In a prolonged period that was dominated by Liverpool, the club’s 1978-79 campaign was exceptional even by their high standards. At the end of the season, Brian Clough, manager of reigning champions Nottingham Forest, told Liverpool: “You are a magnificent example to us all.”
European champions for the previous two seasons, Liverpool were stung by losing their league title in 1978. Their battles with Forest epitomised the era and when Clough’s team beat the European champions at the first hurdle of the competition, it seemed to represent the start of a new order. Manager Bob Paisley admitted that the defeat “almost broke our hearts” as they lost their two-year grip on the European Cup.
But in the league, Liverpool had started the season in irresistible form, winning their first six games and notching up a goal difference of 20-2. This burst of scintillating football was encapsulated in Liverpool’s 7-0 win against Tottenham on September 2.
Much of Liverpool’s drive came from a midfield that now included the firmly-embedded Graeme Souness, Terry McDermott, Ray Kennedy and Jimmy Case. Furthermore, the front line partnership of Kenny Dalglish – described by Paisley as “a dream of a player” – and David Johnson was in superb form for most of the season. They scored 37 league goals between them in 1978-79.
Liverpool lost only four league games all season, the first coming in the 12th fixture, the Merseyside derby at Everton, one of a number of clubs chasing the league leaders. If Liverpool had anything approaching a bad patch it was in November and December where they were held to draws by Leeds and Tottenham and beaten at Arsenal and Bristol City.
By the end of the year, Liverpool were top by one point, with Everton second and a resurgent West Bromwich Albion third. Footballer writers proclaimed that Liverpool were the best club side in the world.
From Boxing Day to April 16, Liverpool remained unbeaten, winning 10 and drawing three of their 13 games. At the same time, Paisley’s team was chasing the “double” but lost out in the semi-final of the FA Cup to Manchester United.
Back in the league, the unbeaten run ended in mid-April at Aston Villa. Uncharacteristically, Liverpool’s defence had an uncomfortable 90 minutes and conceded more than one goal for the only time during the entire league programme. Liverpool were still six points clear at the top of the table, however, and they soon regained their composure.
With three games to go, Liverpool were seven points ahead of West Bromwich Albion, who had a game in hand. Victory in their last home game against Aston Villa by 3-0 was enough to clinch the title. Liverpool had remained unbeaten at home and only Leeds and Everton had come away from Anfield with a point.
They finished with a 3-0 win at Leeds United playing the exciting brand of football that had kicked-off the season in August. They also established a records for the most points – 68 – and the fewest goals conceded – 16.
Even Paisley had to admit that this had been his best championship winning side.
Liverpool’s usual team was: Clemence; Neal, Hansen, Thompson, A.Kennedy, Hughes; R.Kennedy, Case, McDermott, Souness, Heighway; Dalglish, Johnson
Ray Clemence (30): Clemence received some criticism for his early season performances, but by the end of the 1978-79 season, he was Liverpool’s most consistent player. Manager Bob Paisley said he had enjoyed his best season with the club. Clemence continued to compete for the England goalkeeper’s jersey with Forest’s Peter Shilton.
Phil Neal (27): 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.
Alan Kennedy (23): Made his debut on the opening day of the season against Queens Park Rangers after being signed from Newcastle United in the summer of 1978. Has the distinction of scoring the winning goal in two European Cup finals – 1981 and 1984 (penalty shoot-out).
Alan Hansen (23): Signed from Patrick Thistle in 1977 for a £ 100,000 fee, Hansen established himself in the Liverpool defence in his second season at Anfield. Capped by Scotland, he made his international debut in May 1979.
Emlyn Hughes (30): Originally an inside-forward with Blackpool, Hughes was capped 62 times for England between 1969 and 1980. He captained both Liverpool and England. The 1978-79 season would be his last at Anfield before he joined Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Phil Thompson (24): Thompson was made Liverpool captain before the 1978-79 season and had an excellent season at the heart of the Reds’ defence. He made his England debut in March 1976 and won 42 England caps in his career.
Terry McDermott (26): A superb midfielder who took time to win a regular place in the Liverpool side after joining from Newcastle United in 1974, but really came into his own in 1978-79. A native of Liverpool, he started his career with Bury in the late 1960s before moving to the North-East in 1973. McDermott was capped by England 25 times, making his debut in 1977.
Jimmy Case (24): 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 (27): Signed from Arsenal for £ 190,000 on the day that Bill Shankly announced his retirement as Liverpool manager. Liverpool converted the tall striker to left-side midfield, where his powerful shooting and muscular physique were put to good effect. He won 17 caps for England in his new role.
Graeme Souness (25): Signed by Liverpool midway through the 1977-78 season from Middlesbrough for £350,000. Edinburgh-born Souness had started out with Tottenham, but failed to make the first-team breakthrough at White Hart Lane. A tough, skilful player who won 54 caps for Scotland. His Liverpool career ended in 1984 when he moved to Sampdoria in Italy for £ 650,000.
David Johnson (26): 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. In 1978-79, he formed a lethal partnership with Kenny Dalglish.
Steve Heighway (30): 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. Kenny Dalglish (27): Named Football Writers’ Association player Footballer of the Year in 1978-79, Dalglish had a superb second season in Liverpool colours. Already a prolific goalscorer when he was signed by Liverpool from Celtic in August 1977 for £ 440,000. He scored 31 goals in his first season and followed that up with 25 in 1978-79. He went on to make over 100 appearances for Scotland.
Football League Appearances
|Case, J||37||Heighway, S||26+2||Lee, S||1+1|
|Clemence, R||42||Hughes, E||16||McDermott, T||34+3|
|Dalglish, K||42||Johnson, D||26+4||Neal, P||42|
|Fairclough, D||3+1||Kennedy, A||37||Souness, G||41|
|Hansen, A||34||Kennedy, R||42||Thompson, P||39|
Goalscorers: Dalglish 21, Johnson 16, R.Kennedy 10, McDermott 8, Souness 8, Case 7, Neal 5, Heighway 4, A.Kennedy 3, Fairclough 2, Hansen 1 Total: 85
Football League Results
|Aug 19||Queens Park Rngrs||Home||W||2-1||Dalglish, Heighway||50,793|
|Aug 22||Ipswich Town||Away||W||3-0||Souness, Dalglish 2||28,114|
|Aug 26||Manchester City||Away||W||4-1||Souness 2, R.Kennedy, Dalglish||46,710|
|Sept 2||Tottenham Hotspur||Home||W||7-0||Dalglish 2, R.Kennedy, Johnson 2, Neal (pen), McDermott||50,705|
|Sept 9||Birmingham City||Away||W||3-0||Souness 2, A.Kennedy||31,740|
|Sept 16||Coventry City||Home||W||1-0||Souness||51,130|
|Sept 23||West Bromwich A||Away||D||1-1||Dalglish||33,834|
|Sept 30||Bolton Wanderers||Home||W||3-0||Case 3||47,099|
|Oct 7||Norwich City||Away||W||4-1||Heighway 2, Johnson, Case||25,632|
|Oct 14||Derby County||Home||W||5-0||Johnson, R.Kennedy 2, Dalglish 2||47,475|
|Oct 21||Chelsea||Home||W||2-0||Johnson, Dalglish||45,775|
|Nov 4||Leeds United||Home||D||1-1||McDermott (pen)||51,657|
|Nov 11||Queens Park Rngrs||Away||W||3-1||Heughway, R.Kennedy, Johnson||26,626|
|Nov 18||Manchester City||Home||W||1-0||Neal (pen)||47,765|
|Nov 22||Tottenham Hotspur||Away||D||0-0||–||50,393|
|Nov 25||Middlesbrough||Home||W||2-0||McDermott, Souness||39,812|
|Dec 9||Nottingham Forest||Home||W||2-0||McDermott (2-1pen)||51,469|
|Dec 16||Bristol City||Away||L||0-1||–||28,722|
|Dec 26||Manchester United||Away||W||3-0||R.Kennedy, Case, Fairclough||54,940|
|Feb 3||West Bromwich A||Home||W||2-1||Dalglish, Fairclough||52,211|
|Feb 13||Birmingham City||Home||W||1-0||Souness||35,207|
|Feb 21||Norwich City||Home||W||6-0||Dalglish 2, Johnson 2, A.Kennedy, R.Kennedy||35,754|
|Feb 24||Derby County||Away||W||2-0||Dalglish, R.Kennedy||27,859|
|Mar 6||Coventry City||Away||D||0-0||–||26,629|
|Mar 20||Wolverhampton W||Home||W||2-0||McDermott, Johnson||39,695|
|Mar 24||Ipswich Town||Home||W||2-0||Dalglish, Johnson||43,243|
|Apr 7||Arsenal||Home||W||3-0||Case, Dalglish, McDermott||47,297|
|Apr 10||Wolverhampton W||Away||W||1-0||Hansen||30,857|
|Apr 14||Manchester United||Home||W||2-0||Dalglish, Neal||46,608|
|Apr 16||Aston Villa||Away||L||1-3||Johnson||44,029|
|Apr 21||Bristol City||Home||W||1-0||Dalglish||43,191|
|Apr 28||Nottingham Forest||Away||D||0-0||–||41,898|
|May 1||Bolton Wanderers||Away||W||4-1||Johnson, R.Kennedy 2, Dalglish||35,200|
|May 5||Southampton||Home||W||2-0||Neal 2||46,687|
|May 8||Aston Villa||Home||W||3-0||A.Kennedy, Dalglish, McDermott||50,576|
|May 17||Leeds United||Away||W||3-0||Johnson 2, Case||41,324|
FA Cup: Semi-Finals
Football League Cup: Round Two
European Cup: Round One
Average home attendance: 46,500