Certainly no Regular: Joe, a tribute to Fagan.

Posted by JMarsh on January 26, 2005, 05:34:22 PM

Why have I written this? I'm not sure. Perhaps because I believe Fagan is one of football's forgotten men. Here goes...

If people thought Bob Paisley had a tough job in following Bill Shankly into the manager’s seat at Anfield, then spare a thought for Joe Fagan. Dear Joe, who sadly passed away in the summer of 2001, took over from the most successful English manager in history, and was succeeded two years later by arguably Liverpool’s greatest ever player and the man who took us to our first ever Division One Title and FA Cup double. Yet he holds a unique and everlasting spot in Liverpool’s long and illustrious history.

So, if he was only in charge for 2 seasons, many may ask why is the name ‘Fagan’ mentioned in the same breathe as Shankly, Paisley and Dalglish. When I was growing up, that was all I heard. “Shankly, Paisley, Fagan, Dalglish.” It was some sort of holy quadrate (if such a word exists!). If players are idols, then our most famous ex managers are seen as Gods. The picture of Shankly for example, arms spread out, sends the chills down the spine. However by the British press have rather overlooked Joe Fagan. Whilst young Liverpool fans like me grew up aware of Fagan, for many years I wouldn’t have recognised his face or voice, and he was rarely talked about in detail on radio or television.

Joe Fagan was appointed as Bob Paisley’s right hand man after Bill Shankly stunned Merseyside by announcing his retirement. Many thought Liverpool could simply not go on without Shankly, he was the hero of the city, even Everton fans had to admit he was an incredible footballing figure. However, Paisley, who by contrast was a gentle and composed man at times, took over and led Liverpool to new heights, upon the foundations laid by Shanks. Fagan was certainly more than just a supporting act to Bob, he was an integral part of the bootroom team, which would become famous throughout Europe.

Six championships, 3 European Cups and almost another decade of dominance later, Paisley stepped down, as the most decorated English manager in the history of the game. He’d not only achieved the seemingly impossibly in emulating Shanks, he took it further. How could anyone possibly follow that. Joe Fagan, thought he’d give it his best shot.

To make Fagan’s job that extra bit difficult, Graeme Souness, one of the most influential Liverpool players, left and consequently a gaping gap in midfield and in the dressing room emerged. Fagan’s feathers weren’t ruffled, and he used all his experience of the bootroom and being Paisley’s number two to construct his own side based on the same simple principle of ‘pass and move’ that had served the Red shirt so well.

Jim Beglin and Kevin Macdonald came in, and then followed perhaps one of, if not the greatest passer of a ball to step onto Anfield. Jan Molby’s vision and balance on the ball is like that of no other. He would go on to become an Anfield legend, and Fagan had plucked him out from nowhere.

You could say Fagan didn’t really need a settling in period! In his first season in charge, Liverpool stormed to another league championship, and also scooped the league cup. Fagan once commented on a performance saying “we were so efficient, it was chilling!” That assessment was spot on. The way Liverpool players just passed to the nearest red shirt, rarely giving the ball away, interchanging positions and keeping the ball away from their opponents, was simple yet so effective. The crowd loved every minute. After sealing the title in his first season, Joe said “that’s not bad is it?”

Then, it was off to Rome, for the European Cup Final. It was without doubt Liverpool’s toughest test in a European Cup Final, and it was in Fagan’s first year in charge. They had played in 3 finals previously, and won them all. What’s more, this year, the opponents were AS Roma, nigh on invincible in their own ground, the Olympic Stadium. The roles had certainly reversed since the stories of Reds fans massively outnumbering the opponents in Rome 77 and Wembley 78. This was backs to the walls stuff. Joe simply said, we’ll do our best.  Phil Neal opened the scoring, but Roma were level by half time. But typically, under Fagan, Liverpool maintained their composure, even when under awesome pressure. The game went to penalties, and Brucie did the rest, and a 4th European Cup was coming to Anfield.

The next season, Liverpool failed to bring home the league trophy, but yet again reached the European Cup Final, and Joe had emulated Paisley’s achievement of reaching consecutive European Cup Finals. No one could predict what was to happen.

Liverpool were set to play Juventus in the Heysel Stadium in Brussels. However, before the game began, 39 football supporters lost their tragically lost their lives. It was a disaster that not only cost lives, and left thousands of others with the memories, but one which unfortunately wasn’t learnt from in time to save others.

I didn’t know until a few years ago that the match actually went ahead. It simply didn’t occur to me before, how could it go on? But it did, and Juventus won by a goal to nil scored by Platini. I actually feel sorry for the club and the player in question. Platini was a marvellous player, but effectively had what was supposed to be the best moment of his career taken away from him. I’m sure even he doesn’t care much for the 1985 European Cup Final – without question the least discussed 90 minutes of football in the competitions history.

For one man, enough was enough. Joe simply couldn’t be in football any longer. He retired and took himself out of the media spotlight, and remained out of the public eye for the majority of the rest of his life. He did turn up at Melwood every now and again, to help out and wish the team all the best, because that was in his nature.

I often wonder how things could’ve been different for Liverpool F.C had it not been for Heysel, and Hillsborough. Obviously and most importantly, many families would’ve been spared the pain of losing loved ones. Secondly, there is no doubt in my mind that Joe Fagan could’ve taken Liverpool on to even greater achievements, and possibly that 5th European Cup would’ve eventually came in the years afterwards. I guess we’ll never know.

Joe Fagan died at the age of 80 in 2001, after a long illness. May he rest in peace. No doubt he is sitting somewhere with a cigarette and a cup of tea, with Bob, listening to Bill rave and rant over something in that unmistakable accent, but taking it all in.

Rest In Peace.   

© JMarsh 2005

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