After a short hiatus, our ‘Back to the Eighties’ series returns with a look at 1988 – a year which briefly gave cause for optimism, and at one point even threatened to spread a little cheer following several years of austerity and gloominess.
It was the year of the so-called ‘Second Summer of Love’ when something commonly known to the cool kids as Acid Music was riding high in the charts. While Yazz and the Plastic Population were suggesting the ‘only way is up’, the nation’s youth seemed inclined to agree and for a brief while forgot all about punching the living daylights out of each other on the football terraces of the land, and instead decamped for places such as Ibiza and the lures of the designer drug, Ecstasy. (Not me, mum, if you’re reading this. Honestly.)
On the footballing front, Liverpool were at their absolute peak and flying under manager Kenny Dalglish’s attack-minded formation. This consisted of Peter Beardsley, John Barnes and John Aldridge, who all signed for Liverpool in the spring of 1987 in response to Ian Rush’s impending departure to Juventus.
As the clock ticked over from December 31st 1987, the Anfield boys sat atop the Barclays First Division a cool ten points clear of the chasing pack and still unbeaten in the league. Dalglish seemed to be coming into his own as a manager and had reinvigorated the club with astute signings and changing the previous more conservative style of his successors in the Liverpool hot seat.
Expected to struggle for goals after the sale of Rush, Liverpool were instead swarming over the opposition and when they defeated Coventry City by a 4-0 scoreline on New Year’s Day, it was the eighth time they had hit a side for four since the season’s start.
Of the chasing pack, Arsenal were putting together a run under George Graham in his second full season as manager after taking over from Don Howe, and with a youthful team complemented by some old heads, progress was being made.
Also seemingly headed in the right direction with a relatively new young Scottish manager at the helm were Manchester United. A year on from his arrival from Aberdeen and Alex Ferguson was beginning to stir things up at Old Trafford. A great believer in youth, some of the older faces were already being eased out of the door and although it would take another few years and a couple of false dawns, this policy would yet pay great dividends.
Struggling at the wrong end of the table were Watford, whose manager, the long-serving Graham Taylor, had decamped for Aston Villa in the summer, and Portsmouth, led by England World Cup winner, Alan Ball.
As spring came around, Arsenal and Luton Town squared off at Wembley in the final of the League Cup, then sponsored by Littlewoods. As holders, Arsenal were expected to sweep Luton aside and retain the trophy won twelve months earlier at the expense of Liverpool. The best-laid plans, and all that.
Despite falling behind to a 13th-minute goal scored by Luton’s Brian Stein, the Gunners seemed to have turned things around courtesy of goals by Martin Hayes and Alan Smith, and when with just a few minutes remaining they were awarded a penalty and the chance to go two goals clear, the trophy was seemingly within new captain, Tony Adams’, grasp.
Inexplicably, however, somebody within the Arsenal ranks mistook the dying minutes of a cup final for a testimonial, and so rather than any of the Gunners’ established spot-kick takers stepping forward to take the kick, the ball was handed to Nigel Winterburn who had never before taken a penalty.
Luton ‘keeper, Andy Dibble, guessed right to keep out Winterburn’s effort, and then, inevitably, Luton went down the other end and scored twice in the last few minutes to mug Arsenal and take the cup.
Away from football and “House” Music, 1988 saw a Conservative government riding out the crest of an economic boom but with storm clouds brewing. The announcement of a pending ‘poll tax’ had not gone down well and would later contribute to the fall of Lady Margaret Thatcher, and would largely overshadow the progress being made in the economy.
House prices were rising sharply, and with the onset of a ‘yuppie’ culture, the era of ‘Loadsamoney’ was ushered in. Comedian Harry Enfield took on the phrase, created an obnoxious character of the name, and in doing so made himself, erm, loads of money.
Back to the football, and as Liverpool strolled to their expected seventeenth league title, eventually clocking up 90 points from a 40-game season, the FA Cup Final was reached where the upstarts from South London, Wimbledon, were, like Luton before them, the sacrificial lambs to the slaughter.
Once again, things failed to pan out as per the script, and in one of the biggest FA Cup Final shocks of modern years, the Dons ran out single goal victors and thus deprived Liverpool of their second ‘double’ in three years.
England was the only country of the four home nations to qualify for the summer European Championships of 1988 and found themselves in a group alongside the Republic of Ireland, the Soviet Union, and Holland. Tipped to at least reach the semi-finals, England, led by Bobby Robson, suffered a disastrous tournament, contriving to lose all three group matches. Somehow Robson survived a vote of confidence and would live to fight another day and led England into the autumns qualifying matches for the 1990 World Cup.
Also living to fight another day – quite literally – was a sizable yob following of England fans who spent the best part of two weeks running amok in West Germany and thus ensured that the ban on English sides competing in European club competition would be extended for another two seasons.
In the summer, the British transfer record was smashed three times. Firstly, Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne became the subject of the first two-million-pound transfer between two British clubs when he signed for Tottenham from Newcastle despite intense interest from Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, then Tony Cottee joined Everton from West Ham for a fee of £300,000 in excess of Gascoigne’s, before finally Liverpool stunned the footballing fraternity by bringing Ian Rush home from Juventus for a reputed £2.7 million.
By now, summer was in full blaze and chart-bothering acts included Glenn Medeiros, Bros, Rick Astley and copious amounts of both Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan.
Just writing that last sentence sends a three-decade-long shiver down my spine!
Anyway, luckily the new season was soon upon us and new boys, Millwall, were the welcome upstarts making their First Division bow. Going in the opposite direction was, amusingly, Chelsea and their cuddly chairman, the erstwhile Ken Bates. He of the Papa Smurf beard and the electric fence proposals was cheerily waved on his merry way after Chelsea managed to lose a two-legged play-off final to Middlesbrough.
In the news over the year was the establishment of ‘Comic Relief’, a charity set up by comedians designed to raise money for the disadvantaged; the ongoing ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland which saw a spate of bombings and tit-for-tat sectarian murders, but also included three IRA members being gunned down in broad daylight in Gibraltar; the first-ever criminal conviction in the UK to be based around DNA evidence; and the ongoing blight on society that was HIV and AIDS. It was estimated that up to 50,000 UK citizens could be suffering from HIV with 17,000 AIDS-related deaths.
Overseas, the 1988 Olympic Games were held in South Korea and Ben Johnson, the fastest man in the world, captured the headlines for all the wrong reasons when he failed a drugs test and had both his gold medal and world record ripped from him.
Expected to dominate once again, once the season got underway Liverpool actually struggled to find form and the autumn saw them playing catch-up to early leaders Arsenal, Norwich City and Millwall. Attempting to crowbar Ian Rush back into the team meant Dalglish tinkered with the previous season’s 4-4-2 formation and it took time to gel. By the end of the year, Liverpool would be six points off leaders Arsenal having played a game more.
Arsenal now looked genuine title challengers and had a solid defence in place which would serve the club well for much of the next decade. Tony Adams, despite still only being 21, was established as the club captain in place of stalwart Kenny Sansom who had been eased aside by George Graham, and alongside Adams in the centre of defence was Steve Bould with the talented Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn playing as full-backs.
The Gunners’ midfield boasted David Rocastle and Michael Thomas in its ranks, while Paul Merson and Alan Smith provided the firepower upfront. While some of Arsenal’s football wasn’t perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing on the eye, it was certainly effective.
As the year came to a close news came of a terrible tragedy in the town of Lockerbie where Pan Am Flight 103 exploded, killing all 259 passengers and crew on board and 11 people on the ground. Subsequent investigation found the cause of the explosion to be terrorist-related.
It was a sombre end to a year that had provided a fair deal of sunshine to be fair, but perhaps a prudent reminder that we are all vulnerable and life can be fragile.
This would become only too tragically clear over the next twelve months.