The dawn of a new decade found Britain struggling. Seven months earlier, as a direct result of dissatisfaction with rising unemployment and raging inflation, the population had reacted by ushering in the nation’s first-ever female Prime Minister. Margaret Thatcher promised better times would follow more austere ones but for now, patience combined with hard work was what was required. Sound familiar?
Football too was going through what might most generously be described as a ‘transitional phase’ with gates falling and concerns growing over hooliganism and a perceived lack of quality and excitement out on the pitch. As with life and society, in general, there was a sense of gloom abounding the domestic world of football and despite English sides recent success in Europe, where the European Cup had been won three seasons in succession, English football was only just beginning to emerge from the doldrums.
In the 1970s, the English national side had suffered the humiliation of not qualifying for a single World Cup and also failing spectacularly in the European Championships of 1972 and 1976. As the calendar ticked over into 1980, England had at last qualified for a major tournament by finishing top of their European Championship qualifying group and so at least had the final stages of the tournament to look forward to in June.
On New Year’s Day 1980, nobody knew that the headlines over the next twelve months would be dominated by the likes of; Johnny Logan, Andy Gray, FA Cup Semi-Final replays, Trevor Brooking, John Robertson, Avi Cohen, Hooligans in Italy, Closed doors matches, 6-0 defeats and Gary Bailey penalty saves, Terry Venables and Ghost Goals, Geoff Hurst, Kevin Keegan, the Iranian Embassy Siege, the shootings of JR Ewing and John Lennon, and most memorably of all perhaps, “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma”.
All of that was to come, however, when Liverpool got the new decade rolling by sitting atop of the First Division two points clear of Dave Sexton’s Manchester United side. Four league titles in the 1970s had found their way to Anfield alongside two European Cups, two UEFA Cups and an FA Cup, and the juggernaut Bob Paisley had inherited from Bill Shankley and then refined was showing no signs of slowing down.
Liverpool would go on to pursue a domestic clean sweep of trophies in 1980 but would find themselves under increasing pressure from not just Sexton and Unites, but also Bobby Robson’s Ipswich, Terry Neill’s Arsenal and, invariably, Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest.
In February, Liverpool’s quest for the treble was halted by Clough when Forest edged a bad-tempered League Cup Semi-final 2-1 on aggregate to qualify for a third successive League Cup Final. Widely expected to beat a Wolverhampton Wanderers side now captained by ex-Anfield stalwart, Emlyn Hughes, Forest succumbed to the only goal of the game scored by Andy Gray.
Out of the running for the league title, Forest then pushed on in Europe in defence of the European Cup they had won in 1979. A two-legged success over Ajax of Holland saw Forest through to a fifth cup final in three seasons and a May date with Kevin Keegan’s Hamburg in the Bernabeu Stadium.
By the time the two teams lined up on 28 May 1980, most of the other issues in the 1979-80 club season had been finalised.
Liverpool had indeed held off the challenge of Manchester United to secure their fourth league title in five seasons and their 12th in total. United had pushed Liverpool hard but the wheels had started to come off in March when the Old Trafford men had travelled to third-place Ipswich Town and were beaten 6-0. The scoreline could have been even worse as United ‘keeper, Gaily Bailey, stopped two penalties.
Liverpool finally got over the line courtesy of a 4-1 victory over Aston Villa in the penultimate game of the season. It was in this match that Israeli international, the late Avi Cohen, scored his one and only goal for Liverpool, netting at the Kop after his unfortunate deflection had gifted Villa their equalising goal in the first half.
In the FA Cup, Liverpool and Arsenal clashed in the semi-finals. Then clashed again. And again. And once more.
In the third replay, Arsenal prevailed by a single goal and so progressed to an all-London final against West Ham. Having also defeated Juventus in the semi-final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup, Arsenal now had two cup finals in the space of five days to look forward to.
Unfortunately, they failed to score a solitary goal in three-and-a-half hours of trying and were defeated 1-0 by West Ham courtesy of a Trevor Brooking header and on penalties by Valencia after a scoreless draw.
Kevin Keegan lined up against Nottingham Forest in what was one of his last games for Hamburg for returning to English football. Having left Liverpool three years earlier, Keegan had the pick of English and European sides to choose from but in the end, elected to join Southampton after being wooed by Lawrie McMenemy. For a while, though, Keegan had looked set to make an even more unlikely switch to Second Division Chelsea, then managed by 1966 World Cup hero, Geoff Hurst.
In a dour game in Spain, Nottingham Forest triumphed by a single goal netted by John Robertson. If this result sent Keegan into the summer’s European Championships under a cloud, what happened in Italy with England was only ever going to exacerbate his feelings of gloom.
Widely tipped to do well, and perhaps even win the tournament, England flattered to deceive and finished third in the group stage. A depressing opening day draw against Belgium was marred by serious crowd disorder and when the Three Lions were defeated in the next game by hosts Italy, the game was up and England were on the way home.
In April and May, that year highlights away from the game included Ireland’s Johnny Logan winning the Eurovision Song Contest with a ditty entitled “What’s Another Year” and, more seriously the tragedy of the Iranian Embassy Siege in London when two hostages and four terrorists were killed after a six-day standoff.
On Television, the nation was tuning into the antics of the Ewing family in the series “Dallas”, and when the main protagonist, JR Ewing, was involved in a whodunnit shooting the country was seemingly gripped. By the end of the year, of course, a real-life shooting was to grasp the headlines in an altogether more real and horrific manner.
Other league highlights at the end of the 1979-80 season included Leicester City winning the Second Division title thanks in part to the goals of a young Gary Lineker, and Grimsby Town and Huddersfield Town winning the Third and Fourth Division titles respectively.
When the new season kicked off in August, Kevin Keegan’s Southampton got off to a winning start over Malcolm Allison’s Manchester City as did Paisley’s Liverpool over so-called ‘Team of the Eighties’ Crystal Palace.
Palace had risen from the Third Division under the astute leadership of Terry Venables and had earned if that is the word to use, their moniker from the media based on their perceived potential. A decent first season back in the top flight had followed and Palace and Venables were expected to build on that. However, by the time autumn came around the dream was beginning to sour somewhat and as the leaves were beginning to turn golden in colour, Venables suddenly resigned and decamped for Loftus Road and Queens Park Rangers.
Venables’ departure from Selhurst Park came shortly after a defeat away to Coventry City. During the match Palace striker, Clive Allen, who had signed for the club in the summer in a weird transfer swap with Arsenal for Kenny Sansom, scored what looked to be a perfect strike. Hitting the ball cleanly, Allen watched his shot beat the City keeper and rebound out of the goal via the stanchion at the back.
The referee, after consulting his linesman, (as they were still called in those days) ruled that the ball had hit the post or crossbar and the ‘goal’ was not given. Never mind, Clive. Just another forty years or so and I’m sure VAR would have given it.
As Liverpool made their customary start to the season, they were kept company at the top of the table by Ipswich Town and an Aston Villa side beginning to emerge under Ron Saunders.
The early rounds of European competition were played and although Liverpool, Ipswich and West Ham all made progress, European Cup holders, Nottingham Forest were eliminated at the first stage by CSKA Sofia.
Following on from the scenes in the summer, more crowd trouble occurred when West Ham played away to Real Castilla in the first leg of the European Cup Winners’ Cup and after deliberating expelling West Ham from the competition, UEFA ultimately decreed that the Hammers would have to play the second leg at Upton Park behind closed doors. The fact that West Ham eventually won the tie 6-4 on aggregate was perhaps of secondary importance.
As the festive season approached, Liverpool and Ipswich occupied two of the top three league spots going into their Portman Road clash on December 13, 1980. The travelling fans who made the journey to deepest Suffolk that day did so in a sombre mood as just four days earlier one of the city’s most celebrated sons was tragically murdered on a New York street. Forty years on and the slaying of John Lennon makes as little sense today as it did then.
On the last day of 1980, Liverpool sat in their customary position at the top of the table, so ending the year exactly as they began it. Hot on their heels were Ipswich and Villa, and the scene was seemingly set for a titanic three-way tussle for the title going into 1981.
As December ticked into January so did the dulcet tones of the worst Christmas number one single in living memory. As St. Winfred’s School Choir intoned there really was ‘No One Quite Like Grandma’, the world looked forward to 1981 with mixed emotions.