Honours Won : League Championship (1986), FA Cup (1986), League Championship (1988), FA Cup (1989), League Championship (1990)
Fagan handed over the reins to striker Kenny Dalglish, who had established himself as a world class player and now wanted to prove himself as a manager. His first season in charge as Liverpool’s first player-manager – 1985-86 – could not have been better, as the Reds fought off competition from Everton, West Ham United and Manchester United to win the league title. They also beat neighbours Everton 3-1 in the F.A Cup final to become only the third team to win the league championship/F.A Cup double in the twentieth century. Dalglish was still a top striker despite his advancing years, and his partnership with Ian Rush was the most prolific in the English league.
1986-87 was trophyless as Liverpool finished league runners-up to Everton and lost to Arsenal in the League Cup final. Pundits were predicting further disappointment for the following season when star striker Ian Rush was sold to Juventus in a £3.2 million deal.
Rush’s £750,000 successor John Aldridge silenced the critics by topping the club’s goalscoring charts in the 1987-88 season and inspiring the Reds to another championship success – Liverpool won the First Division Championship by nine points from runners-up Manchester United and suffered just two league defeats all season. New winger John Barnes was credited with the Player of the Year Award. The downside of the season was a shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of Wimbledon in the F.A Cup final. Liverpool had by this stage been one of the world’s strongest clubs for more than twenty years. Wimbledon, meanwhile, had been First Division members for just two seasons and had only joined the league eleven years earlier.
Ian Rush returned to Liverpool for the 1988-89 season, after an unsuccessful spell at Juventus. Liverpool came close to repeating the double once more in 1988-89. They lifted the FA Cup with another victory over Everton in the final, but the league title slipped out of their grasp in the last minute of their last game of the season. At home to Arsenal, Michael Thomas, who later joined Liverpool, scored at the death to give the league title to the visitors – while the two teams ended the season with the same number of points and an identical goal difference, the Gunners had scored more goals.
In any case, the season was overshadowed by the Hillsborough disaster, which had struck the club in the FA Cup semi-final. On 15 April 1989, when Liverpool were playing Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final, hundreds of Liverpool fans were crushed against perimeter fencing. Ninety-four fans died that day and a ninety-fifth fan died in hospital from his injuries four days later. A ninety-sixth fan died nearly four years later never having regained consciousness. The Taylor Report later ruled that the main reasons for the disaster were overcrowding due to a failure of police control.
In 1989-90, Dalglish guided Liverpool to their third league title in five seasons. Although the 5 year ban on English clubs in European competition was lifted for the following season, Liverpool had to serve an extra year and were unable to compete in the 1990-91 European Cup.
On February 22, 1991, with Liverpool halfway through a two-horse race with Arsenal for the league title and the day after an epic 4-4 FA Cup clash with Everton (a game which saw their rivals come back from a goal down 4 times), Kenny Dalglish dropped a bombshell by handing in his resignation as manager, claiming he could no longer cope with the pressure of managing the club. First-team coach Ronnie Moran took charge of team affairs for several weeks before Graeme Souness was named as the club’s new manager. By that stage, Liverpool were slipping behind in the title race and finished runners-up to Arsenal who completed the season with just one defeat from 38 games.