This is the first in a series of articles, released weekly, counting down the 10 greatest teams in the history of football. The teams were selected based on the trophies they won, the cultures they created, and the effect they had on the game of football.
Liverpool (1975 - 1984)
The team that every English dynasty is compared to, the team whose football inspired a generation of practicality on the field, the team that won twenty trophies in just 9 years – this team was Liverpool.
The Reds exploded into English football in the late ’60s and early ’70s under the management of Bill Shankly. Shankly, the man who has come to symbolize the club’s passion and dominance, made it his goal to take the team from the depths of the second division to the pantheon of world football. When he took the reins in 1959, Shankly began setting the foundations for what would be possibly the greatest dynasty in English football. Along with 3 League Championships, 2 FA Cups, and 1 UEFA Championship, the Scot made lasting improvements to the training facilities of Melwood and instilled the unrelenting mentality of the squads that would fill the dressing room for generations to come. Shankly said of his goal to take the club to prominence: “My idea was to build Liverpool into a bastion of invincibility.”
Although Shankly was not at the helm of the club for the pinnacle of Liverpool’s success, he built the framework. When he handed control of the club to Bob Paisley for the '74/'75 season, he was giving Paisley a weapon of mass destruction that would tear through England and across Europe for the next decade.
Bob Paisley said, after finishing second place in his first season as manager, “We never celebrate second place here.” And, thanks to his efficient managerial style and his players' dominance on the pitch, he rarely had the chance. His words ring true at the club even today – a testament to the lasting effect his time as manager had on the club.
Paisley’s Liverpool side would dominate the English First Division winning the league 7 times in 9 seasons. In Europe, Liverpool were the kings of the golden generation for English football. In the 8 years between the '77 and '84 seasons, Hamburg was the lone non-English side to win the trophy. Aston Villa and Nottingham Forrest both won a trophy for themselves and Liverpool were crowned champions of Europe 4 times.
Though none of their victories in Europe were as dramatic as the club’s infamous 2005 Champions League Final against AC Milan, the trophies they earned in this golden period were some of the most memorable.
Liverpool’s 1977 European Cup final victory against Borussia Monchengladbach was deemed a “perfect” match. The Reds’ performance on the day required not one substitution from Paisley. Though that season’s team that featured players like Steve Heighway, Tommy Smith, and Terry McDermott – already legends at Liverpool – the team would get even better during the following summer. Before the '77/'78 season, they would make the notable additions of Alan Hansen, Phil Thompson, Kenny Dalglish, and Graeme Souness. The next wave of Liverpool players had arrived. In just under a decade, they would be leaving the club as legends.
This new group of players showed their potential in the 1978 European Cup Final when Kenny Dalglish’s chipped goal secured the victory. The signing who had been brought in to replace the then irreplaceable Kevin Keegan had scored the most crucial goal of Liverpool’s season. It would be another striker, however, who, though benched in Liverpool’s 1981 European Cup victory against Real Madrid, would go on to become the highest scorer in the history of the club.
Ian Rush became synonymous with Liverpool during the ’80s. Rush scored a combined 346 goals for the club in 660 appearances, with his most prolific season coming in '83/'84 on the way to Liverpool’s fourth European Cup. The Welshman scored a remarkable 47 goals that made him the first British player to win the European Golden Boot.
Ian Rush’s success that season was the perfect complement to a Liverpool side that would win the treble: the league title, the league cup, and the European Cup.
That season’s European Cup final was one for the ages. Liverpool secured victory on penalties, with goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar forever instilling his “spaghetti net” and “spaghetti legs” routine in the nightmares of Roma and Italian football fans forever. That night, Liverpool celebrated as possibly the greatest team in their history following one of their greatest seasons ever. Liverpool were the kings of world football and there was no limit to the remaining success that surely awaited them in years to come.
The following year, the infamous European Cup final of 1985 would mark the end of the golden generation of English football and the decline of one of the greatest sides that ever took the field. Before Liverpool’s match against Juventus, an event took place that would cut short both Liverpool and England’s dominance in world football: The Heysel Stadium disaster.
Heysel marked a dark realization for Liverpool, the players and coaches, and to England, that the game would never be the same within their country.
Outside of the Heysel Stadium in Brussels where the final was to be played, chaos erupted. Before the match, British football hooliganism reached an all-time low when Liverpool supporters began a running battle with fans of Juventus. In an attempt to escape the violence, hundreds of the Italian and Belgian supporters of Juventus were pressed against a safety fence. The result was horrific.
After the riot had been halted and the carnage was revealed, 41 Juventus supporters had died, crushed under the weight of those trying to escape. An estimated 350 more fans were injured in the disaster.
British football was suspended indefinitely from all European competition following the event. The ban lasted until the '90/'91 season.
The Heysel disaster would be followed 5 years later by the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 Liverpool supporters were killed as a result of overcrowding in central pens of the stadium.
It was on the terraces of Heysel and Hillsborough that the old game would be driven out and the modern game would be defined. And it was on the terraces of Heysel and Hillsborough that Liverpool would incur a burden - an identity - that would test the courage of an entire city.
No longer was Liverpool just a club with a rich history and legendary players, Liverpool was now a culture. A culture that plays every game in memory of those lost to such tragic events - to the hope for a brighter future in which the game of football may be celebrated in its purest, most ideal form.
Whenever “You’ll Never Walk Alone” blasts out over the Kop, it is a reminder of the tragedy and the glory that binds all Liverpool supporters together. It is this remarkable bond that was forged under Bill Shankly and perfected under Bob Paisley. It is a bond that was tested by tragedy and strengthened in resilience. It is why the decade of football played by Liverpool from 1975 to 1984 established them as one of the greatest teams ever to grace the pitch.