This Sunday, tens of thousands of Liverpool supporters will once again descend on the country’s capital in joyous football celebration. A trip to Wembley is always the finest way to end or begin a season. This time it’s for the Charity Shield, and I’m loving it. Here’s why.
Preseason games barely get my pulse racing. They never have. In my formative years as a Liverpool supporter, I wouldn’t even know they were taking place, much less what the results were. That is, with the exception of one – the Charity Shield.
For any youngsters reading this, I’m sorry, but it is the Charity Shield. Not the ‘Community Shield,’ and it always will be for me. The modern day penchant for rebranding stuff and then pretending it’s something different has always baffled me.
Anyway. Liverpool have competed for the big shiny shield 21 times. They’ve won it outright ten times, and shared it on five occasions. In the old days, they couldn’t be arsed with penalty shoot-outs and, if the game wasn’t settled after 90 minutes, both captains would simply parade it around the pitch. It would then spend six months in each club’s trophy room.
In the 70s and 80s, the Reds competed for no fewer than 12 Charity Shields, in twenty years. That mattered, because it meant they were winning English football’s big prizes. To be in that ‘curtain raiser’ for the new season, you had to have won the FA Cup or the League title.
So it’s always been the one preseason friendly that really matters to me. Well, that’s not strictly true. There’s the UEFA Super Cup too. If you’re in that, then you’ve either won either ‘old big ears’ or the UEFA Cup. Funnily enough, we’re in both of them this year, such is the club’s revival under Jurgen Klopp.
The competition was founded in 1911, and Liverpool’s first foray came in 1922. Then, the famous ‘untouchables’ side, who won back-to-back league titles between 1921 and 1923, contested the shield against FA Cup winners Huddersfield Town. Sadly they lost the game 1-0.
The game took place on the 10th May at Old Trafford, the first time it had been played outside of London and the first time the fixture took place at the end of a football season. Liverpool were presented with the league trophy on the pitch and, despite their defeat, there were joyous celebrations on the team’s return to Merseyside.
Imagine the scenes at Liverpool Central Station, as captain Donald Mackinlay is hoisted aloft by teammates and possibly a few supporters and carried into the street outside. Back then the shield wasn’t contested under the same rules as today though. Those competing for it hadn’t necessarily won anything.
So, despite winning the league again in 1923 and 1947, the Reds would wait 42 years before contesting another Charity Shield. That came in 1964 when, after a 2-2 draw with West Ham at Anfield, Liverpool claimed their first success. It meant Shankly’s men would share the shield with The Hammers.
They would repeat that feat in 1965, with another 2-2 draw against Manchester United. Liverpool’s first ever success in the competition came courtesy of a 1-0 over Everton at Goodison Park in 1966. It was the first of three Charity Shield encounters against the Blues, with the Reds winning one, drawing one and losing the other.
The game in 66, though, became more famous as a celebration of Merseyside supremacy in English football than anything else. The Reds had won the league and the Blues had won the FA Cup and both teams had contributed players to the England World Cup winning squad. Supporters packed into the old stadium watched in awe as all three trophies were paraded around the pitch before kick off.
It was the first and only time that has ever happened. And, it happened on Merseyside.
In 1974, after the Reds had vanquished Newcastle in the FA Cup final, they would meet league champions Leeds United on the 10th of August. It was the first Charity Shield to be played at Wembley and to be televised – but the game was anything but charitable.
It would also be the last time Shankly ever led Liverpool out at Wembley. The Scot had sensationally resigned earlier. The stage was set for an incredible battle.
So tempestuous was the match, that at one point Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner became embroiled in a fist fight. Both men saw red, and received lengthy bans from the FA. The country had never seen anything like it, and there were even calls for the clubs to face punishment. Fortunately that didn’t happen.
Phil Boersma scored for the Reds in the 19th minute, but Leeds levelled in the 70th through the brilliantly named, Trevor Cherry. That meant that for the first time in the history of the fixture, the game would be settled on penalties.
The Reds won the shootout 6-5, after David Harvey missed his spot kick. It had been a memorable game all round and the one question on everybody’s lips as they left Wembley was, how were only two players sent off?
After the largess of the previous three decades, the 1990s brought relative austerity in trophy terms for Liverpool. That meant only two Charity Shield matches, in 1990 and 1992. The Reds would share it with arch rivals, United, at the start of the decade. But they lost 3-4 to Leeds in 92.
However, thanks to Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez, the new millennium brought three shots at the newly named ‘Community Shield.’ Those games would be contested outside of England, at Cardiff. The Reds beat United 2-1 in 2001 to cap a memorable season and also followed that up with the UEFA Super Cup.
They lost 1-0 to Arsenal in 2002 and then won the last of their shield victories in 2006. That year, Rafa took his FA Cup winners to Cardiff and they beat Chelsea 2-1. It was a game played in glorious sunshine and memorable for trademark thunderbolt from distance, courtesy of Jon Arne Riise.
So, it’s been 13 long years since we tasted the sweet smell of Charity Shield success. That’s the longest gap since we first tasted success in 1964.
Now Jurgen has a chance to add his name to the long list of winning managers by claiming our 11th outright win. Admittedly, we’re not there courtesy of a Premier League or FA Cup victory this time. However, we came within a hares breath of claiming the league title, and we’ll all settle for the Champions League over the FA Cup. And, let’s face it, the shield would look really nice sat next to ‘old big ears’ in that trophy cabinet, wouldn’t it?
So, while there may not be a banner for our ‘la decima’ of Charity Shields and the Kop may not sing ‘we won it ten times,’ that gleaming silver trophy will always mean something to me. That’s because, just as it always has in my lifetime, it’s a symbol that the Reds are at the top of the game, competing for the big prizes.
I can’t wait. Up the Reds.