In the closing weeks of the 1975-76 season, most people expected that Queens Park Rangers, rather than Liverpool, would win the Football League Championship. The London side had made the running for most of the campaign, playing a progressive brand of football that was heavily influenced by the great Dutch national side of the period.
Liverpool, who had the experience of challenging for league titles, proved their durability in the run-in and overtook Rangers in the final game of the season at Wolverhampton Wanderers. It was the start of a period of dominance that lasted for around 15 years in which Liverpool consistently, and emphatically, won both domestic and European honours.
Ironically, Liverpool opened the season at Queens Park Rangers, losing 0-2. Their side had changed little since 1973, with key figures like Ray Clemence, Tommy Smith, Emlyn Hughes, Kevin Keegan, Steve Heighway and John Toshack still forming the backbone of the team. Midfielder Ray Kennedy had arrived from Arsenal a year earlier and his conversion to midfield was something of a master stroke by Bob Paisley, the local man who was giving the task of taking over from Bill Shankly in 1974.
Other members of the 1973 squad had been replaced, such as full backs Chris Lawler and Alec Lindsay. New signings Phil Neal and Joey Jones had been bought, while in the heart of defence, Phil Thompson had replaced Larry Lloyd. Other players like Jimmy Case and Terry McDermott were also waiting to claim their place in the Reds midfield.
Liverpool won only three of their first seven games, but settled down to embark on a run of one defeat in 23, a shock home defeat at the hands of Norwich City. One of the chief contributors to the team’s success was the burgeoning partnership between John Toshack and Kevin Keegan. The combination of big-man, little-man proved to be very effective and the duo netted 28 goals between them during the league campaign.
Liverpool topped the table at the halfway stage with 33 points, but only three points separated the top five, with Manchester United, Leeds United, Derby County and QPR right behind the leaders. Liverpool’s excellent run was ended by Arsenal in late February, but Paisley’s side was still top on 40 points, two ahead of QPR, Manchester United and Derby. Another home setback, this time Middlesbrough winning at Anfield, put QPR in front, although Liverpool had a game in hand.
Both Liverpool and QPR went on excellent winning runs, matching each other week-after-week. After five consecutive Liverpool victories between late March and early April, QPR were still in pole position, but only ahead on goal difference with both teams on 53 points. Liverpool’s hopes had been boosted by the introduction, on a regular basis, of a ginger-haired teenager called David Fairclough. He became adept at coming off the bench to score vital goals. His pace and rawness helped Liverpool beat Norwich, Burnley and Everton. But on April 10, Liverpool drew 0-0 at Aston Villa while QPR beat Middlesbrough 4-2 at Loftus Road. The Londoners were a point clear of their nearest rivals.
The defining moment, however, was on April 17 as QPR clumsily lost 2-3 at Norwich. Liverpool beat Stoke City 5-3 at Anfield with Fairclough scoring again. The advantage had swung Liverpool’s way in the course of 90 minutes. Two days later, he scored two more as Liverpool won 3-0 at Manchester City. QPR also earned two more points, beating Arsenal 2-1 at Loftus Road. With one game to go, Liverpool had 58 points and QPR one less.
QPR won their final game 2-0 against Leeds United and topped the table with 59 points and a better goal average. Liverpool’s last fixture was three days later at Wolverhampton Wanderers, who themselves needed to win to stay in the First Division. On a tense night at Molineux, Wolves took the lead, but Kevin Keegan, receiving the ball from Toshack’s nod-on, rolled the ball into the net with 14 minutes remaining. Toshack himself gave Liverpool the lead with five minutes to go, and in the dying seconds, Ray Kennedy hammered a left-foot drive into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
A draw would have been enough for Liverpool, but a 3-1 win meant they had won the championship by a single point. Manager Bob Paisley, as humble as ever, said: “This is the proudest moment of my time at Liverpool, winning the greatest football league in the world.”
Liverpool repeated their league and European double of 1972-73 when they overcame Bruges in the UEFA Cup final, winning 3-2 at home and drawing 1-1 away.
The regular Liverpool side was selected from: Clemence, Neal, Smith, Thompson, Hughes, Keegan, Kennedy, Case, Heighway, Toshack, Callaghan, Cormack, Fairclough
Ray Clemence (27): By 1975-76, Clemence was England’s regular goalkeeper. He went on to win 61 caps in his career. He established himself at Liverpool four years after joining the club from Scunthorpe United in 1967 for £ 18,000.
Phil Neal (24): A right back who joined Liverpool in October 1974 from Northampton Town for a £66,000 fee. He became one of the most decorated players in British football history, winning 50 England caps and a long list of honours with Liverpool. In 1975-76, he made his first team breakthrough and was ever present. A specialist penalty taker, he scored 41 league goals for the Reds in a career that spanned 455 games.
Emlyn Hughes (27): Originally an inside-forward with Blackpool, Hughes became an accomplished defensive midfield player capable of long surging runs. He was capped 62 times for England between 1969 and 1980. He captained both Liverpool and England.
Phil Thompson (21): After breaking into the Liverpool squad in their last title-winning campaign, Thompson was a fixture in the heart of the defence. He made his England debut in March 1976 and won 42 England caps in his career.
Tommy Smith (30): Self-styled “hard man” defender – a native of Liverpool – who played 467 league games for the club between 1962 and 1978 and went on to captain the club. Won a single England cap in 1971.
Kevin Keegan (24): Keegan was named FWA Footballer of the Year in 1975-76 and was named England for the first time in March 1976 when England met Wales. He joined the club in 1971 from Scunthorpe and was a revelation in his first campaign, his work-rate and eye for goal capturing the hearts of the Anfield crowd. He won his first England cap in November 1972 and appeared 63 times for his country between 1972 and 1982. He left Liverpool in 1977 to join Hamburg, earning the club a £500,000 fee.
Peter Cormack (29): Signed by Liverpool from relegated Nottingham Forest in the summer of 1972 for £ 110,000. A hard-running, powerful midfielder, Cormack began his career with Hibernian in Scotland and moved to Forest in 1970. In December 1975 he was injured and struggled to get back into the Liverpool side. He eventually moved to Bristol City in November 1976.
Jimmy Case (21): A battling midfielder who possessed a fierce shot, Case made his debut at the start of the 1975-76 and spent six years in the Liverpool first team. Liverpool-born, he was a popular figure with the fans and played for non-league South Liverpool before arriving at Anfield. He left Liverpool in 1981 to join Brighton and subsequently played for Southampton.
Ray Kennedy (24): Signed from Arsenal for £ 190,000 on the day that Bill Shankly announced his retirement as Liverpool manager. Kennedy had been a pivotal part of Arsenal’s double-winning season of 1970-71, forming a front-line partnership with John Radford. At Liverpool, he was converted to midfield, where his powerful shooting and muscular physique was put to good effect. He won 17 caps for England in his new role and was a key part of Liverpool’s late 1970s and early 1980s success.
John Toshack (26): Welsh international (40 caps) striker who was signed by Liverpool in November 1970 from Cardiff City for a £ 110,000 fee. After a tepid start to his Liverpool career, he linked up with Kevin Keegan to form a lethal partnership in 1975-76. A superb header of the ball, he scored 96 goals in 246 league games for Liverpool before joining Swansea in 1978.
Ian Callaghan (33): Joined Liverpool as an apprentice in 1960 and became a key figure in the club’s successful side of the 1963-66 period when they won two Football League championships and the FA Cup. He left Liverpool in 1978, by which time he had won four England caps, including a cameo appearance on the wing in the 1966 World Cup.
Steve Heighway (27): A graduate of University of Warwick, Heighway was signed by Liverpool in May 1970 from Skelmersdale United. A strong and pacey two-footed winger, Heighway was capped 34 times by the Republic of Ireland.
David Fairclough (19): Became known as “Supersub” for his habit of coming on as a substitute and scoring vital goals. Fairclough, wiry, long-legged hard runner, made a startling impact in the closing weeks of the 1975-76 season, but never quite established himself at Anfield, despite a good scoring record in his 150-plus games of a goal every three games.
Football League Appearances
|Boersma, P||1+2||Heighway, S||39||McDermott, T||7+2|
|Callaghan, I||40||Hughes, E||41||Neal, P||42|
|Case, J||27||Jones, J||13||Smith, T||24|
|Clemence, R||42||Keegan, K||41||Thompson, P||41|
|Cormack, P||16+1||Kennedy, R||29+1||Toshack, J||35|
|Fairclough, D||5+9||Kettle, B||1|
|Hall, B||11+2||Lindsay, A||6|
Goalscorers: Toshack 16, Keegan 12, Fairclough 7, Case 6, Kennedy 6, Neal 6, Heighway 4, Callaghan 3, Hughes 2, Hall 2, Cormack 1, McDermott 1 Total: 66
Football League Results
|Aug 16||Queens Park R||Away||L||0–2||27,113|
|Aug 19||West Ham United||Home||D||2–2||Callaghan, Toshack||40,564|
|Aug 23||Tottenham Hotspur||Home||W||3–2||Keegan, Case, Heighway||42,729|
|Aug 26||Leeds United||Away||W||3–0||Kennedy, Callaghan 2||36,186|
|Aug 30||Leicester City||Away||D||1–1||Keegan||25,008|
|Sept 6||Sheffield United||Home||W||1–0||Kennedy||37,340|
|Sept 13||Ipswich Town||Away||L||0–2||28,132|
|Sept 20||Aston Villa||Home||W||3–0||Toshack, Keegan, Case||42,779|
|Oct 4||Wolverhampton W||Home||W||2–0||Hall, Case||36,391|
|Oct 11||Birmingham City||Home||W||3–1||Toshack 3||36,532|
|Oct 18||Coventry City||Away||D||0–0||20,695|
|Oct 25||Derby County||Home||D||1–1||Toshack||46,324|
|Nov 8||Manchester United||Home||W||3–1||Heighway, Toshack, Keegan||49,136|
|Nov 15||Newcastle United||Away||W||2–1||Hall, Kennedy||39,686|
|Nov 22||Coventry City||Home||D||1–1||Toshack||36,929|
|Nov 29||Norwich City||Home||L||1–3||Hughes||34,780|
|Dec 2||Arsenal||Home||D||2–2||Neal 2 pens||27,447|
|Dec 13||Tottenham Hotspur||Away||W||4–0||Keegan, Case, Neal, Heighway||29,891|
|Dec 20||Queens Park R||Home||W||2–0||Toshack, Neal – pen||39,182|
|Dec 26||Stoke City||Away||D||1–1||Toshack||32,092|
|Dec 27||Manchester City||Home||W||1–0||Cormack||53,386|
|Jan 10||Ipswich Town||Home||D||3–3||Keegan 2, Case||40,547|
|Jan 17||Sheffield United||Away||D||0–0||31,255|
|Jan 31||West Ham United||Away||W||4–0||Toshack 3, Keegan||26,741|
|Feb 7||Leeds United||Home||W||2–0||Keegan, Toshack||54,525|
|Feb 18||Manchester United||Away||D||0–0||59,709|
|Feb 21||Newcastle United||Home||W||2–0||Keegan, Case||43,404|
|Feb 28||Derby County||Away||D||1–1||Kennedy||32,800|
|Mar 13||Birmingham City||Away||W||1–0||Neal – pen||31,397|
|Mar 20||Norwich City||Away||W||1–0||Fairclough||29,013|
|Mar 27||Burnley||Home||W||2–0||Fairclough 2||36,708|
|Apr 6||Leicester City||Home||W||1–0||Keegan||36,290|
|Apr 10||Aston Villa||Away||D||0–0||44,250|
|Apr 17||Stoke City||Home||W||5–3||Neal – pen, Toshack, Kennedy, Hughes, Fairclough||44,069|
|Apr 19||Manchester City||Away||W||3–0||Heighway, Fairclough 2||50,439|
|May 4||Wolverhampton W||Away||W||3–1||Keegan, Toshack, Kennedy||48,900|
FA Cup: Round Four
Football League Cup: Round Three
UEFA Cup: Winners
Average home attendance: 41,670