Jon McLeod looks back on the season Liverpool were last crowned champions of England.
The long-term significance
Tremors that would come to shape the landscape of English football were felt in 1989-90. UEFA announced that clubs would be readmitted to European competition following a five-year ban due to the Heysel disaster, while Aston Villa appointed the first foreign manager in the English top flight when Jozef Venglos replaced England-bound Graham Taylor at the end of the season. Liverpool claimed their last title to date and Alex Ferguson dodged the bullet at Man Utd.
Story of the season
Still smarting from conceding the title to Arsenal at Anfield in the final moments of the previous campaign, Liverpool demonstrated their intent early on with a 9-0 drubbing of Crystal Palace in September with eight players scoring. Arsenal’s hangover, however, would last a season. They suffered a 4-1 defeat to Man Utd on August 19 and failed to take a prominent role in the title race, eventually finishing fourth. Little more than a month after swatting aside Arsenal, United were beaten 5-1 in the Manchester derby. Alex Ferguson looked certain to be sacked with property tycoon Michael Knighton poised for a takeover of the club. The biggest moment of Ferguson’s managerial career arrived on January 8, 1990, in the FA Cup third round away to Nottingham Forest. United had gone seven games without a win, but Mark Robins secured a 1-0 victory. Knighton’s takeover bid failed, Martin Edwards remained as chief executive and Ferguson survived. Meanwhile, Aston Villa were establishing themselves as Liverpool’s closest title rivals in just their second season back in the top division. By mid-February they were just a point behind the leaders with two games in hand and hit the front going into March. But Graham Taylor’s inexperienced side faltered while Liverpool, who had gathered four trophies in the last four years, grew stronger. Successive defeats to Man City and Crystal Palace were to prove costly for Villa, as Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool lost just once – 1-0 against Tottenham – in 23 games. Prompted by the flair of John Barnes and Peter Beardsley, an expansive team claimed their 18th title with seven wins in their final nine League fixtures. Despite being top of the table at the beginning of September, Millwall – who had three different managers during the season – offered little resistance to relegation and finished 17 points adrift of safety. They were joined in the Second Division by Charlton, who were tenants at Selhurst Park. On a final day of reckoning, Luton had to win at Derby and hope that Ron Atkinson’s Sheffield Wednesday lost to Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough. Luton won 3-2 with a couple of goals from Kingsley Black, Wednesday lost 3-0 and goal difference decided it.
For the record books
For the fourth consecutive season attendances rose, which was unprecedented in the post-war era. Man Utd were the best-supported team with an average attendance of 39,077; Luton and Wimbledon both averaged less than 10,000. Spurs’ Gary Lineker was top scorer with 24 goals, two ahead of John Barnes. Chelsea’s fifth place was their highest finish in 20 years.
Same place today
Eight of these clubs are in the Premier League 20 years on – Arsenal, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Everton, Man Utd, Chelsea and Tottenham having all been ever-present. Man City sank as low as the third tier before regaining top-flight status for the second time during the period in 2002.
Moved furthest away
Southampton, Norwich and Charlton have all joined Millwall in the third level this season. Wimbledon lost their League place to MK Dons but are now in the Blue Square Premier, alongside Luton.
Went on to greater things
Matt Le Tissier ~ Having formed a productive partnership with Rod Wallace, the attacker was named PFA young player of the year.
Gary Pallister ~ Joined Man Utd for a British record transfer fee of £2.3 million having appeared for England before playing in the First Division.
Ian Wright ~ His first season in the top flight was marred by injury until he made a remarkable “super sub” performance in the FA Cup final against Manchester United, scoring twice in the 3-3 draw.
Disappearing from view
Norman Whiteside ~ A victim of Ferguson’s pre-season purge of unruly influences, Whiteside joined Everton in July. Beset by knee injuries he made just 29 further appearances before retiring.
David O’Leary ~ The defender set an all-time appearance record for Arsenal but was increasingly confined to the bench due to the Bould-Adams partnership.
Alan Hansen ~ Captained Liverpool to the title – a record eighth at the time – but was plagued by persistent knee problems and retired the following March.
From WSC 273 November 2009