30 Years Part Two - The Spice Boys
Where we left off in part one, Liverpool had been given a facelift, out were the club legends of Houghton McMahon and Dalglish and a new focus on youth was taking hold. Liverpool were determined to once again reach the pinnacle of English football and they were going to do it with a young side which was going to play an exciting style of football.
In the mid 1990s just as England itself was undergoing a cultural change with Cool Britannia so to was Liverpool football club. Out was Manager Graeme Souness and in was Liverpool Boot Room graduate Roy Evans, a Bill Shankley prodigy. In the mid 1990s, the premier league was truly flying high, increased cash injections to clubs meant that there was now increased media attention. Liverpools new breed of young stars including David James, Steve McManaman, Dominic Matteo, Jason McAteer and Jamie Redknapp were now experiencing a new type of celebrity.
Although greatly talented, this crop of young players was to be be as famous for their off the field antics as much as their on field abilities. Known to frequently visit Liverpools vibrant nightclubs, the players were a paparazzis dream come true. It was not unusual at the time to see players faces on the front as well as the back pages of newspapers.
On the pitch they were without doubt one of Englands most entertaining sides, an all guns blaring style of attacking play engineered by a midfield led by Redknapp and McManaman gave us some of the eras most heart racing games. Most notably, their Anfield clash with Newcastle in 1996 which saw both sides abandon all defensive responsibilities, the sides traded goals until Stan Collymore wrapped up a 4-3 victory in stoppage time. The game was one of two moments which was to define the era of The Spice Boys.
The 1996 FA Cup final was to pit Liverpool against a formidable Manchester United side who were coming off the back of three league titles in the last four years. The Spice Boys, for all their flare and talent, had only been able to secure a solitary League Cup in 1995 and desperately wanted to get one over on the Red Devils. When it came time for the traditional pre-match pitch walk, Liverpool appeared on the Wembley turf in gaudy all white suits. Sir Alex Ferguson was to say in an interview years later that he was able to point to the suits and use them as a motivator for his own side, “they showed up and they had already thought the had won”. A single goal from Eric Cantona secured a 1-0 United win.
The cup final was to be the last real chance at silverware for Roy Evans and The Spice Boys. In the coming seasons, Liverpool floundered, Gerard Houllier joined as co-manager in the summer of 1998 and a few months later, Evans resigned. After Evans resignation, the core of the 1990s side was to leave Anfield as Houllier looked to model Liverpool after other European giants, there was no longer room for the off field exploits.
The era of The Spice Boys was to define Liverpool in the 1990s, an exciting period of highs and lows but ultimately unsuccessful on the pitch. The teams personality however was incredibly engaging for a new generation of football fan, they were an every mans team, with swagger and youthfulness which adhered them to many.
Houllier was to bring in a period of success for Liverpool, built on a mix of European talent and a certain home town boy, but more on that in part three....