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Joe Fagan was more than a glorified copilot. He validated the Liverpool Way

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Joe Fagan was more than a glorified copilot. He validated the Liverpool Way

On the 10th anniversary of his death, Gregg Roughley argues that Liverpool's second European Cup-winning manager should be more widely appreciated

Joe Fagan celebrates Liverpool's 4-2 penalty victory over Roma in the 1984 European Cup final at Rome's Olympic Stadium. Photograph:

It's 10 years to the day since the former Liverpool manager Joe Fagan died aged 80. And while the brief but brilliant contribution of winning the League Cup, the league title and the European Cup in his first of only two seasons might be forgotten outside Merseyside, on the Kop it is cherished, affording him the hallowed status of the club's more famous fathers.

When Bob Paisley retired in 1983 the then Liverpool chairman, John Smith, had enough confidence in the burgeoning bootroom ethos to give Fagan the job. Despite having absorbed the managerial genius of Paisley, to whom he was assistant manager and Bill Shankly, whom he worked with as a coach in almost 30 years at the club, Fagan's only previous experience as a manager was long behind him at non-league Nelson in the 1950s.

That Fagan accepted the job is something for which Liverpool fans should be eternally grateful. The straightforward 59-year-old Scouser may have appeared to be the natural successor, but he was a reluctant one, saying of the Anfield job: "It's lonely up there." At only two years Paisley's junior, he was hardly a long-term option and admitted to feeling more at home enjoying the banter with players in training at Melwood than the rigours of succeeding a manager who had just won six league titles and three European Cups in only nine years, a record not even Mr. Ferguson has matched.

A 31-year-old Kenny Dalglish may have had the innate ability to cope with managing Liverpool but, in 1983, he was still busy terrorising defences with Ian Rush. Whether Smith ever considered the possibility of recruiting an outsider is not known, but that Fagan understood it was his duty to "wearily climb the steps", as Dalglish once said of Fagan's promotion, is. His remarkable success in his first season (1983-84) would do more than justify Smith's faith, it would also play a huge role in validating what has since become known as the Liverpool Way.

To his detractors Fagan was nothing more than a glorified co-pilot keeping an unstoppable machine pointed in the right direction. But that does the man a disservice. Liverpool's dressing-room was a strong one, with the experience of Graeme Souness, Phil Neal and Dalglish accompanied by some old-headed younger players such as Alan Hansen, Steve Nicol and Ronnie Whelan. Fagan was not merely brought in as a cheerleader, he was appointed because he was respected by a group of players of whom many had been used to getting what they wanted on and off the field for the best part of a decade. To walk into such a situation and have the strength of character to make telling decisions was not easy. The league campaign was a fiercely contested one. Manchester United, Nottingham Forest, Southampton and QPR ran Fagan's side close.

An embarrassing 4-0 defeat to Coventry City in the first half of the season could have sewn the seeds of doubt in Fagan's mind that he was a nothing more than a No2 and not up to the task, but by the turn of the year Liverpool were top by two points and heading towards a 15th league title. Using the much-maligned Michael Robinson as a third attacker was a shrewd move too, keeping the formation fresh and giving the young striker the experience he would need to deputise for Dalglish who missed nine weeks of the run-in with a shattered cheekbone caused by the elbow of Manchester United's Kevin Moran.

Fagan also dropped Dalglish in his two-year spell. Perhaps it is this painful memory that prompts the Scot more than any other Liverpool player or manager to recite the old adage that no player is bigger than the club, another vital component of the Liverpool Way. Liverpool's remarkable run in the European Cup, in which they did the rarest of things at the time and tore apart the Portuguese champions Benfica at the Stadium of Light, winning 4-1, culminated in a final against Roma at their home ground, the Stadio Olimpico .

A baying atmosphere made it feel like an away match for Liverpool, but they were 1-0 up after only 13 minutes when Phil Neal pounced on a fumbled cross by Franco Tancredi. Roberto Pruzzo's equaliser before half-time led to a cagey second-half and extra time, finally culminating in penalties. Despite 70,000 hostile Romans willing Liverpool to miss every kick, it was the 'home' side who suffered. Fagan's quiet word with Bruce Grobbelaar, instructing him to do what he could to put off Roma's penalty-takers, worked a treat. The eccentric goalkeeper's spaghetti legs routine gave Francesco Graziani the wobbles, forcing him to shank Roma's fourth penalty hurtling over the bar to secure Liverpool a fourth European Cup.

Fagan did not allow Liverpool's players to celebrate for long. "Here are the Championship medals. If you qualified for one, take one," he told his squad after their short summer break. "The trophies we won last season, the European Cup, League Championship and League Cup are gone. In the past. We start again. We're European champions. We have to defend our title."

He quietly replaced Graeme Souness with Jan Molby, arguably the finest passer of a football to wear a red shirt (Xabi Alonso included). It was a signing that would benefit Dalglish as manager more than Fagan, but showed that he had a keen eye for a footballer and was more than just a coach.

Perhaps it was because Fagan, who never actually played for the club, was so steeped in the Liverpool Way that he resigned in May 1985. "Second is nowhere", was Shankly's motto. That's where Liverpool finished in the league following his treble-winning season. His decision was taken in the days leading up to the horrors of Heysel, in which 39 Juventus fans died after Liverpool fans caused a wall to collapse during fighting before the match. Liverpool lost the final in Brussels 1-0. Not that it mattered after what had gone before.

While the red half of the city was paralysed by guilt, Fagan showed his strength of character, It was he who spoke for the football club at a memorial service at Liverpool's catholic cathedral when others could not. "We pray for their families and friends who have suffered through bereavement," he said in his warm Liverpudlian lilt. "We pray that the sporting spirit, so treasured on Merseyside, may never be lost to violence or bitterness." Perhaps it is because Dalglish learned from Fagan that the responsibility of

being a football manager sometimes goes beyond making football decisions that he was able to hold the club together so bravely in the aftermath of Hillsborough.

That Fagan's glorious cameo should end on such a sombre note is a crying shame. But his work at Liverpool was done. His success emboldened the board to once again recruit from within: a decision that is still benefiting the club to this day.

Boss article. Joe Fagan is the manager i remember most growing up as a kid, back when every season's end i seemed to be stood by the esso garage on queens drive waiting to see Liverpool FC bring back trophies. Happy days.

Great article, 2 european cup finals in 2 seasons as a manager says it all really plus a treble as well.

youll never walk alone it:
lovely man, an did a great job the short time he was here, think heysel took a big toll on him.

Malaysian Kopite:
Great article. Fagan's achievements are too often glossed over by the achievements of Shanks, Bob, Kenny, Ged and Rafa.


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