Born Liverpool, 21st January 1954, Phil Thompson was a cultured defender in the dominant Liverpool team of the 1970s and 1980s who later returned to the club as first team coach.
Thompson was a Liverpool supporter as a boy and signed as a professional in 1971, making his first team debut the following year. In 1973 Liverpool won a double haul of trophies – the League championship and UEFA Cup and Thompson played a limited but important tole in both successes. By the next season, his form had displaced Larry Lloyd from the side altogether and Tommy Smith across to full back, as he settled into a strong defensive partnership with club captain Emlyn Hughes.
Thompson man-marked Malcolm Macdonald out of the game as Liverpool comprehensively beat Newcastle United 3-0 in the 1974 FA Cup final and was again an integral part of the team which again won the League and UEFA Cup in 1976, the year he was also called up to play for England for the first time. During a summer mini-tournament held in the USA, Thompson scored for England in a match against Italy.
Liverpool’s most productive season followed in 1977 but Thompson was to miss out. Although he played enough games to guarantee a medal when Liverpool retained the title, he suffered an injury which denied him a role in the exciting charge towards a unique treble, as Liverpool surged into the finals of both the FA Cup and European Cup. With the veteran Smith taking Thompson’s place, Liverpool lost the FA Cup final to Manchester United but won their first European Cup a few days later in Rome by beating Borussia Monchengladbach.
Thompson recovered from his injury and returned to the defence the following season. Liverpool reached their first League Cup final at Wembley (a competition which they had previously not taken seriously) and after a goalless draw against Nottingham Forest, the game went to a replay. It was a disappointing evening for Thompson, who committed the foul on Forest centre forward John O’Hare which led to the penalty which won the game for Brian Clough’s men. Thompson could count himself unlucky – although he did commit the foul, replays showed that it took place outside the penalty area and the referee should have given a free kick rather than a penalty. Liverpool also surrendered the League title to Forest, but managed to retain the European Cup with a win over FC Bruges and this time Thompson played.
Thompson was accompanied by a new central defensive partner in Alan Hansen as Liverpool regained the title in 1979. When Hughes left the club for Wolves late in 1979, Thompson was appointed as captain and gleefully lifted the League trophy again in 1980. He continued to play frequently for England and was in the squad which qualified for a major tournament’s finals for the first time in a decade, though England’s performances at the 1980 European Championships in Italy were disappointing.
Thompson’s proudest moment as Liverpool skipper came in 1981 when he lifted the European Cup after a victory over Real Madrid in the final – the club’s third success in the competition. Thompson also received the League Cup after a replay win against West Ham United. It was the club’s first of four consecutive successes in the competition.
Liverpool manager Bob Paisley upset Thompson the following season when he decided to hand the captaincy to Graeme Souness, though Thompson continued to play regularly in defence, winning further title medals in 1982 and 1983. He was in the team which retained the League Cup in 1982 but missed the victory in the 1983 final due to injury.
From 1984, Thompson’s opportunities as a Liverpool player were diminishing, with Hansen now being more regularly partnered at the back by the younger Mark Lawrenson. Liverpool won the title, League Cup and European Cup in this year, but Thompson did not qualify for a medal in any of these successes.
In 1985 he was sold to Sheffield United but couldn’t settle, so he quit playing at the comparatively early age of 31 and was recruited by new Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish as a coach. He was with the club in this role for four years, progressing to being Dalglish’s right-hand man as the team (still containing, and now captained by, Hansen) won the League in 1988 and 1990 and the FA Cup in 1989.
An abiding image of Thompson the coach came in the 1989 FA Cup final against Merseyside rivals Everton when a last minute chance for Everton to equalise went awry, and the camera caught Thompson, sweating in his suit and tie, sitting on the Wembley bench while shaking his fists in relief, delight and anticipation. Sadly for him, Everton did equalise moments later and forced extra-time, though Liverpool did eventually win.
When Souness, the man who replaced Thompson as captain, came back to the club as Dalglish’s replacement later in 1990, Thompson’s days as coach were numbered and he left the club acrimoniously.
He earned a living through speaking and punditry until Gerard Houllier became Liverpool manager in 1998 and, needing a bonafide Liverpool man by his side following the departure of Roy Evans, asked Thompson to return to his old role, which Thompson accepted with some delight. This second stint was eventful – a spat between Thompson and striker Robbie Fowler was largely believed to be the main factor in the club’s decision to sell the popular centre forward to Leeds United; and Thompson spent several months in sole charge of the team (with some success) when Houllier underwent emergency heart surgery.
When Houllier was relieved of his duties in 2004, Thompson also left the club. He is now back on the punditry circuit, regularly working for Sky Sports.
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