Liverpool take on Tottenham at Anfield this weekend. Tottenham’s record there is abysmal with just four league wins since the War. For me, this fixture always conjures up memories of one match from the past.
The beginning of the 1978-79 season was one full of interesting stories. Liverpool had been denied the chance for a third successive League title the previous season. Brian Clough’s precocious Nottingham Forest side had won the league, a year after they’d come up from the Second Division. Liverpool retained their European Cup, but the league title was very much on their mind when the season kicked off in August.
Tottenham Hotspur fans were hoping their team could replicate Clough’s achievements. Relegated in 1977 they bounced back at the first time of asking, but only on goal difference. The board kept faith with Keith Burkinshaw who’d been in charge when they went gone down. The side wasn’t all that different either, except for two important signings.
Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa.
The World Cup in Argentina during the summer had attracted a lot of interest domestically, despite England’s absence. There were very few foreign players playing in the Football League, but the success of the tournament ignited clubs’ interest in sampling the delights of the often mistrusted foreign import.
How Tottenham came upon their exotic catch was a series of lucky coincidences. Sheffield United manager, Harry Haslam, had already tapped into the Argentinian market. He was tracking a young player no one in Europe had heard of. His name? Diego Maradona. Eventually, Haslam resigned himself to admitting he probably couldn’t afford the 17-year-old. He turned his attention to a lad called Alex Sabella. Sabella, in turn, recommended his friend Ossie Ardiles as someone who was keen to play in England. Haslam was only in the market for one player, so he alerted Burkinshaw.
The Tottenham manager flew out just days after the host nation were celebrating their victory over the Netherlands, and he secured Ardiles’ signature. Once the ink had dried Ardiles said “my friend is also keen on going to England”. His friend was one Ricky Villa.
Ardiles had just played an inspirational part in Argentina’s victory. Villa was in the squad but not a regular starter. Burkinshaw managed to sign the two for a combined £750,000. The football world was stunned at the coup.
Tottenham fans couldn’t believe their luck.
The two were straight in the line-up for the opening game of the season against Champions Nottingham Forest at the City Ground. Ricky Villa scored on his debut too as they earned a 1-1 draw.
One of the features of the World Cup was the ticker-tape welcome the host nation received every time they took the field. The White Hart Lane crowd tried their best to copy this at the first home match of the season when Aston Villa arrived. The initial enthusiasm soon dissipated, though, as the visitors romped away to a 4-1 win.
2-2 draws against Chelsea and in the League Cup against Third Division Swansea City meant they were still winless when they arrived at Anfield.
Liverpool, on the other hand, had begun the season with a bang. Still smarting from losing their title to Forest, they’d beaten QPR (2-1), Ipswich Town (3-0) and Manchester City (4-1) and were already top of the league.
Ironically, they came up against Sabella in the League Cup and surprisingly lost the first leg of their Second Round tie to Sheffield United.
So at the beginning of September 1978, Tottenham arrived at Anfield to take on league leaders, Liverpool. It would be a day few who were there, would ever forget.
Just over 50,000 people packed into Anfield, keen to get a sight of the two World Cup winners. They lined up in a side which included another new signing, centre-back John Lacy from Fulham. Villa and Ardiles were in midfield alongside Glenn Hoddle and Neil McNab. Gerry Armstrong was left on the bench, replaced by John Duncan.
Liverpool were at full strength. They had made just one signing in the summer. Alan Kennedy came from Newcastle United to slot in at left-back. He made his home debut against QPR on the opening day of the season. By his own admission, things didn’t go well.
“I miskicked with my right foot – the one I use for standing on, and knocked a policeman’s helmet off. I also conceded a couple of corners and made a few errors. I just wanted half-time to come to get some reassurance from the manager but when I got back to the dressing room, Bob (Paisley) said to me, ‘I think they shot the wrong Kennedy!’”
Villa created an opening early on for Duncan but Clemence saved as the Scot tried to go round him. Dalglish had a chance when a ball over the defence saw him clear but he volleyed over. Then Villa was dispossessed in midfield and Liverpool quickly moved the ball to the right-wing for Case. He looked to shoot from about 30 yards out but mishit it. It fell to Dalglish in the area. In a move which became his trademark, he turned the defender and hit a left-foot shot past Daines for the opening goal.
Eight minutes in and Dalglish had his fifth of the season.
8 mins: Liverpool 1 (Dalglish), Tottenham 0
Spurs went on the attack and Peter Taylor and Duncan combined to cross the ball into the Liverpool box. When it was half-cleared Ardiles skewed his shot high and wide. But they were soon forced into another mistake. McAllister dithered on the ball in the centre circle and under pressure from McDermott tried to poke the ball back to Perryman. But his touch was too heavy and the ball ran for Dalglish to go clear of the Spurs skipper, who pulled him down. No such thing as red cards for professional fouls in those days, so just a direct free-kick outside the box. Perryman managed to escape without even receiving a yellow card. Case fired the shot but Daines managed to hang onto it.
Liverpool by this time were knocking the ball around with confidence. Dalglish went close when he was again able to turn Lacy to create room for the shot, but it went wide.
The home side were enjoying plenty of success down the right and with Spurs desperately defending, one cross into the box found its way to Case on the edge of the area. Another fierce shot from Case not particularly well-directed, and Dalglish was free on the edge of the six-yard box to turn it in for his second of the game.
20 mins: Liverpool 2 (Dalglish 2) Tottenham 0
Liverpool then had to reorganise in defence. Emlyn Hughes had picked up an injury just prior to the second goal and had been unable to run it off. Only one substitute in those days and striker David Johnson came on.
The change didn’t seem to have any effect on the way they were playing, spreading the ball around and running Spurs ragged. McDermott crossed from the right to the far post and Ray Kennedy got up to fire a header in for the third. It looked like the game was as good as gone.
28 mins: Liverpool 3 (Dalglish 2, R Kennedy), Tottenham 0
Spurs then had a couple of good chances to get back into the game. They were awarded an indirect free-kick in the penalty area (don’t see many of those these days, do you?), but the ball was only about 12 yards out and so Liverpool packed the goal with players and the ball was forced away. Then Hoddle had a good chance when put through on the left of the area but his attempted chip over Clemence was so weak it was essentially a backpass.
But for the most part Liverpool were dominant, knocking the ball about and running rings round their opponents. They had shuffled themselves at the back with Neal moving into the centre alongside Thompson and Case helping out at right-back. But it was the Spurs defence which was more porous, and Liverpool went into the break three goals to the good.
LIVERPOOL 3, TOTTENHAM 0
Liverpool began the second half in confident mood, passing the ball around as if it were a practice match. Their movement was just too much for Spurs. Within three minutes of the second period they had extended their lead.
The build-up to the goal was a series of passes, much of it one-touch, which manoeuvred their opponents around the pitch. Case and Souness exchanged passes on the right and then Case found Johnson down the wing. Then McDermott made a run ahead of him, so he was the next outlet. McDermott then played it inside for Dalglish, who in turn knocked it back to Johnson who had now moved inside. He then played it on for Souness who first time dinked it over the defence for Dalglish to run onto. On the edge of the six-yard box, Dalglish tried to turn it across the goal but Daines had come out to block. But the keeper simply managed to knock the ball into Johnson’s path and he fired a low drive past three Spurs defenders into the net.
48 mins: Liverpool 4 (Dalglish 2, R Kennedy, Johnson), Tottenham 0
Spurs just couldn’t get any grip on the game and the Liverpool passing was getting longer and more relaxed. Souness then fired a fierce shot from 30 yards out which Daines managed to keep out, and it just seemed a matter of when Liverpool would score again.
We didn’t have to wait long to find out the answer to that one. Again it originated from the back as Case easily dispossessed Villa and found Ray Kennedy on the halfway line wide on the left. He threaded a ball through to Dalglish. He was in so much space he had time to turn and wait for the diagonal run of Johnson, and then he released the pass for Johnson to run onto the fire it low between the keeper’s legs for the fifth, and his second. There were five Spurs players defending yet none of them seemed to realise what Dalglish and Johnson were going to conjure up, so they just end up as spectators.
58 mins: Liverpool 5 (Dalglish 2, Johnson 2, R Kennedy), Tottenham 0
A few minutes later with Liverpool clearly not content with the scoreline, Alan Kennedy ventured forward into the area. He hooked the ball across to the far post when Johnson headed forcefully past Daines. It looked for all the world as his hat-trick yet astonishingly John Duncan had managed to get back and hook the ball away off the line. But as the ball wasn’t completely cleared Duncan then brought down Heighway and the referee pointed to the spot.
Neal stepped up and put it to the keeper’s left. Daines got down and saved it. But the referee decided Daines had moved too soon, which seemed a bit harsh. Neal then took it again, and again went to the keeper’s right but this time higher up and Daines dived expecting it down low again.
64 mins: Liverpool 6 (Dalglish 2, Johnson 2, R Kennedy, Neal pen), Tottenham 0
Liverpool cut Spurs apart again when Dalglish put Johnson clear. The sub was on for a hat-trick but Daines did well to come out and block with his feet just outside the area.
Then came the best goal of the game, and my favourite ever Liverpool goal. The highlights footage doesn’t really do it justice, and really you could do with a view from behind one of the goals to truly appreciate it.
Spurs have a free-kick on the right-wing, about 10 yards from the bye-line. Terry McDermott is on the near post to defend it. Liverpool clear it. As Case has the ball in midfield, from the right-hand corner of the screen you see McDermott charging forward from his area. Case threads a 20-yard pass through to Johnson who is just inside his own half facing his own goal. He has time to hold the ball up and turn to face goal. You can then see McDermott is still charging forward behind the Liverpool striker. Johnson then fires a right-foot pass all the way over to the left-wing where Heighway is in acres of space. Johnson’s technique is to cut across the ball, allowing it to spin back in from the touchline instead of bouncing away from Heighway. This means Heighway doesn’t have to break stride or take a touch, he can just cross it first time to the far post. The cross is met beautifully by the head of McDermott, who was furthest forward.
It was a simply stunning team goal. But it’s McDermott’s run that does it. Remember he ran from his own post to the edge of Tottenham’s six-yard area to meet the cross as if he knew, from the moment Liverpool cleared the ball in their own area, that was where the ball would end up. Incredible.
76 mins: Liverpool 7 (Dalglish 2, Johnson 2, R Kennedy, Neal pen, McDermott), Tottenham 0
Over the next 18 months, McDermott became one of the best midfielders in Europe and runs like that were his trademark. Would they settle for seven? It appeared not as Heighway skipped past Ardiles in midfield and tried his luck with a shot from 30 yards which Daines saved.
In the end, they had to settle for seven. It was champagne football, utterly dominant and brilliant in its simplicity.
Saturday 2nd September 1978, Anfield, 50,705
LIVERPOOL (3) 7 (Dalglish 2, Johnson 2, R Kennedy, Neal pen, McDermott)
TOTTENHAM (0) 0
LIVERPOOL: Clemence; Neal, Thompson, Hughes (Johnson), A Kennedy; Case, McDermott, Souness, R Kennedy; Dalglish, Heighway
TOTTENHAM: Daines; McAllister, Perryman, Lacy, Naylor; McNab, Ardiles, Villa, Hoddle; Duncan, Taylor
Of the seventh goal manager Bob Paisley said;
“That must be the best goal Anfield has ever seen.
Writing in the Liverpool Echo, Michael Charters said
“Have you ever heard 50,00 people purr with pleasure? Well, the Anfield spectators were doing that constantly as Liverpool stroked the ball around with one-touch moves of staggering accuracy. This display confirmed for me, particularly after the splendour of their wins at Ipswich and Man City the previous week, the current Liverpool team is playing better, more exciting, attacking football than any side I’ve ever seen since the War.”
Tottenham shouldn’t have been too downhearted, they came up against a Liverpool side at the peak of their game. Beating Leeds United on the final day of the season meant they beat Leeds points record for a two-points-for-a-win season. The 1978-79 side broke other records in the league.
Most points – 68pts
Most goals – 85
Fewest goals conceded – 16
Fewest goals conceded at home – 4
Most clean-sheets – Ray Clemence (28)
They won the league by eight points from Forest in second. Tottenham finished mid-table as their Argentine imports gradually settled into life in England. Their contribution to the team then bore fruit as they won their first trophy for years, lifting the FA Cup in 1981. Ricky Villa’s winning goal in the replay was evidence of their influence. By the time Tottenham were back at Wembley to defend their crown 12 months later, Ardiles had moved to PSG. Villa was still at Spurs but refused to play in the final because of the Falklands War.