AFTER FINISHING fifth in 1980-81, Liverpool – despite being crowned European champions at the end of the campaign – were in something of a transitional period. That was certainly underlined in the autumn of 1981 as the Reds struggled to rebuild their team and found themselves languishing in the unfamiliar territory of mid-table. But a cluster of younger players, gradually introduced by manager Bob Paisley, settled down in the second half of the season to give Liverpool their 13th Football League championship.
Liverpool made two important signings towards the end of 1980-81 in goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar and midfielder Craig Johnston from Vancouver Whitecaps and Middlesbrough respectively. In the summer of 1981, Paisley secured the services of Mark Lawrenson, a tall central defender from Brighton & Hove Albion. Familiar names like Ray Clemence and Jimmy Case departed Anfield and by the turn of the year, another favourite, Ray Kennedy, had also left the club.
Liverpool started the season in lack-lustre fashion, losing at Wolverhampton Wanderers and winning just two of their first eight games. At the end of September, the club mourned the passing of former manager Bill Shankly, but on that same day, Ian Rush, a gangly 20 year-old forward scored his first goal for Liverpool in a 7-0 European Cup victory against Finland’s Oulu Pallosuera.
Rush soon became a fixture in the team and by the end of the season, had netted 30 goals.
It was not until the New Year that Liverpool started to find the consistency that was their hallmark. On Boxing Day 1981, they were beaten 3-1 at home by a very average Manchester City team, with Grobbelaar, in particular, having a disastrous afternoon. Paisley showed great faith in the Zimbabwean international but took the club captaincy off defender Phil Thompson, appointing Graeme Souness in his place.
Liverpool began an impressive run that started with a 4-0 victory against Swansea City in the FA Cup. Aside from a surprise defeat in that competition at second division Chelsea and a European Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of Bulgaria’s CSKA Sofia, Liverpool ran into outstanding form.
By the start of February 1982, five successive victories had lifted Liverpool from 12th place on Boxing Day to the top three, four points behind leaders Southampton. They lost only two league games from December 26, a 0-2 setback at Swansea in mid-February and a shock 0-1 home defeat against Brighton on March 6.
After losing to Brighton, Liverpool went 16 games unbeaten to the end of the programme, including 11 consecutive victories. On April 2, a 1-0 win at home to Notts County, clinched by a Kenny Dalglish goal, sent Liverpool to the top of the table for the first time.
The following week saw them consolidate their position with two wins in Manchester, beating United 1-0 and City 5-0. Liverpool, who had received an additional boost by the form of the precocious Craig Johnston and Irishman Ronnie Whelan, both of whom had started to make their mark in the team, were now five points clear at the top of the league.
On May 15, Liverpool beat Tottenham 3-1 to clinch the title. The London side had been one of the contenders earlier in the season and went very close to beating Liverpool in the Football League Cup final at Wembley, eventually losing 3-1. Paisley admitted that his team had needed fresh impetus and that the younger players, Rush, Johnston, Whelan, Grobbelaar and Lawrenson had taken their time to find their feet, but they had given Liverpool a new, exciting look.
The Liverpool manager may have seen the 1981-82 title as “the hardest to win”, but it also laid the foundation for further success over the coming years. The transition between the Liverpool team of the late 1970s to the early 1980s proved to be almost seamless.
The Liverpool team of 1981-82 was: Grobbelaar; Neal, Lawrenson, Hansen, Thompson, A.Kennedy; Souness, Lee, McDermott, Whelan, Johnston; Dalglish, Rush.
Bruce Grobbelaar (24): Joined Liverpool in March 1981 from Vancouver Whitecaps, costing the club £ 250,000. A flamboyant goalkeeper, occasionally prone to bizarre mistakes, he became something of a folk hero at Liverpool. Born in Durban, South Africa, he was a Zimbabwean international.
Phil Neal (31): One of the most decorated players in English football history, winning 50 England caps and countless honours with Liverpool. Cost the club just £ 66,000 when he joined from Northampton Town in 1974.
Alan Kennedy (27): Surprisingly only won two England caps in his career, but could console himself with the fact that he scored two European Cup-winning goals, in 1981 and 1984. Joined Liverpool from Newcastle in 1978 solving the club’s “left back problem”. A fine attacking full back.
Phil Thompson (28): A local lad who realised a boyhood dream in becoming Liverpool captain in 1979. A consistent central defender, he won 42 caps for England. Relieved of the captaincy in 1981-82, a season that started to see his position at the heart of the Liverpool defence challenged.
Alan Hansen (26): 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 proved to be an excellent reader of the game. He won 26 caps for Scotland and was later named Liverpool’s club captain.
Mark Lawrenson (24): Joined Liverpool in August 1981 from Brighton for a £900,000 fee. Played for Preston North End earlier in his career and won 39 caps for the Republic of Ireland. A tough tackler, he was also a very skilful and fast defender.
Ronnie Whelan (20): A hard-working and consistent midfield player who was signed from Irish club Home Farm in 1979 for £ 35,000. Dublin-born, Whelan was being courted for some time by a number of English clubs, including Manchester United. He developed a reputation for being the man for the big occasion and won 53 caps for Ireland in his long career.
Graeme Souness (28): 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 1981-82, he was named Liverpool’s captain. 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.
Sammy Lee (23): Strong-running stocky young midfielder who became a popular figure with the Kop at Liverpool. A local lad, he made his debut for Liverpool in 1977-78, but had to wait until 1980-81 to become a regular first team player. Won 14 England caps.
Terry McDermott (30): 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. The 1981-82 season was to be his last as a regular in Liverpool’s midfield and at the start of 1982-83, he moved back to Newcastle.
Craig Johnston (21): South African-born Australian who joined Liverpool from Middlesbrough in March 1981 for £ 650,000. A busy, skilful midfielder who had an eye for goal. He was capped at under-21 level by England.
Kenny Dalglish (31): Suffered a goal drought in the early months of 1981-82, but by the end of the campaign, had started a fruitful partnership with new boy Ian Rush. Dalglish arrived from Celtic in August 1977 and became one of the club’s most popular and celebrated players, winning over 100 caps for Scotland and becoming player-manager in 1985, leading Liverpool to the coveted “double”.
Ian Rush (20): Arrived at Anfield from Chester in March 1980, costing Liverpool £300,000. Became one of the most prolific goalscorers in the history of the game and in two spells with Liverpool, netted 346 goals for the club. In 1981-82, he scored 30 goals across all competitions as he made the breakthrough into the first team.
Football League Appearances
|Dalglish, K||42||Kennedy, R||15||Sheedy, K||0+2|
|Grobbelaar, B||42||Lawrenson, M||39||Souness, G||34+1|
|Hansen, A||35||Lee, S||35||Thompson, P||34|
|Johnson, D||10+5||McDermott, T||28+1||Whelan, R||31+1|
|Johnston, C||13+5||Neal, P||42|
|Kennedy, A||32+2||Rush, I||32|
Goalscorers: Rush 17, McDermott 14, Dalglish 13, Whelan 10, Johnston 6, Souness 5, A.Kennedy 3, Lee 3, Johnson 2, R.Kennedy 2, Lawrenson 2, Neal 2, Own goals 1 Total: 80
Football League Results
|Aug 29||Wolverhampton W||Away||L||0-1||–||28,001|
|Sept 1||Middlesbrough||Home||D||1-1||Neal (pen)||31,963|
|Sept 5||Arsenal||Home||W||2-0||McDermott, Johnson||35,269|
|Sept 12||Ipswich Town||Away||L||0-2||–||26,703|
|Sept 19||Aston Villa||Home||D||0-0||–||37,474|
|Sept 22||Coventry City||Away||W||2-1||A.Kennedy, McDermott (pen)||16,731|
|Sept 26||West Ham United||Away||D||1-1||Johnson||30,802|
|Oct 3||Swansea City||Home||D||2-2||McDermott 2 (pens)||48,645|
|Oct 10||Leeds United||Home||W||3-0||Rush 2, Own goal||35,840|
|Oct 17||Brighton & Hove A||Away||D||3-3||Dalglish, R.Kennedy, McDermott||26,321|
|Oct 24||Manchester United||Home||L||1-2||McDermott (pen)||41,438|
|Oct 31||Sunderland||Away||W||2-0||Souness, McDermott||27,854|
|Nov 7||Everton||Home||W||3-1||Dalglish 2, Rush||48,861|
|Nov 21||West Bromwich A||Away||D||1-1||Dalglish||20,871|
|Dec 5||Nottingham Forest||Away||W||2-0||Lawrenson, R.Kennedy||24,521|
|Dec 26||Manchester City||Home||L||1-3||Whelan||37,929|
|Jan 5||West Ham United||Home||W||3-0||McDermott, Whelan, Dalglish||28,427|
|Jan 16||Wolverhampton W`||Home||W||2-1||Whelan, Dalglish||26,438|
|Jan 26||Notts County||Away||W||4-0||Whelan, Rush 3||14,407|
|Jan 30||Aston Villa||Away||W||3-0||Rush, McDermott 2||35,947|
|Feb 6||Ipswich Town||Home||W||4-0||McDermott, Rush, Dalglish, Whelan||41,316|
|Feb 16||Swansea City||Away||L||0-2||–||22,604|
|Feb 20||Coventry City||Home||W||4-0||Souness, Lee, Rush, McDermott (pen)||28,286|
|Feb 27||Leeds United||Away||W||2-0||Souness, Rush||33,689|
|Mar 6||Brighton & Hove A||Home||L||0-1||–||28,574|
|Mar 9||Stoke City||Away||W||5-1||McDermott, Dalglish, Souness, Lee, Whelan||16,758|
|Mar 27||Everton||Away||W||3-1||Whelan, Souness, Johnston||51,847|
|Mar 30||Birmingham City||Home||W||3-1||Rush 2, McDermott||24,224|
|Apr 2||Notts County||Home||W||1-0||Dalglish||30,126|
|Apr 7||Manchester United||Away||W||1-0||Johnston||50,969|
|Apr 10||Manchester City||Away||W||5-0||Lee, Neal (pen), Johnston, A.Kennedy, Rush||42,182|
|Apr 13||Stoke City||Home||W||2-0||A.Kennedy, Johnston||30,419|
|Apr 17||West Bromwich A||Home||W||1-0||Dalglish||34,286|
|Apr 24||Southampton||Away||W||3-2||Rush, Whelan 2||24,704|
|May 1||Nottingham Forest||Home||W||2-0||Johnston 2||34,221|
|May 3||Tottenham Hotspur||Away||D||2-2||Dalglish 2||38,091|
|May 8||Birmingham City||Away||W||1-0||Rush||26,381|
|May 15||Tottenham Hotspur||Home||W||3-1||Lawrenson, Dalglish, Whelan||48,122|
FA Cup: Round Five
Football League Cup: Winners
European Cup: Quarter-Finals
Average home attendance: 35,061