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Jul 5, 2012

A brief history of Liverpool

Formed: 1892
Admitted to Football League: 1893
European Cup/Champions League: 1976-77, 1977-78, 1980-81, 1983-84, 2004-05
UEFA Cup: 1972-73, 1975-76, 2000-01
UEFA Super Cup: 1977, 2001, 2005
First Division: 18
Second Division: 4
FA Cup: 7
League Cup: 7

The story of Liverpool is a unique fusion of triumph and tragedy. They are English football's most successful club with 40 trophies, yet towards the end of their rule of English football came two of the game's biggest disasters at Heysel and Hillsborough. Both the good and bad have shaped the identity of a fiercely proud club.

Liverpool were formed in 1892 because of a dispute between Everton FC and John Houlding, who owned the Anfield ground on which Everton played. Houlding founded a new club, Everton Athletic, whose name soon changed to Liverpool.

The club were admitted to the Football League in 1893 and started as they meant to go on: Liverpool won Division Two and remained unbeaten throughout the leagie season. They won the Division One title for the first time in 1901 and were also champions in 1906, 1922, 1923 and 1947, yet it was not until the Sixties that they began to establish themselves as a world power.

The catalyst was the appointment of Bill Shankly in 1959. At the time Liverpool were in Division Two, and had just lost to non-league Worcester City in the FA Cup. Shankly ripped the club up and started again: he released 24 players, and introduced the legendary "Boot Room", where coaches would sit and talk tactics.

Liverpool were promoted as champions in 1962, and won Division One two years later. It was the beginning of a relentless stream of trophies over the next 30 years. Shankly's side won their first FA Cup in 1965, and added league titles in 1966 and 1973 - when they also won their first European trophy, the UEFA Cup.

After another FA Cup win in 1974, Shankly was replaced by his assistant Bob Paisley; he was even more prolific. In 10 seasons under Paisley, Liverpool won three European Cups, six league championships, a Uefa Cup and three League Cups. This was success on a mind-blowing scale. Notable highlights included their first European Cup, achieved with a 3-1 win over Borussia Monchengladbach in Rome in 1977; a remarkable 1978-79 league campaign, in which Liverpool won 30 of their 42 games and conceded only 16 goals; and victory over Real Madrid in the 1981 European Cup final, a decent consolation for the only season between 1972 and 1992 in which Liverpool finished outside the top two.

Paisley retired in 1983 after three consecutive league championships - the first of which came when they were 12th at Christmas - and his successor Joe Fagan made it three in a row in his first season, when he also won the League Cup (Liverpool's fourth in a row) and the European Cup after a famous penalty shoot-out against Roma in Rome.

The 1984-85 season was Liverpool's first trophyless campaign for a deacde, but it was not remembered for that. Before the European Cup final against Juventus in Heysel, 39 fans, mostly Italian, were killed after crowd disorder. As a result, English clubs were banned for Europe for five years. Fagan was replaced by Kenny Dalglish as player-manager in that summer, and he won the club's first Double in his first season. Liverpool might have won three more consecutive Doubles from 1988 to 1990, when instead they had to settle for two titles and an FA Cup. The most famous example came in 1989 when, having already won the FA Cup, they lost the title to Arsenal when Michael Thomas scored a last-minute goal at Anfield in the final match of the season.

Yet that period was overshadowed by another tragedy, this time at Hillsborough in 1989, when 96 Liverpool fans died during the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest. It took a huge toll on Dalglish, who eventually resigned unexpectedly almost two years later. Liverpool were reigning champions at the time but have not won a title since, challenging only occasionally.

The Nineties were largely barren, with only an FA Cup in 1992 and a League Cup in 1995. The appointment of Gerard Houllier in 1998 brought sobriety and order, and in his third season he achieved a treble of the UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup. But Houllier struggled to build on that, even though he did win another League Cup in 2003, and eventually left the club in the summer of 2004.

His successor, Rafael Benitez, was an instant hit: despite finishing fifth in the league in his first season, Liverpool won the Champions League in astonishing circumstances. They were 3-0 down to Milan at half-time in the final, but scored three goals in six minutes before winning on penalties. It was quickly christened "The Miracle of Istanbul".

Benitez won the FA Cup in 2006, and Liverpool lost another Champions League final against Milan a year later, but, despite going closest in 2008-9, he largely struggled in the league and left the club in 2010 after a disastrous campaign. By then, Liverpool's biggest problems were off the field: the club had been taken over by two Americans, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, in 2007, whose reign the majority of fans were extremely unhappy with. When they were finally forced out in the winter of 2010, Liverpool could look to the future with a greater degree of confidence under the eventual leadership of the legendary Dalglish again.

Look they did, but results were not forthcoming. Liverpool spent big and won the Carling Cup while reaching the FA Cup final. But they finished in 8th in the Premier League and Dalglish left by mutual consent with Swansea's Brendan Rodgers hoping to bring his attacking, passing style to Anfield.

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