Teams

We are the Champions: 1987-88 – Liverpool

LIVERPOOL  returned to the top of the first division two years after their double-winning performance of 1985-86. It was a reshaped Liverpool team that was crowned champions, playing a brand of football that led many pundits to declare them as one of British football’s best-ever sides.

Liverpool spent heavily in building this team, signing England internationals John Barnes (£ 900,000 from Watford) and Peter Beardsley (£ 1.9 million from Newcastle United) along with Irish midfielder Ray Houghton of Oxford United (£ 825,000). This somewhat unprecedented spending spree, added to Liverpool’s signing of John Aldridge in 1986-87, made Kenny Dalglish’s team one of the most expensive ever to take the field in the Football League.

In Aldridge, Liverpool found a replacement for Ian Rush, who had left for Juventus in the summer of 1987. The link-up between Aldridge, Barnes and Beardsley created a irresistible attacking force that was both entertaining and ruthless.

Liverpool’s Peter Beardsley takes on two Chelsea players, December 1987. Photo: PA

Liverpool kicked-off their league campaign with three away games, which meant the Anfield crowd did not get their first glimpse of the new-look team until September 12. By the end of October, Liverpool had demonstrated their goalscoring potential by netting four goals in four consecutive games, with Aldridge, who had struggled to convince people he was the ideal player to fill Rush’s role, scoring in the Reds’ first nine league fixtures.

Liverpool went into 1988 still unbeaten and on top of the table, 10 points clear of second-placed Nottingham Forest. They had scored 51 goals in their first 21 games and had conceded just 11.

They equalled Leeds United’s 29-game unbeaten record, set in 1974, but were finally beaten on March 20, their 30thgame. Ironically, that 1-0 defeat came at neighbours and reigning champions Everton, but Liverpool were well on course for the title, as they had a 14-point advantage over Manchester United and had played two games less.

The teams chasing Liverpool were encouraged by another defeat at the start of April at the hands of Nottingham Forest, but it was a forlorn hope that Dalglish’s men were slipping, despite being held at home by nearest challengers Manchester United two days after losing at Forest.

But when Forest visited Anfield on April 13, they put on a display that left the media purring with delight. A 5-0 victory was proclaimed by some as “one of the best team performances ever seen in Britain”. The Times reported that the game had been “an occasion that provoked myriad superlatives”.

Liverpool were not yet champions, but a goalless draw at Norwich’s Carrow Road all but confirmed the title. On April 23, they secured the top prize with a relatively low-key 1-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur, thanks to a goal from Beardsley.

They drew three of their last four games, the team conserving energy for the FA Cup final and the prospect of a second “double” in three years. They were firm favourites to beat Wimbledon at Wembley but lost 1-0 in one of the competition’s greatest shock results. Liverpool’s defeat punctured the theory that this team was invincible, despite just two league defeats and a final margin at the top of the table of nine points. And although there were claims the team would get even better with time, this was arguably the last great Liverpool side of what had been an all-conquering period.

Liverpool’s regular team comprised: Bruce Grobbelaar, Gary Gillespie, Gary Ablett, Barry Venison, Steve Nicol, Alan Hansen, Peter Beardsley, Ray Houghton, Steve McMahon, Craig Johnston, Nigel Spackman, Ronnie Whelan, John Aldridge, John Barnes.

Bruce Grobbelaar (30): 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.
Alan Hansen (32): 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 Liverpool’s club captain in 1987-88, a season in which he was named in the PFA team of the year.
Gary Ablett (22): Local player who joined Liverpool as a youngster and went on to also play for Everton, whom he joined in 1992. An England under-21 international, he died at the age of just 46 in 2012.
Barry Venison (23): Defender who joined Liverpool in 1986 from Sunderland, costing the club £ 200,000. A steady and reliable player, he struggled to secure a regular place at Anfield and moved to Newcastle United in 1992. He later won two England caps.
Gary Gillespie (27): Scottish defender who was Liverpool manager Joe Fagan’s first signing in July 1983, costing £325,000 from Coventry City. Took time to settle at Liverpool, but in eight years made 156 league appearances. In 1987-88 he was named in the PFA XI. Went on to win 13 caps for Scotland and left the club in 1991 for Celtic.
Peter Beardsley (27): Highly talented midfielder or forward who won 59 England caps, playing in the 1986 and 1990 World Cups. Started his career with Carlisle United and had a brief an unproductive spell with Manchester United before flourishing at Newcastle United. Moved to Liverpool in 1987 for a record fee of £ 1.9 million. His outstanding performances in 1987-88 saw him named in the PFA team of the season. Spent four seasons at Anfield, playing 175 games and scoring 61 goals. Joined Everton in 1991.
Ronnie Whelan (26): 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.
Nigel Spackman (27): Midfielder who arrived at Liverpool from Chelsea during the 1986-87 season and had a brief career at Anfield, joining QPR in 1989. He subsequently played for Rangers, Chelsea again and Sheffield United.
Ray Houghton (26): Glasgow-born Republic of Ireland international (73 caps) who was secured from Oxford United in the summer of 1987, costing £ 825,000. A foraging and intelligent midfielder, Houghton could also score spectacular goals for club and country.
Steve Nicol (26): Joined Liverpool in 1981 from Ayr United for £ 300,000. A versatile and dependable player who could play in defence or midfield, he took time to establish himself at Anfield but went on to make 343 Football League appearances. Capped by Scotland 27 times.
Craig Johnston (26): 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.
Steve McMahon (26): Signed by Liverpool in September 1985 from Aston Villa for £ 350,000. Started his career with Everton but joined Villa in 1983. A combative player, he played a key role in Liverpool’s “double” season of 1985-86 and was also in impressive form in 1987-88 when he was named in the PFA XI for the campaign. Left the club in 1991 for Manchester City, by which time, he had won 17 caps for England.
John Aldridge (29): Prolific goalscorer who made his name at Newport County and oxford before joining Liverpool midway through the 1986-87 season for £ 750,000. Although born in Liverpool, he was a Republic of Ireland international, winning 69 caps and scoring 29 goals. Throughout his career, he was an excellent goalscorer, netting over 400 goals and his total in English football of 382 is one of the highest in the history of the game. In 1987-88, he scored 29 in all competitions for Liverpool.
John Barnes (24): One of the outstanding young players of his generation, Barnes joined Liverpool in the summer of 1987 from Watford for a fee of £ 900,000. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, he was capped by England 79 times between 1983 and 1995, rising to prominence on the international stage after an individual goal for England against Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. He was named PFA and FWA Footballer of the Year in 1988.

Football League Appearances

Ablett, G 15+2 Hooper, M 2 Spackman, N 19+8
Aldridge, J 15+2 Houghton, R 26+2 Venison, B 18
Barnes, J 38 Johnston, C 18+12 Walsh, P 7+1
Beardsley, P 36+2 Lawrenson, M 10+4 Wark, J 0+1
Dalglish, K 0+2 MacDonald, K 0+1 Watson, A 2
Gillespie, G 35 McMahon, S 40 Whelan, R 26+2
Grobbelaar, B 38 Mølby, J 1+6
Hansen, A 39 Nicol, S 40

Goalscorers: Aldridge 26, Beardsley 15, Barnes 15, McMahon 9, Nicol 6, Houghton 5, Johnston 5, Gillespie 4, Hansen 1, Whelan 1 Total: 87

Football League Results

Aug 15
Arsenal
Away
W
2-1
Aldridge, Nicol
54,703
Aug 29
Coventry City
Away
W
4-1
Nicol 2, Aldridge (pen), Beardsley
27,637
Sept 5
West Ham United
Away
D
1-1
Aldridge
29,865
Sept 12
Oxford United
Home
W
2-0
Aldridge, Barnes
42,266
Sept 15
Charlton Athletic
Home
W
3-2
Aldridge (pen), Hansen, McMahon
36,637
Sept 20
Newcastle United
Away
W
4-1
Nicol 3, Aldridge
24,141
Sept 29
Derby County
Home
W
4-0
Aldridge 3 (2 pens), Beardsley
43,405
Oct 3
Portsmouth
Home
W
4-0
Beardsley, McMahon, Aldridge (pen), Whelan
44,366
Oct 17
Queens Park Rangers
Home
W
4-0
Johnston, Aldridge (pen), Barnes 2
43,735
Oct 24
Luton Town
Away
W
1-0
Gillespie
12,452
Nov 1
Everton
Home
W
2-0
McMahon, Beardsley
44,760
Nov 4
Wimbledon
Away
D
1-1
Houghton
13,544
Nov 15
Manchester United
Away
D
1-1
Aldridge
47,106
Nov 21
Norwich City
Home
D
0-0
37,446
Nov 24
Watford
Home
W
4-0
McMahon, Houghton, Aldridge, Barnes
32,396
Nov 28
Tottenham Hotspur
Away
W
2-0
McMahon, Johnston
48,247
Dec 6
Chelsea
Home
W
2-1
Aldridge (pen), McMahon
31,211
Dec 12
Southampton
Away
D
2-2
Barnes 2
19,507
Dec 19
Sheffield Wednesday
Home
W
1-0
Gillespie
35,383
Dec 26
Oxford United
Away
W
3-0
Aldridge, Barnes, McMahon
13,680
Dec 28
Newcastle United
Home
W
4-0
McMahon, Aldridge 2 (1 pen), Houghton
44,637
Jan 1
Coventry City
Home
W
4-0
Beardsley 2, Aldridge, Houghton
38,790
Jan 16
Arsenal
Home
W
2-0
Aldridge, Beardsley
44,294
Jan 23
Charlton Athletic
Away
W
2-0
Beardsley, Barnes
28,095
Feb 6
West Ham United
Home
D
0-0
42,049
Feb 13
Watford
Away
W
4-1
Beardsley 2, Aldridge, Barnes
23,838
Feb 27
Portsmouth
Away
W
2-0
Barnes 2
28,117
Mar 5
Queens Park Rangers
Away
W
1-0
Barnes
23,171
Mar 16
Derby County
Away
D
1-1
Johnston
26,356
Mar 20
Everton
Away
L
0-1
44,162
Mar 26
Wimbledon
Home
W
2-1
Aldridge, Barnes
36,464
Apr 2
Nottingham Forest
Away
L
1-2
Aldridge (pen)
29,188
Apr 4
Manchester United
Home
D
3-3
Beardsley, Gillespie, McMahon
43,497
Apr 13
Nottingham Forest
Home
W
5-0
Houghton, Aldridge 2, Beardsley, Gillespie
39,535
Apr 20
Norwich City
Away
D
0-0
22,509
Apr 23
Tottenham Hotspur
Home
W
1-0
Beardsley
44,798
Apr 30
Chelsea
Away
D
1-1
Barnes
35,625
May 2
Southampton
Home
D
1-1
Aldridge
37,610
May 7
Sheffield Wednesday
Away
W
5-1
Johnston 2, Barnes, Beardsley 2
35,893
May 9
Luton Town
Home
D
1-1
Aldridge
30,374
FA Cup: Finalists
Football League Cup: Round Three
Average home attendance: 39,683
Pos   P W D L F A Pts
1 Liverpool 40 26 12 2 87 24 90
2 Manchester U 40 23 12 7 71 38 81
3 Nottingham F 40 20 13 7 67 39 73

 

Photos: PA 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.