London (AFP) – When Liverpool were last crowned English champions, in April 1990, Margaret Thatcher was prime minister and the Premier League was two years away from its glitzy launch.
Now Jurgen Klopp’s runaway leaders are a Manchester City stumble away from once again ruling the roost after seeing off Crystal Palace 4-0 on Wednesday.
If City fail to beat Chelsea on Thursday, then it will all be over.
In 1990 it was business as usual for Kenny Dalglish’s dominant Reds, who had finished in the top two every year since 1973, apart from one season.
Their triumph came a year after the trauma of the Hillsborough disaster, which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans after a terrace crush.
Off the pitch, Britain was in the final months of Thatcher’s long premiership.
Fierce opposition to the ruling Conservative Party’s plans for a “poll tax”, which included riots in London, contributed to her downfall in November 1990.
Britain still faced a threat from the Irish Republican Army and was heading for an economic recession.
– Liverpool change –
The city of Liverpool suffered high unemployment and rioting during the turbulent 1980s.
Joe Moran, professor of English and cultural history at Liverpool John Moores University, said northern cities suffered during Britain’s accelerated economic transformation under Thatcher from a traditional manufacturing base towards a more service-based, consumer-oriented economy.
Liverpool’s long-term decline as a port exacerbated the problems.
“The year 1990 wasn’t the bleakest year in the city’s history but it was just coming out of it,” said Moran.
“Hillsborough happened a year before and it wasn’t really until the mid-1990s that the city was being transformed, partly because it was coming out of recession, and through European funding.
“Winning the title, it was more important because the city was going through quite a hard time.”
– TV riches –
The football landscape was also radically different three decades ago, with the English game yet to be flooded with the TV riches that came with the launch of the Premier League.
Bryan Robson remained the most expensive footballer traded between English clubs, nine years after his £1.5 million ($1.9 million) transfer from West Brom to Manchester United.
Moran said the 1990 World Cup in Italy was a catalyst for the “complete transformation” of football.
“I think the commercial changes to football since 1990 are in some ways a more extreme version of what happened in society,” he said.
“They were a sort of turbo-capitalism, a hyper-mercenary trade” in which a small group of clubs powered away from the rest financially.
Manchester United, under Alex Ferguson, were in prime position to take advantage of the money flooding into the game, establishing a dominance to match Liverpool’s in the previous two decades.
But they are just one of seven different clubs who have won the English top-flight since 1990 on a list that includes Blackburn and Leicester.
Joe Blott, chairman of the Spirit of Shankly supporters group, says Liverpool’s last title is a fading memory.
“You have to be about 40 years of age to remember the last time Liverpool won it,” he said. “There’s almost a generation-and-a-half of fans who are waiting to see Liverpool win the league for the first time.
Blott, 59, said the game itself had changed from a national league to a “global commodity”.
Chelsea, backed by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, and Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City have invested huge sums to win seven Premier League titles in the last 10 years.
Liverpool are also now American-owned, but Blott believes the Fenway Sports Group has invested wisely after the troubled days under previous American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
Blott reserves special praise for Klopp, who he says has produced a side that mixes flair and steel to stand alongside the great teams of the past.
“At the moment we have got for the first time since the heady days of winning everything the Holy Trinity of manager, players and fans pulling in the same way,” he said.
“He just gets us,” he said, talking about Klopp. “He’s immersed in the Scouse, Liverpool mentality. He understands what it’s like to be a football fan.
“He ensures everyone is part of the victories, part of the losses. If ever there was a son of (former manager Bill) Shankly it’s certainly Klopp.”