by Chris Rowland.
After the euphoria of the early/mid 1960s – promotion, within two seasons the title, the next season the club’s first FA Cup, the next season the title again and the first European final (the European Cup Winners’ Cup, lost 2-1 to Borussia Dortmund at Hampden Park) – Liverpool entered a spell of six years of relative disappointment. It’s hard to imagine any manager surviving that today.
After 1965/6’s title win, the following season produced only a fifth place finish (would a manager survive a 4-place drop from a title nowadays? We may be soon to find out.) nine points adrift of champions Manchester United, an FA Cup 5th Round defeat at Goodison and a chastening football lesson in the European Cup, delivered by an Ajax side inspired by a young Johan Cruyff. The 5-1 defeat in the first leg in Amsterdam left the Reds shell-shocked and heralded a period of introspection amongst Shankly and his staff about how Liverpool should try to play in Europe.
In 1967/8 Liverpool finished third behind the two Manchester clubs, the City of Francis Lee, Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee becoming champions. The signing of Emlyn Hughes from Blackpool in 1967 would prove significant though, as he went on to captain the team and be the first Reds skipper to raise Ol’ Big Ears to the heavens, in Rome in 1977.
That season the clubs involved in European football finally entered the League Cup for the first time, but Liverpool gave no hint of their future domination of this trophy, being eliminated at Bolton at the first hurdle after a draw at Anfield which attracted a remarkable crowd of almost 46,000. A brief excursion into the European Fairs Cup (which had begun as the Inter Cities Fairs’ Cup and later evolved into the UEFA Cup and now the Europa League) saw an 8-0 home win against TSV Munich before losing 1-0 in both 3rd round legs to Budapest-based Ferencvaros.
Liverpool improved by one place in 1968/9, finishing as runners up behind Leeds. Defeat by Leicester City at Anfield in a 5th Round FA Cup replay, by Arsenal in Round 4 of the League Cup and by the toss of a coin to Athletic Bilbao in the 1st Round of the European Fairs Cup completed that season’s story.
In 1969/70 Liverpool dropped three places to fifth, with Everton champions. The League Cup ended in Round 3 for the Reds, and in the Fairs Cup Liverpool were eliminated on away goals by Vitoria Setubal of Portugal in Round 2.
But it was that season’s FA Cup exit that proved a pivotal moment, at 2nd division Watford in the quarter-final. Liverpool lost 1-0, Watford’s Barry Endean scoring one of the most significant goals ever scored against Liverpool, because it made up the manager’s mind about the need for radical change.
For several stalwarts of the successful mid-60s side, their time had come or would very soon – Tommy Lawrence, Ron Yeats, Ian St.John, Peter Thompson. Roger Hunt had already departed earlier that season, to Bolton. Several others would soon depart, such as Ian Ross, Bobby Graham, Geoff Strong and Alun Evans. Their appearances in the team post-Watford would be scarce.
In their place came a glittering new model. In came Ray Clemence, Larry Lloyd, Alec Lindsay, Steve Heighway, John Toshack and in May 1971, an unheard of youngster called Kevin Keegan from Scunthorpe Utd. Only Callaghan, Smith and Lawler of the mid-60s team still found a place in the team, and Emlyn Hughes was now established. In also would come Scottish international midfielder Peter Cormack, who brought silky skills to the club in the summer of 1972 from Nottingham Forest, and there was also a midfield place for the home-produced and ever-industrious Brian Hall.
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