Liverpool's revival would come as a result of the appointment of Bill Shankly as manager from Huddersfield in 1959, leading to the Reds winning the Second Division title in 1961/62. Arsenal meanwhile now had former Wolves and England Captain Billy Wright as boss. Arsenal’s first game back at Anfield after a nine-year absence came in November 1962. At the time, Liverpool had won just four from their first sixteen games, which meant that they languished in nineteenth place. Arsenal on the other hand had won one more game and stood thirteenth. A crowd of 38,452 turned out at Anfield. According to one press report: ‘there were times when Liverpool looked as though they were going to ‘eat’ Arsenal’, as Liverpool raced into a two goal lead courtesy of goals from Roger Hunt and Ronnie Moran. Arsenal pulled one back with a goal from Geoff Strong, but could prevent a 2-1 home victory for Liverpool.
Liverpool's first game at Highbury on returning to the top tier after eight years came in March 1963. By this point, Liverpool had risen to fourth in the table and eight points off of League leaders Spurs. Arsenal meanwhile were four points behind in seventh place. A crowd of 30,000 turned out to Highbury to witness Kevin Lewis giving Liverpool the lead within two minutes. After ten minutes, Arsenal were on level terms as John McLeod equalised from six yards out. Before half time, Roger Hunt restored Liverpool’s lead. In the second half, a spectator had found their way onto the pitch to remonstrate with a refereeing decision and was promptly escorted away. With eighteen minutes to go Billy McCulloch equalised to earn the Gunners a 2-2 draw.
Liverpool didn't have to wait long to return to Highbury as the following week Arsenal were drawn at home to Liverpool in the fifth round of the FA Cup, a tie which Liverpool won 2-1, with goals from future Brighton Cup Final boss Jimmy Melia and Ronnie Moran for Liverpool, while John McLeod would be on target again for the Gunners. Liverpool’s cup run took them all the way to the Semi Final, where they would be defeated by Leicester City. Liverpool ended their first season back in the top flight in eighth position, two points behind Arsenal in seventh.
Liverpool were back at Highbury in the League the following December for the first meeting between the two sides for the 1963/64 season. The meeting took place as Merseybeat ruled the pop charts, with The Beatles occupying the top two positions in the pop charts with ‘She Loves You’ at number two and ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ at number one. In that other league table of great social importance, Arsenal stood in fourth place and two points behind League leaders Liverpool, though the Gunners having played two games more. A crowd of 40,551 turned out for the game. The Merseysiders took the lead on the hour mark with a goal from Ian Callaghan, however ten minutes later an equaliser from Joe Baker earned Arsenal a 1-1 draw.
Liverpool were to visit Highbury again in the fifth round of the FA Cup in February 1964. A headed goal from Ian St John, as well as a sending off for both Liverpool’s Ron Yeats and Arsenal’s Joe Baker. Yeats however, who received the only red card of his career, would protest his innocence, stating: ‘I have never struck a player in eight years and I never will. If I hit anyone I would expect to be sent off. But I swear I never hit him. I asked the referee if I had had hit myself to get my cut and bleeding eye, but he would not listen’.
Liverpool reached the last eight of the competition, though lost in the next round with a shock defeat to Swansea City (then Swansea Town) of the second tier. By the time Arsenal headed to Anfield in mid-April, the Mersey Reds were on the verge of their first League title for seventeen years. Standing between them and glory was an Arsenal side standing in seventh place. BBC’s ‘Panorama’ descended on Anfield that afternoon to capture Liverpool’s rise back to prominence as the epicentre of popular culture, as shown by the footage below of the Kop singing The Beatles hit 'She Loves You' and the Bacharach penned ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ which was a number one for the late Cilla Black.
The Kop’s penchant for a pre-match sing along to the latest pop hits played over the tannoy at Anfield around this time most probably led to the adoption of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ as their anthem. The link between this song and general ‘scouse-ness’ hails from the Mersey Beat group Gerry and the Pacemakers’ cover of this song in late 1963, (this song also chosen by Bill Shankly as one of his Desert Island Discs when he featured on the BBC radio show in 1965).
A 5-0 thumping of Arsenal at Anfield, with goals from Ian St. John, Alf Arrowsmith, Roger Hunt and two goals for Peter Thompson secured the title for Bill Shankly’s side.
Ironically, their first game as reigning champions at ‘Beatleville’ was also against Arsenal on what would be the first of a new weekly highlights show called ‘Match of the Day’. Ever since the failed experiment of live football early on in 1960/61, Football had resisted the overtures of television, however since the introduction of the Telstar trans-Atlantic satellite the upcoming 1966 World Cup in England would be the very first to be televised live throughout the world, meaning that the television companies were required to train up their production staff for televised football. This meant therefore that the Football League and Football Association agreed for a regular highlights programme on the BBC’s new second channel.
The audience for which however would be restricted to the London area (the London centric approach shown from the results which Kenneth Wolstenholme reads out at the end) and only on televisions with a 625 line UHF system (most of the television sets in the country at the time were on 405 lines). As it turned out, the television audience for that first Match of the Day would be around 20,000 less than those who turned out for the match. In the event, Liverpool took a two goal lead with goals from Roger Hunt and Gordon Wallace. Arsenal however pulled it back to two each with well-taken goals from Geoff Strong and Joe Baker and from what was shown in the MOTD highlights could have even won the game.
Other notable events in this game also include the game being held up by black cat invading the pitch, however it brought no luck for Arsenal as Liverpool made it a 2-3 defeat with a goal three minutes from time from Gordon Wallace with a twenty yard shot past Jim Furnell in the Arsenal goal. Arsenal goal scorer Geoff Strong meanwhile would go on to join Liverpool three months later.
Liverpool headed to Highbury for the return fixture thirteen days prior to Christmas 1964. The Merseysiders however were making a poor defence of their title, having won just six games from twenty and lay in fifteenth place. Arsenal were faring not much better, three points above Liverpool in thirteenth. In front of a crowd of just 26,171, the two sides played out a 0-0 draw, however the Liverpool Echo’s report on the game described ‘High Drama’. Arsenal’s Terry Neill had fouled Liverpool’s Roger Hunt, but Tommy Smith put Liverpool’s penalty over the bar.
Liverpool finished the season in seventh place and were losing Semi Finalists in the European Cup, though managed to win their first ever FA Cup by defeating Leeds United 2-1 at Wembley. Arsenal came to Anfield for the first meeting between the two sides in 1965/66 in mid-December. On the back of a victory over Chelsea the previous week, the Mersey Reds held a three point cushion at the top of the table. Arsenal meanwhile were seven points behind on ninth place. A crowd of 43,727 came to Anfield for the fixture.
Peter Thompson gave Liverpool the lead on the half hour, before John Radford pulled Arsenal level nine minutes later. Goals for Ian St. John, former Arsenal star Geoff Strong and Roger Hunt gave Liverpool a three goal cushion. With five minutes to go, a goal for Tommy Baldwin pulled one back for Arsenal, but couldn’t prevent a 4-2 win for Liverpool. Liverpool’s ‘all singing, all swinging’ reputation still followed them when they came to Highbury just under one month later.
Liverpool held a two-point cushion at the top of the table over second place Burnley at the time, while Arsenal - wearing an unfamiliar all red shirt minus their white sleeves - languished twelve points behind in eleventh place. Proceedings were again caught by the Match of the Day cameras. Liverpool left with a 1-0 victory with a goal from Ron Yeats. As this Liverpool Echo report would describe however, a collision between Ron Yeats and Arsenal’s former Liverpool goalie Jim Furnell left the big Liverpool defender fearing that he had broken his neck.
Liverpool went on to seal the League title by the close of the season, as well as reaching the final of the European Cup Winners Cup. As a comparatively rare televised event, the final was a game which had indirectly aided Arsenal’s worst ever attendance at Highbury for a senior fixture as only 4,554 turned out for a League fixture against Leeds Utd. that same evening. The weather conditions were cold and wet and the game itself had no significant bearing on either team's fortunes – Leeds having already conceded the title to Liverpool the previous Saturday, while Arsenal had not won at home since December.
Unsurprisingly, many stayed at home to watch the Cup Winners Cup final rather than traipse up to Highbury to see the Gunners crash to a 0-3 defeat which condemned them to their lowest league position for thirty six years – finishing fourteenth. In the event, Liverpool went on to lose the European Cup Winners Cup to Dortmund 1-2. The 1965/66 season however would be the last time Liverpool would win a trophy for the next seven seasons. The two sides however would not meet each other for fourteen months, before meeting on successive days at the end of March 1967. The first would be played out at Anfield. Reigning Champs Liverpool were in the running for the title and stood two points behind leaders Man United, who they held to a draw two days prior. Arsenal meanwhile were tenth.
In the interim, Arsenal had sacked Billy Wright as boss and replaced him with Physio Bertie Mee. The first meeting during the ‘Bertie Mee said to Bill Shankly’ era ended in a 0-0 draw in front of a 46,168 crowd. Back at Highbury a day later, a crowd of 35,795 turned out at N5. Goals for George Graham and Alf Arrowsmith meant honours even with a 1-1 draw. The 1966/67 season ended with Liverpool finishing nine points behind Champions Man United in fifth, while Arsenal were five points behind in seventh. In 1967/68, two sides again met twice in the space of six days in August. The first came at Anfield two games into the season.
Two goals for Roger Hunt gave Liverpool a 2-0 victory. The Liverpool Echo Newspaper headline stated: ‘Arsenal Stun Kop – But, Oh, How They Need a Marksman’. The following Saturday, Liverpool battered Newcastle United 6-0 at Anfield. However, by Tuesday at Highbury, in front of a crowd of 33,420, goals for Jon Sammels and an own goal for Tony Hateley meant a 2-0 victory for Arsenal, earning the Gunners their first victory over Liverpool in thirteen years. In 1967/68, Liverpool missed out on the title by three points to Man City. Arsenal meanwhile finished ninth.
Three games into the 1968/69 season, Liverpool came to Highbury in front of 43,535 spectators. Goals for John Radford and Roger Hunt meant that the points were shared with a 1-1 draw. By Mid-October, the two sides met again at Highbury in the fourth round of the League Cup. Arsenal were beaten finalists to Leeds United the previous season. A crowd of 39,299 saw a 2-1 victory for Arsenal with goals for Peter Simpson and John Radford, while Chris Lawler was on target for Liverpool. Arsenal progressed to the League Cup final once again, but suffered a shock defeat to third tier Swindon Town.
One month on, Arsenal headed to Anfield in third place. Liverpool stood three points above them in second, but five points behind Leeds United at the top of the table. In front of 44,843, Tommy Smith had to take a penalty twice as Liverpool’s Bob Paisley was on the field at the time treating the injured Alun Evans. Smith however successfully converted. A goal for Jimmy Robertson however earned Arsenal a 1-1 draw. Liverpool finished 1968/69 runners up, while Arsenal slipped to fourth by the close of the season. The final meeting between the two sides during the 1960s came in Late November 1969. At the time, Liverpool were third in the table, while Arsenal were thirteenth.
Another goal for Jimmy Robertson at Anfield gave Arsenal their first away victory over Liverpool for sixteen years with a 1-0 win.
By the time of the return fixture at Highbury, Liverpool were twelve points behind their neighbours Everton at the top of the table in fourth. Arsenal meanwhile stood fourteenth. Arsenal did the double over Liverpool with a 2-1 victory with goals for John Radford and Jon Sammels, while Ron Yeats would be on target for Liverpool. Liverpool finished 1969/70 fifth, while Arsenal ended the season tenth, but winning their first trophy for seventeen years with the Inter Cities Fairs Cup.
By the time Liverpool visited Highbury in front of the cameras of LWT’s ‘The Big Match’ in October 1970, as Frank McLintock pointed out in his post-match interview with Jimmy Hill, many of the sixties side of Ron Yeats and Ian St. John had moved on, replaced by younger players such as Emlyn Hughes and Steve Heighway. Arsenal stood second in the table, four points behind leaders Leeds United with a game in hand. Liverpool meanwhile were six points behind in sixth place. Arsenal ran out 2-0 winners on the day, with goals from George Graham and John Radford.
By the time Arsenal came to Anfield at the end of January 1971, they had endured a poor end to the month after losing to Huddersfield and then were held to a 1-1 draw away at second tier Portsmouth. Arsenal stood three points behind League leaders Leeds United, but with a game in hand. Liverpool meanwhile stood eighth. For the Gunners however, their trip to Anfield would be probably second only to their 0-5 drubbing at Stoke City back in September Liverpool in eighth place, which after their trip to Stoke in September would rank as one of their worst afternoons this season (but for Bob Wilson who received a standing ovation from the Kop, Liverpool’s score line could have been as great).
An in form Steve Heighway, as well as goals for John Toshack and Tommy Smith inflicted a 0-2 defeat on Arsenal. Matters were compounded further by a 2-0 win for Leeds United over Man City at Maine Road as the West Yorkshire side opened up a five point gap. One newspaper report remarked: ‘Arsenal can now concentrate on the Cup! They must now realise after this battering that their title challenge is over’ adding that: ’Liverpool are on the way back to greatness. Arsenal must hope they don’t meet them again in the Cup’. Arsenal however went on to win the League title the following May and only Liverpool stood between them and the ‘elusive’ Double in the FA Cup Final.
Arsenal pipped Leeds United to the title by one point and there had been a sufficient amount of Sour grapes from Billy Bremner and Don Revie to both publicly back Liverpool for the FA Cup in the week leading up to the Final. Bremner stating that: ‘the key to the outcome will be which team is big enough to hold the ball instead of treating it like a red-hot brick’ and on the prospect of Frank McLintock’s fifth Wembley defeat: ‘if he gets another loser’s medal I bet he’ll either throw it over the stand or take a spade and bury it’.
Revie in contrast claimed that Liverpool would win in extra time and that the Liverpool Kop would be the deciding factor as: ‘to be honest, the Arsenal crowd away from Highbury have yet to prove worthy of their team. Compared with the Kop choir with its roaring, rhythmic chants of sheer team love, North London fans are pale, bleating copycats’. Also, featured in the Daily Mirror on Cup Final day would be Professional Scouser Jimmy Tarbuck claiming: ‘Good old Arsenal? No, it’s going to be poor old Arsenal’. The Mirror’s Ken Jones also proclaimed – ‘Sorry, no Double for the Arsenal’.
In the meantime Liverpool – who had only lost two of their previous sixteen games - set about strengthening their squad in the week leading up to the Final, signing a young Kevin Keegan from Scunthorpe to follow his old team mate Ray Clemence – though Kev obviously would be ineligible to turn out for the big game. Also in the week leading up to the Final, the Cup Final edition of Shoot Magazine contained ‘Cross Talk’ interviews between Ray Kennedy and Steve Heighway, as well as goalkeepers Ray Clemence and Bob Wilson, and interviews with Arsenal’s George Armstrong and Bob McNab, as well as Liverpool’s Chris Lawler and Emlyn Hughes.
Ahead of the FA Cup Final, John Radford and Steve Heighway adorned the cover of the Radio Times Cup Final edition. As was the norm back then – the game would be covered by both BBC and ITV with their respective Saturday afternoon sports magazine shows ‘Grandstand’ and ‘World of Sport’ incorporating light entertainment into the big day. ITV’s coverage started at 11.30AM (at that point their earliest start), with a Cup Final Wrestling triple bill involving Kendo Nagasaki, Mick McManus and Johnny Kincaid. The BBC’s started at 11.50AM with an ‘It’s a Knockout’ Cup Final special hosted by David Vine with Arsenal fan and former Disc Jockey and presenter of pop shows such as ‘Top of the Pops’ and the ‘Six-Five Special’ Pete Murray and Liverpool fan and ‘Scouse Git’ star of ‘Til Death Us Do Part’.
Anthony Booth captaining sides containing members of Arsenal and Liverpool’s 1950 FA Cup Final sides - Joe Mercer, Reg Lewis and Match of the Day summarizer Walley Barnes of Arsenal while Phil Taylor, Billy Liddell and Sergeant Pepper cover star Albert Stubbins turned out for the pool. Mercer was also part of the Cup Final summarising team for the BBC along with Bobby Charlton and Don Revie. Meanwhile over on ITV their Cup Final panel included Mercer’s number two at City – the flamboyant Malcolm Allison – as well as Man United’s Paddy Crerand and Wolves’s Derek Dougan. In the commentary box, the BBC had Kenneth ‘they think it’s all over’ Wolstenholme covering his last final for the BBC having had the top job for every final since 1949.
Arsenal had numerous chances to settle the match in ninety minutes, though the match went into extra time. It was Liverpool who broke the deadlock two minutes into extra time as Steve Heighway slotted the ball past Bob Wilson who left right hand post uncovered. After going one up, Liverpool seemed to be on top until just ahead of the end of the first period of extra time. As Arsenal pulled level after a penalty area scrap with George Graham running off with his arms held aloft and his ecstatic team mates congratulating him. The Cup hero that year ironically was a player who had there been more than one substitute permitted back then, might not have been on the field at all.
Eddie Kelly came on for Peter Storey who had been carrying an injury since the Stoke game seven days earlier and had even missed the Spurs game the previous Monday. Charlie George, who by his own admission hated playing in blazing hot heat, had been moved by Mee and Howe to a position that they believed would be out of harm’s way to see out the rest of the game. With nine minutes of extra time left to play, a Ray Clemence goal kick was headed forward by George Graham, with Charlie George playing a one-two with John Radford. On receiving the ball back from Radford, George – who ITV commentator Brian Moore advised: ‘could hit ‘em’ - took a punt from the edge of the eighteen yard box which flew into the net.
An exhausted Charlie could do little more than to lay on the turf and luckily eat up a few minutes more to prevent a Liverpool equaliser. Arsenal hung on to secure a 2-1 win and became only the second side to perform the ‘elusive’ League and FA Cup Double since the turn of the century. As this newspaper report claims, Charlie George was considered by some at the time as ‘Conceited, peevish and arrogant’ but had now written himself into Football history.
ITV’s highlights of the game the following day which revealed that Arsenal’s equaliser was bagged by Eddie Kelly and not George Graham as initially thought (maybe Graham, who was officially crowned Man of the Match, felt for his efforts he was entitled to it). Kelly therefore became the first ever substitute to score in a Wembley final. In this piece in the Daily Mirror, Kelly lays claim to the equaliser alongside a piece from Ken Jones posing the question ‘But can Arsenal help pull back fans’ – pointing to the fact that Football League average attendances had fallen from 22,318 in 1949 to 13,884 in 1970/71 and would continue to fall for the following decade and a half. Incidentally, that season Arsenal’s average attendance with a 60,000 capacity stadium was 43,776, a figure down from a high of 54,982 in 1947/48.
Arsenal’s visit to Anfield in 1971/72 came in November, with Liverpool inflicting a 2-3 defeat on Arsenal with goals from Ian Ross, Ian Callaghan and Emlyn Hughes, while Ray Kennedy was on target for Arsenal as well as a Liverpool own goal. The 1971/72 League season was a fascinating contest, which took place in the years prior to the final day synchronization as Sky Sports’s ‘Super Sunday’. Derby County topped the table having finished their fixtures and had headed off to Majorca for a post-season team holiday. Leeds United stood one point behind with a superior Goal Average, needing just a point to steal the title.
Man City stood in third place having topped the table for a large amount of the season, but having their run in disrupted by accommodating new signing Rodney Marsh from QPR, the Blues had stalled one point Derby in third having completed their fixtures. The only other contenders being fourth place Liverpool, two points behind Derby County but also with a superior goal average. Liverpool captain Tommy Smith alleged that has team mate Emlyn Hughes had informed him that a number of Arsenal players were willing to throw the match for £50 a man, though his revelation came long after Hughes had passed away and able to defend himself from the allegation.
There had also been allegations (though not proven) that Revie had attempted to bribe Wolves to take it easy. If true, it certainly didn’t work as Leeds blew the title for the third year running after losing 1-2 to Wolves. This therefore left the door open to Shanks and Liverpool to steal the title. John Toshack put the ball into the Arsenal net, however the Gunners held out for a 0-0 draw, meaning that Clough and Derby were First Division Champions for 1971/72.
Liverpool returned to Highbury nine games into the 1972/73, in mid-September. During the first half, linesman Dennis Drewitt had torn knee ligaments and was unable to continue. In those days, there had been no fourth official to stand in and as Football League rules required a referee and two linesmen for a match to proceed, there was a huge danger in the match being called off. Over the tannoy, an appeal went out for a qualified official to take part. With no takers, Jimmy Hill, attending the game with LWT’s ‘The Big Match’ who were covering events, stepped in to run the line.
This however turned out to be the most noteworthy event of this fixture. Prior to the linesman’s injury, the game was played at a fast pace. After Jimmy Hill replaced him, it failed to get back to its previous tempo and ended in a 0-0 draw.
By the time Arsenal came to Anfield in early February 1973, the Gunners were one point behind Liverpool at the top of the table but having played one game more than the Merseysiders. Liverpool however had lost their previous league fixture against Wolves, as well as exiting the FA Cup with a 0-2 defeat to Man City a few days prior. Highlights of the game at Anfield would be captured by the BBC’s ‘Match of the Day’.
Newspaper reports from the Liverpool Echo claim that the home side dominated the opening half hour, Arsenal however emerged stronger in the second half and goals for former Evertonian Alan Ball and John Radford meant huge 2-0 victory, which meant that the Gunners overhauled Liverpool at the top of the table for the first time since September.
The 1972/73 League Championship however went to Anfield who took the title with a three-point margin over runners up Arsenal. For the Gunners, it would be the last real title race which they would be involved in for the next decade and a half. For the Liverpool however, after waiting seven and a half years, the Red Machine would kick into full effect over the same time period.
In 1973/74, reigning Champs Liverpool came to Highbury in early November. At the time, Liverpool stood sixth and eight points off of runaway League leaders Leeds United. Arsenal in contrast were having a poor season, having won just five games from thirteen and languishing in fourteenth place. Ahead of the game Liverpool’s Tommy Smith walked out half-an-hour before kick-off, after a bust up when he was told by Bill Shankly that he wasn't in the team. As a result, Smith wasn’t involved in any further action for Liverpool for a further three weeks.
The ‘Match of the Day’ turned up to capture the action. Goals for Emlyn Hughes and John Toshack gave Liverpool a 2-0 away victory in front of 39,837 spectators.
Arsenal went to Anfield the following April in eleventh position in the table, having been anchored in the bottom half of the table for most of the season. Second place Liverpool meanwhile had an extremely faint hope of retaining their title, sitting five points off of league leaders Leeds United with six points left to play for. A month earlier, Liverpool defeated Don Revie’s side at Anfield 1-0. However, in a game in which Jimmy Rimmer made his Arsenal debut replacing Bob Wilson in the Arsenal goal, Ray Kennedy’s strike in front of the Kop gave Arsenal a 1-0 win.
Mathematically, Arsenal were now safe from the drop and Liverpool – having suffered their first home loss of the season - were unable to catch Leeds United, making the West Yorkshire side the newly crowned League Champions. Liverpool were confirmed as runners up for the 1973/74 League season, but secured the FA Cup with a 3-0 victory over Newcastle United at Wembley ten days later. Arsenal meanwhile finished tenth. Over the close season of 1974 however, Bill Shankly had announced his retirement from football management, with his right-hand man Bob Paisley stepping up from the boot room to take Shanks’s place.
Shankly’s final signing for Liverpool would be Arsenal striker Ray Kennedy. Paisley however would convert Ray into an attacking midfielder, who became an integral part of Liverpool’s dominant side of the 1970s. Arsenal’s first visit to Anfield during the Bob Paisley era came in early November 1974. Liverpool were top of the table having won ten of their first fifteen games. Arsenal on the other hand had won just three games all season and sat second from bottom of the table. In front off a crowd of 43,850 however, the form book was turned on its head as goals for Liam Brady and two for Alan Ball meant that Arsenal ran out 3-1 winners. That however would be Arsenal’s last victory at Anfield for the next fourteen and a half years.
After that defeat Liverpool failed to win six of their next seven games. Bob Paisley’s first visit to Highbury in the Anfield hotseat came on the first day of February 1975. Liverpool had dropped to fourth place, but were only two points behind league leaders Everton. Arsenal meanwhile sat in lowly sixteenth place. Highlights of the game were covered by LWT’s ‘The Big Match’. Two goals for Alan Ball gave Arsenal a 2-0 victory in front of a crowd of 43,028. Arsenal however finished the season in sixteenth place, while Liverpool missed out on the title finishing third – two points behind Champions Derby County.
The first meeting between Arsenal and Liverpool in 1975/76 came in early December when Arsenal headed to Anfield languishing in eighteenth place, with just five wins out from eighteen games. Liverpool meanwhile were sixth, but three points from league leaders Derby County with a game in hand. The game contained three penalties, with Phil Neal giving Liverpool the lead half way through the first half. Two minutes later, Alan Ball also equalled the score from the spot. After half time, just ahead of the hour mark Phil Neal put Liverpool back in front with another penalty. With two minutes to go, a goal for Brian Kidd secured Arsenal a point with a 2-2 draw. For the fourth season in a row, Liverpool had failed to beat Arsenal at Anfield, with the Liverpool Echo’s matchday report even talking of an ‘Arsenal hoodoo’ at Anfield.
Liverpool’s turn to come to Highbury came on a Tuesday evening in late February. Liverpool now had a two-point cushion at the top of the table over second place QPR with a game in hand. Arsenal however were still eighteenth, but with a cushion of five points keeping them from the relegation zone. A crowd of 36,127 witnessed a last minute goal from John Radford which gifted Arsenal both points with a 1-0 win. That happened to be Arsenal’s last meeting with Liverpool during the Bertie Mee era. Arsenal’s double winning manager retired at the end of the 1975/76 season as the Gunners finished the season in seventeenth position. Liverpool however won the title on their final game of the season, with a 3-1 away victory over Wolves.
Over the summer, former Arsenal skipper Terry Neill crossed back over the North London divide after quitting Spurs and heading down the Seven Sisters Road to head to Arsenal. The first meeting with Liverpool during the Terry Neill era came in late November 1976. Reigning Champions Liverpool topped the old First Division by a five point margin, but had played two games more than second place Ipswich Town. Arsenal meanwhile stood ninth. A crowd of 45,016 turned out at Highbury for the match. George Armstrong put Arsenal ahead on eight minutes. The Gunners held the lead until two minutes from time, when former Arsenal 1971 Double squad member Ray Kennedy pulled Liverpool level. The points were shared with a 1-1 draw.
Arsenal headed to Anfield in mid-April 1977. Liverpool were a point off of Ipswich Town at the top of the table, but with a game in hand and seven games left to play. Arsenal meanwhile were ninth in the table. Liverpool were a week away from facing Everton in the FA Cup Semi Final at Maine Road, as well as awaiting the visit of FC Zurich to Anfield for the second leg of the European Cup Semi Final in four days’ time. The game would be covered by BBC’s ‘Match of the Day’. An Anfield crowd of 48,174 saw goals from Phil Neal and Kevin Keegan push Liverpool one step nearer the treble.
Liverpool went on to secure the league title with a one-point cushion over second place Man City. They would also be crowned Champions of Europe for the first time in their history, though lost the FA Cup Final to Man United at Wembley. Arsenal meanwhile finished a much improved eighth place. In 1977/78, Liverpool came to Highbury on a Tuesday evening in early October, having won five of their first eight games standing fourth. Arsenal meanwhile were three points behind in ninth. A crowd of 47,110 turned out at Highbury to witness a 0-0 draw. By February 1978, Arsenal found themselves drawn against Liverpool in the Semi Final of the League Cup.
The first leg was played out in front of 44,764 spectators at Anfield. Malcolm McDonald gave Arsenal the lead. Half way through the second half, Kenny Dalglish equalised for Liverpool. With nine minutes left to go, a Ray Kennedy goal meant that Liverpool took a 2-1 cushion to Highbury. On week later at Highbury, an expectant crowd of 49,561 turned out for the second leg. Liverpool however held the Gunners to a 0-0 draw, to proceed to their first ever League Cup Final against League leaders Nottingham Forest. Liverpool however would lose the final after a replay.
By the time Arsenal came to Anfield in the league in late April 1978, Liverpool had also conceded their league title to Nottingham Forest and stood beneath third placed Arsenal on goal difference in fourth place. The Gunners were also awaiting an FA Cup Final appearance two weeks later against Ipswich Town at Wembley, while Liverpool also awaited a Wembley date having two weeks prior achieving back to back European Cup Finals, with FC Bruges awaiting them in the final. The game took place on a Tuesday evening. A goal for David Fairclough on twenty four minutes gave Liverpool a 1-0 victory, while Liam Brady hobbled out of the game ten minutes before half time, with Arsenal worried that they may lose their playmaker ahead of the Cup Final.
Liverpool finished the season as runners up to Forest, while Arsenal finished fourth.
Liam Brady recovered in time to face Ipswich in the final, though the Gunners lost the match 0-1. Liverpool however were crowned European Champions for the second season in a row with a 1-0 victory over Bruges at Wembley. In 1978/79, Liverpool came to Highbury in the first week of December. Liverpool topped the table having lost just one game all season, with a two point lead over their neighbours Everton in second place. Arsenal meanwhile were nine points behind in fifth. A crowd of 51,902 turned out at Highbury for the game.
A goal for David Price on the half hour gave Arsenal a 1-0 victory, with Bob Paisley still waiting for his first victory at Highbury since taking over as Liverpool boss. The Liverpool Daily Post’s reported on the goal that: ‘Clemence got a hand to a low shot from Stapleton, an angled drive from well out, but was unable to hold it. Ray Kennedy was on hand to kick clear but what look like Kennedy's first goal for Arsenal since he left to join Liverpool, turned out to be correctly credited to Price. The players told me afterwards that as Kennedy kicked, Price threw himself bodily across the line of flight and deflected the ball into the roof of the net’.
Arsenal’s trip to Anfield that season came in early April 1979. One week prior, Arsenal achieved their second successive FA Cup Final appearance with a 2-0 win over Wolves. Liverpool however were eliminated from the competition in a 0-1 defeat to Man United at Goodison Park in a replay three days earlier. In the league, Liverpool held a four point lead over second place West Brom at the top of the table. Arsenal meanwhile were eight points behind in fifth having played three games more.
Highlights of the game were covered by the BBC’s ‘Match of the Day’. Three second half goals for Jimmy Case, Kenny Dalglish and Terry McDermott gave Liverpool a comprehensive 3-0 victory which edged the Reds a step closer to winning back their League title, which duly came by the close of the season. Arsenal finished the season in seventh place, but clinched the FA Cup with a last gasp winner to beat Man United 3-2 at Wembley.
As Liverpool were reigning Champions and Arsenal were reigning FA Cup holders, the two sides met for the Charity Shield curtain raiser at Wembley in August of 1979, highlights of which would be captured by the BBC’s ‘Match of the Day’. In front of a crowd of 92,000 at Wembley, goals for Kenny Dalglish and two for Terry McDermott earned Liverpool a 3-1 victory, with Alan Sunderland on target for the Gunners.
The last meeting between the two sides during the 1970s came late November 1979 at Highbury. Liverpool topped the table over second place Man United on goal difference, while Arsenal stood three points behind in fifth. A crowd of 55,561 saw the two sides play out a 0-0 draw. The first meeting between the two sides during the 1980s came when they were drawn together in the Semi Finals of the FA Cup in April 1980. Arsenal had high hopes of reaching an historic third straight Wembley appearance. The only thing standing in their way were a Liverpool side four points clear at the top of the table, themselves hoping for their first League and FA Cup Double.
Arsenal were hoping not only to retain the FA Cup, but also win the European Cup Winners Cup and drew 1-1 with Juventus in the first leg of the Cup Winners Cup Semi Final in the week prior. In the days before ties were decided by penalty shoot outs became something of a marathon tie. It was also the days before televised Semi-Finals. The only way for avid fans to keep up with this saga was through match attendance. As John Spurling states in ‘All Guns Blazing’, ‘How many zombified workers must there have been in various London warehouses and offices, obsessed by this particular soap opera, their mental sharpness destroyed due to hours of motorway travel?’. The first tie would be played out at Hillsborough, where a crowd of 50,174 saw the two sides play out a 0-0 draw.
Four days later at Villa Park, the two sides played out the replay in front of a crowd of 40,679. David Fairclough gave Liverpool the lead six minutes into the second half, before an Alan Sunderland equaliser eleven minutes later meant a 1-1 draw and the Semi Final going to a third match. Incredibly, the two sides were to meet each other in the League the following weekend. Liverpool still stood top of the table, with a two-point cushion over second place Man United, while Arsenal stood nine points behind in fourth place. Kenny Dalglish gave Liverpool the lead after twelve minutes, only for Brian Talbot to equalise twelve minutes from time for another 1-1 draw in front of 46,878 at Anfield.
There then followed a nine-day break in fixtures between the two sides. Arsenal in the meantime managed to secure their passage to the Semi Finals of the Cup Winners Cup with a 1-0 away leg win over Juventus, while Liverpool beat Stoke 2-0 away at the Victoria Ground. Three days later, on the last Saturday in April, the Gunners played out a 1-1 draw at home to Ron Atkinson’s West Brom side, while Liverpool were held to a 0-0 draw with a Crystal Palace side managed by Terry Venables at Selhurst Park as Man United pulled level with Liverpool at the top of the old First Division. Forty-eight hours on, Arsenal travelled to Villa Park to resume battle with the Merseysiders.
In front of a crowd of 42,975, Arsenal took the lead with a goal from Alan Sunderland in just ten seconds. Arsenal also held on to the lead until the dying seconds, before a Kenny Dalglish equaliser meant a 1-1 draw and a record breaking third FA Cup Semi Final replay.
The third replay occurred three days later, on a Thursday evening at Highfield Road in Coventry. In the days before saturation coverage of football on TV, where an FA Cup Semi Final is guaranteed live TV coverage, the nation was largely settling down to watch a Top of the Pops episode hosted by Tommy Vance, where Dexys Midnight Runners topped the charts topped the charts with ‘Geno’ (the host excitingly proclaiming: ‘this is number one because it deserves to be!’). Meanwhile, over at Highfield Road after just eleven minutes a Brian Talbot header gave Arsenal the lead. This time, the Gunners hung on for a 1-0 win to take them through to a date with West Ham just nine days later.
Two days later, Arsenal played out the final Saturday of the season with a 1-0 win over Coventry – also at Highfield Road. That same day, Liverpool also played Aston Villa and secured the 1979/80 title with a 4-1 win to soften the blow of Thursday night’s defeat. Incredibly, on Bank Holiday Monday another forty-eight hours on, Arsenal played their third fixture in five days, this time against European Champions Nottingham Forest. The two sides played out a 0-0 draw. In the FA Cup final, an exhausted Arsenal crashed to 0-1 defeat to West Ham, as well as losing the European Cup Winners Cup Final to Valencia on penalties the following Wednesday.
In what would pan out to be a record seventy game season for the Gunners, incredibly there were two further league fixtures to play after the Cup Winners Cup Final defeat, and neither had Arsenal the luxury of deeming them to be meaningless fixtures. Arsenal lay in fourth place after 40 matches, which in any other season would have meant qualification for Europe, however, only three berths were available due to UEFA co-efficient rankings. Five days later for Arsenal it was on to Ayresome Park to play ninth-placed Middlesbrough for Arsenal’s seventieth fixture of the season. The Arsenal side were pretty much dead on their feet, and crashed to a 0-5 defeat with goals for Liverpool stars David Hodgson and the Australian Craig Johnston.
That Middlesbrough game was to be the final appearances for Pat Rice, Sammy Nelson and - more importantly – Liam Brady. Arsenal’s final wage-offer to Brady in the close season of 1980 would have made him the highest-paid footballer in English Football at the time. It was, however, not enough to persuade him to stay. Brady became a free agent and left for Juventus on 1st August 1980. The fee had been the maximum permitted by UEFA and the EEC for international transfers - £600,000. After Brady’s departure, Arsenal suffered somewhat of an inexorable decline for the first half of the 1980s. Not only that, but 1980/81 would be Liverpool’s poorest league season for nearly a decade, with some briefly wondering if Bob Paisley’s reds were on something of a decline.
When Arsenal ventured to Anfield during the 1980/81 season in late October, Liverpool had won just six from twelve games, but were still only one point behind League leaders Ipswich Town. Arsenal meanwhile stood ninth. In front of a crowd of 40,310, goals for Graeme Souness and Alan Sunderland meant honours even with a 1-1 draw. By the time of Liverpool’s journey to Highbury at the end of March 1981, Bob Paisley’s side stood a long way off the pace in fifth and eight points behind league leaders Ipswich Town. Two weeks prior they were also held to a 1-1 draw with second tier run away leaders West Ham in the League Cup Final at Wembley. Arsenal meanwhile were four points behind Liverpool in seventh place, having played one game more.
Highlights of the game would be covered by LWT’s ‘The Big Match’. A goal for Alan Sunderland gave Arsenal the points with a 1-0 victory. After seven years in charge of Liverpool, Bob Paisley was still yet to achieve a victory at Highbury, despite the domestic and European game in the years since.
Three days later Liverpool went on to win the League Cup replay with a 1-0 win over West Ham, as well as win back the European Cup with a 1-0 victory over Real Madrid. In the league however, Liverpool finished as low as fifth place and two points behind Arsenal in third. This being the first season since 1970/71 where Arsenal had finished above Liverpool in the league table. Liverpool’s poor league form carried over into the start of 1981/82, by failing to win their first two games of the season. However a goal for Terry McDermott one minute before half time and for David Johnson one minute before full time earned Liverpool a 2-0 victory.
By December, the two sides were drawn together in the fourth round of the League Cup at Highbury. The two sides however played out a 0-0 draw in front of a crowd of 37,917. One week later back at Anfield, a crowd of just 21,375 saw a comprehensive 3-0 win for Liverpool in extra time, with goals for Craig Johnston, a Terry McDermott penalty and Kenny Dalglish. Liverpool however would finish the calendar year of 1981 in the bottom half of the league table, in twelfth place with just six wins from seventeen games. By the time Liverpool came to Highbury in May however, the Reds had turned their season around and retained the League Cup with a win over Spurs in the final. Liverpool also held a two point cushion at the top of the table over second place Ipswich Town with a game in hand and just three games to play.
A Liverpool victory would have secured them the title that night and a crowd of 30,932 turned out at Highbury on a Tuesday evening to view proceedings. Ian Rush gave Liverpool a first half lead, however an Alan Sunderland goal three minutes into the second half meant that Liverpool were held to a 1-1 draw and were required to seal the title the following Saturday at Anfield by beating Arsenal’s neighbours Spurs, which they duly did. Arsenal meanwhile finished 1981/82 in fifth place. Liverpool returned to Highbury four games into the 1982/83 season, highlights of which would be captured by BBC’s ‘Match of the Day’. Goals for David Hodgson and Phil Neal finally earned Bob Paisley his first victory at Highbury after eight years. It would however be Paisley’s last visit to Highbury as Liverpool boss.
At the end of the 1982/83 season, Bob Paisley retired as Liverpool boss with his right-hand man Joe Fagan taking charge. Fagan’s first trip to Highbury came five games into the 1983/84 season. Once again the BBC ‘Match of the Day’ cameras were there to catch the action, along with a Highbury crowd of 47,896. Goals for Craig Johnston and Kenny Dalglish gave Liverpool a 2-0 victory. Over the summer, Arsenal stole the highly sought after young Celtic striker Charlie Nicholas from under the noses of Liverpool and Man United. One newspaper report remarked after this game that: ‘Charlie Nicholas wore the looks of a man who suspects he made the wrong choice’.
Liverpool then went on a run of six games without a victory, sinking to seventeenth while Arsenal topped the league table with a four point lead over second place Sheffield Wednesday with eight wins out of eleven. By the time Arsenal went to Anfield in Mid-February 1985, Liverpool had climbed up to seventh and just four points off of Arsenal in fourth place. The game had been postponed from the previous Saturday, when the pitch was unplayable due to a heavy snowfall. The postponement meant a loss of £20,000 in Scandinavian television revenue for Liverpool, with viewers there having to watch Barnsley v Portsmouth in the old second Division instead.
Goals for Ian Rush, Phil Neal and Ronnie Whelan gave Arsenal a comprehensive 3-0 victory. Arsenal keeper John Lukic however had saved a penalty after bringing down Ian Rush from within the penalty box. Lukic redeemed himself by diving to his right to hold Ian Rush’s shot. By the close of the season, Arsenal slumped to seventh while Liverpool rose up to second in the table, though a good thirteen points off of runaway Champions Everton. Liverpool were also trophy-less for the first time in a decade. That was however far from the biggest tragedy at the end of the 1984/85, as the deaths of thirty nine fans at Heysel Stadium at the 1985 European Cup Final between Liverpool and Juventus led to the indefinite banning of all English clubs, as rioting Liverpool fans were overwhelmingly apportioned the blame for what occurred.
In the meantime, Kenny Dalglish had taken over the vacant position at Anfield on Joe Fagan’s retirement. His first game in charge on the opening day of the season was when Arsenal visited Anfield. The Sydney Morning Herald would allege that a memorial service for those who died at Heysel would be marred by rival supporters, whose chanting would drown out the service. Goals from Steve Nicol and Ronnie Whelan inflicted a 0-2 defeat on the Gunners. At the start of November, though Liverpool were sitting second in the League they were as much as ten points behind rivals Man Utd who had got off to a flying start unbeaten for the first fifteen games.
Within six weeks, the lead which Man United held over Liverpool had been whittled down to just two points when Liverpool headed to Highbury to face Arsenal. The Gunners meanwhile had sunk down to eighth place after a run of just two wins from the last seven games, which included a 1-6 hammering by reigning Champions Everton, failure to score against West Midlands relegation candidates West Brom and Birmingham and one week prior a 0-3 away thumping at Southampton. According to Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, when Liverpool visited Highbury in Mid-December 1985 (their first meeting since Heysel) the Highbury crowd were in an unforgiving mood with chants of ‘Murderers! Murderers!’ One suspects this reception was received by Liverpool fans at most grounds throughout the country during the 1985/86 season.
Football’s kudos was also at an all-time low as a result of Heysel, with average attendance figures at a post-war record low, as well as the fact that this particular Arsenal v Liverpool fixture was unable to feature on British television because of the Football League’s dispute with the BBC and ITV cartel over the paltry size of their collective bid (it was however captured for posterity for foreign broadcast). On Kenny Dalglish’s first trip to Highbury, he was unable to prevent a 2-0 win for Arsenal at Highbury in front of a crowd of 35,048. Goals from Charlie Nicholas and a debut strike for a nineteen-year-old Niall Quinn sealed three points for Arsenal.
To many observers, this fixture was the beginning of the emergence of the youthful invigoration of the Arsenal. Over the previous three months, products of our youth system such as Martin Keown, Niall Quinn, Martin Hayes and David Rocastle made their debuts and eventually would replace old stalwarts such as Paul Mariner, Tony Woodcock, Graham Rix and Tommy Caton within the first team. It lead to a run of losing just one game from the next eleven fixtures, before Don Howe resigned from the Highbury hot seat. Over the summer George Graham took over as Arsenal boss. GG’s time at Highbury however kicked off with an underwhelming start. Despite a 1-0 win over Man United on the opening day, Arsenal lost their second game away to Coventry. There then followed the acide test of GG’s first trip to Anfield three games into the season.
Jan Molby gave Arsenal the lead on with a penalty on nineteen minutes. Three minutes later, Tony Adams equalised for the Gunners before Ian Rush sealed a winner for Liverpool just ahead of the hour mark as Liverpool ran out 2-1 winners. Arsenal however hit form and by the end of the Christmas period held a four-point lead at the top of the table before a collapse in form. By the time Liverpool headed to Highbury to face Arsenal in front of a crowd of 47,777 at the start of March 1987 they held a three-point lead at the top of the table. Arsenal were four points behind in third.
Highlights of the game were covered by BBC’s ‘Sportsnight’ Ian Rush was playing out his farewell season as he was lined to join Juventus at the end of the season. A 1-0 win for Liverpool at Highbury preserved his record of winning every game in which he scored for Liverpool since joining the club in 1979. The record covered 144 matches for Liverpool and included 122 wins and 22 draws.
Rushie’s incredible record however lasted just one more month. The two sides reached the League Cup Final at the start of April 1987. Liverpool were overwhelming favourites to win as Arsenal had failed to a league game since the start of the year and Kenny Dalglish’s side still topped the table. In discussing the game years later, Ian Rush stated: ‘I was desperate to win something in my final season at the club. We knew that the League Cup was going to be our best chance….we'd been really confident coming into the final, not because Arsenal weren't a good team but because we knew we had the ability to beat them’.
The game was covered live on the BBC’s ‘Match of the Day’. Half way through the first half, Arsenal’s hopes look dashed when Ian Rush put Liverpool ahead. Seven minutes later, Charlie Nicholas equalised for Arsenal and the Gunners went into half time level. Nicholas added a second with eight minutes to go, which took something of a deflection on its way past Bruce Grobbelaar for a 2-1 victory for Arsenal who had won their first trophy since the 1979 FA Cup Final and George Graham’s first trophy win for the Gunners
By the end of 1987/88, Arsenal finished George Graham’s first season in fourth place. Liverpool however finished Ian Rush’s last season in second place and six points behind Champions Everton in what turned out to be Howard Kendall’s final season. After Rush departed for Juventus that summer, his look-a-like replacement John Aldridge (who had already transferred to Liverpool from Oxford United on transfer deadline day at the end of the previous season) had been promoted to the first team. That summer, Dalglish began to rebuild his side with a record £1.9 million transfer of England international Peter Beardsley, as well as John Barnes coming in from Watford. Arsenal were in the bidding for both players, but were unable to break their wage structure to bring them to Highbury.
Both Barnes and Beardsley made their debut on the opening day of the season with an away trip to Arsenal. A crowd of 54,703 turned out at Highbury, with John Aldridge putting Liverpool ahead on nine minutes. Paul Davis pulled Arsenal level on seventeen minutes. Liverpool however took both points with a goal from Steve Nicol with two minutes to go.
Liverpool strengthened their side further by outbidding Arsenal for John Aldridge’s former Oxford team mate Ray Houghton. So strong were Liverpool’s side that even quality players such as Craig Johnston, Jan Molby and Kenny Dalglish himself (still registered as a player) without a place in the side throughout most of 1987/88. By the time of Arsenal’s visit to Anfield in mid-January 1988, Liverpool had been twenty-three games unbeaten and fifteen points clear of second place Nottingham Forest. Arsenal were a couple of points behind Forest in third.
A crowd of 44,000 turned out at Anfield for the game. Highlights of the game were covered by the BBC’s ‘Match of the Day’ and for those who thought that the appeal of the English top tier started with the Premiership, as John Motson described over fifty different countries were covering the game with an estimated worldwide audience of 200 million viewers, which was believed to be the biggest ever global viewing figures for an English League game. The countries taking the BBC feed included John Barnes’s birthplace of Jamaica, as well as Jan Molby carrying out commentating duties on Danish television while being kept out of the Liverpool first team and Michel Platini commentating for French TV.
In the event, the Merseysiders took all three points in a 0-2 defeat for Arsenal with goals from John Aldridge and Peter Beardsley.
Liverpool were now closing in on Leeds Utd’s fourteen year record of twenty nine games unbeaten from the start of the season, which had been equalled with a 1-1 draw away at Derby in mid-march, the thirtieth match however was covered live on ITV away at Goodison Park against rivals Everton who inflicted Liverpool’s first defeat of the season courtesy of a goal from Wayne Clarke – who ironically was younger brother of former Leeds marksman Alan (incidentally, the joint record stood until 2003/04 when surpassed by Arsenal’s ‘invincibles’, who’ll obviously hold that record until the unlikely event of an extension of a Premiership season beyond thirty eight games).
Liverpool won the 1987/88 league title at a canter, but failed to bag the double after losing 0-1 to Wimbledon in the FA Cup Final. Arsenal finished the season sixth and as losing finalists to Luton in the League Cup Final. Liverpool were still favourites going into 1988/89, especially after re-signing Ian Rush back from Juventus. However early on in the campaign, Liverpool’s title defence was disrupted by losing captain Alan Hansen to injury, goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar to Meningitis and had Jan Molby imprisoned for a drink driving offence. That season the two sides were to meet an incredible six times, the first of which came in a one-off trophy to celebrate one hundred years of the Football League called the Mercantile Credit Centenary Cup. The concept of the trophy was for the eight highest placed sides to meet each other in a straight knock out competition.
Arsenal met Liverpool in the Semi Final stage at Highbury in late September, with a crowd of 29,135 turning out for the game. Arsenal played a full strength eleven, however Liverpool turned out a weakened squad, which included long forgotten former first team squad members from the Double year such as Kevin McDonald and even Kenny Dalglish himself, some then upcoming youth players like Gary Ablett and Steve Staunton who became first teamer, as well as largely forgotten squad members like John Durnin who only played a handful of games for Liverpool and Charlie Boyd on the subs bench who never even got to make his Liverpool debut.
Perry Groves gave Arsenal the lead twelve minutes before half time. Arsenal held the lead before Liverpool equalised with ten minutes to go with a goal from Steve Staunton. Two minutes later however Brian Marwood secured Arsenal’s passage to the final with a winner as Arsenal ran out 2-1 winners. Arsenal went on to win the trophy with a 2-1 victory over Man United at Villa Park, which went alongside winning a Wembley International tournament in August which included Spurs, Bayern Munich and an AC Milan side which included Euro ’88 winning triumvirate Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard (though Arsenal never met the latter side).
What George Graham’s Arsenal wanted however was the League title. By the start of November, Arsenal were six points behind leaders Norwich City but with a game in hand after nine games. Liverpool meanwhile had already lost three games and were two points behind in fourth having played one game more. The two sides would be drawn together in the League Cup third round at Anfield. Highlights of the game would be covered by ITV’s ‘Midweek Sport Special’ and 31,951 would be in attendance. John Barnes gave Liverpool the lead on sixty six minutes, before six minutes later David Rocastle equalised with a wondergoal for Arsenal.
In the days before penalty shoot-outs decided a League Cup tie on the night, that was enough to take the tie back to Highbury. A week later at Highbury, 54,029 turned out for the event. The game would again be covered by ITV’s ‘Midweek Sport Special’, though the two sides however played out a 0-0 draw
A fortnight later came the second replay at the neutral venue of Villa Park, the scene of Arsenal’s Mercantile Centenary victory a week earlier. Only 21,708 bothered to make the midweek trip to Birmingham, though the tie would again be covered by ITV’s ‘Midweek Sport Special’. Paul Merson gave Arsenal the lead on twenty-six minutes, however a second half fight back from Liverpool with goals from Steve McMahon on the hour and a winner from John Aldridge with three minutes to go meant that Liverpool prevented a hat-trick of League Cup Final appearances by Arsenal with a 2-1 victory.
The Times report on the game stated: ‘Having won a battle which was stretched over five hours, who is to say that they will not now go on again to win the war, the championship? The League fixture, to be televised live at Highbury on Sunday week, will provide another clue but last night's evidence was compellingly in Liverpool's favour’. By the time of Liverpool’s League visit to Highbury at the start of December, Liverpool had been eliminated from the League Cup by a thumping 1-4 loss to a Paul Ince inspired West Ham, despite the Hammers being anchored to the foot of the old First Division. Arsenal were just three points from League leaders Norwich, but with a game in hand, while Liverpool were three points behind Arsenal in fourth place having played one game more.
This would be the very first League meeting between the two sides to be covered live by ITV’s ‘The Match’. One minute into the second half, John Barnes gave Liverpool the lead, however with twenty minutes to go Alan Smith bundled the ball over the goal line to draw Arsenal level. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, with The Times report on the match stating: ‘Norwich City, who have led the first division for all but one week, thus remain on top. Yet the indications are that the table is assuming recognizable shape. Arsenal and Liverpool may have held each other back for the moment but by the time the return fixture is staged, on April 22, they are likely to be competing for more than second place’.
The only thing inaccurate about the prophecy of The Times Newspaper turned out to be the date of the meeting. One week before the two sides were due to meet at Anfield came the horror of the Hillsborough disaster, which threw the fixture list into chaos, as Liverpool’s season was disrupted by the mourning process which followed. When their season resumed, their seemed to be little in the way of the Merseysiders being thrown off course. The final meeting between the two sides came on the final match of the season on Friday 26th May 1989. Between Hillsborough and that date, Liverpool had only failed to win one game, which was a draw with neighbours Everton at Goodison Park. In the interim Liverpool had won the FA Cup and were heading for the Double.
The same couldn’t have been said of Arsenal who were seemingly offering up a master class in how to blow a title, after losing to Derby County on the final Saturday of the season and drawing with Wimbledon at home 2-2 – both games at Highbury. Arsenal were left with the task of winning at Anfield – something they’d failed to do for fourteen and a half years prior to May 1989 (Arsenal had failed to even manage a draw in the League there since October 1980). Not just that, Arsenal had to win at Anfield by two clear goals to draw level on goal difference and steal the title on goals scored. However no team had done that at Anfield for over two seasons prior.
Not only did Arsenal have to beat Liverpool (something no team had done since New Years’ Day, eighteen games prior), but they also had to stop Liverpool winning (something only one team – Merseyside rivals Everton - had managed to do in the previous fourteen games). Arsenal were also a younger side with much less trophy winning experience than Liverpool. The words of the Daily Mirror’s Sports section after Liverpool’s 5-1 win over West Ham said it all: ‘You Haven't Got A Prayer, Arsenal’. However, above all, it severely downplays just how well George Graham got his tactics for the game spot on, especially as re-told in an interview with Perry Groves for Goal.com.
Groves states that George’s tactics to his players ahead of Anfield were that: ‘If we concede the first goal we’re finished…You ain’t going to score three. It just doesn’t happen [at Anfield]. But if we get in at half-time 0-0 we’ve won half the battle, and then we’ll have a chat at half-time and I fancy us to nick a goal in the second half, and if we do then it’s all about momentum, pressure gets to people. If we can score, the momentum will change and all the pressure then goes on Liverpool’. With the exception of Steve Bould nearly scoring early on, the first half (shown in its entirety here) panned out as exactly as George Graham had planned. The crucial turning point of the game was to come seven minutes into the second half with Alan Smith putting Arsenal one up.
Smith’s goal immediately brought a unified response of panic from the Liverpool players, who were harassing the referee to disallow the goal - though they were most probably not entirely coherent on what infringement they were actually protesting. Some claimed handball, some offside, others claimed that from this indirect free kick Smith hadn’t even touched the ball. TV replays from every available angle however clearly proved that Smith’s goal was perfectly legitimate and crucially so too did the referee, regardless of what 40,000 Liverpool fans at Anfield thought at the time. For those who have only in the years since ever seen the edited second half highlights, this footage here of the Second half in its entirety reminds just how end to end the match was after the first goal went in.
As the second half progressed, George Graham reverted to 4-4-2 after starting with five across the back, with Thomas very nearly grabbing Arsenal’s second a lot earlier but hitting it straight at Grobbelaar. The ending of course is known the world over and has since passed into folklore with Thomas grabbing the winner deep into injury time. In contrast to the modern phenomenon of leaving before the final whistle, the Kop actually remained for the trophy presentation. As explained by Perry Groves: ‘we got a standing ovation from the Kop, who had stayed there [after the final whistle] because I think they appreciated the way we’d gone about the game. We didn’t go there and try and boot them off the park, and they’re a very respectful crowd. They know good football’.
It’s also true that Arsenal had also won the respect and appreciation of Merseyside in their sensitive dealing with the matter of Hillsborough, particularly their refusal to pressure Liverpool into playing out the remainder of the league programme, as well as their entry to the Anfield pitch that night in presenting the crowd with flowers in memory of those who had died. Following on from 'The Match' was the delayed News at Ten, leading with the game which many had just witnessed - along with a live interview with a victorious George Graham.
The ongoing fallout from the Hillsborough disaster also still dominated the news, with a public apology from Chief Super-intendent David Dukinfield after his blaming of the fans for the disaster – something which caused huge resentment on Merseyside. A few days on from Anfield came the title parade, in which around a quarter of a million fans turned out as covered here by an LWT News, BBC News and ITN bulletins.
For Liverpool, there would be one more title win, however the 1990s – in comparison to the two decades which proceeded them – were a period of decline for Liverpool. Arsenal would win a further title two years on from Anfield ’89, but would not be title winning force again until the end of the decade. Despite that, as will be seen in tomorrow’s #FlashbackFriday, fixtures between Arsenal and Liverpool would remain a huge box office draw to fans the world over for several years to time.
(Part Four covering 1989 to 2017 came be found here)
*Follow us on Twitter@upstart_footbal
*Published 21st December 2017