Friday, April 13, 2012

English Leagues the 80s: Chelsea Liverpool Division One 1985 1986 Title Game

3 May 1986
Stamford Bridge,
London
Referee L Shapter
Attendance 43900


 As the crowds gathered at Anfield on a bright Saturday afternoon in mid-August 1985, it was not to herald a new season of football but rather to mourn the past season for Liverpool. It was a mere three months since the tragedy of Heysel and had been the most traumatic period to date for the club. An intense debate had swept through Parliament and the media about the problems of football violence while the Merseyside police were conducting a thorough investigation into the riot. Culprits were found and dossiers handed over to the Belgian authorities. In Belgium itself, the Government coming under increasing criticism, had been forced to resign and call a general election. Politicians on Merseyside and in Turin crossed the channel to help heal the wounds and pay their respects but the memories of those who had suffered or lost innocent friends and relations could never be erased. Not surprisingly, the European Football Association took the sternest action possible, banning English clubs from playing in Europe indefinitely and imposed a further ban of three years on Liverpool.


In the match programme for that first game against Arsenal, chairman John Smith warned that 'last season must be the last of its kind - English soccer simply cannot go through another season like it if it is to survive as a sport.' A pull-out page with photographs also carried an appeal from the police to help identify and track down some of the suspects from Heysel. For Joe Fagan, Brussels had been a particularly sad occasion. It was his final game as manager, having announced some weeks earlier his intention to retire at the end of the season when he was sixty-four. He had hoped to bring another European trophy home and bow out in triumph. Instead, he emerged from the debris of Heysel in tears, disillusioned with soccer and its supporters. It was a tragic end to a career which had helped bring so much success to the club and its followers over the years, and his anguish should never be forgotten. Throughout the summer devoted Liverpool supporters had pledged that they would never go to Anfield again, such was the horror they had experienced in Brussels. But on that first Saturday 38,000 turned up to see the new Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish lead his team on to the field. The appointment of Dalglish had come as a genuine surprise to many. Since the retirement of Shankly, new managers had appeared from the backroom staff and it was widely expected that.

Ronnie Moran, as next in line, would automatically assume the legacy of manager. In the event, Dalglish's appointment was widely welcomed with those close to the club, as well as the players, applauding it and confirming his qualifications for the job. And, more importantly, Bob Paisley had also been given the job of advising and assisting him. Since Dalglish had joined Liverpool he had developed into one of the most outstanding post-war British players. In November 1983 he scored his 100th League goal for Liverpool becoming the first player to ever score 100 goals in the Scottish League and the Football League. In 1986 he notched up another record with his 100th Scottish cap. His skills were breathtaking with his ability to hold the ball and turn before chipping it delicately into the open path of an oncoming player. He had vision and above all consistency and although comparisons are unfair most would agree tht he was the finest player to ever don the red shirt of Liverpool. He could create openings and danger where none seemed to exist and as long as Dalglish was on the field, Liverpool always held a trump card. The team that kicked off was much the same as the one which had ended the season and it easily disposed of the Gunners by two goals to nil. Within a few weeks, however, the two long-serving defenders Alan Kennedy and Phil Neal had decided to call it a day. 



 Kennedy went back to the north-east and his home club, Sunderland, having played 352 games for Liverpool during his eight years at the club and winning two England caps. The left back will always be remembered for scoring some fine goals, among them two of the most crucial in the club's history. Phil Neal began the season rejecting one job offer but by November had accepted the player-manager's position at Bolton Wanderers. Neal had been Paisley's first buy from Northampton Town in October 1974 and had proved to be one of the astutest purchases he ever made. For the next eleven years he was Liverpool's regular right back making 641 appearances for the club and winning fifty England caps. He underservedly went into the history books as the only Liverpool captain of recent times not to have lifted a trophy. Nevertheless, he was probably content to leave the club as the highest medal winner in the history of English soccer with eleven medals, seven of those championship medals. He was one of the most creative right backs of the post-war era with so many of Liverpool's attacks stemming from him and was always involved in the action of the game, scoring a total of fifty-eight goals for the club. Steve McMahon, the former Everton midfielder who had eluded Liverpool two years earlier when he signed for Aston Villa, finally came to Airfield lending some much needed strength to the midfield. With three new players in the side Liverpool will not flow quite so fluidly as in previous years. Manchester United, in a stunning opening to the season, swept to the top of the table with a ten-point lead and as far as the press were concerned the championship was all over. But, just as dramatically, they crashed and by the end of November their lead had been sliced to two points and Liverpool might well have caught them but for dropping two home points to a lively Chelsea side. 

 Dalglish, assuming the manager's responsibility had dropped himself in favour of Paul Walsh and at one stage it looked as if he had quietly retired from playing. Walsh and Rush had been scoring regularly, if not spectacularly, but in December the goals dried up for Rush. In twelve matches he managed just two and Liverpool began to look sluggish. With Molby acting as a sweeper behind the back four, Liverpool were also playing with five men in defence, although normally it was a case of Molby pushing forward as the game progressed so that Liverpool often looked a far better proposition in the second half. Christmas brought little cheer with three draws and two defeats, the most dramatic away to lowly-placed Manchester City and Liverpool slipped to fourth in the table, three points behind Everton. Liverpool's Cup exploits began at home to Second Division leaders Norwich. There was a feeling about Anfield that this was Liverpool's year and when they ran out 5~0 winners the sense of destination increased. In the fourth round Liverpool tackled Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and with the Londoners looking like prospective champions, the road to Wembley suddenly began to look short. An early injury to Kerry Dixon, however, eased Liverpool's worries and before a live television audience they slowly grabbed control of the game winning by two goals to one. The fifth round found the Reds drawn away remarkably to York City who they had played in the fifth round the previous year. At Bootham Crescent, York's picturesque ground, Dalglish at last returned to the side but Liverpool were given a hard time scraping a one-goal draw. The replay at Anfield did not go quite as planned either as plucky York forced Liverpool into extra time before their Third Division legs grew weary and conceded three goals. In the League, Liverpool faced table-topping Everton at home and were soundly beaten 2-0 by the best s?de seen at Anfield all season. With Everton now stretching their lead to six points and with a game In hand, it looked as if all hopes of the title had disappeared. Liverpool were also having a good run in the Milk Cup, defeating Oldham and then Manchester United in a titanic struggle at Anfield. In the fifth round they comfortably disposed of Ipswich 3-0 and then faced Queens Park Rangers in the semi-final. They lost the first game at Loftus Road by a single goal and were confident of pulling the deficit back at Anfield but instead experienced a nightmare. Not only did they miss a vital penalty but also generously construed two own goals to give QPR a lucky 2-2 draw and a place in the final.

In the sixth round of the FA Cup Liverpool tackled Elton John's Watford at home but after a frustrating goalless draw looked to be on their way out. In the replay at Vicarage Road it seemed even more likely with Watford a goal ahead and only minutes left. Then with the final whistle about to be blown, Rush was brought down in the penalty area and Jan Molby hammered home the spot kick. In extra time, Liverpool took charge and to the delight of the 10,000 travelling supporters Rush put them into the semi-final. Rush was back at his goalscoring best and in the semi-final against Southampton at White Hart Lane he underlined his importance with two goals in extra time. With Evcrton beating Sheffield Wednesday as well, the dream of a Merseyside Cup Final had finally been realised after ninety-three years of FA Cup competition. Liverpool's two successes of the season had been Craig Johnston and the Dane, Jan Molby. Johnston had been in and out of the team under Pagan but won favour with Dalglish who assured him of his place. Although he had skilful ball control he had rarely scored goals and just as rarely provided the telling pass to create a goal. But Dalglish's faith reaped dividends as Johnston's confidence grew and the goals resulted. Jan Molby had been bought from the Dutch champions, Ajax in August 1984 for £200,000 as a replacement for Souness. In his first game he had shown astonishing skills as he flicked the ball around Anfield but his talents quickly evaporated as the autumn nights drew in and he was relegated to the reserves to 'learn the trade'. When he returned at the start of the new season he was soon displaying his pedigree with balls sprayed around the field with pinpoint accuracy. It was a delight to watch as his passing tore defences apart and his fierce shot ripped towards goal.

Since their League defeat by Everton, Liverpool had strung together a useful run that had taken them nearer the top of the table. Over the Easter period they faltered in a difficult away game at Sheffield Wednesday, managing only a goalless draw but the League was still within their grasp in what had become the tightest championship in years. To have any hope of capturing it, however, they had to win their remaining seven games, five of which were away, and trust that one of their rivals would tumble. Over the years Liverpool has shown that they are at their best under pressure and the 1985-86 season was to be no exception. While Liverpool forged on undefeated, Everton crashed 1-0 at Oxford United, leaving Liverpool to win their final game of the season against Chelsea. Liverpool had gone fifteen League and Cup games without defeat but there was no denying the enormity of the task at Stamford Bridge. But it was'1 Dalglish who once again proved to be the inspiring difference between the tides. Early in the first half he caught a flighted ball on his chest, neatly brought it down and drove home the goal that won Liverpool the championship. It was a fitting finish to a season that had dramatically swung Liverpool's way with the return of their player-manager to the side. Liverpool had won their sixteenth League title, twice as many as their nearest rivals. Now all they had to do was to beat those closest rivals, Everton, in the Cup final to achieve the one double which had so far eluded them.





Liverpool Grobbelaar, Gillespie, Beglin, Nicol, Whelan, Hansen, Dalglish, Johnston, Rush, Molby, MacDonald
Chelsea Godden, Wood, Millar, Rougvie, McLaughlin, Jones, Nevin, Spackman, Dixon, Speedie + McAllister on as sub




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  Docherty's team would gain a modicum of revenge for their 1965 semi-final defeat the season after, putting the holders out in the third round at Anfield, Peter Osgood the star man. Chelsea would win the next two FA Cup ties between the sides as well. In January 1978, Ken Shellito's unremarkable team thrashed the reigning European champions 4-2 at Stamford Bridge, with two from Clive Walker, sending Bob Paisley into an uncharacteristic funk. "Bloody pathetic we were," he hissed. "I'm not taking anything away from Chelsea, mind, but we went out with sawdust in our heads." Four years later, John Neal's Chelsea were mired deep in the Second Division, yet did for the reigning European champions at Stamford Bridge, an even more stunning result. It was 2-0 this time, Peter Rhoades-Brown scoring early, the team then playing rope-a-dope, allowing Liverpool to come on to them before delivering a late Colin Lee sucker punch. Steve Francis, Chelsea's 17-year-old goalkeeper, made a stunning save from Terry McDermott, who also hit the bar, but otherwise didn't have to engage in any man-of-the-match antics. "They gave us all the field but tactically there was nothing we could do to break through," sighed Paisley, doomed never to win the cup. The teams met in west London in the fourth round in 1986, but Chelsea – back in the top flight – couldn't make it four cup wins in a row. Injuries to Kerry Dixon and Colin Lee reduced John Hollins's team to 10 men just before the break – only one substitute allowed, remember – and quickfire goals from Ian Rush and Mark Lawrenson sealed the deal for Liverpool, despite David Speedie pulling one back. Just like 1965, Chelsea were in the hunt for the domestic treble, but it was all falling away. Defeat in the League Cup quarter-final to QPR followed. The Full Members Cup was won towards the end of March, with Chelsea still in touch at the top of the table, but they claimed nine points from their last 11 games and finished sixth. Rubbing it in, Liverpool had won 10 of their last 11, and came to Stamford Bridge again on the final day of the season to claim the title, Kenny Dalglish chesting down Jim Beglin's clever dink down the inside-left channel and guiding it past Tony Godden. It was one of the most famous title-winning goals, the first half of a famous double sealed.





Caps

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