As the 1982-83 season came to a close everyone knew this would be the end of the most decorated managerial career in English football to that point. Liverpool’s Bob Paisley had decided earlier that year it was time to call it a day at the age of 64.
Paisley had overseen the most successful period in Liverpool’s illustrious history having won 6 League Championships, 3 European Cups, 3 League Cups and 1 UEFA Cup not to mention a healthy sprinkling of Charity Shields.
The County Durham native was the quiet man in the background of the famous Boot Room at Anfield when chosen to fill the manager’s chair after the larger-than-life Shankly’s shock retirement in 1974. Many were sceptical whether a man like Paisley could replace such a tour de force as Bill Shankly and take the already successful Reds to even greater heights. The Kop had no reason to panic.
Paisley not only matched but exceeded all expectations as his side dominated both English and European football for a decade. His methods were to be the blueprint that all clubs would try to emulate in the following years as he created the mould countless others tried and failed to break.
The game on May 7th 1983 against reigning European Champions Aston Villa would be his last in charge in front of the adoring Anfield crowd although they did still have a trip to Watford left to finish the campaign. Liverpool had already cantered to the League title and were in cruise mode at the end of the season. Before kick-off they were presented with the First Division championship trophy and fittingly in his farewell, Paisley was awarded the honour of lifting the silverware.
So the game itself had nothing riding on it except pride for both teams. Villa had failed to defend their European crown and would finish 5th in the League and Liverpool had won the title weeks earlier. But well before the days of squad rotation and tinkering wth team selection on a weekly basis, both sides fielded a strong side with Dalglish, Souness, Hansen and Lawrenson turning out for the Reds while Cowans, Shaw, Morley and Mortimer lined up for Villa.
The game came to life with one of those moments so rare it should be immortalised for all time as Aston Villa were given a penalty in front of the Kop when the often crazy Bruce Grobbelaar raced to the edge of his penalty area and slid into the feet of the on-rushing Colin Gibson. As the Villa full back made contact with the Liverpool ‘keeper he was sent sprawling leaving the referee to point straight to the spot without hesitation. What makes the award of that penalty even more incredible is that Gibson’s dive would make even Gareth Bale blush with embarrassment.
The spot-kick was converted by the promising young striker Gary Shaw, whose career would latterly be effectively ended by savage injury troubles and Villa took a surprise 13th minute lead to put a dent in the celebrations at Paisley’s farewell party.
Liverpool, as befitted their dominance during the Paisley years, cranked up the pressure on the visitors after going in at half time one goal down. Their talisman Kenny Dalglish, back in the days when he was a great footballer rather than a miserable old git, pulled the strings in tandem with Yosser Hughes lookalike, Graeme Souness.
The Reds had their opportunity to equalise granted to them by the referee, possibly trying to even things up for having the temerity to give an opposing team a penalty in front of the Kop, by penalising Allan Evans for a handball from a cross hit at him from a yard away in the penalty area. Phil Neal’s resultant shot from 12 yards was saved by Villa ‘keeper Nigel Spink but the official once again came to Liverpool’s rescue by deciding Spink had moved before the kick was taken. The retake, once again fired by Neal towards Spink’s top left corner, was saved again and Villa were let off the hook temporarily at least.
Liverpool’s constant attack finally bore fruit with less than ten minutes left on the clock as Dalglish squared across the box for curly-haired Australian whinger (yes that does say whinger NOT winger)Craig Johnston to poke home from three yards to give his side a more than deserved point.
Liverpool in the post-Paisley would celebrate sustained success for another 6 or 7 years while Aston Villa would never again hit the heights of 1981 and 1982, suffering decline and eventual relegation in 1987.
Bob Paisley continued at Liverpool in a boardroom role until 1992 and passed away in February 1996 and to this day remains the clubs most successful manager.