally written to him about the Suarez affair
Evra told Super Sunday in Jan 2020 that Liverpool CEO Peter Moore had personally written to him about the Suarez affair

All in all it was a sorry saga as far as Liverpool were concerned and not one anyone involved with at the time will look back on with any fondness, as Jamie Carragher recently admitted: “There is no doubt that we made a massive mistake [wearing the T-shirts]. That was obvious. As a club, we got it wrong and we were all part of it. Apologies. We got it massively wrong.”

Evra has since revealed that he received a letter from Liverpool CEO Peter Moore in October 2019 regarding the whole episode, telling Super Sunday back in January: “I was really pleased Jamie Carragher apologised and I received a personal letter from Peter Moore and I was really touched about it. He told me he hoped it wasn’t too late because this incident happened nine years ago.

“I said thank you very much. I was so disappointed that Liverpool supported a cause like that but now I can see it’s real and honest people working for this club.”

The King is dead, long live the King

Dalglish's second spell in charge of Liverpool came to an end in May 2012
Dalglish’s second spell in charge of Liverpool came to an end in May 2012

Kenny Dalglish was the last manger to win the league with Liverpool, so it was understandable his return to the dugout, initially as caretaker boss in January 2011 and then in a full-time capacity four months later, proved so popular with the fans.

However, despite bringing Luis Suarez to the club and at first producing an upturn in results, the team’s league form then dropped off in 2011-12, culminating in the club’s worst Premier League finish for 18 years.

Yes, the hugely popular Scot did claim Liverpool’s first trophy in six years when they beat Cardiff to win the 2012 League Cup, but after then losing to Chelsea in that season’s FA Cup final, he was given his marching orders.

While deep down most Liverpool supporters could not really argue with FSG’s decision as they looked to bring in a younger, more modern coach, it was still a painful exit that left a bad taste in the mouth and another reminder of just how far the once mighty institution had fallen since King Kenny’s first spell in charge.

United well and truly knock Liverpool off their perch

Ferguson celebrates United's record-extending 20th top-fight title in 2013
Ferguson celebrates United’s record-extending 20th top-fight title in 2013

When United turned up at Anfield in January 1994 having finally ended their 26-wait for a top-flight title the previous campaign, Liverpool’s fans responded by unfurling a banner that simply read: “Come back when you’ve won 18,” in reference to the record-breaking number of leagues they had won.

Seventeen years later, however, and United supporters bravely sneaked into Anfield to reveal their own banner, stating: “MUFC 19 TIMES,” after the club had secured its own record-breaking 19th league title.

Two seasons later and Alex Ferguson guided United to title No 20 as the Scot ended his final campaign in charge at Old Trafford by definitely “knocking Liverpool off its f***ing perch”.

For Liverpool fans, while the serial winner from Glasgow may had finally brought down the curtain on his remarkable 27-year managerial career at Old Trafford, he still left with United now two titles clear of their rivals.

Considering they had trailed them 16 to seven when Fergie first arrived at Old Trafford back in November 1986, this was perhaps one of the lowest points for Liverpool fans since they last won the league.

Stevie G’s costly slip

Gerrard reacts after that slip against Chelsea
Gerrard reacts after that slip against Chelsea

Liverpool were within touching distance of that elusive 19th league title heading into the climax of the 2013-14 season.

Brendan Rodgers’s vibrant and energetic team had surprised everyone by soaring to the top of the table on the back of a blistering 11-match winning run, opening up a six-point lead on Manchester City, albeit having played a game more than Manuel Pellegrini’s side, with just three games to go.

So just seven points from that trio of fixtures, starting at home to second-placed Chelsea, would mean a first championship since 1990 for Liverpool, whose fans were understandably in a state of delirium by this stage of proceedings.

Liverpool had already seen off City 3-2 at Anfield a fortnight earlier and there was a carnival atmosphere in the ground at kick-off with another expected win supposedly just 90 minutes away.

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Relive Gerrard’s infamous slip in 2014
Relive Gerrard’s infamous slip in 2014

But all that was reckoning without that arch tactician Jose Mourinho, who set his side up to frustrate the hosts on a hot Sunday afternoon in April, and with great success too, culminating in that now infamous slip from Steven Gerrard as the game approached half-time still scoreless.

The Liverpool captain’s unfortunate slip near the halfway line allowed Demba Ba a clear run on goal and the Chelsea striker accepted the gift to put the visitors ahead, a blow from which they never really recovered.

A second-half equaliser would still have left Liverpool’s title destiny within their own hands ahead of games at Crystal Palace and, on the final day of the campaign at home to Newcastle.

But the ‘Special One’s’ spoiling tactics worked to perfection and Liverpool – and Gerard in particular – were left to rue what might have been as the title slipped through their hands and that long wait for that coveted title went on…

Not such a fitting farewell for Captain Fantastic

Gerrard's last Liverpool appearance came in a 6-1 drubbing at Stoke in May 2015
Gerrard’s last Liverpool appearance came in a 6-1 drubbing at Stoke in May 2015

Hopes were high at the outset of the 2014-15 season after Liverpool had gone so close to finally getting their hands on the title the previous campaign.

But the sale of Suarez that summer had robbed Rodgers of his most important player, a blow from which the team never really recovered as they failed to qualify from their Champions League group, before limping to a sixth-place league finish.

Steven Gerrard talks ahead of his last Premier League match with Liverpool
Steven Gerrard talks ahead of his last Premier League match with Liverpool

Not only that, but Gerard also ended his 17-year career at Anfield to join LA Galaxy in the MLS, the inspirational captain’s final game for his boyhood club being a humiliating 6-1 drubbing at Stoke on the final day of the campaign.

As the skipper said his tearful goodbyes at the Britannia that May afternoon, he and the club’s fans could have been forgiven for thinking the team were further away than ever from getting back to the top.

Third time unlucky for Klopp and Co

A dejected Liverpool fan after City's title win was confirmed in May 2019
A dejected Liverpool fan after City’s title win was confirmed in May 2019

Jurgen Klopp wasted little time in turning Liverpool’s fortunes around after replacing Rodgers in the Anfield dugout in October 2015, making it through to the League Cup final five months later.

A painful defeat to Manchester City on penalties followed at Wembley, although the team soon found themselves back in another final, this time against the holders Sevilla in the Europa League.

However, despite leading 1-0 at half-time, Klopp’s side crumbled in the second half, going down 3-1 to not only miss out on the chance of silverware, but also the opportunity to qualify for the following season’s Champions League.

Not to worry, though, as surely it would be a case of third time lucky for Klopp and Liverpool after they reached the 2018 Champions League final against holders Real Madrid.

The club had not won a trophy for six years and the fans were hurting, especially after watching their side lose their previous two finals in painful fashion.

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Liverpool’s win over Wolves in May 2019 ultimately counted for nothing
Liverpool’s win over Wolves in May 2019 ultimately counted for nothing

But that was nothing compared with the numb feeling they felt at the full-time whistle in Kiev after a combination of bad luck – star man and top-scorer Mohamed Salah had been forced off early with a freak shoulder injury – and a catastrophic display from goalkeeper Loris Karius had resulted in an agonising 3-1 defeat.

Klopp may have laughed off those events after the game, but deep down, he and the players were hurting.

Hurting enough to return to European football’s show-piece event the next season, when this time they did finally manager to get their hands on a well-deserved trophy.

That triumph in Madrid last May was without doubt the catalyst to the remarkable season Liverpool have produced this campaign.

Liverpool vs Chelsea fanzone available to everyone

Sky Sports Fanzone will be made available to everyone for Liverpool vs Chelsea and the Premier League trophy lift on Wednesday evening, whether you’re a Sky Sports subscriber or not.

Sky Sports will show Liverpool’s game against Chelsea (Kick-off 8.15pm) and the presentation of the Premier League trophy free to air on Sky Pick, where Liverpool’s players and staff will be presented with their medals and the Premier League trophy on a special podium built on the Kop, surrounded by fan banners.

And all Liverpool supporters will be able to have their own Premier League title party at home and the ability to watch with family and friends thanks to Sky Sports Fanzone.

Whether you’re a Sky Sports subscriber or not, everyone will be able to use a new feature on the Sky Sports website on your phone (optimised on iOS for iPhone 8 and above), laptop or PC to watch select matches with friends in a video room and interact while the action unfolds, giving them the chance to chat about the match and influence the crowd noise they hear on screen. It will run from an hour before the game until an hour after the game.

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Source : Sky Sports