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Bob Paisley's Swansong - the 1982-83 season

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Bob Paisley was my childhood hero. Due to my parents not meeting each other in time, I was born too late to fully appreciate the charismatic reign of Shankly. For me, Uncle Bob was an almost permanent fixture whilst I was growing up; the quiet genius embarked on the most successful managerial career of all time just as I first started to take an interest in football in the mid-1970’s. I only ever saw him once close to - at a testimonial match for Phil Thompson, when the crowds milling around suddenly spotted him looking down from an office window, his grizzled face and hooded eyes scanning the throng below. A ragged cheer went up, he grinned, then turned away, cup of tea in hand, and moved out of sight. For me, that summed up the character of the man - self-effacing, shy and totally reticent about appearing in the limelight. A limelight that over a career spanning more than 40 years at Anfield he’d helped to create so brilliantly.

Paisley was born in County Durham in 1919. The war years, in which he served in North Africa, delayed his Liverpool debut until the 1946-47 season. Not a bad year to start. That team, including Jackie Balmer, Albert Stubbins and Billy Liddell had been  sent to the USA pre-season to build up their strength (Britain was still under post-war rationing at the time), thanks to an inspired idea from the then chairman, William McConnell, who had run a catering company during the war. Many steaks and a roller coaster of a season later saw Liverpool end up as Champions following a final day win at Wolves thanks to goals from Balmer and Stubbins, and a loss for Stoke away to Sheffield Utd.

Paisley’s first Championship medal was his only one as a player, but he was to be involved in winning another nine over the course of his career. However, this nearly never happened, thanks to the biggest disappointment of his playing career. After scoring in the FA Cup semi-final in 1950, he was left out of the final thanks to a vote from the then board, who were still involved in team selection. Although he received a specially minted loser’s medal following Liverpool’s 2-0 defeat to Arsenal, Paisley later admitted he came close to walking out on Liverpool. Fortunately for all concerned he didn’t, and he went on to subsequently captain the side. He retired from playing after relegation in 1954 and became the reserve team coach.

A half-decade of disappointing league results and slowly dwindling crowds was to be brought to a halt in 1959 with the arrival of Bill Shankly. In arguably one of his shrewdest moves ever, Paisley, by then first team trainer, and the rest of the backroom staff were kept on by Shankly and the next 14 years saw Liverpool re-establish themselves as one of the biggest clubs in the country. Paisley was an integral cog in the Liverpool off-field machine, the quiet, though fiercely disciplinarian yin to Shankly’s extrovert yang. His incredible ability to spot injuries was vital to a man who had almost a phobia about injured or unfit players and his tactical nous was unparalleled. Following his shock retirement in 1974, Shankly recommended Paisley as his successor and, after a good deal of arm-twisting, he assumed command for the 1974-75 season, believing himself to be just a stopgap. Some stopgap…

After finishing as runners-up in his first season as manager (‘it wasn’t all glory you know, some years we only finished second…’), the next two years saw successive doubles. In 1975-76, the league and UEFA Cup, following a two-legged victory over Bruges was secured, and the famous 1976-77 season saw the league and, for the first time, the European Cup captured. The aftermath saw Paisley sitting tee-total in the Holiday Inn whilst the riotous celebrations went on around him. He was quoted as saying, ‘the Pope and I are the only two people sober in Rome tonight. I like a drink, but tonight I’m drinking in the celebrations’. Later, he was also to write in his diary, ‘After Saturday’s defeat at Wembley’- to Man Utd- ‘we wondered what effect it would have on the players. We needn’t have worried…we turned in the best performance in the history of the club.’ He was right about that, but even more glory was to follow in the form of two more European Cups and championships in 1978-79, 1979-80 and 1981-82, along with a couple of League Cups just for laughs. Inspired signing after inspired signing was made (surely no-one will ever better the captures of Dalglish, Souness and Hansen, not to mention signing the likes of Lawrenson, Nicol, Johnston, Whelan et al? And the conversion of Ray Kennedy from striker to left midfield was nothing short of brilliant). After a rebuilding process over the 1981 and 1982 seasons, Paisley announced he would be retiring at the end of the 1982-83 season, finally bringing to an end his glorious managerial reign.

Despite fears that Paisley’s impending retirement and the announcement of such would leave him ineffective and a bit of a lame duck, this was not to be and his meticulous approach to management was followed with as much enthusiasm as ever. The previous seasons’ rebuilding process meant little was required to be done to the squad- McDermott’s sale back to Newcastle and the signing of David Hodgson for a fee of £450,000 from Middlesbrough were the only major transfer movements pre-season, although the releases of Phil Thompson and David Johnson were also made.

The season started well with five wins and two draws in the opening seven games, including a splendidly exciting 4-3 win over Forest and a 5-0 thumping of Southampton at Anfield. Hodgson had opened his account with three goals in two games against Arsenal and Forest, but Dalglish and Rush were in such form that he wasn’t to feature too often in the rest of the season. Successive away defeats to Ipswich and West Ham and draws against Utd at home and Stoke away had the usual critics grumbling about a crisis. But a 3-1 home win against Brighton quietened them (at this point ‘Sniffer’ Lawrenson was bizarrely the joint top scorer) and the next match silenced them for good.

On the sixth of November, Liverpool met Everton at Goodison for the first derby match of the season. Everton had had a patchy start to the season, winning five, drawing two and losing five of their opening twelve games, but this was to prove one of their biggest humiliations ever. Dalglish and Rush, who hadn’t scored in the previous six league games, ran riot. A 5-0 win was racked up, with Rush grabbing four and the match entered into folklore, inspiring a new verse for Poor Scouser Tommy. Another Rush hat-trick followed the week after against Coventry at home and Liverpool’s season was on fire. In the meantime, wins against Ipswich, Rotherham and Norwich had seen us advance into the quarter-finals of the league cup and successive 5-1 aggregate defeats of Dundalk and Helsinki in front of some of the smallest crowds at Anfield for years had set us up for a quarter final meeting with Widzew Lodz in the European Cup.

Liverpool now embarked on their trademark gallop towards yet another Championship. Following a 1-0 defeat away to Norwich at the start of December, we were to remain unbeaten for the next 19 matches, only 5 of which were drawn. A spectacular Christmas and New Year period saw seventeen goals in four games, with hat-tricks for Dalglish in a rollicking 5-2 hammering of Man City and for Rush in a 5-1 shoeing of Notts County.

In the Cups, there was to be a premature exit in the FA Cup 5th Round, with Jimmy Case rather spitefully scoring to knock us out and Neal missing a late penalty chance to equalise. Sadly, Paisley’s last chance at winning the only major competition he had missed out on ended there. A Grobbelaar mistake away to Lodz in the European Cup saw the Poles take a 2-0 lead back to Anfield where a break away goal and Souness giving away a penalty allowed them to go through despite being beaten 3-2.

There was to be more joy in the League Cup, with its sponsorship by the Milk Board again proving lucky for us. West Ham and Burnley were swept aside en route to a final meeting with Utd. Despite an early goal from the 17 year old ‘prodigy’ Norman Whiteside, the constant Liverpool pressure eventually told with an equaliser from Alan Kennedy forcing the game into extra-time. A sublime curling winner from Whelan following a ricochet secured a hat-trick of League Cup successes for Paisley and led to one of the most poignant moments of the season. Souness declined to climb the Wembley stairs first and shoved a reluctant Paisley up to collect the trophy. In a glittering career, Paisley was later to remark that this was the proudest moment of his life. A fitting and touching tribute to the man who had molded the Liverpool captain into probably the finest midfielder we’ve ever seen.

The final seven games of the campaign saw Liverpool slacken off, only 2 draws contributed to our eventual 11 point winning margin over second placed Watford. Although I’m sure I went to earlier games that season, the only ones I remember well were the 2-0 home defeat to Norwich, including an own goal from Hansen (anyone who moans about the complaints at Anfield these days should have been in the Main Stand for that one…). And then, all too suddenly it came- Paisley’s last match at Anfield. Having pestered my Dad for weeks beforehand, the blue-nosed bugger took me along to see us against Aston Villa, in the Kop at my insistence. Cue a 15 year old Wool shouting his head off, determined to enjoy every moment of the last home match of his childhood hero. In the event the result was a slightly dull 1-1 draw, and much to my disappointment, Paisley didn’t do a lap of honour. It was only later that I realised how out of character that would have been for this most modest and unassuming of men.

With the obvious benefit of hindsight, something was lost when Paisley retired. Certainly we went on to more glory with Fagan’s Treble, Dalglish’s Double and the amazing 1988 team and Paisley was still on hand in an advisory capacity, especially for Dalglish. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, and clearly the Heysel and Hillsborough disasters ripped the heart and soul out of the club, but we never quite seemed to have the same powerful solidity again, never quite the sense that Uncle Bob’s ultra-reassuring presence would see us through when the chips were down with one of those trademark winning streaks. And I guess if I feel that, even though it may not be true, then that really does show how much of an impact his managerial reign had on me and by extension everyone else connected to the club.

Following his retirement, Paisley was elected to the Board, his nature probably more suitable to such a position than the more assertive Shankly, who was denied this honour. Sadly, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease later on in his life, and died in February 1996. Amazingly, and criminally, he was never knighted but he was fittingly immortalised by the building of The Paisley Gates in 1999.

Bob Paisley Stats-

Playing Career (1939- 1954): 278 games, 13 goals
Playing Honours: League Championship Medal (1946-47); Special FA Cup Final Runners-Up Medal (1950)

Managerial Career (1974- 1983)
6 League Championships (1975-76, 1976-77, 1978-79, 1979-80, 1981-82, 1982-83)
3 European Cups (1977, 1978, 1981)
1 European Super Cup (1977)
1 UEFA Cup (1976)
5 Charity Shields (1976, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1982)
6 times Manager of the Year (1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983)
14 times Manager of the Month

I’d like to dedicate the above to my Granddad, the closest person to Paisley in nature that I could imagine and another I’ll never forget. RIP

© Mudface 2005

If you haven't seen it there's a cracking Paisley website run by Derek Dohren (author of the recent biography of Roy Evans):

For a superb account of a fan’s reaction (the author Alan Edge) to meeting Paisley’s granddaughter see:

Cracking read cheers mate  :wave

He'll always be Sir Bob to me.

cheers mate- i don't have first hand expierience of shankly and paisley (im only 16), but it's lovely to read about these great men, especially this post- brilliant.


Nice one Mudface

Great read that mate.

Sir Bob Paisley was the master.



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