By Anthony Stanley.
After relinquishing the league title to Brian Clough’s impressive Nottingham Forest the previous season, 1978-79 dawned with Liverpool – who were given the not inconsiderable consolation of retaining the European Cup at Wembley in May – striving to reclaim what Shankly called our ‘bread and butter’. Forest had been the kingfishers catching the sunlight in 1977 as, inspired by the Tolkienesque Archie Gemmill and the mercurial, underrated John Robertson, they had taken the division by storm. The Reds, undoubtedly the team of the decade thus far, faced a rival of genuine poise, brio and ambition. Liverpool fans fretted at the style with which Clough’s charges had won the league title in 1978; were we looking at a new force awakening?
Of course, we needn’t have worried. The 78-79 season, in the league at least, was a special one and that side could reasonably lay claim to be the greatest of the two points per game era. Anfield witnessed 19 wins from the 21 league game played there (with the other two draws) on the way to a record points tally of 68. 30 matches were won altogether from a 42 game season and, incredibly, only 16 goals were conceded. The squad was peaking and when you look through a list of those who made over 30 league appearances, it reads like a who’s who of genuine Liverpool greats: Ray Clemence, Phil Neal, Alan Kennedy, Phil Thompson, Alan Hansen, Ray Kennedy, Kenny Dalglish, Jimmy Case, Graeme Souness and Terry McDermott. All at their peak, all capable of matching the sublime with the ruthless, all paragons of consistency.
In comparison to the previous year’s dramatic foray into the transfer market, the summer of 1978 appeared underwhelming. In 1977 the Reds had replaced the departing icon that was Kevin Keegan with the troika of genuine Scottish greats in Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen and Graeme Souness; a trio who John Williams described as the ‘on-pitch Scottish brains trust that effectively ran each section of the successful Liverpool team for Bob Paisley until the mid-1980s’. But the Liverpool manager knew there was something special being put in place here and that the current team would only require tweaking. Kevin Sheedy was signed from Hereford Town for £80,000. Although a gifted midfielder with a wand of a left foot, the Welsh born Irish international would barely feature for the Reds, making twenty two appearances in his two years with the club. He would eventually make his name across Stanley Park with the stellar Everton side that were direct rivals with Liverpool for silverware in the mid/late-1980s. Far more successful for the Reds was Alan Kennedy, who arrived from Newcastle United for a then record (for a defender) £330,000. Kennedy, known as Barney Rubble to Kopites for his resemblance to the Flintstones character, came in to replace the fading Emlyn Hughes at left back. The Sunderland native would go on to write himself into European folklore with the club, scoring the winner in 1981 against Real Madrid and then netting the deciding penalty in the shootout with Roma in 1984. Paisley knew what he was getting when he splashed the cash for the full-back, telling the media: ‘he will be a first class capture. He is fast, likes to move into attack and should fit into our side very quickly’. The Liverpool manager then displayed his inimitable, understated and underrated wit when predicting future international honours for Kennedy (who was a ‘B’ international at the time that he signed): ‘if this lad doesn’t play for England I’ll throw myself in the Mersey…when the tide is out’. Presumably Bob was starting to eye the banks of the great river with something approaching trepidation by the time the full-back eventually debuted for England in 1984.
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