Our season has been less than impressive, especially for a team who’ve come fresh from winning an English League title and a European Cup in successive seasons. At times like these, I find it comforting to look back to harder times. Be that the 30 years of hurt during which time we failed to win a league title or be it looking much further back to the times pre-Shankly. Specifically, the events preceding and during our third, and final, relegation in 1954. After 50 consecutive years at the pinnacle of English football, we bid goodbye on a miserable April day, losing 1-0 at home to Cardiff City. The next eight years would be dark days for the club. Our ground was falling into disrepair, Melwood crumbling and those on the board unwilling to both part with cash and unwilling to do things differently on the pitch. Those days spent in the Second Division would eventually lead us to cross paths with the great Bill Shankly who, as we all know, changed the history of the Reds forever.
Liverpool in the first half of the 20th Century had seen mostly a success, and alongside the Blue half of Merseyside, Liverpool was establishing itself as a true footballing epicenter. The city had been slow to uptake the sport during the booming late 1800 period of regulated football but once the sport entered into their lives they did not let go. This enthusiasm was treated to four League Titles from 1900 until the Second World War. This was followed by securing the title in the unprecedented return of League football after the War. But the good times were not to last and quickly things turned sour. Football was transforming into a more “tactically” and “medically” focused game and Liverpool were not able to shift gears fast enough. Indeed those at the club were reluctant to change, so entrenched in their way of doing things as they were. And so the slide was on. Despite this slump, Liverpool remained a city with a healthy love of the game so when relegation came in 1953/54, finishing bottom with just 28 points, it was a blow for the city.
Many assumed that Liverpool would bounce right back into the First Division as they had done before but it was to be eight years before we finally returned to our rightful place at the top of the domestic game. In our first season back in the Second Division we finished 11th, not yet showing the fight that would be required to right this set back in progress. That season also played host to our worst defeat, on December 11 1954, as we lost 9-1 on a bitterly cold night to Birmingham City. Those were truly dark days when it looked as if Liverpool Football Club might be consigned to the lower leagues for many years to come. The dreams of a first FA Cup for the Club also took a beating during those early years in the Second Division; in January 1959 were knocked out by non-league opposition, Worcester. The time for change had come if it hadn’t already been abundantly clear. It was time for Liverpool to begin the road back to the top. In step Bill Shankly, a man with a past fit of that of a traveling salesman and never having won a trophy as a manager yet it was to be a match made in heaven. It was to be one that began Liverpool’s dominance from the 1960s through until 1989.
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, however. Many have referred to Shankly’s arrival in the December of 1959 as the so-called “December Earthquake”. He was intent on changing the club and some present at the time did not take to this well. It must be noted Shankly was very persistent and perhaps not the most tactful in his initial approach. But as we know the work would eventually come good. Indeed, for all his perceived “abrasiveness” he was there, as he would later say, “to make the people happy” and that he did indeed succeed in. Those early years when he took over did not see immediate success as he was focused on truly building a framework for prolonged success. It was not about him but about the club and its people. Anfield saw developments, as well as the folklore bound Melwood make-over, seeing the ground add some 6,700 seats in a new more modern stand. This was the first major development since 1928. Shankly also was keen to implement new training methods, Bob Paisley was appointed as Reserve Team Trainer and he bought into the revolutionary, at the time, idea that each individual would need a different training plan in order to achieve their best. This thoughtful and considered approach would begin incredibly poorly with a 4-0 defeat to Cardiff City but it would begin to come good in the 1961/62 season. In a season during which we went undefeated at Anfield and scored 99 goals, we sealed promotion with five games to spare. We were going home!
Hard times do not last. I know these feel like tough days to be a Reds fan but we have been through far worse as a club, the years I have explored here being some but also not being the worst by any stretch of the imagination. Jurgen Klopp understands our story, he understands where the club has come from. He has never rushed this process and I trust that moving into the future we can use the spirit of those eight years spent away from home to achieve future success. Liverpool’s story has always been one of the hardships alongside the triumphs. That is the tale of the city too. The city, and our club within it, is one built with a strong heart and incredible resilience. The hard times never last and as we have survived before, so we will survive again. Indeed, we will thrive. Once those eight years in the Second Division ended it was the brightest of times at Liverpool. Fans will return soon and with them the very essence of our club; “to make the people happy.”