Steve McMahon: The first hit in King Kenny’s Liverpool managerial legacy

JAMES NOBLE explores the Liverpool career of Steve McMahon, one of the stars of the Reds’ last golden era in the late 1980s.

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Steve McMahon was Kenny Dalglish’s first signing as Liverpool player-manager in September 1985. His range of attributes and steely character made him a key cog in a fruitful few years at Anfield – even though his career had begun on the other side of Stanley Park.

There would be First Division titles in 1986, 1988 and 1990. And there would be FA Cup successes in 1986 and 1989 – both against Everton, his boyhood team.

Born in Halewood on August 20, 1961, McMahon was a ball boy at Goodison Park in his younger years, before he made his league debut for the Toffees in 1980 – four days before his 19th birthday.

Traits such as leadership, energy, quality on the ball and strength in the tackle – all so apparent throughout his Reds career – saw him swiftly become club captain.


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It was an impressive start to his career and, despite interest from Liverpool, it was Aston Villa who he joined in 1983.

The potential nature of a move from one direct rival to another was reportedly a notable – and perhaps sensible – factor in McMahon’s decision-making.

After two mid-table finishes with the 1982 European Cup winners, though, the then-24-year-old finally arrived at Anfield as Dalglish’s first acquisition early in the 1985/86 season.

The fact that campaign produced the Reds’ single league and cup double to date reflected impressively on both McMahon and his new manager.

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As did his first goal for the club. It came, fittingly, at Goodison in a crucial 3-2 victory that September. Dalglish’s men finished two points ahead of their neighbours at the summit in May – making that early-season win additionally decisive.

A total of 10 goals from 36 appearances in all competitions represented a solid return – and it could have been even more had injury not kept him out of the season’s latter stages.

An excellent 14 strikes in 50 games followed in 1986/87, although it was the blue half of Merseyside who this time took home the First Division title in a rare trophyless campaign at Anfield.

The Reds bounced back in style, nonetheless. Liverpool of 1987/88 remains a side seen as one of the club’s – and English football’s – very best.

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Summer additions John Barnes and Peter Beardsley added style and speed to an attack that had also recently lost Ian Rush but gained John Aldridge.

McMahon’s continued influence on numerous fronts in midfield simply enhanced that balance and firepower further. He started every game in the victorious league campaign and in the run to the FA Cup Final, where AFC Wimbledon achieved a shock victory.

There were nine goals and, arguably, his most iconic on-field moment for the club. The first goal in a 2-0 Anfield victory against Arsenal in January was scored by Aldridge and set up by Beardsley but, ultimately, it was made possible by McMahon’s sheer willpower and fleet of foot.

The ball appeared to have been fully cleared by the Gunners in the 44th minute, but the midfielder chased it to the touchline. He stopped it virtually on the line with his studs, bounced back towards it using the advertising hoardings, nicked the waiting ball away from an incoming sliding challenge, drove infield, fed Beardsley in the box and the forward’s low delivery was tucked home at the far post by Aldridge.

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As Oliver Kay so neatly summarised when describing the goal for The Athletic in October: “It’s a goal that sums up that team: skilful, creative, relentless.”

That McMahon was at its heart was perhaps one of the most accurate reflections of his value to that most brilliant of sides.

The key contributions continued, even if the goal return slightly lessened.

1988/89 brought seven in 39 games in all competitions, while he provided the assist for John Aldridge’s opener in the 3-2 FA Cup Final victory over Everton – an immensely emotional day for Merseyside, as the match came just five weeks after the Hillsborough disaster.

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Arsenal dramatically snatched that year’s league title when Michael Thomas’ last-gasp strike gave George Graham’s men a 2-0 win at Anfield in the season’s final game, but an 18th title would be won a year later.

McMahon played 49 and scored six in all competitions in 1989/90 and scored three in 29 the following season. A knee injury in February 1991 ended his season prematurely, just days prior to Dalglish’s resignation as manager.

His final goal for Liverpool, now under the stewardship of Graeme Souness, came in a 2-0 home victory over Nottingham Forest on December 14, 1991. After 15 appearances in the opening months of the 1991/92 campaign – the last of which was against Manchester City on December 21 – he joined the Citizens for £900,000 on Christmas Eve.

There were reportedly disagreements between the new boss and senior, experienced players – such as McMahon – over desired contracts and the favourable treatment of some new arrivals. Something which is thought to have heavily contributed to the decision to sell the Scouser.

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After three years at Maine Road, he joined Swindon Town as player-manager – where he remained until early in the 1998/99 season.

His next managerial role came at Blackpool between January 2000 and January 2004, before a brief spell at Australian side Perth Glory from mid-to-late 2005.

McMahon’s contributions have most often been in a media punditry capacity in the years since, which has seen him feature regularly on LFC TV.

A big presence within, and influence on, some of Liverpool FC’s most successful sides. McMahon, it seems, remains somewhat underappreciated at times.

Then again, he so often represented that subtle balancing force. A player, arguably, whose impact on his team was virtually always felt within matches, rather than blatantly seen.

His and his teammates’ trophy haul reflect his sheer effectiveness.


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