Tuesday, August 6 – 1968
For two seasons, Liverpool fans have had nothing to celebrate – nothing, that is in the way of a championship trophy or an FA Cup victory. With no major close-season signings they are asking can the side that couldn’t produce trophies last season do it this time?
With the close season transfer market at its quietest ever with managers desperately clinging to their star players in the presence of tempting offers, it seems very much as if the coming season is going to be a case of the same again. But it could offer so much to the young players waiting to burst through to First Division maturely.
With Allan Clarke’s departure from Fulham to Leicester as the only major deal of the summer, few clubs have got any new glamorous faces to offer their fans.
Thus it could well provide the chance for youngsters to seize their opportunities in the event of injuries or loss of form.
And Liverpool seems to be no exception. Although manager Bill Shankly would like to have been able to sign a classy young midfield player, his efforts have been thwarted and the line-up for the first game looks as if it will be very similar to the side that finished the last campaign.
At this time last year, all eyes were on Tony Hateley and how he would fit into the Anfield pattern. A final goals tally approaching 30 justified Mr. Shankly’s £100,000 investment, and with Roger Hunt topping the scoring list yet again, there was little cause for complaint, apart from the lack of goals from the wingmen.
It was a season of so near yet so far. The season before they had finished fifth. Last year they were third, but it might so easily have been another championship success.
In fact, at one time it was possible that Liverpool could do the double and it was only a bad lapse against eventual winners West Bromwich in a quarter final replay that prevented them, many people feel, from lifting the trophy.
In the League, they were well poised just before Easter, but a Good Friday defeat at Anfield by Sheffield United cost them the title chance and a last game of the season defeat at Stoke robbed them of second place.
Rough and tumble
In any event it was an improvement on the previous year and the fans are asking can they do even better this time? The answer could well be yes, for although the players are one year older, they are also one year richer in experience – and in the rough and tumble of the First Division that can count for a good deal.
Some fans have been critical and claimed Liverpool haven’t got strength in depth to overcome a bad crop of injuries. But it is those fans who have not taken a good look at the playing staff recently.
Last season for instance two more youngsters were introduced into the first team and emerged as outstanding prospects, Ian Ross and Peter Wall, both of them defenders.
And make no mistake there are others waiting in the wings for their chance to break into the first team. Youngsters like Ray Clemence and Doug Livermore. And there is Bobby Graham, who has never really had the opportunity to make a first team place his own, although last season he proved invaluable on occasions particularly at Leeds where he scored one and made the other of his own, although last season he proved invaluable on occasions particularly at Leeds where he scored one and made the other of Liverpool’s goal in their 2-1 victory.
And Liverpool’s team is not as old as many people would like to think. Players like Chris Lawler, Emlyn Hughes, Ian Callaghan and Tommy Smith are all on the right side of 25, which itself is far from being old.
And while Liverpool strive for success to-day, they will also have their eyes on the same thing for to-morrow and it could be this that will make it a season for the youngsters at Anfield.
The Kop are waiting anxiously for their first look at young goalkeeper Ray Clemence, who, although he has never made an appearance in the First Division, already has an England Under-23 cap to his credit.
Ross proved a valuable deputy while Smith was injured last season and Wall a remarkably cool full back came in to impress in several matches. Doug Livermore also has yet to parade his talents and when he is eventually given his chance, it might be that he is the ready-made answer to Bill Shankly’s search for a talented young mid-field player.
At the start, however, it is looking to be a team similar to that which finished off last season but with these youngsters challenging hard for places, none of the regular squad can ever regard a place as his own – the competition is increasing.
And this is a healthy sign for any club and augurs well for Liverpool this season.
Far from being an old team about to break up as some seem to believe, it is a team with a delicate blend of youth and experience that must be envy of a number of clubs.
And, with the improvements at their training headquarters at Melwood, the club now has all the facilities to make sure that Liverpool stay at the top.
No one thinking of forgetting this season’s race for the championship can afford to ignore Liverpool’s chance which seems as good as ever.
(Liverpool Echo, 06-08-1968)