Liverpool 7- 4 Chelsea: Anfield a cauldron, as fans lap up 11 goal thriller in 1946

Liverpool’s title winning manager, George Kay

By Jeff Goulding

It’s September 1946, we’re three games into the first football league season since the end of World War 2. The Reds are about to take on Chelsea, and the Kop is about to witness one of the most remarkable games of their lives.

The war was over, the guns that had wreaked death and devastation across the globe had been silent for a year. Soldiers were still returning to rebuild their broken cities and the people continued to exist on government rations. Though the carnage had come to an end, life continued to be a struggle for millions. Thank God for football.

Games had continued throughout the war years, with clubs organised into regional leagues. The likes of Bob Paisley and Billy Liddell had signed for Liverpool before the commencement of hostilities. They would have to wait years to make their debuts, having to satisfy themselves with unofficial matches interspersed between active service in Europe.

In 1946, the football league resumed and Liverpool manager George Kay had assembled a formidable team. The club had not won a league championship since 1923. All that was about to change.

Kay, a pioneer who understood the importance of nutrition, decided to get his players out of the country in preseason. He took them to America, where they could build up their pale and malnourished frames with ‘steaks and malts.’ It proved to be a master stroke.

Kay, born in Manchester in 1891, managed the Reds for a total of 357 games. His first game in the dugout came in 1936. We’ll never know what glory he could have achieved where it not for the war, but that’s true of so many of the Reds’ greats. The 1946-47 season would prove to be a spectacular high point of his career though, with Liverpool winning the title in 1947. They had simply outrun, outfought and out thought their competition, and that inspired preseason will have played a vital part in that.

The omens had been good, as Liverpool toured New York, St Louis, Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia and New England. They racked up 70 confidence boosting goals on tour, in front of packed stadiums, full of expats and locals. The highlight will have been a 12-0 hammering of a Philadelphia select at Yellow Jacket Field.

Then it was back home to a few knockabout games as the team re-acclimatised in the North West of England. Confidence in the red half of the city would have been soaring, as news of the US tour was lapped up by its citizens in letters sent home to the Liverpool Echo by the manager. Imagine the sense of eagerness and excitement, as supporters looked forward to the resumption of league football, for the first time in seven years.

However, Liverpool got off to a stuttering start that gave no hint of a first league title in 23 years. They saw off Sheffield United 1-0, in the season opener at Bramall Lane. The win came courtesy of a 90th minute strike by Len Carney. They followed that up with a disappointing 0-1 home reverse to Middlesborough in their second outing though.

Their fourth match, saw them thrashed by Manchester United, 5-0, in a game that was remarkably played at Manchester City’s ground, Maine Road. Had anyone suggested Liverpool would go on to lift the title in May, to a Red who had witnessed the humiliation, they’d have surely been given short shrift. The game had left United top of the table, and the men from Anfield languishing in 12th.

However, the Red Men would find their feet in a season that saw them score 84 goals, a figure that more than compensated for their occasionally leaky defence. In a foreshadow of the Rodgers era, Liverpool would often need to outscore their opponents to win the points, conceding 52 goals in a 42 goal season.

Kopites would have been given a glimpse of what was to come in the teams third game of the season, against Chelsea at Anfield. It would be one of the most thrilling games any one had ever seen.

Kopites desperate to see the action, scale the Kop wall (1946)

The game got underway amidst unseasonably hot weather, on Saturday 7th September 1946. The official attendance was 49,950 but the numbers were likely to be much higher, as crowds continued to pour into the ground up until half-time, when the gates were finally locked. Even then, crowds of local kids continued to scale the wall on Anfield Road and found their way into the stadium regardless. The desire to see the Reds in action was so great, that even those locked out, some 5,000 people, remained at the ground, their ears pinned to walls, listening to the roar of the crowd inside.

It was the weekend. Work was over for a while, and tens of thousands of Scousers had tossed their cares and worries to one side, at least for 90 minutes. There was no place on earth they wanted to be, than right there, in or around Anfield.

Those inside would be treated to 11 goals in what would be one of the most remarkable games in an age. At the end of it, Liverpool would emerge the victors, but not before Chelsea had threatened one of the most incredible comebacks of all time.

Making their debuts that day, despite having signed for the club seven years before, were Bob Paisley and Billy Liddell. The Echo would proclaim that the pair had transformed the red attack. It wasn’t without justification either. Liverpool were 6-0 up after 50 minutes.

Making their debuts that day, despite having signed for the club seven years before, were Bob Paisley and Billy Liddell. The Echo would proclaim that the pair had transformed the red attack. It wasn’t without justification either. Liverpool were 6-0 up after 50 minutes.

The game got off to a blistering start, when Liddell opened the scoring inside two minutes, turning in a corner. The ground rocked as joyous supporters showed their appreciation. The man who would go on to define the club and who the Kop would call King Billy, was already 24 years old and had played 152 times for the club, scoring 82 times.

‘King’ Billy Liddell

These appearances had been in the unofficial inter-war games, and didn’t count. However, they would have mattered to the supporters who continued to follow the club throughout the dark days of World War 2. He would have been a hero, even then. This is how the Liverpool Daily Post recorded the goal:

Success came in exactly two minutes and Paisley was the man who went forward to get the corner kick which produced a direct goal for Liddell. The corner swung in, and Robinson, trying to punch away, put the ball on the inside of an upright whence it turned into the net.”

The reporter felt Liddell was lacking match fitness though and suggested this may have explained Chelsea’s second half rally. In the first half though, Liverpool were irrepressible. They added another three thanks to a brace from Bill Jones on his debut, and a goal from Willie Fagan on the stroke of half time.

By now, the vast crowds on the Kop were beginning to struggle with the heat. Packed so tightly under the tin roof, many were becoming concerned for the safety of scores of youngsters who had climbed onto the huge terrace. Though the local press claimed it had little to do with ‘packing,’ the conditions must have been incredibly uncomfortable.

Thankfully, police would allow hundreds of kids to descend from the huge stand and sit along the touchline that surrounded the pitch. There they would feel the fresh air on their cheeks and enjoy a remarkable second half.

Jack Balmer, a Scouser from a family of Evertonians and future captain of the club, grabbed the Reds fifth, two minutes after the restart. He was far from a fans favourite, and many would let him know during games. Still, the bald-headed striker would play 309 times for the club, scoring a very creditable 110 goals. Bob Paisley would list him as one of his ’50 Golden Reds,’ and spoke of his sadness at Balmer’s treatment by some supporters.

Bob Paisley, a great player who became a legendary manager

Liverpool were cruising now, and when Liddell hit the sixth goal just three minutes later, those kids on the touchline would have been barely able to contain themselves. Then the game changed completely, and the Londoners mounted a fierce fight back. 22 minutes later, they and every Red in the ground would have been chewing their fingernails.

Goals from Len Goulden, and Jimmy Argue in the 55th and 64th minute would have caused the mutterings on the Kop to crank up a notch, but the two-minute brace from Alex Machin in the 70th and 72nd may have led to a full-fledged revolt. The score was now incredibly 6-4 and the Reds defence was rocking.

However, the Liverpool crowd had long since been singled out as different by the nation’s media. Famed for their ability to get behind the team when they were needed, the seemingly put aside their anxieties and helped George Kay’s charges to ride the waves and steady the ship.

In truth, Chelsea had given themselves a mountain to scale when they fell six goals behind. They’d given Liverpool a big scare, but after their fourth, they simply ran out of steam. Willie Fagan, who had rounded off the scoring in the first half, repeated the feat in the second. He hammered home Liverpool’s seventh in the 87th minute, no doubt much to the relief of the Kop.

Liverpool supporters would get used to not keeping a clean sheet during this season. There would be setbacks and defeats home and away, but the Reds were simply too good for the rest of the league. They clinched the title in the most bizarre of circumstances, on the 14th June 1947.

Liverpool beat Wolves 2-1 in their final game of the season but had to wait two weeks to know whether they had clinched the title. While the win had robbed Wolves of their chance win the league, Stoke City could do it, if they beat Sheffield United at Bramall Lane, in their final game. However, due to a bitter winter, that led to many fixture postponements, that game wouldn’t take place until two weeks later.

And, it would coincide with the final of the Liverpool Senior Cup, which pitted the Reds against Everton. That meant Liverpool faced the possibility of winning or losing two trophies on the same day. The tension inside the ground would have been hard to bear, as the Reds laboured to a 2-1 victory over their neighbours to secure the cup and local bragging rights.

However, according to Billy Liddell, the only thing on anyone’s mind was what was happening miles away in Sheffield, and the game between Stoke and Sheffield United. Stoke lost the game and the result was announced over the speaker system, near the end of the second half, to a packed and raucous Anfield crowd. Liverpool were champions of England once more, and they had beat the Blues to the senior cup.

What a day to be a Liverpudlian.

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