Anfield was rocking on Saturday 18 April 1964. The supporters were packed in, singing Beatles hits including crowd favourite She Loves You. Their one true love, Liverpool Football Club, were on their way back to the top, and Bill Shankly was responsible.
The club had suffered second tier mediocrity throughout the 1950s, but the arrival of Shankly at the end of 1959 heralded the dawn of a new era at the club. The Reds won the Second Division in 1962 and just two years later were poised to win their sixth top-flight title and first since 1947. The opponents for the final home game of the season were Arsenal, and with Billy Wright’s side languishing in mid-table, the baying Anfield crowd were hopeful of a win that would secure the championship.
They were not disappointed. The home side took the lead in the seventh minute, Ian St John firing home his 21st league goal of the season after some skilful approach play by Roger Hunt and Alf Arrowsmith. After such a frenetic and fast-paced opening, the game settled into a steady rhythm with both sides exchanging chances, but Arsenal's Jim Furnell was the busier of the two goalkeepers against his former club.
That was until just before the half-hour mark, when Arsenal were given a golden opportunity to draw level and temporarily postpone the party. George Eastham cut in on the Arsenal right and, after flicking the ball up over Ron Yeats, saw the defender handle in the area. Eastham stepped up to take the resulting spot-kick, but it was magnificently tipped past the post by Tommy Lawrence.
The crowd roared as the Liverpool players flocked to Lawrence to congratulate him. Shankly urged his men on, and they doubled their lead before half-time. Flying No11 Peter Thompson weaved his way into a crossing position before floating a ball into the Arsenal box. St John looked destined to double his own tally for the day, but as his header was flying wide, Arrowsmith nodded it in from close range.
After the break, a couple of outstanding saves from Furnell gave Arsenal faint hope of a comeback, but the Gunners’ dreams were dashed by a quick-fire treble before the hour mark, which kicked off the title celebrations. Thompson had been devastating in the opening period and continued to be after the interval. He picked up the ball on the Liverpool left, cut inside on to his favoured right foot and slammed an unstoppable effort past Furnell. Moments later, another Thompson shimmy bought some space on the edge of the Arsenal box and he hammered home again. On the hour mark, the prolific Hunt grabbed his 28th league goal of a remarkable campaign after good work by Thompson and Gordon Milne in the build-up.
The delirium was almost heightened when Liverpool were awarded a penalty moments later for another handball. Ian Callaghan, the only forward yet to get on the score-sheet, stepped up to take it but Furnell was equal to his effort, falling on the ball on the line. The rest of the game played out as a mere procession, and on the referee’s final whistle, Anfield erupted once more.
Kisses and champagne amid Kop euphoria
The players returned to the field to do their lap of honour, with Liverpool’s sixth First Division title, and Shankly’s first major managerial honour, confirmed.
“The roar when they ran in front of the Kop increased by 50 per cent,” was the scene described in the Liverpool Echo. “It almost baffled description by its warmth and intensity. Yeats came to the touchline and gave a lady fan a kiss, and received a bottle of champagne for the first celebration of the wonderful season.”
It was the first celebration of that season, and would be the beginning of an era of domination for Liverpool in England and on the continent. Shankly won two more league titles, in 1966 and 1973, before his trusted assistant Bob Paisley took over the reins. Liverpool would finish first or second in the First Division in 16 of the following 17 seasons, winning four European Cups during that period.
The famous Kop may have been singing She Loves You on that fateful Saturday, but it was the beginning of a Shankly ‘Revolution’ and an era of unparalleled success at Anfield.