December 30, 1983
Liverpool manager Joe Fagan settled back in his small office, tucked away under the main stand at Anfield – and summed up perfectly his first few months at the helm of the League Champions.
“It’s been like Tales of the Unexpected hasn’t it,” said the man who accepted the most difficult challenge in game back in May when he followed in the footsteps of Bob Paisley, the most successful British boss of all time.
Fagan emphasised from the start that he would run things his own way – and Liverpool enter the New Year full of confidence and optimism, looking down on their rivals from their usual position at the summit of the First Division.
“It’s been a great honour to follow someone of the stature of Bob Paisley,” said Fagan. “When he decided to retire, it frightened me that they might ask me to take over. I though that I might be too old for it.
“My first reaction at that time was that I wouldn’t take it, but I thought about it carefully and realised that someone else might come in and upset the whole rhythm.
“I finally decided to take it and keep the continually going for a little longer.”
It was May 23, in a packed Press conference at Anfield that Chairman John Smith made the formal announcement that Fagan would take the reins.
At the age of 62 – and with 25 years service behind him at Liverpool – he stepped into the hot seat to effectively start a new career.
“It has given me a new lease of life,” said Fagan. “It’s a different job with a fresh outlook and I must admit, it’s rejuvenated me a bit. It’s better than taking the tablets!
“I suppose I had a fear at the outset that I would not be able to do the job properly. It’s all right being associated with a club for 25 years, managing it is altogether different.
“One of the things on my side was that I had a good squad of players. Another thing was that the backroom staff know the job backwards. Ronnie Moran, Roy Evans, John Bennison, Chris Lawler and Tom Saunders … they all do a hell of a job at Anfield.
“One of the things I realised a long time ago was that the help you get from the chairman downwards is second to none.
“There is no such thing as back-biting here. They have all helped me tremendously and I have a high regard for all of them for making my job so easy.”
The Anfield backroom team have always got on with the job, keeping out of the limelight. One of the biggest tests for the new manager was obviously dealing with the media.
Fagan has revelled in this side of it, gaining the respect of Pressmen up and down the country.
He said: “I had no experience of going on TV or talking to the media. Whenever I’d been asked before I always said no.
“Once I got the job I knew there was no use hiding.
“I try to answer things honestly, rather than be a diplomat. If I get and awkward question, I’m not the sort of person who can come out with 1,000 words and say nothing. That is not my way. I try to give a straight answer.”
Asked to pick out a highlight from his first 30 games at the helm Fagan admits that the European Cup victory in Spain over Athletic Bilbao gave him a lot of pleasure.
He said: “They gained a 0-0 draw at Anfield, and everyone expected us to go out of the competition in Spain. But we played some magnificent stuff and came through with all colours flying.”
The Anfield boss can’t help but feel pleased with his side’s position at the top, but he won’t allow any complacency to creep in.
He said: “People talk about being top as we go into a New Year, but as far as I’m concerned there’s no New Year in football. The season goes right through and we are only at the half-way stage on Saturday.
“Nothing is cut and dried. We’d like to be out in front by a mile, but the Manchester Uniteds, Southampton and Forests are still there. Who knows what will happen at the end of the day?”
Fagan’s experience and his down-to-earth nature is proving the perfect motivating force for Liverpool. His respect for his team and his backroom colleagues shines through.
“I’m enjoying the job,” he said, “but I’ve yet to taste the other end of the scale. I don’t want to be tested, but it’s something that a manager must face.
“For the time being, I just feel so grateful for the help that I’m receiving from all the staff at Anfield. There is no way that this job will be anything else but a joy.”
(Source: Liverpool Echo: December 30, 1983, interviewed by Ken Rogers; via http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) © 2018 Findmypast Newspaper Archive Limited