Football By Decade: 1980s

It has been a long time since I last added to the "Football By Decade" series, with University commitments and then the brilliant 2014 World Cup taking over my blogging schedule. However, following the wonderful array of talent and competition in Brazil it is time to look into yet another decade of intrigue and inspiration. After the 1970s had brought some of the greatest players, teams and matches to the forefront of football debate, the 1980s would further promote a host of talent to the centre of the global footballing stage. Despite this, the decade would also be one of the most pivotal for the wrong reasons with a number of tragedies befalling the sport, questioning whether it truly was the 'beautiful game'.

We are almost at the end of our journey through the twentieth-century in terms of football history, from the British pre-War sporting dominance to the 1970s - a decade which many believe was football's last truly great era. In my opinion this statement is not totally accurate. The 1980s were to still offer a period of ten years which produced the likes of Diego Maradona, Michel Platini and some of the greatest club sides of all-time like Bob Paisley's Liverpool and Arrigo Sacchi's Milan. So where to start? As always we'll begin with England and the last complete decade of the Football League.

The previous ten years had seen English football dominate, at least at a club level, the sporting structure of Europe. Liverpool and Nottingham Forest had began to create genuine footballing dynasties in England and in the European Cup. In fact between 1977-82 a Football League side took home the trophy with Aston Villa also becoming the continent's top side in 1982. Hamburg won the tournament the following season before Liverpool (now under Joe Fagan) once more got their hands on 'old Big Ears' in 1984, defeating Roma on penalties in Rome - Bruce Grobbelaar's 'spaghetti legs' became the stuff of legend in the process.

Spaghetti legs 1-0 Roma
English football's love affair with the European Cup would come to a tragic end in 1985 with the Heysel Stadium disaster. Following violent clashes between Liverpool and Juventus fans before that season's showpiece event in Brussels a combination of a poorly maintained arena and a charge from the Merseyside club's fans against a number of Juve supporters led to a crush resulting in 39 deaths and a five-year European ban for all English clubs. It was the darkest moment in the nation's sporing history and one which brought the focus on British fans once more. The plague of hooliganism had reached a tragic peak.

It is already clear that the decade is one of stark contrasts both on and off the pitch. As far as domestic English football was concerned the 1980s saw a number of key events. Liverpool were still the dominant force in the Football League winning six titles (the last two under the stewardship of former player Kenny Dalglish). The North West stranglehold  on the game continued through Everton, another successful team through the decade winning the league in 1985 and 1987. Despite off-the-pitch social struggles thanks in part to Margaret Thatcher the region had formed a way of flourishing and offering sanctuary to many supporters.

Who's this guy?
Not all major stories in England were confined to Merseyside, indeed Manchester United went through a turbulent decade failing to win a league title and finding their only success in the FA Cup. In 1986, perhaps the most pivotal moment in the club's history took place - the appointment of Alex Ferguson to the helm at Old Trafford. Elsewhere came perhaps the greatest ever finish to league season in 1989 when Arsenal defeated Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield to snatch away the title on goal difference. The vital goal was scored my Michael Thomas in the last minute with the goalscorer actually signing for The Reds in 1991.

This blog has been one in which there has been no shortage of involvement from Liverpool Football Club and it is with them where we will conclude the English section. Unfortunately it is with another tragedy where we end. The Hillsborough Disaster in 1989 remains the worst ever British stadium-related disaster in history - 96 fans lost their lives at a FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield. What was most appalling about such a tragedy was the response from the government, police and media alike.

For over 20 years Liverpool fans were held responsible for causing the crush with newspapers like The Sun composing a set of lies in order to pin the blame. After a fight from many of the families who lost relatives an inquiry was launched into just what happened - the result was a police cover-up in which the real culprits were the officers in charge on the day, allowing too many fans into the Leppings Lane end of the ground. Recently it has been confirmed that no supporters were to blame with a number of apologies being made from David Cameron, The Sun and Ed Milliband for the widespread incompetence they were all directly or indirectly a part of.

Images still difficult to look at today
As always we like to look into Welsh football and the trials and tribulations of Cardiff and Swansea City. Both clubs started the decade in Division Two, before Swansea gained promotion in 1981 thanks in part to player-manager John Toshack. From 1978-1981 the 'Jacks' managed to journey from the fourth tier of the Football League to Division One - a four year period which still to this day remains a league record.
Following two years in the top flight (including a 6th place finish in 1982) the club's fortunes took an incredible turn thanks in part to financial troubles. By 1986 Swansea City were back in the old Division Four. A meteoric rise with a fall rarely seen again in English/Welsh football. Cardiff City were also relegated to the basement of the Football League that season resulting in perhaps the worst ever ten years for Welsh sport.

So onto Europe and a closer look at German football. Internationally the national side fared well winning the 1980 European Championships before reaching both the 1982 and 1986 World Cup finals only to lose both times to Italy and Argentina respectively. Domestically it was Hamburg and Bayern who dominated the era with Hamburg winning the European Cup in 1983. Bayern won sixth Bundesliga titles over the ten years with the last under the stewardship of a certain Jupp Heynckes. It was a quieter decade for German football with perhaps the nation's defining moment happening off the pitch on 9 November 1989 - the fall of the Berlin Wall.
A victorious Hamburg
Spanish football also stumbled through the decade. After playing host to the 1982 World Cup the domestic honours were once more in the favour of Real Madrid with the Castilian club winning six titles including five-in-a-row (1986-90). The spearhead of such a side was the attacking flair from Spaniard Emilio Butragueno and Mexican international Hugo Sanchez. Those playing alongside Butragueno became known as the 'Vulture's Cohort', due to the strikers nickname of 'El Buitre' - The Vulture. Real Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona also shared titles between 1981-85 before the dominance of Madrid. On a continental scale Spanish sides once more struggled. It was to be another barren decade for Iberian clubs in the European Cup with Madrid coming closest to a first triumph since in 1966 in 1981 only to lose 1-0 to Liverpool before Barcelona were defeated on penalties by Romanian side Steaua in 1986.

Finally on to Italy, a nation which enjoyed perhaps its greatest ever decade winning the World Cup in 1982. Serie A played host to a number of the greatest ever players - Michel Platini, Diego Maradona and Marco Van Basten all featured in an era which truly was 'golden'. Platini's Juventus were the country's major force in the early-to-mid 1980s winning the European Cup in 1985 amid tragic circumstances in Heysel before Arrigo Sacchi's Milan became what FourFourTwo believe the second best side of all-time winning the Scudetto in 1988 and back-to-back European Cups at the end of the decade. From back to front the side was what dreams are made of - Maldini, Baresi, Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard just a number of those to represent the Rossoneri over the period.

Football's greatest goal?
The game of the decade is usually a fairly straightforward decision but the 1980s throws up many contenders for such an honour. Being a Liverpool fan I was tempted by the Merseyside Derby cup final in 1986 as well as the more obvious choices like Italy 3-2 Brazil and Argentina 2-1 England. Instead I am going to choose Netherlands 2-0 USSR in the 1988 European Championships. Although not provided as many thrills and spills as some other encounters it does offer a certain player and a certain goal - Marco Van Basten and THAT volley. It seems almost criminal to discuss the 1980s without mentioning Van Basten with his goal leading to Holland's first and only major trophy in a tightly fought final in Munich.

So there we have it, another decade which offered dizzying highs and tragic lows. Football was the game which represented more than just what was seen on the pitch. From Merseyside to Berlin the sport had become political and a symbol of numerous societies across the globe.


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