Under the spotlight - 10 matches that shaped the history of Liverpool Football Club

Jonathan Wilson's position as the pre-eminent thinking man's football writer is likely only to be reinforced by his latest offering, which applies the formula he employed so effectively in The Anatomy of England for the first time to the history of a club.

The Anatomy of Liverpool: A History in Ten Matches, which he has written in collaboration with another football writer, Guardian on-line's Liverpool-supporting Scott Murray, promises to be the first in a line of innovative club histories.

As with The Anatomy of England, this examination of Liverpool's evolution is constructed around 10 games the authors considered to have had particular significance, even if they are not always the most obvious or famous games.  The England book, for example, examined the 1966 World Cup through the prism of the quarter-final against Argentina, rather than the final.

"When I sat down with Scott over a meal to discuss which games we would include, we looked for a spread of games, not too close together if it was possible, that were outstanding or significant in their own right or that encapsulated a period in the history of the club," Wilson told The Sports Bookshelf.

"The game is the focal point for each chapter, in which we look at the details of the game itself and then spin off into the broader context.

"Hopefully it is a mix of the familiar with the less familiar."

The earliest match to come under the microscope is the concluding fixture of the 1898-99 season, away to Aston Villa, in which Liverpool needed to win to be champions of England for the first time.  They and Villa were level on points, but Villa won 5-0.  The most recent is the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul.

Matches selected in between include the the FA Cup final victory over Leeds in 1965, the defeat to Red Star Belgrade in the European Cup in 1973, and the 4-4 draw against Everton in an FA Cup replay in 1991 that preceded the shock announcement that Kenny Dalglish had resigned as manager.

"We chose the Red Star game because although Liverpool lost the first leg in Belgrade 2-1 they were optimistic about overturning the score in the home leg," Wilson said. "Instead they were played off the park at Anfield and again lost 2-1. It was the catalyst for a change in tactics and thinking that was to define the way Liverpool played in Europe from thereon in."

The unforgettably dramatic Merseyside derby of 1991 was picked not only because it was such an outstanding game but for what happened two days later, when Dalglish, who had willingly been the club's figurehead in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, admitted that the stress of the job had become too much for him.

"We decided not to do the Hillsborough semi-final itself," Wilson said. "We did not feel it was right to try to condense the disaster into just one chapter, but the Everton match enabled us to discuss the legacy of Hillsborough, particularly with regard to Dalglish and the effect the disaster and all the funerals that followed had on him.  Dalglish's exhaustion was the embodiment of what the club had gone through."

Researching the games presented its own challenges, although Wilson's resourcefulness and his contacts book enabled him to find video footage of all but the two earliest games.  Through a contact in Canada, he was able even to obtain a film of the first leg against Red Star, complete with Serbian commentary.

"It is surprising, too, how much there is on YouTube, even really old newsreel footage," he said. "And for the older games you can find newspaper reports that go into much greater detail in describing the action than today's match reports, largely because there was no film or tv pictures for anyone to watch."

The Anatomy of Liverpool is Jonathan Wilson's seventh book, his first written in collaboration with another author.

Wilson's study of football tactics through the years, Inverting The Pyramid, won Best Football Book at the 2009 British Sports Book Awards.  His backlist also includes books on football in Eastern Europe and his home-town, Sunderland, a full biography of Brian Clough and a history of the goalkeeper.

In the pipeline is a football history of Argentina and the next 'Anatomy', of which the subject will be Manchester United.

STOP PRESS:  Inverting the Pyramid is now available in an updated fifth-anniversary edition that includes an investigation of the modern-day Barcelona and how their style of play developed from Total Football, which itself was an evolution of the Scottish passing game invented by Queen's Park and taken on by Tottenham in the 1930s. It also analyses different styles in the early British game and the changing mentality of South American football in the 1970s, as well as looking at the birth of the 3-5-2 system so prevalent today.

The Anatomy of Liverpool: A History in Ten Matches, is published by Orion.

Also by Jonathan Wilson:

Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football

Sunderland: A Club Transformed

Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics

The Anatomy of England: A History in Ten Matches

Brian Clough: Nobody Ever Says Thank You: The Biography

The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper


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