Liverpool enjoyed a spectacular season in 1976-77 and at one stage were on the brink of an unprecedented “treble” of League, FA Cup and European Cup. In the end, they had to settle for retaining their league title and a first-time – and memorable – success in the European Cup.
Unlike the previous season, when the title was dramatically won in the final game, Liverpool secured the championship with one game to go, beating off the challenge of Manchester City and Ipswich Town.
It was a little-changed team from 1975-76, with new signing David Johnson from Ipswich staking a claim for a first team place and Joey Jones securing the left back berth.
While Liverpool’s form at home was, as usual, impressive, with 18 wins from 21 games and no defeats, their away form was less consistent. Liverpool lost two of their first four away games, but still sat on top of the table. At the end of November, Liverpool were three points ahead of Bobby Robson’s exciting Ipswich, but the Suffolk side had a game in hand. Liverpool travelled to Portman Road at the beginning of December and were beaten 1-0, closing the gap to one point.
The big surprise, however, was a 5-1 defeat at Aston Villa, where all the goals came in the first half. This meant Ipswich were two games in hand and a point behind. A few days later, Liverpool were beaten again, this time at West Ham and Ipswich went top on goal difference. By the end of 1976, Liverpool were back in command, but Ipswich had played three games less.
By this time, Liverpool were fighting on all fronts, making progress in the FA Cup and Europe. Ipswich and Manchester City were both mounting strong challenges, but Liverpool proved to be as durable as ever, despite the games coming thick and fast.
Liverpool went into the vital Easter period in first place with 45 points from 33 games, with Ipswich two points behind after the same number played. Manchester City were three points behind Liverpool with a game in hand. On Easter Saturday, Liverpool hosted City and won 2-1, but Ipswich, who had played an extra game over the holiday period, had reclaimed first place. But within a week, Liverpool leapfrogged Ipswich and still had a one-game advantage.
The two sides met at Anfield on April 30 and after a very physical tussle, Liverpool ran out 2-1 winners. Liverpool still had five fixtures to play and had a two-point lead over City and three ahead of Ipswich, who had played 39 games. At this time, the race to sign Kevin Keegan, who had announced he would be leaving the club at the end of the season, had hotted up, with Bayern Munich emerging as favourites to sign the talismanic striker.
Liverpool had now reached two cup finals, the FA Cup, where they would meet Manchester United, and the European Cup where their opponents would be Borussia Moenchengladbach. They could now concentrate on the Football League Championship.
A 1-0 victory over Manchester United, thanks to Keegan’s early goal, gave Liverpool a four-point lead over City and five over Ipswich. That win was to be Liverpool’s last of the league programme as they stuttered towards the title. Nervous draws at Queens Park Rangers and Coventry City almost gave Liverpool the championship and it was another stalemate, at home to West Ham, that clinched top place. It was as much due to the inability of the Reds’ rivals to maintain their nerve and consistency – Ipswich lost four of their last six games and Manchester City won only two of their final five games. Liverpool’s own form in the closing weeks, perhaps as a result of fixture congestion, was also below their usual high standards and the campaign rounded-off with a 1-2 defeat at struggling Bristol City.
The regular Liverpool side was selected from: Clemence, Neal, Jones, Smith, Thompson, Hughes, Keegan, Kennedy, Case, Heighway, Toshack, McDermott, Callaghan, Fairclough, Johnson
Ray Clemence (28): Clemence was England’s regular goalkeeper in 1976-77 but lost his place – albeit temporarily to his great rival, Peter Shilton. 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 and was outstanding in the club’s 1977 European campaign, notably in the final.
Phil Neal (25): 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. A specialist penalty taker, he scored 41 league goals for the Reds in a career that spanned 455 games.
Joey Jones (21): Liverpool paid £ 110,000 to Wrexham for this Welsh international full back (70-plus caps) in 1975. A popular, whole-hearted player, Jones established himself in the Liverpool team in 1976-77 and played 100 games for the club until his departure in 1978, returning to Wrexham and later appearing for Chelsea and Huddersfield Town.
Emlyn Hughes (28): 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. He was named Football Writers’ Player of the Year in 1976-77.
Phil Thompson (22): 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 (31): 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. Scored Liverpool’s second goal in their European Cup triumph of 1977.
Kevin Keegan (25): Keegan 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. By the time he departed for Hamburg in 1977, earning Liverpool a £ 500,000 fee, Keegan was established as the natural successor to George Best as Britain’s footballing icon. He would go on to become European Footballer of the Year in 1978 and 1979.
Terry McDermott (25): A superb midfielder who took time to win a regular place in the Liverpool side after joining from Newcastle United in 1974. A native of Liverpool, he started his career with Bury in the late 1960s before moving to the North-East in 1973. Once in the Liverpool side, he became an integral part of the club’s success until the early 1980s. He was capped by England 25 times, making his debut in 1977.
Jimmy Case (22): 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 (25): Signed from Arsenal for £ 190,000 on the day that Bill Shankly announced his retirement as Liverpool manager. Liverpool converted the tall striker to midfield, where his powerful shooting and muscular physique were 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.
David Johnson (24): Johnson was signed from Ipswich Town for a fee of £200,000 in the summer of 1976. Born in Liverpool, he started his career with Everton but joined the Suffolk club in 1972 where his speed and tenacity won him many plaudits. He took time to settle at Liverpool, but became an important part of the club’s success in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He returned to Everton in 1982.
John Toshack (27): 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, but once his foil departed, was no longer guaranteed a place. A superb header of the ball, he scored 96 goals in 246 league games for Liverpool before joining Swansea in 1978.
Ian Callaghan (34): 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 (28): 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 (20): Became known as “Supersub” for his habit of coming on as a substitute and scoring vital goals. After a bright start, Fairclough 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
|Callaghan, I||32+1||Johnson, D||19+7||McDermott, T||25+1|
|Case, J||24+3||Jones, J||39||Neal, P||42|
|Clemence, R||42||Keegan, K||38||Smith, T||16|
|Fairclough, D||12+8||Kennedy, R||41||Thompson, P||26|
|Heighway, S||39||Kettle, B||2||Toshack, J||22|
|Hughes, E||42||Lindsay, A||1|
Goalscorers: Keegan 12, Toshack 10, Heighway 8, Kennedy 7, Neal 7, Johnson 5, Fairclough 3, Jones 3, Thompson 2, Callaghan 1, Case 1, Hughes 1, McDermott 1, Own goal 1 Total: 62
Football League Results
|Aug 21||Norwich City||Home||W||1–0||Heighway||49,753|
|Aug 24||West Bromwich A||Away||W||1–0||Toshack||30,334|
|Aug 28||Birmingham City||Away||L||1–2||Johnson||33,228|
|Sept 4||Coventry City||Home||W||3–1||Keegan, Johnson, Toshack||40,371|
|Sept 11||Derby County||Away||W||3–2||Kennedy, Toshack, Keegan||28,833|
|Sept 18||Tottenham Hotspur||Home||W||2–0||Johnson, Heighway||47,421|
|Sept 25||Newcastle United||Away||L||0–1||33,204|
|Oct 16||Everton||Home||W||3–1||Heighway, Neal (pen), Toshack||55,141|
|Oct 23||Leeds United||Away||D||1–1||Kennedy||44,696|
|Oct 27||Leicester City||Away||W||1–0||Toshack||29,384|
|Oct 30||Aston Villa||Home||W||3–0||Callaghan, McDermott, Keegan||51,751|
|Nov 9||Leicester City||Home||W||5–1||Heighway, Toshack, Neal (pen), Jones, Keegan (pen)||39,851|
|Nov 27||Bristol City||Home||W||2–1||Keegan, Jones||44,323|
|Dec 4||Ipswich Town||Away||L||0–1||35,082|
|Dec 11||Queens Park R||Home||W||3–1||Toshack, Keegan, Kennedy||37,154|
|Dec 15||Aston Villa||Away||L||1–5||Kennedy||42,851|
|Dec 18||West Ham United||Away||L||0–2||24,175|
|Dec 27||Stoke City||Home||W||4–0||Thompson, Neal (pen), Keegan, Johnson||50,371|
|Dec 29||Manchester City||Away||D||1–1||Own goal||50,020|
|Jan 1||Sunderland||Home||W||2–0||Kennedy, Thompson||44,687|
|Jan 15||West Bromwich A||Home||D||1–1||Fairclough||39,195|
|Jan 22||Norwich City||Away||L||1–2||Neal (pen)||25,913|
|Feb 5||Birmingham City||Home||W||4–1||Neal (pen), Toshack 2, Heighway||41,072|
|Feb 16||Manchester United||Away||D||0–0||57,487|
|Feb 19||Derby County||Home||W||3–1||Toshack, Jones, Keegan||44,202|
|Mar 5||Newcastle United||Home||W||1–0||Heighway||45,553|
|Mar 9||Tottenham Hotspur||Away||L||0–1||32,098|
|Apr 2||Leeds United||Home||W||3–1||Neal (pen), Fairclough, Heighway||48,791|
|Apr 9||Manchester City||Home||W||2–1||Keegan, Heighway||55,283|
|Apr 11||Stoke City||Away||D||0–0||29,905|
|Apr 16||Arsenal||Home||W||2–0||Neal, Keegan||48,174|
|Apr 30||Ipswich Town||Home||W||2–1||Kennedy, Keegan||56,044|
|May 3||Manchester United||Home||W||1–0||Keegan||53,046|
|May 7||Queens Park R||Away||D||1–1||Case||29,382|
|May 10||Coventry City||Away||D||0–0||38,032|
|May 14||West Ham United||Home||D||0–0||55,675|
|May 16||Bristol City||Away||L||1–2||Johnson||38,688|
FA Cup: Finalists
Football League Cup: Round Two
European Cup: Winners
Average home attendance: 47,221