As Liverpool FC take the field to take on Spurs on March 30th it will be exactly 50 years to the day since they also faced their North London opponents on the same patch of green Anfield turf.
Back in 1964, The Beatles were number one in the charts with Can’t Buy Me Love and Bill Shankly’s Reds were looking to make it a maximum three wins in four days over the Easter weekend, following their 3-1 win at Spurs on Good Friday and a 2-0 home victory against bogey team Leicester the next day.
The Easter Monday packed house of 52,904 roared as the red XI of Lawrence, Byrne, Moran, Milne, Yeats, Stevenson, Callaghan, Hunt, St John, Arrowsmith and Peter Thompson emerged from the tunnel. Skipper Yeats was back in the heart of the defence after missing the Leicester game, being replaced by young Chris Lawler at centre half.
The game between second placed Liverpool and fourth placed Spurs was goalless for the first half an hour, but sprang suddenly to life when two goals in two minutes by Ian St John (36,39) sent the Kop into song. Almost immediately Tottenham were back in the contest as a young Alan Mullery pulled a goal back (39).
With leaders (and reigning Champions) Everton not in action, Shankly’s young team knew that a win was imperative to take them top of the table as they headed into April.
Eight minutes after the half time slices of lemon, Liverpool restored their two goal cushion thanks to a strike by Alf Arrowsmith, and the Reds played out the match safely to secure top spot in the League table.
So it was that the army of Kopites went into the month of April dreaming of a league title, in only their second season back in the top flight after a decade in Division 2. A whole generation of reds fans had endured frustration upon frustration in the post war fifties. It was a decade of austerity, in which the city was recovering slowly from the damage caused by German bombers and the economy was slow to pick up. On top of this Liverpool had been repeatedly frustrated in their attempts to gain promotion, missing out by either one or two positions in Division 2 on no less than six successive occasions.
However now the fanatical Kop, who had adopted Gerry & the Pacemakers anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ just 4 months earlier had visions of an unlikely league title.
They opened their April schedule with the visit of Manchester United, who lay third in the table just three points behind, knowing that a win was vital.
The Kop were in their very best form and Harry Gregg was so alarmed by the cacophony of noise that he fumbled in the first minute allowing Ian Callaghan to score. Alf Arrowsmith added a second on 39 minutes and followed this up by speeding through to add a third before celebrating by sitting on the turf and bouncing up and down.
The Kop were in celebratory mood by now singing “Ee-aye-addio, we’re gonna win the league” as well as “Ee-aye-addio, Denis Law’s a twerp” (!)
Everton had slipped up and at the end of the afternoon Bill Shankly and his side were sitting 3 points clear at the top having played two games less than their rivals. The dream was fast becoming reality.
Next up (Wed 14 April 1964) was an away trip to mid-table Burnley, who had lost only 3 times at home in 19 games. (Liverpool on the other hand had started their campaign with three straight home defeats!).
Once again it was Arrowsmith who took the headlines as he led the attack with St John in the absence of Roger Hunt. Alf struck twice again in another 3-0 victory. Ian St John joined in with a goal and by the end of the night the travelling reds were on their way back down the A59 knowing that one win from their last four matches would be enough to claim the title.
So to Anfield on Saturday 18th April 1964 for the match which would herald the arrival of Liverpool Football Club as a major force in football, both at home and ultimately across Europe.
Arsenal were the visitors. An hour before kick off all gates were locked and the steam rose from the Kop on a glorious sunny afternoon. Roger Hunt had such difficulty getting through the crowds outside at midday, that he almost missed his fitness test (which consisted of running up the steps of the Kop!), but all was well and he was able to don his customary no8 shirt for this historic day. Arsenal keeper Jim Furnell won the toss and elected to defend the Kop goal in the first half. In the first minute Tommy Lawrence had to dive at the feet of Skirton to prevent a party flattener.
After 6 minutes the roof nearly lifted off the Kop. Hunt advanced through inside right avoiding a scything tackle by Skirton, and the ball found its way via Arrowsmith’s touch to Ian St John who slid it into the Kop net. Bedlam!!!
On 25 mins youngster Arrowsmith smashed a shot past Furnell but the Gunners keeper was relieved to hear it thud into the concrete wall at the front of the Kop. Soon later Furnell brought applause with a stunning save from an Arrowsmith volley, and slowly Arsenal played themselves back into the game.
On 29 minutes George Eastham flicked the ball past Ron Yeats and the Liverpool skipper thrust out his hand. Penalty! Eastham stepped up and struck the spot kick aimed just inside Tommy Lawrence’s right hand post. Incredibly Tommy managed at full length to turn the ball around the post for a corner and was instantly mobbed by his red-shirted team-mates.
On 38 mins, Peter Thompson weaved his way this way and that before floating in a cross to St john unmarked at the far post. The Kop surged forward as it seemed saint must score but his header was mis-directed three yards past the post…. Only for the groans to turn to massive cheers as Alf Arrowsmith was on hand to head it home from close range.
Early in the second half the Reds continued to make chances and on 53 minutes the title was virtually secured thanks to a third goal, courtesy of Peter Thompson. The left winger cut in, transferred the ball onto his right foot and smashed an unstoppable shot past Furnell. Four minutes later it was 4-0, once again via a Thompson long range effort.
By now it was a red rampage and on 60 minutes, hats, scarves, Echos and programmes all went into the air as local hero Roger Hunt got his goal. After good play by Gordon Milne and Thompson, Hunt’s shot from distance nestled into the net. Now there was no doubt, Liverpool were champions.
Soon after the ball was in the net, but the referee awarded a penalty instead for a handball on th line. Callaghan was given the chance to complete a goal-scoring set of forwards but his spot-kick was saved. (The crowd had called for keeper Lawrence to take the kick, and Tommy had started to make his way upfield, only for Bill Shankly to order him back into his goalmouth)
The whistle was greeted by a roar which would become commonplace in years to come. The crowd mostly obeyed requests to stay on the terraces, but for a handful of young lads.
The teams shook hands and the Reds left, to re-emerge shortly afterwards to collect the fan-made replica trophy in the directors box. Then it was a lap of honour greeted with tumultuous roars, applause and no doubt a few teary eyes. My father and grandfather were amongst the crowd that day, whilst I and my two brothers waited patiently in our terraced home half a mile away for their return with tales of the great day.
The rest of the month saw Liverpool take their foot off the gas, with a single point from three remaining matches against Birmingham, West Brom and Stoke.
This mattered little, because Liverpool Football Club were CHAMPIONS OF ENGLAND.
Little did anyone know exactly how wonderful the journey ahead would be……..