The Seven-Year Itch: The Story Of Liverpool’s 1972-73 Season

By Steven Horton - Published by Vertical Editions

Few Liverpool supporters could argue that the club’s recent past, the 2005 Champions League victory apart, has been as good as its more distant past. It is also most unlikely that a modern-day manager, even though Arsène Wenger has proved to be the exception to the rule, would survive a six-year period without tangible success as Bill Shankly did between 1966 and 1972. We should not live in the Past but we should not forget it either because the Past has helped to shape the Present. Forty years ago Shankly was still rebuilding the team that, under his guidance and later Bob Paisley’s, would go on to equal and then better the success of the great team he had built in the middle of the previous decade. By the middle of 1972 that rebuilding process was almost complete and it would bear fruit in a quite remarkable way. As the author points out : “It is debatable that had Liverpool not achieved what they did {in this 1972-73 season}, the success of later years may not have happened.”

This is Steven Horton’s first major project about the football club he has supported all his life. But even before starting this fascinating look at events which happened forty years ago, he was already known and respected as a writer on local history, in addition to being a regular contributor to different football publications. Steve’s life was only in its infancy as the season he writes about here gets under way. However, as with his previous books on local history, he has researched his material meticulously and because he cannot rely on his own memory for anything that happened in the early-1970s he has, in preparation for writing this book, spoken to Liverpool supporters who actively supported the club during this period as well as talking to a man who played in 20 of the 66 competitive matches (Phil Thompson, who only became 19 years old halfway through the season) and the club’s Stadium Announcer, George Sephton, whose own Anfield career started in the same year that Steven was born. These individuals, when added to the author’s careful and painstaking research, have resulted in a fascinating account of a nine-month period that ended with Liverpool Football Club adding two more trophies to a history that was already rich but which was about to become even richer as the decade continued.

Contrary to what you might expect about a book which only covers a single season in a football club’s life, the chapters do not appear in a strict chronological order, the author preferring to bracket certain First Division matches together before doing the same to the cup competitions. There is a logic to this because the cup games came thick and fast, especially in the League cup in which the team had to go through replays in every round (with one of those replays going to extra-time) and this resulted in having to play eight midweek matches in this competition between the 5th of September and the 6th of December, a gruelling schedule for which manager Bill Shankly had to shuffle the pack without having the advantage of selecting his team from the massive squads of today’s game. He also had to cope with the intransigence of the football authorities as his team closed in on its double target. Both the Football League and the Football Association had been decidedly lukewarm about English clubs participating in European competitions, despite the reflected glory they could bask in should an English club be successful in winning one of the three cups. There was also the possibility of more than one calamitous fixture pile-up, the worst of which could have seen the team forced to play on three successive days at a crucial, late stage of the season. In the end Coventry City offered to play their home fixture against the Reds a week earlier than the Football League wanted them to play it. That did ease the situation somewhat but still having to play Saturday, Monday, Wednesday and Saturday was far from an ideal situation as the season reached its exciting climax. More pressure was placed on the team’s preparations by the nonsensical timing the Football Association made by its decisions when to hold hearings for Liverpool players who had been sent off, with the most ridiculous being their insistence that the appeal against Emlyn Hughes’ dismissal at Birmingham in April would be held the day before the first leg of the UEFA cup final. It is to the great credit of the manager and all the men who came under him that he/they did not allow such unhelpfulness to affect the diligence with which they approached the most important aspect of their work, winning football matches.    

Only seventeen men played for Liverpool in this historic season with one of them only appearing once for a 15-minute substitute appearance (Jack Whitham) and another (reserve goalkeeper Frank Lane) only playing twice when first-choice Ray Clemence was injured. Three played in every single match and another trio only missed five matches between them. So on the whole it was a pretty settled team. Supporters are usually interested in any “where are they now?” look back at their previous favourites and Steve doesn’t disappoint with updates for all the seventeen, as well as the six unused substitutes and all the backroom staff. 

There are many Liverpool supporters alive today who have their own recollections of this momentous season but will still enjoy reading about it; and for younger supporters whose memories do not stretch back that far, it is a chance to acquaint themselves with the full facts of how the club’s first two major prizes of the 1970s were won, a decade that would see another seven trophies collected before it closed. Karen Gill, who writes the foreword for this enthralling book, remembers that her grandfather Bill Shankly was immensely proud of the “young men who played like veterans” during this season and that it was also a “real affirmation of his abilities as a manager”. The irritation of the seven-year trophyless itch was finally over for Bill, his players, the rest of his backroom team and the legion of supporters who hung on his every word and backed his team with incredible fervour and loyalty.

As you finish this book, you can only look forward to the author’s next LFC project.

"Ending The Seven-year Itch : The Story Of Liverpool’s 1972-73 Season" can be ordered from

Written by Chris Wood ([email protected])
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