Between 1979 and 1983 no social housing was built in Liverpool under the Conservative-Liberal council coalition, while existing social housing had the highest rents outside of London. When Liverpool’s favourite son penned the lyrics for his most famous solo single, John Lennon probably couldn’t have imagined a city where one in five would be facing life on the dole.
This was Liverpool in the early 1980s. Once the so-called ‘second city of the empire,’ now its people were slaves of the employment exchange. One of those statistics was Geoffrey Coyne of Allerton who, during the summer of 1983, had written to his local MP. His words were stark.
‘Since leaving my last job at Dunlop, Speke, (factory closed down) at the beginning of 1979, I have been unable, despite a tremendous amount of effort, to secure a position anywhere. As a 27-year-old individual who has not worked for over four years, I would like to know at what point I’m supposed to crack?’.
Against the backdrop of a city that was on its knees in the face of a government whose response to high unemployment was ‘get on your bike and look for work,’ football at least brought some solace. Eight months after Mr. Coyne’s letter, the two footballing halves of Liverpool met in the 1984 League Cup final – a competition then under the sponsorship of the Milk Marketing Board.
“Sickness would not have kept me away from this one. If I’d been dead, I would have had them bring the casket to the ground, prop it up in the stands and cut a hole in the lid.” Bill Shankly on the Merseyside Derby
Everton had been founded in 1878 and initially called St. Domingo’s football club after the Methodist church on Breckfield Road North. As the team’s popularity rose and different faiths in the area took an interest in the side, it was agreed at a meeting in the Queen’s Head Hotel in November 1879 that ‘Domingo’s’ should become Everton.
The club were founding members of the football league in 1888-89. That was the season of Preston North End’s ‘invincibles’ team but Everton didn’t have to wait long to get their own hands on silverware for the first time. The championship arrived on Merseyside at the end of the 1890/91 season thanks in chief to a forward line of Fred Geary, Edgar Chadwick and Alf Milward which terrorised defences up and down the country, amassing a haul of 63 goals in just 22 games.
Everton had been playing their football on Anfield Road land owned by local brewer John Houlding and paying £100 a year for the privilege. After the title win Houlding decided to increase the rent from £100 to £250, with the added stipulation that the only ales to be sold at the Anfield ground were ones brewed by his company. In defiance, Everton moved their home to Mere Green Field in 1892. With an empty ground now at his disposal, that same year Houlding founded Liverpool FC with the new club starting life in the Lancashire leagues before progressing to the Football League’s Second Division.
Over the years brilliant players such as Deans, Scott, Catterick, Shankly, Ball, Callaghan, Keegan and Latchford brought tears of joy to many in the city. By 1984 the Labour party had taken over control of Liverpool city council under the influence of its Militant wing and using a slogan from the Poplar rates rebellion: ‘Better to break the law than break the poor’. Meanwhile for the city’s football clubs, all roads led to Wembley.
On the 25th of March 1984, the bells rang out from Liverpool Cathedral to empty streets. The exodus to Wembley Stadium had been ongoing all weekend and, by 2.30pm on that Sunday afternoon, the creaking old stadium was heaving with scousers – family, friends, and neighbours stood cheek to jowl in the capacity crowd.
Liverpool were the dominant force in English football during the 1970s and 80s under the guidance of Bob Paisley, a former gunner in the Royal Artillery who served his country during the Second World War. In 1940 Paisley was stationed at Tarporley in Cheshire and had been permitted to play in the Liverpool Senior Cup Final between the city’s two big clubs. He cycled most of the way to Anfield for the game. He departed the Liverpool hot seat in 1983 having won yet another championship and was replaced by fellow ‘boot room boy’ Joe Fagan. It seemed the conveyor belt of success would continue for the club as Liverpool sought a fourth successive League Cup success.
Across Stanley Park the struggles of the blue side of the city were reflected in an attendance of just 13,659 turning up to see Howard Kendall’s men take on Coventry City in a Division One League game. The Goodison Park faithful were getting restless and had spelled out their feelings via leaflets stating: ‘Kendall and Carter (the Everton chairman) must go. 26,000 stay-away fans can’t be wrong.’
Liverpool’s Milk Cup defence had been stuttering and Fagan’s team was taken to replays in successive rounds by Fulham, Birmingham City and Sheffield Wednesday before eventually prevailing. In the semi-final lower division Walsall dared to dream of a Wembley final and a possible place in Europe after an incredible 2-2 draw in the first leg at Anfield. Normal service was resumed in the second leg as Liverpool killed off any giant killing notions with a comprehensive 2-0 victory – four in a row was still on.
Everton’s route was no more straightforward. West Ham and Oxford United took the Blues to second games in the early rounds before Aston Villa were overcome in the semis on a 2-1 aggregate. Goals by the two Kevins – Sheedy, and Richardson – took the Toffees into the final.
At 2:15 pm, Joe Fagan and Howard Kendall led their teams out on to the Wembley turf as ITV commentator Brian Moore proclaimed ‘the red and blue flags flying in unison all over Wembley today’. One man who had made the pilgrimage to London was Peter Hooton who founded the successful band The Farm. As a youngster his first football memory was standing outside his grandparents house trying to spot his Dad in the sea of faces returning from Anfield.
By 1984 he was a fully-fledged Kopite and had witnessed Shankly’s second coming with Clemence, Keegan and Toshack in starring roles; shed a tear at the messiah’s retirement and revelled in the glories of the Paisley years. Hooton describes Wembley ‘84 in one word: ‘solidarity’, a sense the final represented the city of Liverpool versus the establishment. Jeers rang around the stadium as ‘God Save The Queen’ was struck up by the marching band.
As Margaret Thatcher stood on the steps of Number 10 quoting St. Francis of Assisi, Peter – a graduate of economics and political studies – was training as a teacher and remonstrating with those in the staff room about the threat he saw from the ‘Iron Lady’ to his city and its way of life. The authoritarian regime of the time in the teaching profession and the beating of children, which he personally witnessed from a colleague whose weapon of choice was a plimsole, didn’t resonate well with Peter and he eventually found his calling as a youth worker.
In the Liverpool estates of Cantril Farm where he worked, 80 percent of youths were unemployed and the demon drug heroin had arrived in the city to dull the pain of boredom. To stop the youth of the day ‘chasing the dragon’, Hooton arranged football competitions and even a holiday to New York for the teenagers where they learned about the misery of addiction and homelessness. Incredibly Peter was a youth worker without a youth club due to the deliberate government policy of detached youth work.
Detached work meant Peter had to build relationships with the youth on their territory of the streets, while he also helped set up an unemployed club and a welfare rights centre in the local parish hall – ‘it was busy as you can imagine’ he quips.
His dedication to those suffering around him was stark in comparison to the ‘short sharp shock’ philosophy advocated towards the youth of working-class England by the Conservative Home Secretary William Whitelaw. Peter’s abiding memory of Wembley ‘84 is not what happened on the pitch, rather the Liverpool Labour city council stickers that were worn with pride by both red and blue. The renowned ‘End’ fanzine he founded had interviewed some months earlier one of the most influential figures of the time in Derek Hatton: an ex-firefighter who had become deputy leader of Liverpool City Council.
For all the hype, ultimately the final was a turgid affair and fear of losing led to both teams cancelling each other out. It lacked the tenacity of that typical derby feel despite Everton’s Peter Reid snarling at anything in a red shirt that ventured into his midfield fiefdom. Liverpool were lucky not to go behind as Alan Hansen cleared off the line, some might say with a touch of handball, following Adrian Heath’s putting pressure on Liverpool keeper Bruce Grobbelaar.
It was the nearest either side came to breaking the deadlock and a further thirty minutes of extra time couldn’t separate the sides either. As the shadows shortened, both sets of players trudged together around the old greyhound track under the Wembley lights to thank those who had made the journey. Three days later at Maine Road in Manchester, a Graeme Souness strike would break Evertonian hearts and give Joe Fagan his first trophy as manager.
The rivalry would continue throughout the eighties. Fagan would conquer Rome but become a broken man after Heysel; Kendall would lead Everton to FA Cup glory in 1984 with League and European success following. Today in Liverpool, Peter Hooton is sitting in his front room recording a video for striking Irish Debenham workers who are 300 days on the picket lines; still a man of the people and red to the core.