As his authorised biography states aptly, Joe Fagan was a reluctant champion. A potent sentiment expressed by Graeme Souness on the back cover was enough for me to contact his publishers for a copy and research further.
Born in Walton Hospital on 12 March 1921, Joe Fagan was the epitome of the house that Shanks built. Part of the fabled boot room at Anfield, his association with Liverpool spanned the best part of his life.
It was not until his 1960s that the ex-Manchester City stopper was summoned to a higher calling and handed the keys to the first team at Liverpool Football Club.
In the spirit of the boot room, Liverpool promoted from within. An outsider would have swooned at the prospect of stepping into the shoes of an iconic predecessor who had amassed 19 pieces of silverware in nine years.
Fagan took it in his stride. His job description was a simple one liner – keep Liverpool at the top of the football pile.
Recovering from a slow start, Fagan’s Liverpool, bolstered by an incredible 47 goals from Ian Rush won the 1983/4 First Division Championship, completing a first ever hat trick of title triumphs. There was more to come.
The League Cup was secured after 13 games and a Souness pile driver settling the Merseyside final replay at Maine Road.
The 1983/4 European Cup final against Roma was an opportunity for Liverpool to complete a rare treble of League Championship, League Cup, and European Cup.
The Reds had been joined on the colonnade of recent English European Champions by the Nottingham Forest side Brian Clough had fashioned, winning two astonishing European Cups, and Tony Barton’s Aston Villa’s staggering win in 1981/82.
The Stadio Olympico had been the venue for the Reds first European triumph in 1977, and the home ground of Liverpool’s opponents Roma. It was Liverpool’s fourth final.
A crowd of almost 70,000 at the Eternal City watched Phil Neal cancel out Roberto Pruzzo’s opener before England’s finest beat their Roman counterparts 4-2 on penalties.
The triumph reserves Fagan’s proud position between Bob Paisley and Rafael Benitez as managers who steered the good ship Liverpool to success in the most prestigious club competition in European football.
Brussels was Fagan’s swansong and he announced his retirement prior to the 1985 European Cup Final. Kenny Dalglish was also announced as his successor. The Heysel tragedy cast a black shadow over football and emotionally impacted on Fagan. “Good bye, game over,” he uttered on the Aer Lingus flight home.
Writing the foreword for his recently published biography, Roy Evans wrote about his mentor: “Joe Fagan was the rock. He was there through it all and I honestly believe he was the one person the club couldn’t have done without during this time.
"Without him I’m not sure the success would have continued for as long as it did.”
“Simply the best! To me that’s what Joe Fagan was.”
Adding to the list of testimonials was one from Kenny Dalglish: “When you are in the football business there are only two ways to go and you are better to be a hero than a villain…Joe was definitely a hero.”
Fagan managed Liverpool from 1983-85, but his impact throughout his love affair with the club stretched to almost 30 years.
Simplicity and humility were what Fagan was about. Jan Molby said: "I remember when I made my debut down at Norwich. I said to Joe Fagan 40 minutes before the game, 'What do you want me to do?’
"He said, 'Listen, we've signed you because you're a good player, just go and show us what a good player you are.'"
Fagan died of cancer in July 2001, aged 80, and still remains the first manager in English football to win three trophies in a season. On the back cover of his biography - a quote from Souness reads: “Joe was Mr Liverpool during the club’s golden age and his contribution should never be allowed to be forgotten.”
Fagan may not have received the recognition for his amazing service and achievements but his name remains etched alongside English football’s greatest managers.