1983 is a year that seems to be lost to the time grains of sand in as much that it is not considered to be a particularly memorable or outstanding twelve months in the story of the decade.
Unlike other years of the ‘eighties, 1983 is consigned to the wastelands of most people’s memories as a bland period in which nothing much of note happened in either football or society in general.
Perhaps this is a little unfair? Let’s take a closer look.
In a footballing sense, 1983 kicked off on January 1st like so many other years of the decade with Liverpool sitting on top of the table. In what was to be Bob Paisley’s last season in charge, the Reds had started the season well and a 5-1 tonking of Notts County on New Years’ Day left them eight points clear of Manchester United and Nottingham Forest with 22 games played.
Liverpool were arguably at their absolute peak during this period, and as early as the turn of the year other managers and sides were openly conceding the title.
One of the few offering up even the slightest of dissent to this view was Manchester United manager, Ron Atkinson.
Into his second season as boss of the Old Trafford outfit after taking over from Dave Sexton, ‘Big Ron’ was beginning to make waves and headway, and United were beginning to be seen as potential true challengers to Liverpool once more. As well as leading the chasing pack in the league, United swatted away Arsenal to reach the final of the Milk Cup and a Wembley date with, invariably, Liverpool.
While the battle for honours was continuing, at the bottom of the First Division Brighton and Hove Albion, Coventry City, Luton Town and Birmingham City were among the sides battling to avoid the drop. Somewhat surprisingly, Swansea City, the previous season’s shock package, also found themselves deeply mired at the wrong end of the table.
Just twelve months after leading the table and being seen as genuine title contenders, the Swans, led by ex-Liverpool forward, John Toshack, had seemingly already run out of steam and the Welsh club would be relegated back to the second flight come the end of the season.
Another side experiencing an unanticipated slide down the table was Manchester City. Like Swansea City, the Maine Road team had led the table during various points of the 1981-82 season but now seemed unable to put a run together and when John Bond left the club in early 1983, the club continued on its downward plummet.
Into the spring and Liverpool and Manchester United clashed twice within a month. First up was a league game at Old Trafford which United went into fifteen points behind Paisley’s men but with a game in hand. Before the biggest league gate of the season, 57,397, United took the game to Liverpool and opened the scoring on 36 minutes through Arnold Muhren, only for Kenny Dalglish to equalise three minutes later. With no further addition to the scoreline, the Anfield men kept on course for their fourteenth league title.
The England national team were in the midst of qualifying matches for the 1984 European Championships, due to be held in France, and were under new management in Bobby Robson. Robson had taken over the mantle from Ron Greenwood who had stepped down after the 1982 World Cup.
As 1983 dawned, England had made a solid start in their group with two victories over Greece and Luxembourg, the latter a 9-0 Wembley victory. An away draw at Denmark had preceded these fixtures and was seen as a good result. In March 1983, however, England unexpectedly dropped points in a home draw against Greece thus putting pressure on in terms of qualification.
Liverpool and Manchester United then met for the third and final occasion of the season in the Milk Cup Final at Wembley. Manchester United were slight underdogs but took the game to Liverpool and a superb Norman Whiteside goal after twenty minutes put them ahead. Still only 17 years of age, Whiteside had already established himself as a mainstay in the United team and was playing with aggression and maturity far beyond his years.
Liverpool came into the game more and more, yet still United hung on to their slender lead. Just when it was looking like they might hold on, up popped Alan Kennedy to send a ‘Barney Rubble Special’ bouncing through the car park and past Gary Bailey to force extra-time.
In the extra period, with injuries and tiredness beginning to take their toll, United were under the cosh and it was no surprise when their defences were breached once more and Liverpool took the trophy.
Remaining bullish in the face of defeat, Atkinson declared that his side would be back at Wembley in May for the FA Cup Final and that this time they would be successful.
By the season’s end, Liverpool wrapped up the title while United did indeed battle through to the FA Cup Final, where they would meet Brighton and Hove Albion. Brighton reached the final under the stewardship of Jimmy Melia despite being relegated.
Also making the drop to the Second Division were Swansea City and Manchester City who had been relegated courtesy of losing a final day showdown with Luton Town.
Making the journey in the opposite direction were Leicester City, promoted after two years in the second flight and boosted by the goals of a young Gary Lineker; Wolverhampton Wanderers, who were making an immediate return to the top flight after relegation in 1982; and Queens Park Rangers, fired by the goals of Clive Allen and the astute management of Terry Venables.
Onto Wembley then, and the showdown between Brighton and Manchester United. On a grey and drizzly day, United were expected to sweep Brighton away and make up for the disappointment suffered at the same venue just a matter of weeks earlier. Brighton and Jimmy Melia hadn’t read the script, however, and were very unfortunate not to win a pulsating match.
The 2-2 draw meant a replay five days later and this time normal service was resumed as United cantered to a 4-0 victory in a very one-sided affair.
The summer came and went with England winning the British Home Championship and undertaking a three-match tour in Australia.
In July Joe Fagan replaced Bob Paisley as Liverpool manager and made his competitive bow as boss at Wembley when Liverpool met Manchester United in the FA Charity Shield in a rerun of the previous season’s League Cup Final.
1983-84 was predicted by many to be the season when Manchester United would begin their ascendency to the peak of English football and replace Liverpool at the summit of the game. They made a good start at Wembley on a sunny August afternoon with a 2-0 victory and followed this up with a 1-0 league victory over Liverpool in early autumn.
England’s battles to reach France ‘84 continued into September, but then spectacularly hit the buffers when a disastrous single goal defeat at home practically destroyed all chances of qualification. Despite winning the last two games in the group, Robson’s men finished a point behind the Danes and failed to make the trip to France.
The 1983-84 season saw sponsorship of the Football League in the form of a deal with Canon. The traditional trophy was replaced by one designed especially for the sponsorship deal and ended up looking like three sticks of Toblerone chocolate supporting an orange.
It was a truly shocking effort!
Also making its bow for the new season were league matches shown live on television. Excepting a failed experiment in the early 1960s, league matches had never been shown live, but in the summer of 1983, a joint BBC and ITV deal was struck to show a limited number of games.
Tottenham Hotspur and Nottingham Forest met in the first of such matches and played out a 1-1 draw.
As the year drew to a close, Liverpool and Manchester United were indeed battling for the top two positions in the table and a 1-0 victory over fifth-placed Nottingham Forest on the final day of the year left Liverpool top of the table by three points with Manchester United to come to Anfield two days later.
Away from football, 1983 saw Margaret Thatcher win a second term as Prime Minister as the ruling Conservative Party won a landslide election victory of a Labour Party beset by internal strife and a largely unpopular defence policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament.
A young man by the name of Steven Waldorf was shot by armed police in a case of mistaken identity, leading to a trial for attempted murder. The two police officers responsible for shooting the poor chap five times were finally acquitted of all charges.
A month later in another part of London, human remains were found in the drainage system of a private residence and investigations led to a man, Dennis Nilsen, ultimately being charged with the murders of six young men although he was said to have confessed to fifteen such killings.
Elsewhere, the one pound coin was introduced in April while the blockbuster films of the year were “Gandhi”, starring Ben Kingsley, and the James Bond film, “Octopussy” with Sean Connery.
Topping the music charts for the year was Culture Club with “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”, a six-week number one single, with Billy Joel’s, ahem, classic “Uptown Girl” in second-place in the year’s totals.
And so ended 1983. Not a particularly stand-out year in many senses, rather a quiet-ish typical early 1980s twelve months. Society and football, in general, seemed to be in a trough but at least there were signs of possible shoots of recovery compared to the dark days of the late 1970s and the first couple of years of the 1980s.