Liverpool’s Toshack and Keegan – big man, little man

FOOTBALL is a universal currency. The first world war demonstrated just that when troops climbed out of the trenches to kick the ball around on Christmas Day. Germans and Englishmen have always debated the great game, usually centred on 1966 and the infamous “over the line, or not” argument.

In 1978, on holiday in Spain, a group of teenagers bumped into a bunch of Germans, most of whom could not speak English. Being Brits ourselves, we could not speak any German apart from words learned from comics: “Himmel”, “Achtung” and “Ja!” and that was about it. But we knew all about Borrusia Moenchengladbach and Bayern Munich. We admired Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller and Günter Netzer. And our friends from Westphalia were familiar with Liverpool, the European Champions. They especially liked a tall Welshman – John Toshack.

“TOSHACK!”, they shouted and mimed a thumping header. They remembered him, the imposing and very effective John Toshack….and his partner Kevin Keegan, who by now was plying his trade in Germany. We came across this happy and beer-swilling gang of Germans for several days and each time, our burly friend with the beard would shout at us, “TOSHACK” and score another imaginary goal with his head. This chap was forever known as Toshack, and he probably called us by the same name in return.

John Toshack, Liverpool

John Toshack and Kevin Keegan formed a compelling partnership in the early 1970s that was hard to beat. The inimitable, and much imitated, mix of big tall guy and small, buzz-around short-arse striker. At its peak, the partnership between Toshack and Keegan was very successful.

Ask many Liverpool fans which player has been the most influential over the years at Anfield and a fair percentage will say Kevin Keegan. While Kenny Dalglish had the skill and longevity, Keegan had the personality to spark change at Liverpool. Dalglish was the better, more accomplished player, without doubt, but Keegan had something that the taciturn Scot never possessed: enormous charisma.

By 1971, Liverpool were out of their 60s golden period of 1963-66 and were still trying to forge a new team that could win League Championships. Players like Ian St.John (sold to Coventry, August 1971), Hunt (to Bolton 1969) and Ron Yeats (to Tranmere, August 1971) had made way for new blood and others, like Peter Thompson and Ian Callaghan were supposedly at the tail-end of their career.

Liverpool had not been too successful in finding new strike power, however. In 1967, Billy Shankly paid a record  £ 96,000 for Chelsea’s Tony Hateley, but he moved on as his style was incompatible with Liverpool’s aspirations. Then in August 1968, Shankly spent big again, making Alun Evans, at £ 110,000, Britain’s most expensive teenager. It never really worked out for Evans and in 1972 he moved to Aston Villa. In November 1970, Liverpool, anxious to sign a forward that was ready and able to play for such a big club, paid another £ 110,000 for Cardiff City’s John Toshack. This time, it was money well spent, but Toshack was second choice after Frank Worthington, Huddersfield Town’s flamboyant striker, who had failed an Anfield medical during talks over a proposed £ 150,000 move. Shankly met Toshack and his wife at Lime Street station with the typical greeting: “Welcome to Liverpool, son, you have come from Sunday School to Church.”

In over five years at Cardiff, Toshack had scored 74 goals in 162 League games and had shone in European competition. He was only 21 years-old, but one of the most coveted strikers in the Football League. He soon won over the Liverpool fans when he scored in his second game, the Merseyside derby against Everton. He developed a habit of finding the net in big games – a 1-1 draw at Leeds, a 2-0 win against eventual champions Arsenal and then the only goal as Liverpool beat Don Revie’s side 1-0 at Elland Road. At the end of 1970-71, Liverpool reached the FA Cup final, only to lose 2-1 to Arsenal, and finished fifth in the League. But goals were a problem for Shankly’s well-drilled side, who scored just 42 (30 fewer than Leeds and 29 less than Arsenal) in as many games. At the other end, they conceded just 24, the lowest in the first division.

Defence, marshalled by the likes of Tommy Smith, Chris Lawler and Emlyn Hughes, was sound, and players like Steve Heighway and Brian Hall gave the midfield width. Up front, Phil Boersma and Alun Evans were not going to cut it. Toshack needed a partner, and he came from the unlikely source of Scunthorpe United, costing £ 30,000. His name was Kevin Keegan.

He was relatively unknown at the time and right up until the eve of his debut against Nottingham Forest, Keegan was expected to be on the bench. But Shankly surprised everyone by including the youngster in a Liverpool side with an average age of just over 23. “I have not the slightest doubt about playing him,” he said. “I’m looking for a balance and he can help achieve it.” Keegan, lining up alongside Toshack, scored on his debut and thus a fans’ favourite was born. His early months were like a whirlwind, he soon became the golden boy of British football, taking on the mantle from the troubled George Best. Toshack had his problems, however, suffering injuries and not quite finding his place at Anfield. That said, “Tosh” scored 13 goals in 34 games in 1971-72 to Keegan’s 11 in 42.

The 1972-73 season was where the “TOSHACK” legend was formed with our German friends. Liverpool had won their third League title under Shankly and faced Borussia Moenchengladbach in the UEFA Cup final. Toshack had been sidelined for two months but was recalled for the first leg at Anfield. The big Welshman caused havoc in the German defence, linking up with Keegan to spectacular effect.

He created two goals, the first when he met a Chris Lawler cross and nodded on for Keegan to dive headlong to score, and then knocking on an Emlyn Hughes header for Keegan to net once more. “Borussia could do nothing with Toshack in the air,” said the match report of the game, which Liverpool won 3-0. They lost the second leg 0-2 in Germany, but took home the impressive UEFA Cup trophy.

Liverpool’s Kevin Keegan.

In 1973-74, the duo scored 30 goals between them, but injuries once more restricted Toshack’s appearances and put his place under pressure. Liverpool won the FA Cup, comfortably beating Newcastle in the final by 3-0. Toshack played and Keegan starred, but in the summer of 1974, Shankly retired and Bob Paisley took over. Ray Kennedy of Arsenal arrived for a big fee and looked the tailor-made replacement for Toshack.

If Kennedy’s presence put pressure on Toshack at the start of 1974-75, Keegan had a dreadful start to the campaign. With his mentor gone – Keegan and Shankly had a famously close relationship – there seemed to be something troubling the diminutive striker. He was sent off in a pre-season game at Kaiserslautern and then, a few days later, in the full glare of the media, he was dismissed again after fighting with Billy Bremner of Leeds in the first Wembley FA Charity Shield. Both players received hefty bans, although public opinion was that Keegan seemed to be a victim of Bremner’s mission to make the afternoon thoroughly miserable for his opponent.

Keegan played in Liverpool’s opening day win at Luton, but didn’t appear again in the League until October. A few weeks later, Toshack, who was struggling to find his way after Kennedy’s arrival, looked set to leave Anfield for Leicester City. It seemed a reluctant move: “This club is out on its own…they are the best bunch of players I’ve ever been with,” he said as he headed for the Midlands. But the move fell through after Toshack failed the medical and vowed to work hard at regaining his place.

It’s just as well he did, for in 1975-76, the Toshack-Keegan partnership was at its most productive. The old format of cross to Tosh, knock down for Kev worked a treat. The duo scored 39 goals (28 in the League) as Liverpool won the title at the last-gasp, beating Wolves 3-1 at Molineux in the final game. Both players scored in the closing 14 minutes of the contest, and in doing so, consigned the home side to relegation. Liverpool also won the UEFA Cup, beating FC Bruges in the final 4-3 on aggregate.

Keegan was about to drop a bombshell on Liverpool. He effectively gave the club 12 months’ notice that he wanted to move – abroad. It became something of a media circus for the next 12 months. Every now and then, Keegan’s interviews would be punctuated with comments like, “because it’s time for me to go” something which started to irritate some Anfield patrons. Liverpool created a bit of history in 1976-77, but once more, Toshack was under pressure, with David Fairclough, a flame-haired, long-legged youngster coming to the fore in the latter months of the 1975-76 season. Fairclough invented the term “super sub” after a series of cameo appearances that proved vital for Liverpool, with seven goals in 14 League appearances. To add to the competition, Liverpool also signed England international David Johnson – a striker who looked like the fifth Beatle in many ways, and sounded like one – from Ipswich Town.

At the end of 1976-77, Liverpool deservedly won the holy grail of the European Cup and retained their title. They were denied an historic treble when they were beaten 2-1 in the FA Cup final by Manchester United. Keegan had a good last season at Anfield, scoring 20 goals in 57 games. Toshack, though, missed the finale, although still scored 13 goals in 22 games – his last Liverpool goal coming in February in a 3-1 home win against Derby. Both players were coming to the end of the time at the club.

Keegan permed his hair and went to Hamburg, describing it as “the most important step of my life”. He became Britain’s richest footballer in the process and earned Liverpool £ 500,000. Toshack, his partner now gone and Kenny Dalglish signed from Celtic and winning the hearts and minds of the Kop, played only a handful of games and was supposedly moving to Anderlecht when he failed another medical. He was subsequently given a free transfer and became player-manager at Swansea, where he enjoyed considerable success.

Both players have eulogised about their time at Liverpool. Keegan still reveres “Shanks” and when Toshack returned to Anfield as Swansea boss, just after Shankly’s death, he unpeeled his tracksuit to reveal a Liverpool shirt with his number 10 on the back. “Once a red, always a red,” isn’t that the saying?

The last word, fittingly, goes to that doyen of football commentators, David Coleman: “Toshack…Keegan….1-0.”




Photos: PA

Mühren and Thijssen, taking totalvoetbal to Suffolk

IN the mid-1970s, there was a certain fascination for all things Dutch among the football fraternity. Some managers, such as Dave Sexton, Ron Greenwood and Bobby Robson, were students of the European game and attempted to bring elements of the continent to England. It didn’t always work, for English players were not schooled in the same way as their European counterparts, but these managers at least demonstrated they were willing to learn from Germany, the Netherlands and other countries.

English football was still somewhat xenophobic, however, and clubs rarely saw a glimpse of a foreign player. In February 1978, the European Community decreed that the football associations of member states had to allow players from abroad access to England. In the summer of 1978, the Football League lifted a ban that dated back to 1931. Some clubs moved quickly, notably Tottenham Hotspur, who signed two members of Argentina’s victorious World Cup squad: Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa. It was more a trickle than a torrent of new talent, but by the end of 1978-79, clubs like Ipswich Town, Southampton, Chelsea, Manchester City and Birmingham City had all signed foreign players.

By sheer virtue of the fact they were “not from round here”, most of these players were popular, their foreign status making them a curiosity. Ipswich Town acquired two Dutch players, Arnold Mühren and Frans Thijssen, arguably the best overseas duo to enter the Football League in the 1970s. They were certainly more consistent than the Spurs pair and helped create a better team than anything that came out of north London during that period.

Ipswich Town’s Frans Thijssen brings the ball inside Cologne’s Engels

Ipswich, under Bobby Robson, had a reputation for purist football and represented a solid challenge to Liverpool, often undone by their lack of strength in depth. They were a small club, playing in front of just 23,000 people at their homely Portman Road ground. They were also a popular club outside their own environs. Between 1972-73 and 1976-77, Ipswich finished in the top four on four occasions. In 1977-78, a season that saw them flirt with relegation, they won the FA Cup, only their second major honour after their shock 1961-62 title win when Alf Ramsey was in charge.

Robson was looking for something different to make his team into championship contenders. Kevin Beattie, a player that was once rated the future of English football, was plagued by injury and Brian Talbot, an industrious midfielder, departed for Arsenal in mid-season. Robson’s first venture into the overseas market came in the summer of 1978 when he signed Mühren from Twente for £ 150,000. Mühren had mixed in good circles, growing up among Ajax’s golden generation that included Johan Cruyff. He had won the European Cup in 1973 and was still only 27. His cultured left foot was a joy to watch, although his debut against Liverpool was a setback, a three-goal home defeat. Mühren was anonymous as the game bypassed him, prompting a post-match discussion with Robson. The message was clear: “I need the ball”.

It wasn’t long before Robson started to adapt Ipswich’s style and also to take notice of some of the methods adopted by Dutch football clubs. Mühren noticed the lack of pre-match preparation, something that was important to clubs like Ajax and Feyenoord. Pretty soon, his team-mates were warming to pre-match gym sessions.

Ipswich were still inconsistent and after the Boxing Day draw with Norwich, they were 16th in the first division and had won just seven of their 21 games. Robson signed Thijssen from Twente for £ 200,000, providing Mühren with a like-minded partner in midfield.

Ipswich’s form in the second half of the season was impressive. They lost just twice in 20 games, winning seven of their last eight. They also reached the quarter-final of the FA Cup and were narrowly beaten by Barcelona on away goals in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup.

The following season, Ipswich were seen as possible champions, but their start to the campaign was disastrous, with Robson’s men losing eight of their first 12 games. But after losing to Coventry at the start of December, they went 22 games without defeat and finished third, just seven points behind champions Liverpool.

By now, Mühren and Thijssen were the driving force of Ipswich’s free-flowing style. Robson said of Mühren: “I cannot think of anyone I would rate higher as a professional. No one worked harder.”

Thijssen, speaking some years later, recalled that when he arrived from Twente, Ipswich played like most other teams: “The English style was to kick it forward as much as possible, so when you played midfielder you had to run forward and if you didn’t get the ball, you would have to run back. Bobby [Robson] changed the srtyle, telling the defenders to play it to the Dutch guys in the midfield. That style suited our team very well.”

Arnold Muhren, Ipswich Town

The 1980-81 season was supposed to be Ipswich’s finest hour. Ipswich had an excellent starting XI and played a compelling brand of football. They were unbeaten in their first 14 games and were chasing the title all season as well as fighting on the European front and in the FA Cup. Ipswich lost in the FA Cup semi-final and eventually finished second in the league, four points behind an Aston Villa team they had beaten three times during the season. Frans Thijssen, who was named Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year award, missed the last five league fixtures with hamstring problems and Ipswich lost four of them. Ipswich did win silverware, though, lifting the UEFA Cup in a two-legged final against AZ 67 Alkmaar. Thijssen scored in both games.

Ipswich finished runners-up in the league again in 1981-82 and at the end of the season, Bobby Robson departed. So, too did Mühren, joining Manchester United. A year later, Thijssen signed for Nottingham Forest.

The club’s golden era was drawing to a close and in 1986, Ipswich were relegated. Mühren finished playing in 1989 and Thijssen hung his boots up in 1991.

Both players remember their time at Portman Road with affection. Thijssen recalled: “We came very close to winning the championship, that is the only pity. We had a small group of players and injuries at the end of that season cost us the title.”

Mühren paid tribute to the way Bobby Robson brought something new to English football. “Ipswich played like a Dutch team and proved it was possible to play that way and be successful.”

With a little luck, and a bigger squad, Arnold Mühren and Frans Thijssen may have ended their Suffolk jaunt with a few more medals. But they left behind some wonderful memories of a time when Dutch flair made Ipswich one of the best teams in the land.


Photos: PA