Like so many other years in the nineteen-eighties, 1984 was a mixed one, both in terms of football and society in general.
It was a time when gates were continuing to fall and hooliganism was reaching an apex. English sides were continuing to do well on the pitch in Europe while being let down by supporters on the terraces and in the bars and streets of foreign towns and cities. The English national side, managed now by the late Sir Bobby Robson, was struggling and in fact, none of the home nations had qualified for the European Championships held in France that year.
Britain was just beginning to emerge from the recessions and depressions that had plagued the nation in the seventies and the early parts of the current decade, but prosperity was still far away for too many people. Unemployment in many areas, particularly the north, was still raging and the political situation was becoming more strained with real divisions between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ becoming ever more apparent.
Margaret Thatcher had been reelected to a second term of government, while Neil Kinnock had taken over the leadership of the Labour Party from Michael Foot and was attempting to begin the long process of reorganizing and rejuvenating the party from within.
Not for the first nor for the last time in the decade, January 1st rolled around with Liverpool sitting atop the Football League. A clash the day after New Year’s Day with second-placed Manchester United at Anfield ended in a 1-1 draw and left Liverpool three points ahead of their nearest rivals. Also in the mix at this point were Southampton, West Ham United and Nottingham Forest.
In the Second Division, Newcastle United were challenging for promotion alongside Howard Wilkinson’s Sheffield Wednesday and John Neal’s Chelsea. Manchester City were also looking to make an instant return to the top flight after their dramatic last day relegation the previous season.
The FA Cup third round saw the Magpies take on Liverpool at Anfield in the first-ever non-final to be televised live, and Newcastle turned up with 12,000 supporters in tow hoping to see Liverpool old boys Kevin Keegan and Terry McDermott inspire their side to a famous win. Instead, Liverpool turned on the style and emerged 4-0 victors.
A 2-0 defeat at the hands of Brighton and Hove Albion in the next round put paid to Liverpool’s hopes of an unprecedented quadruple, but the final of the League Cup was reached and a first-ever all-Merseyside Wembley cup final was secured when Everton overcome Aston Villa in the other semi-final.
By the time the final was played in March 1984, the country was plunged into a nationwide strike held by miners. In an attempt to persuade the National Coal Board and the government of the day to rescind its decision to close a number of collieries, the National Union of Miners, led by Arthur Scargill orchestrated industrial action that was to ultimately prove unsuccessful and the effects of which are still felt to a degree today.
The violence witnessed and displayed on and off the picket lines and the bitterness and the divisions caused by the year-long dispute caused families and communities to be irrevocably split. These divisions, it can be argued, still exist to this day.
While all of this was kicking off – literally – twenty years after the emergence of the Beatles the music world was once again being taken by storm by an all-male group from Liverpool. Like their mop-haired counterparts of two decades earlier, Frankie Goes to Hollywood were not without controversy. Their debut single, Relax, contained what could only be diplomatically described as ‘risque’ lyrics, and was promptly banned by the BBC.
Also pushing for national recognition in the early months of the year was a pop duo going by the unlikely moniker of ‘Wham’. Widely varying futures lay ahead for its two members – the ‘skinny one’ (Andrew Ridgely), and the ‘chubby one’ (George Michael).
A single Graeme Souness goal finally secured the League Cup after a replay as the season came into its final throes with a title that nobody seemed particularly keen to win. Liverpool and United had broken away from the pack with ten games to go, and then both seemed to down tools. Liverpool would drop 13 points from their remaining ten matches, while United would drop a staggering 20. Fortunately for Joe Fagan and his men, none of the chasing pack could make up the ground and Liverpool held onto their crown by three points from Southampton who finished in the runners-up spot.
Birmingham City, Notts County and Wolves were relegated from the First Division, to be replaced by Chelsea, Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle. Cambridge United set a new record in the Second Division when they failed to win in 31 consecutive games. Relegated alongside them were Swansea City suffering a second successive demotion.
Meanwhile, Alex Ferguson was continuing to make a name for himself in Scotland with Aberdeen once again winning the Scottish Premier League, this time seven points ahead of Celtic.
Everton finally emerged from the shadows of their Merseyside neighbours by bouncing back from their League Cup Final defeat to secure the FA Cup courtesy of a 2-0 victory over Watford. Elton John sat in the Royal Box alongside his wife watching proceedings just six years after the Vicarage Road club had been a fourth division side.
The final club match of the season took place in the Olympic Stadium in Rome as Liverpool took on the hosts in the final of the European Cup. In what was to prove Graeme Souness’s last game for the club, Liverpool and Roma drew one apiece.
Having been forced to play the final on the ground of their opponents Liverpool could have had a case for arguing they deserved to be awarded the trophy on the away goals rule!
However, that not being the case they had to settle for victory through a penalty shoot-out. The success meant that Liverpool had completed the first-ever treble of major trophies in the English game.
The summer came and France won the European Championships they hosted, with Michel Platini hitting the heights of international football. Meanwhile, England slumped to a dismal defeat at home to the USSR and then followed that up with an unlikely victory at the Maracana Stadium against Brazil. In a moment that would define him and his career, John Barnes went on a slalom run of a dribble, beating several Brazilian defenders before slotting into an empty net. It gave Barnes a benchmark that he spent the rest of his career trying to live up to.
The summer of 1984 saw the Olympic Games being held in Los Angeles. Britain collected gold medals in the shape of Seb Coe in the 1500 metres and Daley Thompson in the Decathlon, but the headlines were grabbed by Carl Lewis of the USA who emulated Jesse Owens’ feat of half a century earlier when he took four golds in the 100 metres, the 200 metres, the 4 x 100 metres relay and the Long Jump events.
The miners’ strike ploughed on and so did Frankie, with another number one hit single, Two Tribes, in the summer mercifully keeping Black Lace’s ‘Agadoo’ off the top spot.
When the new season kicked off in August, Liverpool and Everton once again met at Wembley, this time in the FA Charity Shield. A Bruce Grobbelaar own goal settled the match and gave the first hint that the pendulum of power was about to shift to the blue half of Merseyside. In fact, as the season progressed into October, Liverpool found that a rocky start to the season had left them temporarily marooned in the bottom three, with their Goodison neighbours indeed setting the pace at the top of the table.
Also in October, a bomb killed five and injured 31 when murderous and cowardly thugs from an Irish republican organisation attempted to assassinate Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Cabinet. Planting a bomb in the Grand Brighton Hotel, the device exploded during the Conservative Party Conference being held in the town.
The winter months settled in and as Everton consolidated their position near the top of the table, there came news of a terrible drought and famine which was killing hundreds of thousands of people in Ethiopia and other African countries. Upon witnessing the harrowing scenes on the news, musician, Bob Geldof, made use of his contacts in the music business and so Band Aid was organised. An ensemble group recorded the single, ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas’, which went on to become the biggest selling single of all-time until it was supplanted by Elton John’s tribute to Princess Diana thirteen years later.
The year drew to a close with Everton sitting atop the First Division table with Merseyside rivals Liverpool back down in the seventh spot.
As another year ended and the nation turned into the plight of those poor souls suffering thousands of miles away, while thousands closer to home suffered through the miseries being caused by the Miners’ Strike, it seemed the nation was at a bigger crossroads than ever before.