Approaching his mid-thirties, Liverpool favourite Kenny Dalglish became the club's player-manager, taking over the managerial reins from Joe Fagan. Fagan was already a part of the furniture at Anfield when he became assistant manager to Bob Paisley in 1974 after Bill Shankly retired. Fagan had been at Liverpool since the late 1950’s working as the reserve team coach. When Paisley retired in 1983, the manager’s job was Fagan’s. Fagan wasn’t in the Liverpool manager’s hot seat for that long but he brought a clutch of silverware to the Anfield club, winning the First Division title, the League Cup and the European Cup during his time as team boss. Understandably, after the Heysel tragedy, Fagan decided to retire from football. By all accounts Fagan was a quiet, down to earth, unassuming man. A Liverpool legend, he passed away in 2001 aged 80. So, Dalglish took over at the helm at Anfield. Yes, by the time he took on the managers role, Dalglish was already a club legend himself, yet he was an untried and untested manager, he had big boots to fill, the club’s success under Fagan and Paisley before him, were still recent memories. Dalglish started very well, winning the domestic double of the First Division title and the FA Cup in his first season as team boss. However, because of the Heysel tragedy at the European Cup Final of 1985 in Brussels in which 39 people died, UEFA deemed it correct to serve a lengthy ban on Liverpool Football Club, as well as all other English clubs. Therefore Dalglish was denied the chance to lead his team to European glory, something he had achieved during his playing career at Anfield.
Liverpool’s top scorer at that time was Welsh international, Ian Rush. At the end of the 85 – 86 season Rush had found the net 31 times in all competitions, his excellent scoring form would continue into the next season, scoring 40 goals in all competitions.
Some of the best footballers in Europe were in that mid 80’s Liverpool's squad. As well as Dalglish, there was Mark Lawrenson, a defender bought from Brighton and Hove Albion in 1981 for £900,000, a club transfer record back then. Then there was Alan Hansen, another defender who proved world class, bought from Partick Thistle in 1977 for just over £100,000. Craig Johnston, the inventor of the Adidas Predator football boot, was acquired from Middlesbrough in ‘81 whilst he was still on loan at the now defunct Australian team Newcastle KB United. Steve Nicol was brought in from Ayr United, and he enjoyed a great career at Liverpool. Ronnie Whelan had an excellent time at Anfield winning a shed load of silverware, he was bought for a measly £35,000 in 1979 from Dublin club, Home Farm. Back then Liverpool were extremely good at bringing in players to the club from unfancied, run-of-the-mill sides, yet once at Anfield they would be turned into class players. Ian Rush was brought in from Chester City in 1980, for a then club record of £300,000. He would go on to score 346 goals in 660 games for Liverpool, back in those days Liverpool had a knack of doing excellent business. After ten great years at the club, native scouser Sammy Lee would depart the club. Lee joined the club in 1975, signing apprenticeship forms, he made his full team debut in 1978 in a match against Leicester City, in which he found the net. He put in many a great shift in for his team, Lee would also win 14 international caps with England.
Also brought in later in the season was John Aldridge from Oxford United for £750,000. Aldridge would only be at Liverpool for a couple of years, playing 80 games, but he found the net 53 times. After leaving he went to Spain to join Real Sociedad, after a brief time there he came home, signing for Tranmere Rovers. Again he would prove just how good a striker he was, scoring nearly 140 goals in 243 games. The defending champions began well that season, winning 2 – 0 away at Arsenal, both goals coming, not surprisingly, from Ian Rush. The next game they drew 0 – 0 with Manchester City at Anfield. That season Liverpool’s then poor record against Manchester United in the league would continue, losing both league games that season, 1 – 0 at home and by the same score at Old Trafford. Liverpool’s only serious rivals for the league title crown were city neighbours Everton. In all honesty, during that mid 80’s phase Everton were just as good a side as Liverpool, if not better. As the season wore on Liverpool would see some surprising defeats, games you wouldn’t have expected them to lose. Early in the season, they went to Leicester City and lost 2 – 1. Just over a fortnight later they would also lose to Southampton by the same score at The Dell. During the late October of that season they went to Luton Town and were battered 4 – 1. In December they went to Watford and came away with a 2 – 0 loss. United weren’t the only team to do the double over Kenny Dalglish’s team that season, Tottenham Hotspur also beat the Anfield club home and away. They also suffered surprising league defeats against Wimbledon, Norwich City and Coventry City. They lost 11 games in the First Division that season, not like Liverpool of the 1980’s at all. For the most part it was a close race to the title between the two Merseyside clubs. Oddly enough Everton would go on to lose 12 games that season. With Hindsight, it’s easy to say the title was really up for grabs for a side that could keep the defeats down to a minimum, to lose 12 games and still come away with league title was a rare thing, but that’s what Everton did, winning the title with 86 points, a huge 9 points ahead of Liverpool who finished runners up with 77 points.
Liverpool reached the final of the League Cup that season, a tournament they usually did well in. After victories against Fulham, Leicester City, Coventry City, Everton and Southampton, they found themselves in the final against Arsenal. In front of nearly over 95,000 fans at Wembley, Liverpool took the lead thanks to a goal from talisman Ian Rush. Arsenal fought back through from a goal down to lift the trophy winning 2 – 1, courtesy of a couple of goals from Charlie Nicholas. It was frustrating season for Dalglish’s team, as far as the major honours were concerned they finished empty handed. However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. The Football League Super Cup, a short-lived piece of silverware, found its way into Liverpool’s hands after they beat neighbours Everton. Two groups of three teams competed the Super Cup, the teams included Liverpool, Everton and Manchester United to name three. Liverpool and Everton reached the final, held at Anfield. Liverpool ran out 3 – 1 winners, Ian Rush scoring two and Steve McMahon scoring for the other. It was a cup tournament introduced in light of the Heysel ban in an effort to gain revenue that they would lose due to the European ban. Liverpool would return to European competition in the early 1990’s, as would all the English clubs, Manchester United winning the European Cup Winners Cup and the European Super Cup first time of asking after the ban was lifted, and yes they would go on for many years to dominate the English game. Happily for Kenny Dalglish, he would return to the hot seat at Anfield for the 2011 – 2012 season, seeing his Liverpool side lift the League Cup.