Thursday, December 14 – 1989
Amid the chatter and bustle of the hotel lobby in Brussels, someone said: “That’s it. They can’t go on with it now.”
It was May 28, 1985, the eve of the European Cup final against Juventus and the news had just broken that Joe Fagan was giving up the job of Liverpool manager.
There was the sense of a dynasty ending.
Bill Shankly had been manager from 1959 to 1974, and the job passed to his assistance Bob Paisley. Many doubted the wisdom of it. Paisley, superficially, offered home-spun diffidence.
Ron Yeats says: “I was still a player when Bob took over and I just couldn’t believe he was capable of it. He proved everybody gloriously wrong – including himself. He said: ‘I only took over to make sure everybody had jobs because if a new feller comes he’ll want to make changes.’ In that sense the job was pushed onto him, but he knew the game…”
Yes, knew it well enough to manage the side to six League Championships, three Milk Cups, three European Cups and the UEFA Cup. Paisley retired in 1983 and the job passed to his assistant Joe Fagan, whom promptly won the Milk Cup, the League and the European Cup in one season.
Secretary Peter Robinson says: “Shankly was an extrovert and Bob, if I may so, was something of an introvert. Joe Fagan was the most successful (in the strict context of achievement in season 1983-84).
“He took the job late in life and we were a bit disappointed he was not able to go on a couple of years longer.
“It was his choice. He did feel the pressures, although the club would have welcome him going on.”
And so we come back to the chatter and bustle of the lobby in Brussels. The dynasty was over, wasn’t it? For the first time since 1959, Liverpool were going to have to go outside, weren’t they?
Robinson says: “The appointment of each manager has been given a lot of thought. I do not accept that we’ve said: ‘He’s finished, we’ll appoint his deputy.’
“Each time we have discussed it thoroughly, maybe several times over a long period before we have finally made a decision. We could have brought back a previous player.”
John Toshack was, one assumes, a leading candidate. But Robinson reveals: “When Joe told us he wanted to finish, the chairman (John Smith) appointed a sub-committee of four people – I don’t think this has ever been said – comprising himself, myself, Bob Paisley and Tom Saunders.
“Tom was little-known but had made a tremendous contribution over the years and was youth development officer.
“We had a situation with that little committee where we all knew Kenny Dalglish in different ways, we had all dealt with him in different ways.
“We did discuss it at length, it wasn’t an immediate decision and at the end of the day we came down unanimously in favour of Kenny.
“In life you either get decisions right or wrong and that was one we got right …”
Peter Robinson’s office reflects the club; there is a quiet sense of order about it, as if everything is simple and logical. At Anfield, it is.
He says: “The secret is good players, and what they have achieved has been helped by stability at the club. There has been little or no change in the boardroom over a long period.
“That has permeated right through. We have had long-service players and the staff have remained whereas other clubs have had some tremendous upheavals.
“Arsenal are similar to us, but in many other clubs there have been takeovers and upheavals.”
“We have always given priority to getting good players, we have always carefully budgeted to make sure we could afford ground improvements.
“That said, we have totally rebuild three sides of the ground, while maintaining the quality of the team. In our expenditure, this maintaining of the team has been paramount.
“We have had players who didn’t fit into the position they were bought for but became stars in other positions – so we’re not inflexible.
“Alec Lindsay came as a midfield player and ended up a very good full-back, Ray Kennedy came as a centre-forward and ended up an outstanding wide of midfield player, Kevin Keegan was signed as a midfield player …”
The Anfield way has engendered the feeling that Liverpool have replaced Manchester United as the most famous British club around the world. Robinson says: “I think we have. Judging by speaking to people in this country and abroad.
“It’s astonishing how many kids from all over the world have fallen in love with Liverpool and come once a year on a kind of pilgrimage.”
(Daily Express, 14-12-1989)