Tuesday, July 3 – 2001
(by Alan Hansen)
It was a measure of the esteem and respect that Liverpool players held for Joe Fagan that over 20 of us attended a surprise 80th birthday party for him at an Italian restaurant back in March. Little did I know then that it would be the last time I saw Joe, who fell ill shortly afterwards and died at the weekend at the age of 80.
That night was a lovely occasion and a great way to remember Joe. Players from five different decades cleared their diaries to make sure they were there, even though 16 years had passed since he had retired.
We bought Joe a bottle of his favourite Scotch and we did what all old players and managers do – sat down, drank, and reminisced about the old days and the great times we had together.
Joe enjoyed every minute of it and was genuinely moved that so many of his former players had turned up. His mind was still sharp and he remembered incidents and matches better than most of us.
Perhaps in many people’s minds, Joe Fagan would not go down as an obvious managerial great, even though he became the first manager in the English game to complete the treble of major trophies.
His span as manager lasted only two years but people should not forget the part he played behind the scenes in the previously two decades, especially when he was No 2 to Bob Paisley between 1974 and 1983.
While Bob picked the team and ultimately took the final decision as manager, they worked very much as a team and Joe virtually ran the show. I’m sure if Bob was still alive he would be the first to pay tribute to Joe’s help.
I have no doubts had Joe started in management before his 62nd birthday he would have sustained the success he enjoyed in his two seasons in charge. His knowledge of football was matched by his ability to judge a player’s character and get the best out of them.
Like Paisley, Joe was something of a reluctant manager. I don’t think he enjoyed the high profile and media attention that went with the job. And if he had a failing as a manager, it was that he found it hard to drop players. That was where he different from Bob, who was far more ruthless and single-minded. Joe could feel for every player and that’s why players were never afraid to seek him out for advice.
I remember early in my Liverpool career I was struggling to get into matches in the first 15 to 20 minutes. He noticed this and told me: “You’ll have t start looking after yourself better.”
I retorted: “I’m doing just that. I’m not going out. I haven’t touched a drink for weeks. I’m watching what I eat and I’m training hard.”
He replied in an instant: “Well then, that’s your answer. You need a good night out!”
Joe was like that, one of the old school who didn’t mind players enjoying themselves, as long as it was at the right time and things were going well.
Despite his genial nature and popularity you dared not get on his wrong side. If he thought anyone was taking liberties he would come down on them like a ton of bricks.
He always struck the right balance between when to take things seriously and when the time was right for a joke.
I remember when we’d gone to Romania and beaten a very good Dinamo Bucharest team 2-1 on the day and 3-1 on aggregate to reach the final of the 1984 European Cup. We were naturally jubilant but as we came back into the dressing room a poker faced Joe told us to sit down, shut up and listen.
He then went into the usual Liverpool mantra of “don’t get carried away, you’ve won nothing yet, you’ve still got the final to come and you must keep your feet on the ground”. It took the steam out of us completely – only for Joe to let out a tremendous roar, punch the air with his fist and scream: “You beauties.”
When the final in Rome went to a penalty shootout he came on to the pitch and said:
“Whatever the outcome you’re a great team and I’m proud of every one of you.” That was all we needed to hear.
He played a huge part in our shootout success. Alan Kennedy, who was down to take our fifth and final penalty, had missed with five or six attempts in practice a couple of days before by blasting them all to the keepers’ left and missing the target.
Joe was shaking his head and he took Alan to one side and said: “Promise me if it goes to penalties you’ll place it to the keeper’s right.” The rest is history. Alan didn’t take another penalty between that Monday morning and the final on Wednesday night but he did as Joe asked and won us the European Cup.
It is sad Joe’s second and final season as manager ended in the tragedy and tears of Heysel. But his sterling service to Liverpool should never be forgotten and to anyone who played under him he was just as much a legend as Shankly or Paisley.
(Daily Express, 03-07-2001)