A Season to Remember: 1963-4
Shankly's First Division 1 Title
The 1950s had not been kind to Liverpool.
The first full post-war season champions of 1947 – the team of Billy Liddell and Albert Stubbins, Jack Balmer and one Bob Paisley - had gradually declined to the point where the club suffered the ignominy of relegation in last position, 22nd out of 22, in 1953/4, having only escaped the previous season by winning their last match. We were the modern-day Everton!
The team was under the management of Don Welsh, who suffered from “the toxic combination of ageing star players who were either waning or retiring and their inadequate replacements” (Andrew Mckay on TTT’s “The Impossible Job - Managing LFC in the 1950s”.
He was replaced in 1956 by the lightweight, ineffectual and disempowered Phil Taylor, Welsh’s coach and former LFC player in the 1947 champions team, whose “modesty and reluctance to make waves were what had really earned him the board’s approval.” (Andrew Mckay) There was no improvement in fortunes, at least in the one way that there needed to be - a return to the top flight.
The end that had always been inevitable came in November 1959. As Andrew Mckay put it, “The accepting tone of his comments while in office suggests he always knew his place and how things were likely to turn out; after over twenty years at Liverpool he would have known the club too well to hope for anything else. Such passivity was of course part of the problem with Taylor, but it does at least confirm his attitude as one of resigned realism in contrast to the outsider Welsh’s thwarted idealism.”
And so to December 1959, when a certain Bill Shankly arrived at Anfield. Things began to stir. In Shankly’s second full season, 1961/2, Liverpool finally got the promotion the club so desperately needed, after eight years in Division 2. You could argue that that promotion was the single most important season in modern Liverpool FC history.
The Reds led the table from first day to last, going up as champions and scoring 99 goals. The new heroes were two Scots bought by Shankly, Ian St John and Ron Yeats. In their first season back in Division 1, Shankly by and large stuck by the team that got Liverpool promoted, but they found it tough going.
A 2-1 home defeat by Blackpool in the opening game set the tone, and the away form was abysmal. Liverpool took only 2 points from the first 8 away matches. One of those was in the first Merseyside league derby for nine years, in front of a crowd of 73,000 at Goodison, where a 90th minute goal from Roger Hunt gave the Reds a point.
Liverpool eventually finished 8th, seventeen points behind champions Everton (two points for a win in those days, so that gap was massive).
If you could trace Liverpool’s rise to pre-eminence in the modern era of football back to any particular time, it could well be the 1963/4 season - Shankly’s first title. He made two signings that season, one of them very significant – goal scoring left-winger Peter Thompson, from Preston North End for £37,000, just before the season began. Thompson would go on to become a vital component in Liverpool’s successful team of the mid-60s and also became a full England international. He was named in the 28-man squad for the 1966 World Cup but failed to make the cut. (Incidentally, the other signing, Phil Chisnall, in April 1964, is noteworthy in being the last direct transfer between Liverpool and Manchester United to this day.)
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