By Jeff Goulding
Liverpool will face Leicester City for the 112th time this weekend. Here I look back at one of the Reds biggest wins in the fixture, a 5-1 victory at Anfield in 1934. As we will see, it would prove a rare oasis during what would turn out to be the club’s wilderness years, in the 1930s.
It’s the 17th November 1934, Liverpool are gearing up to face Leicester City at Anfield. The club is a fading force, having failed to win the title since 1923. Unlike their all-conquering forebears, this was a Reds side that was far from untouchable.
With George Patterson in the dug out for his second spell as manager, the Reds were struggling. Patterson was a popular man at the club and literally lived in the shadow of Anfield – his home was in Skerries Road, minutes from the Kop. However, by the time Leicester came to visit, his team had already shipped eight goals twice in two humiliating defeats during the opening games of the season.
The first had been an 8-1 mauling at Highbury, and the second had been delivered at Leeds Road, when Huddersfield Town had plundered eight without reply, just a week before the November clash with Leicester. That game could easily have ended 9-0, had the Reds keeper, Arthur Riley, not saved a penalty in the 37th minute.
So, this was a Liverpool side languishing in mid-table and having finished regularly in the bottom half of the table in previous seasons, appeared to be going nowhere. Therefore, Reds supporters must have been looking with some relief at facing a side whose defence was perhaps even weaker than their own.
These were tough times for working class cities like Liverpool. The opening of the ‘Queensway’ Mersey tunnel in the July, a tremendous feat of engineering and a sign of civic ambition, masked the suffering and hardship faced by many on Merseyside and across the country. Just two years later marchers from Jarrow in Tyneside would begin their epic march against hunger, poverty and unemployment. They would be joined by comrades who set off from Liverpool. joining the Merseyside contingent was none other than the author, George Orwell.
These were fertile times for those who would sew division and hatred in the UK and across Europe. The year had begun with a huge rally by the British Union of Fascists in Birmingham. Oswald Mosley had addressed an audience of 10,000. Demagogues and opportunists were using the misery of working people to whip up racism and fear. Sound familiar?
Mosley’s politics never gained ground in Britain despite these turbulent times. However, it was a different story on the continent. Within five years, the whole of Europe would be at war. It would be a conflagration that would ultimately burn up the entire globe and cost 50 million lives.
Football then, as it is today, must have seemed a rare form of escapism in a world that to many would have appeared to have lost its collective mind. So, against this backdrop, thousands of Liverpudlians made their way to Anfield to see their heroes do battle. Not as many as in previous years though.
The opening game of the 1934/35 season, a 2-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers, had seen over 31,000 file through the turnstiles. However attendances soon slumped.
This was a decade that belonged to Everton. They had the greatest striker in the country at the time – Dixie Dean was a marksman without equal. They secured two league titles in 1932 and 1939, and they also won the FA Cup in 1933. Perhaps it wasn’t the dominance we see today, when super-rich clubs can create cabals that lock the rest out, seemingly forever. But, in the 1930s Blues’ supporters would have had a lot to crow about, far more than their Red counterparts.
So, in the face of Liverpool’s poor form, lack of silverware and the scarcity of disposable income in a city ravished by unemployment, the attendance for the visit of Leicester was a paltry 18,790. The Liverpool Echo even commented on the amount of space in the Paddock (an area at the front of the Main Stand) as the game got underway, and suggested that it may have been due to the early kick-off time – the match started at 2.30pm.
Liverpool might not have had a marksman of Dean’s rare talents on their books, but they did have the prolific Gordon Hodgson. The South African born Hodgson would score 244 goals in 377 games for Liverpool and he would grab three of them in this game.
Still, this was a tie between two struggling sides. Defensively, Leicester were poor. They weren’t tearing up any trees in attack either. Still, they managed to score the first goal in the 24th minute.
Liverpool had been much the better side and Vic Wright had smashed a shot off the upright in the third minute. Wright had made his debut for the Reds in the previous season, a 4-1 thrashing of Birmingham City. However, Gordon Hodgson stole the show in that game, scoring all four of Liverpool’s goals. Wright would leave the club in 1937, having played 85 games and notching 33 goals.
Liverpool were making all the early running against the visitors, and their back line had seemed well in control. Then midway through the first half Leicester’s John Summers sent in a delightful cross into the Reds penalty area. Danny Liddle leapt into the air and attempted a spectacular scissor kick. The Reds goalkeeper, Arthur Riley dived across his goal and managed to parry the goal-bound effort. However, Liddle wasn’t to be denied and, with the Reds defence ‘spreadeagled’ as the Echo put it, he regained his footing, chased the ball down and smashed it into the roof of the net.
It was 1-0 to Leicester and the relatively meagre crowd inside the stadium must have feared the worst. However, Liverpool and Gordon Hodgson had other ideas. Inside five minutes, the Reds were in front.
The equaliser came in the 27th minute after a delightful one-two between Alf Hanson and Hodgson saw the latter level spectacularly. The celebrating Kop end would have barely had time to finish cheering before Liverpool went in front. Just a minute after they had levelled, the pair were at it again, combining brilliantly to bag Liverpool’s second.
This time, a slide-rule pass by Hanson left five Leicester players chasing shadows, leaving Hodgson with a simple tap in. Fists punched the frosty air as relief and joy swept around the stands.
What followed was wave after wave of Liverpool attacks, and only Leicester’s goalkeeper, Jimmy McLaren, prevented the Reds from running away with the game. Stork, a Liverpool journalist who wrote for the Echo, described it as the ‘the fiercest onslaught on a goal I have seen for some time.’
Leicester were lucky to get into the dressing room at half time, still in touching distance of the Reds. However, they wouldn’t be able to resist Liverpool’s forward line after the break.
Liverpool were in control throughout the second period, and a very poor Leicester team simply couldn’t cope with them. Then disaster struck for the visitors. George Gibson left the field through injury and with no substitutes allowed, they would have to face the Reds ferocious attack with ten men, with just over 30 minutes to play. Minutes later, Liverpool’s Tommy Johnson send the ball forward, Hanson – again the provider – headed the ball to Hodgson who dutifully headed it past McLaren.
It was a sublime move and a sweet finish. Hodgson had netted his first hat-trick of the season and Liverpool were in cruise control. Gibson made a brave attempt to rejoin his team mates, but his injury proved too painful and he would eventually bow out for good.
Leicester were vanquished. Had this been a boxing match, the referee would have already called time. Instead, Liverpool were allowed to continue and in the 82nd minute Hanson would grab his fourth assist of the match, lobbing the ball into the centre and presenting Wright with a glorious chance, which he headed past McLaren.
It was now 4-1 and with the away side out on their feet, there was just time for another. Hanson was now terrorising the Leicester goal mouth. He hit the post in the 86th minute and was generally causing mayhem. Perhaps, that was the reason why the previously brilliant McLaren committed a catastrophic howler just two minutes later.
With just two minutes left on the clock, Harold Taylor, a former Stoke City player who joined the Reds in 1932, poked the ball tamely towards the Leicester goal. After pulling off a string of first-half saves that kept his team in the game earlier, McLaren stumbled and fell, allowing the ball to roll into the net. It may have seemed harsh on the goalie, but Liverpool were good for their five goals.
The victory was a much needed boost for the Reds. They would go on to win four out of their next five games. Their revival under manager Patterson, would eventually see them to a creditable 7th place finish, after a horrific start to the season. This would be their highest league finish of the 1930s.
This was a game and a season that would prove a rare oasis in what was undeniably Liverpool FCs wilderness years.