Liverpool visit West Ham – will we see the next Premier League winners tonight?

You’ll Never Walk Alone to the London Stadium

When I began to take an interest in football in the late 1950’s I have to confess I didn’t take a lot of notice of Liverpool as they were not a top flight team at the time. I was vaguely aware of them in the early sixties when I was updating my football league ladders (given away by comics at the time) as they were prominent in Division Two, and since they were champions of that league in 1961-62 they have barely looked back. It is not as if they hadn’t had success in football prior to then, as they had been winners of the First Division title five times before, beginning in the very early twentieth century, and for the fifth time just after the Second World War.

They had been going through a lean period by their standards, having been relegated in the 1950’s, and when they were knocked out of the FA Cup in 1958-59 by non-league Worcester City, they appointed a new Scottish manager, Bill Shankly, who became a club legend that completely transformed their fortunes, and since that time they have barely looked back. Following their promotion to the top tier they finished a creditable eighth in their first season, and then in 1963-64 they were league champions. This was therefore their sixth title, but now their record stands as champions of England 18 times. Bearing in mind that the last of these was in 1990, this demonstrates their dominance of English football throughout the sixties, and especially in the 1970s and 1980s. They go into tonight’s game two points clear at the top with a game in hand, desperately seeking their first title for almost thirty years.

WHULIV1

When we won the FA Cup in 1964, Liverpool had never won it at the time, but they did the year after, and their record now stands as having lifted the trophy 7 times. They have also been England’s most successful team in Europe and from the 1970s onwards they have won the European Cup or UEFA Champions League five times and the UEFA Cup three times.

Given this historical background it will come as no surprise that our head to head record against the Merseysiders is not an impressive one. They have beaten us 74 times to our 28, and in the twenty-first century we have only won 7 of the 34 meetings. In fact the last four games between the sides have been disastrous for us with Liverpool winning all of them and scoring four goals in each game. No team has ever scored four goals or more against a specific opponent on five consecutive occasions in the top flight since Arsenal managed the feat in the 1930s. Oh dear, that’s the kind of statistic I shouldn’t be mentioning!

Despite our poor overall record against them we have had many memorable games against Liverpool. The two with the highest profile were both Cup Finals. In 1981 when we were a second division side we met them in the League Cup Final, and lost after a replay. In 2006, we were seconds away from a famous 3-2 victory when up stepped Steven Gerrard with a wonder goal to take the game into extra time, and we subsequently lost the penalty shoot-out. Why didn’t Lionel Scaloni put the ball high into the stands when he should have?

But enough of defeats, what about some famous victories. In 2015-16 we won 3-0 at Anfield to end one of the longest running records of defeats at that ground that stretched back to 1963. Or the season before that when we led early on 2-0, Sterling pulled one back, before Amaltifano (remember him?) scored the winner close to the end. Even in our ill-fated relegation season under Avram Grant we led 2-0, Glenn Johnson pulled one back, and then Carlton Cole scored the winner with a scorching left-footed strike. I can even remember back to 1982-83 when we led 2-0, Liverpool pulled one back through Souness, and then Sandy Clark scored to give us a 3-1 win. You can probably see a pattern emerging here. We lead 2-0, Liverpool pull one back and then we score the winner. It has happened more than once!

Delving through my football programme collection I came across the one pictured above from 50 years ago this month. I recall the game clearly as I stood on the North Bank with friends on a very sunny Saturday afternoon. West Ham took the lead in the first half when, after some excellent work out wide on the right by Geoff Hurst, he crossed the ball for John Sissons to slam high into the net in front of the South Bank. Liverpool’s equaliser came at the same end in the second half, when after excellent wing play from Ian Callaghan, he crossed the ball for Roger Hunt to head home. I remember thinking at the time that Bobby Ferguson should perhaps have done a better job at keeping it out. The game ended 1-1. Liverpool finished as runners-up to Leeds that season, although neither of them scored more goals than we did (66). However their combined goals conceded (50) matched ours exactly, highlighting that our problems at the time were nothing to do with scoring goals, but more as a result of conceding them.

We have just 14 games left this season; what have we got to play for other than pride and finishing as high in the table as we can? We are now 7 points adrift of Wolves who lie seventh, so we’ll struggle to finish at the top of the clubs beginning with W even. We have a lengthy injury list – this is one area where we are the top team in the Premier League, and the bookmakers have us at 7/1 or thereabouts to win tonight’s game. Liverpool have won 19 of their 24 games this season losing just one (to Manchester City) so those odds are not realistic, they should be much longer.

But for no logical reason football sometimes provides us with an upset. Perhaps this evening we will go into a 2-0 lead, Liverpool will then score to set up an exciting climax, but we will then grab a winner. 3-1 to West Ham. The odds on us winning the game by that score are around 60/1. I can dream, can’t I?