Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Stuart Brennan

The big Liverpool history myth exposed as they prepare for Man City showdown

The narrative for Sunday’s showdown between arguably the two best teams on the planet is being set; good old organically-grown Liverpool against outrageous oil-fuelled Manchester City. It’s the traditionalists against the nouveau riche, the club that does things “the right way” against the cheats and mega-spenders, the club that “means more” against one that means less.

That narrative, however, is largely espoused by the cultish element of Liverpool’s varied support base, and cheered on by blinkered associates who serve as media pundits. And of course, there are serious elements of truth in there.

There is no doubt City would not be in the position they currently occupy without the capital investment they enjoyed once Sheikh Mansour took over the club in 2008. The owners pumped money into the club, and the regeneration of east Manchester, overhauling the infrastructure and commercial departments as well as the academy and first team squad, to make it the free-standing entity it is today; a club that rode the pandemic better than most because its owners do not demand dividends and paybacks and because they have elite teams, both on the pitch and in the business offices.

ALSO READ: The sheer hypocrisy behind Liverpool and United moaning about City

But the more fanatical sections of Liverpool’s fanbase — not all, it must be stressed — cannot accept that these Manchester upstarts should be allowed to compete with them. Rather than relishing the rivalry, they talk about asterisks being placed next to City’s trophy wins to denote that they were not won within the rules. Which they were, unless the ongoing Premier League investigation finds startling new evidence.

The idea that Liverpool grew naturally, fertilised by that strong Scouse sense of community, the football knowledge engendered in their famous bootroom, and by shoestring economics is, however, disingenuous to say the least.

And strangely enough, the release of a new BT Sport documentary, which is a fulsome appreciation of how Liverpool rose to the heights in the 1970s and 80s — and have risen again in the last five years — details the point at which Liverpool’s fortunes changed for good. Strangely, it did not revolve entirely around the genius of Bill Shankly (though he played a big part) but was also down to a switch in their financial fortunes.

In the documentary “The Boot Room Boys” it was left to Anfield veteran and stadium announcer George Sephton to nail the truth about how Liverpool’s rise truly began. In the 1950s, Liverpool were the poor relations on Merseyside, a “second division mediocrity” as narrator Peter Hooton says in the film.

Liverpool manager Bill Shankly signs an autograph for a Manchester policeman as his team arrive at Ringway airport. November 7, 1972 (Mirrorpix)

They had been relegated in 1954 and were “in terminal decline” says Hooton — a situation City fans if a certain vintage know only too well. Everton had replaced Liverpool in the top flight in 1954 and, in Sephton's words “had bigger crowds then, and they thought of themselves as the big boys simply because Liverpool were down in a lower league.”

Liverpool’s board, he added, were “quite happy being a big fish in a small pond.” The arrival of Shankly brought fresh ambition to the club, but it was not matched at boardroom level and the feisty Scot almost walked out in exasperation at the lack of forward vision being shown.

The club had been hovering below the promotion places in the second division since their relegation five years earlier, and Shankly’s pleas for the club to loosen the purse strings and buy Leeds and England star Jack Charlton and Huddersfield ace Denis Law — snapped up by City for the first £50,000 fee — fell on deaf ears.

Shankly, like Pep Guardiola more recently, recognised that you can have all the coaching innovations, man-management skills and tactical revelations in the world but, unless you have top-quality players to implement them all, you are doomed to failure, he also recognised that getting those players requires big spending.

Liverpool’s, and Shankly’s, fortunes changed when John Moores — who founded the Littlewood’s pools and mail order giant, which made him one of Britain’s wealthiest men — joined Everton as chairman and gave up his shares in Liverpool in 1960.

He gave his shares in Liverpool to Eric Sawyer, financial director of Littlewood’s, and he recognised the eternal truth in football that you need to spend to be successful. With Shankly in his ear, Sawyer set Liverpool along a path to greatness.

Up until that point, Liverpool’s famous “history” had been underwhelming. They had won five league titles and no FA Cups in their 68-year history, one more trophy than City, with one league title and three FA Cups — in an era when the cup was more prestigious than the league.

Liverpool were a second division club but started spending money like a first division giant, They splashed out £37,500 on centre forward Ian St John from Motherwell, and quickly followed that with £30,000 on centre half Ron Yeats from Dundee United.

Bearing in mind the record fee paid by a British club at that time was £50,000 (ironically spent by City on Law) it was a phenomenal amount for a second division club.

Working out football inflation is a hazardous business, but to pay fees which amounted to 75 per cent and 60 per cent of the highest fees ever paid by a British club was remarkable, for a team that had just finished third in the second division.

Translated into modern terms, it was like the current Huddersfield Town spending £75million on a striker and £60million on a centre back. Not much “organic growth” going on there.

In the documentary of Sawyer’s influence on the rise of his club, Sephton said: “I think it was probably as important to the club as Bill Shankly turning up to be manager, in hindsight. Because he had ambition in his new position to make Liverpool a big team again. He was the man with the key to the wallet.”

The spending did not stop there — in the next four seasons they totted up £230,000 in purchases for players like Willie Stevenson, Peter Thompson, Phil Chisnall and Geoff Strong. Again, translated to modern-day fees, that is around £230million just to get out of the second division and become competitive in the first division.

Allied with Shankly’s excellence, it was a winning formula as they won promotion in 1961, took the league title in 1964, won their first FA Cup in 1965 — 51 years after “no history” City had won it — and went on, after a brief interlude when Manchester ruled the English football roost in the late 60s, to become the dominant force in the country.

The spending spree started by Sawyer might seem trivial and economic when compared to City’s vast expenditure, but all of these things are relative, with football now being a far greater business enterprise with TV revenue, global commercial deals and players on enormous wages.

The fact remains that Liverpool, like Manchester United under James Gibson in the 1930s, Arsenal in their “Bank of England” club spree in the same decade, Chelsea under Roman Abramovich, and City under Sheikh Mansour, were transformed from mediocre to world-beaters. Evidence that every big, successful club needs a sugar daddy at some stage of their history — it’s just a matter of timing.

Sign up to our City newsletter so you never miss an update from the Etihad Stadium this season.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.