This is a story about winners. About winning mentality and winning spirit. It’s an insight into what turns a group of talented individuals into an indomitable, insatiable side with one simple goal: Victory. Tony Evans takes us inside one of the truly great football teams in history as they embark upon their treble-winning season of 1983/84 and in doing so explores what the stuff of champions is.
As someone born after the inception of the frustratingly commercial, at times vacuous, and frequently emotionless Premier League, I’ve only ever really known modern football. For my entire life, football has been a world where players have been paid ridiculous sums, afforded celebrity status and featured regularly in gossip magazines. Parents and grandparents have often lamented the route that football has gone down, and, after reading this book, I do too.
Evans describes the football vividly. You can practically see Graeme Souness hurtling into opponents, or Kenny Dalglish controlling the ball effortlessly. Even more colourful is the extraordinary Bruce Grobbelaar and his shaky knees and wobbly legs when facing penalties against Roma in the European Cup final.
But while football has certainly been transformed in the last 30 years, not all of the changes are negative. The game, with isolated exceptions, has become far safer. Evans recounts horrifying stories of hooliganism, and the tendency of Roma fans to stab opposing fans in the buttocks. A year later Liverpool would reach the European Cup final again and thirty-nine people would lose their lives in the Heysel disaster. This was the other side of football and it was not pleasant.
The game was also more brutal on the pitch. The description of Dalglish’s injury after Kevin Moran’s arm cast put depression fracture in the Scot’s cheek will leave you feeling weak at the knees. The players were appalled at the extent of the injury, and it took a lot to shock this squad. Souness, for instance, having had enough of Dinamo Bucharest’s captain Lică Movilă in the European Cup semi-final delivered a heavy punch to the jaw, breaking it in two places.
It’s hard to read this and not conclude that football has lost something. The stars in this Liverpool squad were less like the overblown heroes of today’s game and more like normal people who drank alcohol (lots and lots of alcohol) went out on the town and were, almost coincidentally, incredible footballers. One fan described them as ‘Just like us. Only dressed more badly and with a few more quid.’ Evans gives you the sense that the football club were an essential part of the city and belonged to the people.
Perhaps I was born too late. Perhaps football has changed irreparably and nothing can be done. Perhaps the only thing we can do is to read books like this and imagine how it was when the football was purer and the players just played.
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