Although Manchester United ran Liverpool close in the final reckoning, the team that had been all-conquering in 1978-79 retained the Football League Championship in familiar style.
It was almost the same Liverpool line-up, with a solid defence, a tough and energetic midfield and the front-line pairing that had been so successful in the previous season. Only one major signing arrived at Anfield during the summer of 1979, St. Mirren striker Frank McGarvey, who failed to make an impact in his debut season. It was to Manchester United’s credit that they finished just two points behind Bob Paisley’s team.
Liverpool started the season in lack-lustre fashion by their own high standards, partly due to injuries. They won just two of their first seven games, surprisingly dropping home points against Bolton and Norwich and losing at Southampton and Nottingham Forest. Coupled with an early exit in the European Cup, losing in round one to Dynamo Tbilisi, Liverpool’s rivals were hoping that the champions were in decline.
It was a forlorn hope, for from October 6, they embarked on a 16-game unbeaten run. This sequence of results coincided with a purple patch of goalscoring from Kenny Dalglish, who reignited his successful partnership with David Johnson.
As 1979 drew to a close, Liverpool had recovered from their early season malaise and after beating Aston Villa on December 8, went top of the table for the first time. They were level on points with Manchester United, but Dave Sexton’s team had played one more game. When the two sides met on Boxing Day, both teams had 30 points, six ahead of third placed Arsenal.
Liverpool won 2-0 at Anfield in a very one-sided game, thanks to goals from Alan Hansen and David Johnson. The overwhelming conclusion was that Liverpool were a far better bet than United for the title. A few days later, Liverpool ended the year on top of the table after beating West Bromwich Albion. It was now, quite literally, “business as usual”.
Into the New Year, Liverpool were chasing all three major domestic honours, losing in the semi-final of the Football League to Nottingham Forest and also working their way through to the last four of the FA Cup. There they met Arsenal, a tie that lasted four games and resulted in a 0-1 defeat at Coventry’s Highfield Road. It was an exhausting saga that would have affected the staying power of many teams.
In the league, however, Liverpool remained focused and by the end of March, they were four points clear of Manchester United. On April 5, United beat the leaders 2-1 at Old Trafford, but Liverpool were still four in front. Two weeks later, the margin was just one point, although United had played one game more. Liverpool had two games remaining and were favourites to lift the title.
As Liverpool stuttered with a couple of draws, United drew level on points, although the Reds still had a game in hand.
United slipped up in their last league game, 0-2 at Leeds United while Liverpool won 4-1 against Aston Villa in their penultimate fixture to clinch the title by two points. Liverpool’s players felt a small degree of anti-climax as the previous campaign had seen them hit the heights, but Bob Paisley said that he had never seen a Liverpool side play better than in the run of results the team produced in mid-season.
Liverpool’s usual team was: Clemence; Neal, Hansen, Thompson, A.Kennedy; R.Kennedy, Case, McDermott, Souness; Dalglish, Johnson
Ray Clemence (31): Clemence continued to compete for the England goalkeeper’s jersey with Forest’s Peter Shilton, but played two of England’s three games in Euro 1980. In 1979-80, he enjoyed another consistent season with Liverpool.
Phil Neal (28): 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 including the 1980 European Championship. A specialist penalty taker, he scored 41 league goals for the Reds in a career that spanned 455 games.
Alan Kennedy (24): Left back 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 (24): Signed from Patrick Thistle in 1977 for a £ 100,000 fee, Hansen established himself in the Liverpool defence in his second season at Anfield and after Emlyn Hughes was no longer first choice. In 1979-80, he lost his place in the Scotland side, but went on to win 26 caps for his country.
Phil Thompson (25): Thompson was made Liverpool captain before the 1978-79 season. He made his England debut in March 1976 and won 42 England caps in his career, playing in all three of England’s 1980 European Championship games in Italy.
Terry McDermott (27): 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. McDermott was capped by England 25 times, making his debut in 1977. In 1979-80, he was named PFA Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year.
Jimmy Case (25): 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. The 1979-80 season was Case’s last as a first team regular and in 1981 he left to join Brighton and subsequently played for Southampton.
Ray Kennedy (28): 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 and played for his country in Euro 1980.
Graeme Souness (26): 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. In 1979-80, he enjoyed an outstanding season, controlling Liverpool’s midfield. 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 (27): 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 was a member of the England Euro 1980 squad.
Kenny Dalglish (28): The 1979-80 season was Dalglish’s least productive since he arrived from Celtic in August 1977, although he still scored 22 goals in 59 league and cup games. His partnership with David Johnson continued from the previous season and between them they netted 37 of Liverpool’s 81 league goals.
Football League Appearances
|Case, J||37||Heighway, S||2+7||McDermott, T||37|
|Clemence, R||41||Irwin, C||7+1||Neal, P||42|
|Cohen, A||3+1||Johnson, D||37||Ogrizovic, S||1|
|Dalglish, K||42||Kennedy, A||37||Souness, G||41|
|Fairclough, D||9+5||Kennedy, R||40||Thompson, P||42|
|Hansen, A||38||Lee, S||6+1|
Goalscorers: Johnson 21, Dalglish 16, McDermott 11, R.Kennedy 9, Own goals 6, Fairclough 5, Hansen 4, Case 3, Irwin 2, Cohen 1, A.Kennedy 1, Neal 1, Souness 1 Total: 81
Football League Results
|Aug 21||Bolton Wanderers||Home||D||0-0||–||45,900|
|Aug 25||West Bromwich A||Home||W||3-1||Johnson 2, McDermott||48,021|
|Sept 1||Southampton||Away||L||2-3||Johnson, Irwin||21,402|
|Sept 8||Coventry City||Home||W||4-0||Johnson 2, Case, Dalglish||39,926|
|Sept 15||Leeds United||Away||D||1-1||McDermott||39,779|
|Sept 22||Norwich City||Home||D||0-0||–||44,120|
|Sept 29||Nottingham Forest||Away||L||0-1||–||28,262|
|Oct 6||Bristol City||Home||W||4-0||Johnson, Dalglish, R.Kennedy, McDermott||38,213|
|Oct 9||Bolton Wanderers||Away||D||1-1||Dalglish||25,571|
|Oct 13||Ipswich Town||Away||W||2-1||Own Goal, Johnson||47,475|
|Oct 20||Everton||Home||D||2-2||Own Goal, R.Kennedy||52,201|
|Oct 27||Manchester City||Away||W||4-0||Johnson, Dalglish 2, R.Kennedy||48,128|
|Nov 3||Wolverhampton W||Home||W||3-0||Dalglish 2, R.Kennedy||49,541|
|Nov 10||Brighton & Hove A||Away||W||4-1||R.Kennedy, Dalglish 2, Johnson||29,682|
|Nov 17||Tottenham Hotspur||Home||W||2-1||McDermott 2||47,765|
|Dec 1||Middlesbrough||Home||W||4-0||McDermott, Hansen, Johnson, R.Kennedy||39,885|
|Dec 8||Aston Villa||Away||W||3-1||R.Kennedy, Hansen, McDermott||41,160|
|Dec 15||Crystal Palace||Home||W||3-0||Case, Dalglish, McDermott||42,898|
|Dec 22||Derby County||Away||W||3-1||Own Goal, McDermott (pen), Johnson||24,945|
|Dec 26||Manchester United||Home||W||2-0||Hansen, Johnson||51,073|
|Dec 29||West Bromwich A||Away||W||2-0||Johnson 2||34,915|
|Jan 12||Southampton||Home||D||1-1||McDermott (pen)||44,655|
|Jan 19||Coventry City||Away||L||0-1||–||31,578|
|Feb 9||Norwich City||Away||W||5-3||Fairclough 3, Dalglish, Case||25,624|
|Feb 19||Nottingham Forest||Home||W||2-0||McDermott, R.Kennedy||45,093|
|Feb 23||Ipswich Town||Away||D||1-1||Fairclough||47,566|
|Feb 26||Wolverhampton W||Away||L||0-1||–||36,693|
|Mar 1||Everton||Away||W||2-1||Johnson, Neal (pen)||53,013|
|Mar 11||Manchester City||Home||W||2-0||Own Goal, Souness||40,443|
|Mar 15||Bristol City||Away||W||3-1||R.Kennedy, Dalglish 2||27,187|
|Mar 19||Leeds United||Home||W||3-0||Johnson 2, A.Kennedy||37,008|
|Mar 22||Brighton & Hove A||Home||W||1-0||Hansen||42,747|
|Mar 29||Tottenham Hotspur||Away||L||0-2||–||32,114|
|Apr 1||Stoke City||Home||W||1-0||Dalglish||36,415|
|Apr 5||Manchester United||Away||L||1-2||Dalglish||57,342|
|Apr 8||Derby County||Home||W||3-0||Irwin, Johnson, Own Goal||40,932|
|Apr 23||Stoke City||Away||W||2-0||Johnson, Fairclough||32,000|
|Apr 26||Crystal Palace||Home||D||0-0||–||45,583|
|May 3||Aston Villa||Home||W||4-1||Johnson 2, Cohen, Own Goal||51,541|
FA Cup: Semi-finals
Football League Cup: Semi-finals
European Cup: Round One
Average home attendance:44,578