On the final day of the 1994/95 season Liverpool faced a real dilemma. Or to be more correct, the fans faced a moral dilemma.
In 1993 Manchester United had finally ended their generation-long wait for another league title when their barren 25-year run came to an end. In 1993-94 Blackburn, now managed by Kenny Dalglish, had pushed United close to the title but ultimately came up short. But on 14th May 1995 Blackburn sat top of the table with the prospect of their first League title since before the First World War.
Their final match of the season would be a trip to Anfield. Kenny Dalglish would be back to play the club who he’d guided to three League titles as a manager, and where he’d won 6 League titles as a player. But just two points behind Blackburn sat Manchester United and their final day fixture was at Upton Park against a West Ham side lying in 13th and with absolutely nothing to play for.
The moral dilemma? Should Liverpool win then this might well hand the title to United, their bitter rivals, and not to their revered ex-player and manager, Kenny Dalglish. But should Liverpool deliberately lose a game?
Can you really watch your team and want them to lose, ever?
The debate raged for weeks and became all the more real once United beat Southampton the previous Wednesday to set up a dramatic last day. For SkyTV this was manna from heaven as they attempted to recoup the millions already spent on securing the TV rights. The Premiership was only in its third season but SkyTV finally had the finish they had dreamed of. Back then the broadcaster only showed one game on the final day. This was the first time Sky had everyone kick off at the same time on one day for the end of season. The previous year they engineered the fixtures to have all but one of the fixtures take place on the Saturday and then United, already crowned Champions, played on the Sunday. As there was still something to play for, presumably the powers-that-be at Sky saw the profit in a final day shootout. Sky plumped for the game at Anfield, perhaps sensing the drama of Liverpool denying Dalglish a title. Of course, they were recording the other game and so the viewers were kept up with developments.
20 minutes into the game, Alan Shearer gave Blackburn the lead at Anfield. Their supporters had witnessed a trip to Plymouth Argyle three years previously as they ended the 1991-92 League season just grabbing the last play-off place. Now they were at the ground where the League trophy had been on show for the 18th time, just five years before, and with the real prospect of lifting it themselves. 11 minutes later things got even better for Blackburn as Michael Hughes headed West Ham in front against United.
At half-time, both Blackburn and West Ham still lead 1-0 and Liverpool could go and win their match in complete confidence Blackburn would still win the title, as long as things stood the same. But 7 minutes into the second half Brian McClair equalised for United. 12 minutes later, John Barnes did the same for Liverpool and it was ‘as you were’ at the start of play. But another goal at either game would change things. If Liverpool scored again Blackburn were only ok as long as Man Utd didn’t get another.
The clock moved nervously towards the 90th minute with both games still level. Then Liverpool got a free-kick about 25 yards from goal in a left of centre of the goal. Jamie Redknapp stepped up to take it and bent it over the wall and Liverpool were now leading. Disaster for Rovers, who were still unsure whether United had scored as well, or not. Had Blackburn dramatically lost the title with possibly the last kick of the season? Over at Upton Park, Manchester United were throwing everything at The Hammers but keeper, Miklosko, was in sublime form and repelled everything.
Barely seconds after Redknapp’s goal had gone in, news came in from Upton Park that the game had ended level and so despite losing, Blackburn Rovers were League Champions. Cue great scenes for a club who were in the second tier of English football barely three years before.
For Liverpool they could breathe a sigh of relief as their victory had not handed the title to United.
Why bring this up now? Well, next weekend we have a near repeat of this dilemma when Everton host Manchester City at Goodison Park. If Everton beat City then they run the risk of allowing Liverpool to win the title. Lose, and the title is likely to be City’s.
As a supporter, what do you do? Surely you cannot want your team to lose ever, can you? Can you ever take greater delight in seeing another team lose when yours does too? Everton may still have aspirations on a Champions League place and personally for this Liverpool fan I would love nothing more than seeing both clubs playing in that competition next season. The prospect of a Champions League match in Liverpool every week of the group stages next season is very exciting.
But for many Everton fans they often sacrifice the frustration with their own team for joy in watching Liverpool fail. I’m just not sure it’s the same in the other direction. Personally, it’s never really bothered me whether Everton are winning or not, but their emergence in the mid-80’s gave me the advantage of watching one of the finest Liverpool teams ever.
In 1985 Everton ended Liverpool’s run of three successive League titles. They were a whisker away from doing ‘the double’ too when they narrowly lost in the FA Cup Final to, of all teams, Manchester United. Liverpool responded with winning ‘the double’ themselves the season after. Everton then came back again in 1987 with another title. This prompted Kenny Dalglish to persuade the Liverpool board to make three significant purchases. John Barnes and Peter Beardsley joined John Aldridge, at Anfield. This then evolved into one of the best Liverpool sides I have witnessed in over 35 years and for that I have to thank Everton as their challenge forced a reaction from Liverpool when they might have been cruising.
Whether Everton can ‘do Liverpool a favour’ is uncertain but at Goodison Park they have been frustratingly difficult to beat. They’ve been beaten just 3 times in their last 42 matches at home in the League going back to March 2013. For Manchester City they have won just twice there in the Premier League with just 1 win in their last 15 visits, suffering defeat in each of their last 4 and only scoring once during that period. For Manchester City, a win would see them go back to the top of the table from where they’d be difficult to prise again.
Everton have tended to be bitter of the success across the other side of Stanley Park and have a chequered history with qualification for Europe’s major club competition, as far as Liverpool is concerned. Everton faced the prospect of not being allowed to participate in the Champions League in 2005-06 despite finishing 4th in the League. Liverpool won the competition the season before, yet finished outside the top four. They would’ve replaced Everton had UEFA not relented and allowed the Blues their place. Everton were also denied the reward of European Cup football for their titles in the mid-80’s after hooliganism from Liverpool fans at Heysel in 1985 had English clubs banned for five years. By then the great team Howard Kendall had assembled had gone and the club spent the early years of the 1990’s either in mid-table, or even flirting with relegation as they did in 1993-94.