Shankly’s last league title: Liverpool 1972-73

IN 1972,  Maurice Golesworthy published a book that celebrated the league champions from 1888-1972. Game of the People is taking up the story from where he left off.

After going close to winning the championship in 1971-72, finishing just one point behind champions Derby County, Liverpool clinched their eighth Football League title in April 1973.

It was a young Liverpool side that not only beat off the challenge of Arsenal and Leeds United in the championship race, but also won the UEFA Cup and reached the last eight of the Football League Cup.

This was a much-changed side from the team that followed Bill Shankly’s last championship side from 1965-66. Old hands like Peter Thompson, Ron Yeats, Tommy Lawrence, Roger Hunt and Ian St. John had moved on and youthful vigour had taken over. The catalyst for this change was, arguably, the arrival of Kevin Keegan in the 1971-72 season. His energy, charisma and goals built a new Liverpool. He made an immediate impact in his first season and justified Shankly’s hopes: “We are looking for the right blend and young Keegan could provide the balance we need…he’s quick, good in the air and has two good feet. We have tried everybody and we believe this is the right line-up.” And so it proved – Liverpool only needed to win their final game of 1971-72 at Arsenal to secure the title, but drew 0-0 in one of the tightest finales to a season.

Shankly strengthened his team in the summer, bringing in Peter Cormack from Nottingham Forest, but mostly, it was the same team that ended the previous campaign that kicked off against Manchester City at the start of 1972-73.

Liverpool won four of their first five games and topped the table. Then they lost twice in the Midlands, leading 2-0 against Leicester City at Filbert Street before capitulating and then coming unstuck at reigning champions Derby County, a game that saw Cormack make his debut. The new man scored in his next game against Wolves as Liverpool came from behind to win 4-2 at Anfield.

Liverpool hit the top of the table again after a 5-0 victory over Sheffield United and went into 1973 on the back of an eight-game unbeaten run. They had also successfully negotiated three rounds of the UEFA Cup and reached the Football League Cup quarter-finals.

The new year started inconsistently, however. Draws with Derby and Manchester City and defeats at Wolves and at home to Arsenal, along with FA Cup exit at Manchester City, threatened to halt Liverpool’s push for the championship. After losing 0-2 at home to Arsenal, Liverpool dropped to second, one point behind the London club but with a game in hand.

Five consecutive wins, including a 2-0 Merseyside derby win against Everton, thanks to two late Emlyn Hughes goals, restored Liverpool’s composure and they stayed top for the rest of the season.

There were some setbacks, however. A 1-1 draw with Tottenham at Anfield was a frustrating afternoon for Shankly’s side as goalkeeper Pat Jennings saved two penalties. And defeats at Birmingham City and Newcastle United suggested that Liverpool were getting run-in nerves. With two games to go, Liverpool were three points ahead of Arsenal who had played one game fewer. Liverpool hosted Leeds United and Arsenal travelled to Southampton. Leeds still had faint hopes of the title themselves, but goals from Cormack and Keegan gave Liverpool a 2-0 win. Down at the Dell, Arsenal were held 2-2 by Southampton – the title was heading back to Liverpool, who had opened up a four point lead at the top. Arsenal manager Bertie Mee admitted, “We need a miracle now.”

Shankly, typically, responded: “I think we can call ourselves champions now. I’m delighted for the players, for the club, and especially for the fans, who have again proved themselves the greatest in the worls.”

Liverpool had one more game remaining in the league and that was drawn 0-0 at home to Leicester. They finished with 60 points, three ahead of Arsenal.

Their line-up was also remarkably consistent. Liverpool used just 16 players, three playing all 42 games, three missing just one game, another four playing over 30.

There was more silverware for Liverpool less than a month later when they beat Borussia Moechengladbach in the UEFA Cup final 3-2 on aggregate. It was Liverpool’s first European prize and came after they had beaten the West German side 3-0 at home – thanks to a major contribution from John Toshack – and lost the second leg 0-2.

Liverpool’s core squad in 1972-73 was: Clemence, Lawler, Lawler, Thompson, Smith, Lloyd, Hughes, Keegan, Cormack, Hall, Toshack, Heighway, Callaghan and Boersma.

Ray Clemence (24): This dominant goalkeeper was capped by England for the first time in 1972-73 and 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.

Chris Lawler (28): An under-rated right back who scored over 40 league goals in 400-plus appearances for his home town club. Made his debut in 1960 and left some 15 years later for Portsmouth. He won three titles with Liverpool and was capped by England four times, scoring once.

Alex Lindsay (24): Left back who joined Liverpool in March 1970 from Bury for a £67,000 fee. A popular figure with the Spion Kop, Lindsay was capped by England for the first time in 1974 and won a total of four caps. He left Liverpool in 1977 to join Stoke City.

Larry Lloyd (23): Signed from Bristol Rovers in 1969 for £ 50,000. Lloyd was a powerful centre-half known for his tough, determined style. He was capped four times for England, but lost his way at Liverpool and was sold to Coventry in 1974. He later had considerable success with Nottingham Forest.

Emlyn Hughes (24): 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.

Phil Thompson (18): A defender who made his first team breakthrough in the latter stages of the 1972-73 season, the start of an illustrious career with his local club. Thompson captained the club and played 340 league games for Liverpool, winning 42 England caps on the way.

Tommy Smith (27): 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.

Kevin Keegan (21): The 1972-73 season was Keegan’s second with Liverpool. He 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 and was made captain in 1976. He left Liverpool in 1977 to join Hamburg, earning the club a £500,000 fee.

Peter Cormack (26): Signed by Liverpool from relegated Nottingham Forest in the summer of 1972 for £ 110,000. A hard-running, powerful midfielder, Cormack began his career with Hibernian in Scotland and moved to Forest in 1970. He played nine times for Scotland and after leaving Liverpool in 1976, joined Bristol City.

John Toshack (23): 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. A superb header of the ball, he scored 96 goals in 246 league games for Liverpool before joining Swansea in 1978.

Ian Callaghan (30): 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.

Brian Hall (25): A graduate in Mathematics, Hall joined Liverpool in 1968 but didn’t really establish himself until 1970-71. A hard-working midfielder, he stayed with Liverpool until 1976 when he moved to Plymouth Argyle.

Steve Heighway (24): 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.

Phil Boermsa (22): Boersma spent seven years trying to establish himself as a main striker at Liverpool and although he never quite succeeded, he was always a reliable deputy. He moved to Middlesbrough in 1975 and subsequently played for Luton Town and Swansea City.

*Ages as at start of season.

Football League Appearances

Boersma, P 19 Lane, F 1
Callaghan, I 42 Lawler, C 42
Clemence, R 41 Lindsay, A 37
Cormack, P 30 Lloyd, L 42
Hall, B 18+3 Smith, T 33
Heighway, S 38 Storton, T 4
Hughes, E 41 Thompson, P 14
Keegan, K 41 Toshack, J 22


Goalscorers: Keegan 13, Toshack 13, Cormack 8, Boersma 7, Hughes 7, Heighway 6, Lindsay 4, Callaghan 3, Lawler 3, Hall 2, Lloyd 2, Smith 2, Own goals 2. Total: 72

Pos   P W D L F A Pts
1 Liverpool 42 25 10 7 72 42 60
2 Arsenal 42 23 11 8 57 43 57
3 Leeds United 42 21 11 10 71 45 53

Football League Results

Aug 12 Manchester City Home W 2-0 Hall (3), Callaghan (84) 55,383
Aug 15 Manchester United Home W 2-0 Toshack (12), Heighway (20) 54,779
Aug 19 Crystal Palace Away D 1-1 Hughes (75) 30,054
Aug 23 Chelsea Away W 2-1 Toshack (3), Callaghan (13) 35,375
Aug 26 West Ham United Home W 3-2 Toshack (44), OG – Ferguson (62), Hughes (64) 50,491
Aug 30 Leicester City Away L 2-3 Toshack 2 (8, 16) 28,694
Sept 2 Derby County Away L 1-2 Toshack (16) 32,524
Sept 9 Wolverhampton Wanderers Home W 4-2 Hughes (28), Cormack (76), Smith (pen 80), Keegan (84) 43,386
Sept 16 Arsenal Away D 0-0 47,597
Sept 23 Sheffield United Home W 5-0 Boersma (28), Lindsay (31), Heighway (33), Cormack (51), Keegan (pen 54) 42,940
Sept 30 Leeds United Away W 2-1 Lloyd (40), Boersma (65) 46,468
Oct 7 Everton Home W 1-0 Cormack (77) 55,975
Oct 14 Southampton Away D 1-1 Lawler (40) 24,110
Oct 21 Stoke City Home W 2-1 Hughes (66), Callaghan (90) 45,604
Oct 28 Norwich City Away D 1-1 Cormack (18) 36,625
Nov 4 Chelsea Home W 3-1 Toshack 2 (33, 55), Keegan (50) 48,392
Nov 11 Manchester United Away L 0-2 53,944
Nov 18 Newcastle United Home W 3-2 Cormack (5), Lindsay (35), Toshack (48) 46,153
Nov 25 Tottenham Hotspur Away W 2-1 Heighway (28), Keegan (40) 45,399
Dec 2 Birmingham City Home W 4-3 Lindsay 2 (32, 55), Cormack (44), Toshack (77) 45,407
Dec 9 West Bromwich Albion Away D 1-1 Boersma (21) 27,213
Dec 16 Ipswich Town Away D 1-1 Heighway (24) 25,693
Dec 23 Coventry City Home W 2-0 Toshack 2 (6, 22) 41,550
Dec 26 Sheffield United Away W 3-0 Boersma (27), Lawler (50), Heighway (81) 34,040
Dec 30 Crystal Palace Home W 1-0 Cormack (66) 50,862
Jan 6 West Ham United Away W 1-0 Keegan (75) 34,480
Jan 20 Derby County Home D 1-1 Toshack (23) 45,996
Jan 27 Wolverhampton Wanderers Away L 1-2 Keegan (17) 32,957
Feb 10 Arsenal Home L 0-2 49,898
Feb 17 Manchester City Away D 1-1 Boersma (77) 40,528
Feb 24 Ipswich Town Home W 2-1 Heighway (67), Keegan (80) 43,875
Mar 3 Everton Away W 2-0 Hughes 2 (80, 88) 54,269
Mar 10 Southampton Home W 3-2 Lloyd (37), Keegan 2 (38, 87) 41,674
Mar 17 Stoke City Away W 1-0 OG – Mahoney (65) 33,540
Mar 24 Norwich City Home W 3-1 Lawler (50), Hughes (55), Hall (88) 42,995
Mar 31 Tottenham Hotspur Home D 1-1 Keegan (70) 48,477
Apr 7 Birmingham City Away L 1-2 Smith 48,114
Apr 14 West Bromwich Albion Home W 1-0 Keegan (pen 14) 43,853
Apr 17 Coventry City Away W 2-1 Boersma 2 (36, 60) 27,280
Apr 21 Newcastle United Away L 1-2 Keegan (24) 37,240
Apr 23 Leeds United Home W 2-0 Cormack (47), Keegan (85) 55,738
Apr 28 Leicester City Home D 0-0 56,202

FA Cup: Round Four
Football League Cup: Quarter Final
UEFA Cup: Winners
Average home attendance: 48,127

Photo: PA Images/Peter Robinson

One thought on “Shankly’s last league title: Liverpool 1972-73

  1. This is a great series concept and I look forward to the review of the other league champions since 1972. Keep up the good work!

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