A Season to Remember – 1987/8
It's Just Like Watching Brazil ...
The Reds team that had been good enough to win the double in 1985/6 had not been good enough to resist Everton’s challenge the following season, finishing 2nd but nine points behind the neighbours, as the Merseyside domination of the league in the ‘80s continued - the title remained there for seven consecutive seasons between 1982 and 1988, with Liverpool accounting for five of them. Manchester United, in Ferguson’s first season, finished 11th.
The Liverpool team had begun to show clear signs of rust. What most Liverpool fans would pick as our all-time best striking partnership, Dalglish and Rush, was over. Kenny was finished as a player, and Ian Rush had been sold to Juventus, replaced by John Aldridge. Well at least he looked a bit like him. It gradually emerged that he could score goals a bit like him too. Sammy Lee also departed in August 1986, with Barry Venison and Nigel Spackman arriving.
A major new injection of inspiration and creativity was urgently needed. It duly arrived in the summer of 1987, in the form of John Barnes from Watford for £900,000 and Peter Beardsley from Newcastle for £1.9m, soon followed by Ray Houghton from Oxford for £825,000. Over £3.5 million was a major investment in 1987, although we recouped over £800,000 by selling Paul Walsh and John Wark.
The result was a season that saw probably the most exhilarating, thrilling brand of attacking football that even we’d been lucky enough to witness through our golden years, a football masterclass never equalled by any of even our magnificent forerunners – not by Shanks’ first great side in the mid 60s, not his Keegan-Toshack-Heighway side of the early 70s, not even Paisley’s league and European Cup winning sides of the late 70s and early 80s, with Dalglish, Rush, Souness, Hansen and Lawrenson in their pomp, or Fagan’s treble side of 1984. None produced the breathtaking creativity and invention that Kenny’s team produced that season. Its sheer dominance was inevitable. You could only speculate what the team might have achieved in Europe (I can just hear the cries of ‘Well whose fault was that?’ Well it wasn’t just the fault of Reds fans at Heysel but of over 20 years of English football hooliganism abroad, very much not least including the national team. That’s why they banned everybody, not just us).
Often sublime, frequently blissful, the team garnered plaudits as fast as they picked up points. The two big signings, Barnes and Beardsley, were the exciting creative hub. Beardsley, jinking this way and that, blessed with an onboard calculator of vectors that enabled him to know exactly when and at what speed and angle the football, wholly under his spell at his darting feet, should be released. And then there was Barnes, with that intoxicating mélange of powerful physicality and balletic balance, the ball seemingly fused into his very feet, a part of him, physically attached. Houghton, Whelan and McMahon provided guile, endless energy and ammunition, and at the apex of it all, John Aldridge just kept converting a goodly percentage of the torrent of chances that kept coming his way. At the back, Hansen was still imperious, with Gillespie his very capable lieutenant. Behind them all, Bruce Grobbelaar kept himself occupied as best he could - a crossword puzzle, an imaginary fly to swat ….
There was no Big Four that season, just a Big One. The League title was not a competition. There wasn’t a title race. There was Liverpool, and then there were some others. 20 others, oddly, as the league made its gradual staged transition from the old 22 teams to the present 20 by having 21 teams.
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