Liverpool’s Record Breaking Season: 1978-79 – A Moment In Time

The season is 1978-79.  Liverpool had won the title in 1975-76 and 1976-77, but had finished 2nd to newly promoted, Nottingham Forest in 1977-78.  Forest also beat them in the League Cup Final in 1978.  But Liverpool had won back-to-back European Cups in 1977 and 1978.  They were stunned by Forest in 1978 and bounced back with a vengeance.

They were managed by Bob Paisley, who had taken over from the legendary Bill Shankly in 1974.  Paisley’s Liverpool had finished 2nd in his first season in charge and then won the next two Championships.  For the first couple of years, Paisley was in charge of a Shankly team, with one or two additions, namely Ray Kennedy and Terry McDermott.  But by the start of the 1978-79 season, this squad was almost unrecognisable from the one Shankly had taken to Wembley in 1974

 Squad

Goalkeepers

Ray Clemence, age 30 (53 apps, 34 clean sheets) Joined from Scunthorpe in 1967, played 665 games for the club before moving to Tottenham in 1981.

Steve Ogrizovic, age 20 (1 app) Joined from Chesterfield in October 1977, but only made 5 appearances until he moved to Coventry in August 1982, for whom he made over 700 appearances

Defenders

Phil Neal, age 27 (54 apps, 5 goals) Began his career at Northampton.  Became Paisley’s first signing in November 1974.  Played 650 games for the club up to December 1985.

Alan Kennedy, age 24 (43 apps, 3 goals) Began his career at Newcastle.  Moved to Liverpool in August 1978.  Played over 350 goals for the club, scoring the winning goal in the 1981 and 1984 European Cup Finals.

Phil Thompson, age 24 (49 apps) Joined as an apprentice, and remained at the club till 1985 when he retired from the game.  Played 477 games for the club and captained both his club and country.

Alan Hansen, age 23 (42 apps, 2 goals) Signed for Liverpool from Partick Thistle in 1977, and went onto play over 600 games for the club, and later captained

Emlyn Hughes, age 31 (28 apps, 1 goal) Began his career at Blackpool before Shankly signed him in 1967.  Captained both club and country, playing 665 games before moving to Wolves in 1979

Midfield

Jimmy Case, age 24 (48 apps, 9 goals) Local lad, spent 7 years at the club before moving to Brighton in 1981.

Terry McDermott, age 27 (49 apps, 8 goals) Began at Bury and then Newcastle, before joining Liverpool in 1974.  Played 329 games for the club, scoring 81 goals from midfield.

Ray Kennedy, age 27 (54 apps, 11 goals) Started his career at Arsenal.  Joined Liverpool in July 1974, the same day Bill Shankly stepped down as manager. Played nearly 400 games for the club until he moved to Swansea in 1982.

Graeme Souness, age 25 (53 apps, 9 goals) Joined from Middlesbro in January 1978.  Went on to become captain of the club and later manager, in 1992.  He played over 350 games for the club before moving to Sampdoria in 1984.

Sammy Lee, age 19 (2 apps) Born in Liverpool, made his debut in 1976, and went onto play almost 300 games before he moved to QPR in 1986.  Later returned as coach.

 Strikers

Kenny Dalglish, age 27 (54 apps, 25 goals) Signed from Celtic for a, then record fee of, £440,000 in the summer of 1977.  Went onto play over 500 games and score 172 goals for the club he later managed.

David Johnson, age 26 (37 apps, 18 goals) Joined the club in 1976 from Ipswich, having already started his career at Everton.  He left Liverpool in 1982 and re-joined Everton.

Steve Heighway, age 30 (37 apps, 4 goals) Came from non-league Skelmersdale in 1970, and spent 11 years at the club, making 475 appearances.  He scored 76 goals, including the ’71 and ’74 FA Cup Finals.

David Fairclough, age 21 (10 apps, 3 goals) Local lad, earned the nickname ‘Supersub’ through his knack of scoring goals after coming on as sub.  Spent 9 years at the club, before moving to Norwich in 1983.

In the days when rotation was something you did to crops rather than players, 4 players, Dalglish, Ray Kennedy, Neal & Clemence, played in every league match, with Souness missing just 1 match.  In all, 11 players made over 30 league appearances, with Heighway playing 28.  Consistency was the word.

At the start of the season, Tommy Smith and Ian Callaghan were off to Swansea, with Joey Jones also on his way to Wrexham.  Emlyn Hughes was gradually being used less and less and so this was a definite feeling of a whole new team being developed by Paisley.

A quiet man, Paisley was reputed to be an excellent judge of a player.  Evidence of this was in his conversion of Ray Kennedy, a prolific goalscorer at Arsenal, to left midfield.

The season began with the visit of QPR to Anfield.  By August 1978, QPR were a shadow of the side that had finished 1pt behind Liverpool in 2nd place in May 1976.  Liverpool won 2-1with goals from Kenny Dalglish and Steve Heighway.  Paul McGee scored for QPR.

That McGee goal is significant.  In fact, by the end of the season he was part of an exclusive group of 4 players, McGee, John Hawley, Ally Brown and Andy King.  They were the only players to score at Anfield in 21 matches during the 78-79 season.

The opening day of this season was also significant for English football as two Argentinians made their debuts for Tottenham, who had just been promoted back to the First Division after one season.  Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa had been part of the Argentina squad which won the 1978 World Cup.  Spurs pulled off a coup by signing Ardiles, who played in the final, and his friend, Villa.  They would go down in Spurs folk-lore.

The following Tuesday, Liverpool travelled to Ipswich and Souness put Liverpool in front and then Dalglish scored another 2 goals in a 3-0 win.  The weekend’s match was away toManchester City.  City had finished in the top 3 for the past 2 years and were expected to be contenders again this time round.  Liverpool took them apart as Souness (2), Dalglish and Ray Kennedy scored in a 4-1 win.

After the start they had, it was a real shock to find them lose 0-1 to Division Two, Sheffield United in the League Cup.  This result was even more surprising when you consider what happened next.

September

Saturday 2nd September 1978

Liverpool v Tottenham

Spurs had bounced straight back after their relegation in 1977.  They drew their opening match away to champions, Nottingham Forest and then were beaten at home 1-4 by Aston Villa.  After a 2-2 draw at home to Chelsea, they turned up at Anfield and received a footballing legend.  Liverpool were in sublime form.  Dalglish (2), Johnson (2), Ray Kennedy, Neal and McDermott all scored in a 7-0 win.  The last goal from McDermott is well worth watching.

The 7th goal starts with a corner for Tottenham.  The ball is cleared from under his own crossbar by Terry McDermott.  After just a few passes the ball finds Steve Heighway wide on the left, his cross is met by McDermott who heads home.  It’s the only time he touches the ball after clearing the corner, and the sort of performance Liverpool fans were used to from a true box-to-box player.

September continued with a 3-0 win at Birmingham which included Alan Kennedy’s first goal for the club.  They then turned their attention to the European Cup.  Liverpool, winners in 1977 and 1978, were confident of a 3rd successive win.  Back in those days, only the Champions of each country qualified for the competition, along with the current holders of the trophy.  As Liverpool had not won the league the previous season, Nottingham Forestwere entered into the European Cup alongside them.  Unbelievably, the two were drawn against each other in the First Round.

The first leg was at the City Ground and Forest were in dogged form.  Having started the season with 4 straight draws in the league, Forest won the 1st leg, 2-0.

Liverpool bounced back in the league with Souness  scoring his 6th of the season againstCoventry in a 1-0 win, then they travelled to The Hawthorns and drew 1-1 with West Brom, which ended their 6 game 100% record.

The 2nd leg of the European Cup at Anfield was a dour affair and Forest continually thwarted Liverpool in a 0-0 draw.  In the previous season Liverpool had reached the finals of both the League and European Cups.  By September the following season, they were out of both at the first attempt.

Jimmy Case then scored a hat-trick in a 3-0 home win over Bolton.  He scored another when they went to Norwich and won 4-1.  John Ryan became just the 4th player to score against Liverpool in the league.

October

Derby then visited Anfield and with David Johnson’s goal separating the two sides at half-time, the visitors must have fancied their chances.  But 2 goals each for Ray Kennedy and Kenny Dalglish gave the home side a 5-0 win.

 

After beating Chelsea at home, 2-0, Liverpool were already 4pts clear at the top of the table with 31pts from a maximum 32.  They’d scored 35 and conceded just 4.  Paul McGee was still the only player to score in 6 matches at Anfield.  Next up, the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park.
It had been 7 years since Everton triumphed over their neighbours, yet an Andy King goal won the game for the blues, 1-0.  Liverpool’s 11-game unbeaten run in the league had ended.

November

At the beginning of November, their 100% home record went too, as Leeds grabbed a 1-1draw at Anfield.  John Hawley became the 2nd opposing player to score at Anfield that season.  They then went to Loftus Road and won the return fixture against QPR3-1, before a late penalty from Phil Neal beat Man City 1-0 at Anfield.
By the time Liverpool turned up at White Hart Lane at the end of November, Spurs had improved on their awful start.  So much so, they held the leaders to a 0-0 draw. Liverpool ended November as McDermott and Souness giving them a 2-0 home win against Middlesbrough.

December

December started badly for Liverpool as they visited Highbury and a David Price goal sawArsenal beat them 0-1.  Two days later, they were in Brussels to play Anderlecht in the European Super Cup.  Back then, this was played over 2 legs.  Vercauteren put the home side in front and Jimmy Case equalised.  But further goals from Frankie Van der Elst (who later went onto play for West Ham) and Dutch international, Robbie Rensenbrink, gave Anderlecht a crucial 3-1 lead to take to Anfield.
Since Nottingham Forest came up at the beginning of the previous season, Liverpool had met them 5 times and were still to come away with a victory.  9th December changed all that.  Two goals from Terry McDermott and Liverpool came away with a 2-0 win.  The tide was definitely turning back to Liverpool, as the champions were now 8pts behind.
Euphoria over beating their newest rivals was short-lived as a Joe Royle goal gave Bristol City a surprising 1-0 win at Ashton Gate.  After 3 losses in 4 matches, Liverpool wouldn’t be beaten in another 17 games in all competitions.
The 2nd leg of the Super Cup was next.  A disappointing Anfield crowd saw Emlyn Hughes give Liverpool a first half lead, but they struggled to break the Belgians down, and when van der Elst scored, the tie was virtually over.  Fairclough grabbed a goal for a 2-1 win, but Liverpool lost 3-4 on aggregate.
Boxing Day saw Liverpool visit Old Trafford.  Ray Kennedy gave the visitors the best possible start with a goal after 5 minutes.  20 minutes later, Jimmy Case doubled the lead.  Midway through the 2nd half, Fairclough completed an impressive 3-0 win.
At the end of 1978, Liverpool were top on goal difference above Everton, who had played a game more.  West Brom were 2pts back in 3rd place with Arsenal a further 2pts back.

 January

 1979 began with the Third Round of the FA Cup, and Liverpool had been drawn away toSouthend, who were a 3rd Division club.  Snow had mean the game was postponed on the Saturday, and there was still snow around when the two met the following Wednesday. Southend managed a famous 0-0 draw.  A week later the replay at Anfield saw Case, Dalglish and Ray Kennedy give Liverpool a 3-0 win.
The league calendar was affected by the weather so much that Liverpool only played FA Cup games during January.  After beating Southend, they were drawn against another Third Division side, Blackburn Rovers.  Kenny Dalglish won the game with a goal 8 minutes from time as Liverpool won 1-0.

February

By the time Liverpool resumed their league campaign at the beginning of February, West Brom had moved to the top of the table.  They were the visitors to Anfield , and Ally Brown became away player no.3 to score at Anfield.  Liverpool won 2-1 as Dalgish and Fairclough scored.
Brown’s goal was the first Ray Clemence had conceded for 4 matches in all competitions, and he would then go on a run of 7 successive clean-sheets.  Birmingham were beaten 1-0. Then Norwich came to Anfield on a cold Wednesday evening in February, and were hit for six!  Dalglish scored the only goal of the first half and then within 6 minutes of the re-start, Johnson (2) and Dalglish had made it 4-0.  Norwich were finished off by the Kennedy’s and Liverpool ran out 6-0 winners.
At the weekend, they travelled to Derby and Dalglish and Ray Kennedy helped them walk away with a 2-0 win.  Liverpool were now 5pts clear of Arsenal and Everton, at the top and had 2 games in hand.
They ended the month beating Burnley in the FA Cup.  Goals from Johnson (2) and Souness gave them a 3-0 win and took them into the Sixth Round.

March

March began with two 0-0 draws away to Chelsea and Coventry.  The Chelsea resultwas a surprise as they were 2nd from bottom, with just 15pts.  Back in cup action and they travelled to Portman Road to meet the cup holders, Ipswich Town.  Dalglish scored the only goal in a 1-0 win.  Dalglish scored again, the following Tuesday in the Merseyside derby, but Andy King equalised.  The game ended 1-1, and King became away scorer no. 4.  He was also the last opponent to score at Anfield that season and were 7 teams still to arrive.
Two further home matches were played as both Wolves and Ipswich were beaten 2-0. Liverpool were still 5pts clear of Everton and had 2 games in hand.  They’d played 16 matches at Anfield, winning 14 of them, scoring 40 goals and conceding just 4.
 
March ended as February had, with the FA Cup.  This time was the Semi-Final at Maine Road where Manchester United were the opponents.  In a real dogged battle, the game ended 2-2 as Alan Hansen grabbed a late equaliser.

April

The replay was the following Wednesday, and in the interests of fairness, was at Goodison Park.  The game was settled by a Jimmy Greenhoff goal as United won 1-0 and were through to meet Arsenal in the final.
Liverpool now entered April with just the league to concentrate on.  They had 12 games left and conceded in just 3 of them.  They started with a 3-0 win over Arsenal, whose form had really slipped.  Case, Dalglish and McDermott got the goals.
Wolves were then beaten, 1-0 at Molineux with another Alan Hansen goal.  Games were coming thick and fast and Manchester United visited Anfield for their 3rd meeting in 2 weeks.  Goals from Dalglish and Phil Neal gave Liverpool a 2-0 win.
Easter Monday and Liverpool were at Villa Park to meet Aston Villa, but were off form and lost 1-3.  This seemed to be a real freak result as they’d gone through the whole season without conceding more than once in the league, and now they were battered.
This left Liverpool still 6pts clear of West Brom and Everton at the top.  Remarkably, Everton had been less affected by the weather and so had played 38 games, whereas Liverpool had only played 34 and West Brom, just 32.  Forest were now up to 4th and mounting a challenge.  Retaining their title seemed unlikely, but 2nd place was certainly possible.
Bristol City then came to Anfield and an early Kenny Dalglish goal saw them off, 1-0.  April ended with two away draws, 1-1 at Southampton and 0-0 at Nottingham Forest.  Liverpool were 7pts clear at the end of the month with West Brom and Nottingham Forest in 2nd and 3rd.
 

May

At the beginning of May, Liverpool travelled to Burnden Park to meet Bolton.  Two goals from Ray Kennedy as well as goals from Johnson and Dalglish gave them a 4-1 win.  This would be the 16th and final goal they’d concede in this record-breaking season, and ironically, it was an own goal from Graeme Souness.  On 5th May, two Phil Neal goals gave them a 2-0 win at home to Southampton, and then they played their final home match of the season.
Aston Villa were the final visitors to Anfield and were seen off by goals from Alan Kennedy, Kenny Dalglish and Terry McDermott.  This result on Tuesday 8th May, secured their 11thtitle, and their 3rd in 5 seasons under Bob Paisley.
Their home record was, played 21, won 19, drawn 2, scored 51 and conceded 4.  They were still 7pts clear of West Brom, who had just 3 games to play.
Liverpool’s final two matches were at Ayresome Park where a David Johnson goal gave them a 1-0 win over Middlesborough.  The final match of this season was at Elland Road where they beat Leeds United, 3-0 when David Johnson (2) and Jimmy Case scored.  This match was significant as the 2pts gave them a total of 68 for the season and beat the record for the number of points in a 42-game season when 2pts were awarded for a win.  The holder of the previous record were, Leeds United, when they racked up 67 pts in 1968-69.
Liverpool had clearly been rocked by the emergence of Nottingham Forest, and had hit back with a record breaking season
Most points – 68pts
Most goals – 85
Fewest goals conceded – 16
Fewest goals conceded at home – 4
Most clean-sheets – Ray Clemence (28)
Season Record: Played 54, won 35, drawn 11, lost 8, scored 98, conceded 26
The season had been a truly remarkable one.  Apart from the records Liverpool set here are some of the other notable occurrences;
Viv Anderson became the first black player to play for England in a full international.
Trevor Francis became the first £1m player when Nottingham Forest signed him from Birmingham.
Arsenal were 2-0 up in the FA Cup Final before Man Utd scored 2 late goals to equalise and then Arsenal went straight down the other end and Sunderland grabbed a dramatic winner.
Nottingham Forest retained both the European and League Cups.
Back in February when Liverpool went to the Baseball Ground and beat Derby County 2-0.  Their second goal that day was scored by Ray Kennedy and was later voted Goal of The Season

Published in permission with Pete Spencer

Written by Dinesh V

Co-founder of Soccersouls. Living a start-up life 24/7
Follow @dineshintwit

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