A Season to Remember, 1972/3.
Champions Again, and Success in Europe.
After the euphoria of the early/mid 1960s – promotion, within two seasons the title, then the club’s first FA Cup followed by another title, a European Cup semi-final and the first European final – entered a spell of six years of relative disappointment.
After 1965/6’s title win, the following season produced only a fifth place finish, 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 February 1967 Shankly made what was to become a key signing in Emlyn Hughes from Blackpool. But though his playing impact was immediate, the team did not progress much. In 1967/8 Liverpool finished third behind the two Manchester clubs, the City of Francis Lee, Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee becoming champions.
That was also the season when the clubs involved in European football finally entered the League Cup. Liverpool were 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 Ferencvaros of Budapest.
Liverpool improved by one place in 1968/9, finishing as runners up behind Don Revie's 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 rather unremarkable 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. Shankly even conceded he might have stayed loyal to his old guard for too long.
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. Only Callaghan, Smith and Lawler of the mid-60s team still found a place in the team, and Emlyn Hughes was by now firmly established. It was time for a major rebuild. There wasn't time for evolution, it had to be revolution.
Shankly began to assemble a glittering new model. Into the side came a number of signings from lower league and even non-league clubs - Ray Clemence from Scunthorpe United, giant centre-half Larry Lloyd from Bristol Rovers, left-back Alec Lindsay from Bury, winger Steve Heighway from non-league Skelmersdale. There were also some big money signings - John Toshack from Cardiff City, and Scottish international midfielder Peter Cormack, who brought his silky skills to the club in the summer of 1972 from Nottingham Forest. In also would come the home-produced and ever-industrious midfielder Brian Hall, and a locally-born striker called Phil Boersma.
Perhaps most tellingly of all, in May 1971 an unheard-of youngster called Kevin Keegan arrived from Scunthorpe Utd for £33,000.
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