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UK Football - The Last Time Liverpool Won the League

Thirty years of hurt ended for the Anfield club yesterday but how did football in England look the last time they were crowned champions?

The last time Liverpool won the league, they still had Rush, Whelan and Hansen, and the trophy was very different....

The last time Liverpool were crowned champions of England they had only 4 players in the squad from outside Britain and Ireland; Bruce Grobbelaar (Zimbabwe), Glenn Hysen (Sweden), Jan Molby (Denmark) and Ronnie Rosenthal (Israel). Now the newly crowned champions have more foreigners (16) than Brits.

They’ve just won the highly marketable English Premier League, last time they were merely Division One champions.

Both facts serve as shreds of evidence if ever it were needed, showing how the English game has changed massively in the intervening years.

But who else were involved in that Division One championship thirty long years ago?

Well, only half the clubs Liverpool faced in their last title success are Premier League clubs today. The Anfield Reds finished 9 points ahead of second-placed Aston Villa that season. And they too are a club which may not remain in today’s Premier League club for much longer.

There were familiar names in the positions 3 thru 7; Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton and Southampton, in that order.

Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker
Gary Lineker (right) featured with Paul Gascoigne was the First Divison’s top league scorer the last time Liverpool won the league in 1990, with 24 goals.
Photo by David Cannon/Allsport/Getty Images

Crystal Palace were 15th and had suffered in their first visit back at Anfield as a newly promoted club that season, losing 0-9. Palace did improve under Steve Coppell however and actually got the better of Liverpool in a dramatic FA Cup semi-final (4-3) to deny the Reds another tilt at the double.

But what of the Manchester clubs?

Well United after a torrid season won their first trophy under a Scottish coach by the name of Alex Ferguson, who famously was still trying to, “... knock Liverpool off their perch.” Had Liverpool won the cup semi-final against Palace, it would’ve been an East-Lancs derby in the Wembley final. As it happened United squeezed through over Palace, but only after a replay.

That United cup victory probably saved Ferguson’s job, because the 13th place league position they finished in would never have been deemed enough. In those days the FA Cup was still a much sought after, major trophy.

City finished a place lower than United in 14th, in those days representing a normal, or perhaps even ‘good’ season for the Blues.

Even Norwich City (10th) finished above both Manchester clubs.

But what of those other clubs that made up Division One in 1990?

Wimbledon, The Crazy Gang with Vinnie Jones just departed, finished in a highly creditable 8th. They’ve been to hell and back since, the club moving to Milton Keynes and becoming MK Dons, while local Wimbledon fans reformed AFC Wimbledon, starting off well down the pyramid in non-league circles and now back to sharing parity with MK Dons in League One (third tier).

Vinnie Jones and Chris Fairclough
Vinnie Jones (left) departed Wimbledon for Leeds United at the beginning of the 1989/90 season.
Photo by Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty Images

Former European champions, Nottingham Forest finished mid-table (9th). But they are another club which had dropped to tier three football and now reside a level up in The Championship. They remain to this day, the only club in European history to win the European Champions Cup/Champions League more times than their domestic title, thanks in the main to the great Brian Clough.

Queen’s Park Rangers (currently in The Championship) and Coventry City who have just this season won promotion from League One (third tier) each also finished higher than the Manchester clubs in 11th and 12 respectively. Coventry endured a spiralling existence until their recent revival, having lost their Highfield Road ground - they currently groundshare at Birmingham City’s St Andrews - and descending into League Two (fourth tier).

Derby County (Championship) and Luton Town, who plumbed the depths bottoming out at fifth tier football before recovering manfully to play in tier two this season, each escaped relegation back in 1990, sending Sheffield Wednesday, Charlton Athletic and Millwall down into Division Two. All three relegated clubs, 30 years on, play in the same tier 2 level of English football today, and only one, Millwall, has never made it into the Premier League.

A couple of other notables from that season of league football. Wolverhampton Wanderers, currently enjoying Premier League life, finished 10th in Division 2 in 1990, but what of Burnley, another established Premier League club these days?

The Clarets managed by former player Frank Casper in 1989/90 finished 16th in Division 4 and were knocked out of both domestic cups in the early rounds by Blackpool, who themselves were relegated to Division 4 at the end of the season.

Former Minnesota Kicks, Portland Timbers and Tulsa Roughnecks player Ron Futcher was Fourth Division Burnley’s top scorer in 1989/90, the last season in which Liverpool won the league title...

These days, Burnley regularly sell-out their Turf Moor ground situated neatly amongst the Lancashire hills, but in 1989/90 their highest attendance was only 12,227 on Boxing Day v Carlisle United (W2-1) and their lowest (3,352) for a Football League Trophy group match v Stockport County (L0-2).

An average of just over 6,000 came through the gate at Burnley’s home matches that season. In 2019/20 before Covid-19, the corresponding figure was 20,415.

Changed times all around.