Phil Thompson: Defensive lynchpin, legendary skipper and sage assistant to Gérard Houllier

Before he was a Sky Sports pundit, Phil Thompson had a distinguished playing career at Anfield before becoming assistant to the late, great Gérard Houllier. JAMES NOBLE remembers Thommo’s Liverpool days.

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Seven first division titles, one UEFA Cup, one FA Cup, two European Cups and two League Cups. Phil Thompson’s Liverpool medal haul speaks volumes – and that’s before you get to those won at the club as a coach.

He was, evidently, a thinker.

It could be seen in his status as a ball-playing centre-half, before the term was all that firmly established in English football.

In him debuting at 18 and becoming a regular in the side before he was 20.

In him being awarded the captaincy in 1979.

In him clocking up 470 appearances for the Reds and 42 for England.

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In him having two separate spells on the coaching staff – from 1986-92 and 1998-2004.

Fundamentally, though, he was a real footballer.

Born in Kensington, Liverpool, and brought up in Kirkby, he was a regular on The Kop before he signed professionally for the club just a day after his 17th birthday – on January 22, 1971.

His debut arrived at Old Trafford on April 3 the following year, when Bill Shankly brought him on for John Toshack in the latter stages of a 3-0 win over Manchester United.

It is perhaps no coincidence that Thompson’s emergence coincided with the Reds beginning to pick up continental silverware.


His distribution stood him out from many other British centre-halves of that era. This was someone who could win possession yet, very often, also retain it and progress it for his own team.

The kind of asset that was becoming highly valued in the Anfield Boot Room, especially when it came to the sometimes more tactically intricate European matches.

He made 20 appearances in a 1972/73 season that saw the Merseysiders secure both the First Division title and the UEFA Cup, before he fully established himself in the following campaign – one which proved to be Shankly’s last with the club.

Thompson took over from Larry Lloyd as a first choice centre-back, Tommy Smith moved to full-back, and he and club captain Emlyn Hughes established a solid but cultured partnership in the centre of defence.

The Reds ended 1973/74 by winning the club’s second FA Cup and, following Shankly’s shock resignation that summer and Bob Paisley taking the reins, Thompson’s influence continued to grow.

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He earned his first league title as a regular in 1975/76, alongside a second UEFA Cup.

A cartilage operation kept him out of the thrilling final weeks of the following season, which saw Liverpool retain the First Division, lose 2-1 to Manchester United in the FA Cup Final and win that cherished first European Cup with a 3-1 victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach in Rome – but his late-season impact couldn’t be doubted a year later.

The Reds won their second consecutive European Cup in May 1978, this time with a 1-0 success over Club Brugge at Wembley, and Thompson’s late clearance off the line – after a rare loose back-pass from Alan Hansen left Ray Clemence stranded – proved a key moment in the holders maintaining their lead, and their continental crown.

The first of two successive league titles were won in 1979 and it was in April of that year that he was awarded the captaincy.

Perhaps his most iconic moment for the club came a little over two years later when it was he who lifted the European Cup in Paris, following a 1-0 win over Real Madrid.


Following a poor start to 1981/82, Paisley opted to transfer the captaincy to Graeme Souness that December, but Thompson still played a key role in the league titles of 1982 and 1983, with second and third consecutive League Cup victories also secured in those campaigns.

Soon enough, though, Mark Lawrenson – a little over three years Thompson’s junior – took on the role of being Hansen’s first-choice partner.

Following four months on loan at Sheffield United, it was in March 1985 when his stellar playing days at Anfield officially drew to a close when he agreed to join the Bramall Lane club on a permanent deal.

Nonetheless, he would be back soon enough. Kenny Dalglish – by now player-manager – brought him back in 1986 as a coach, and he would soon come to be the Scot’s right-hand man.

Three league titles and two FA Cups were won before Dalglish departed in February 1991.


However, Thompson was sacked from the club by Souness – who took over as manager in April 1991 – at the end of the 1992 campaign, in which another FA Cup was claimed.

This came after reports of several alleged incidents were fed back to Souness, which gave the impression that Thompson was attempting to undermine the Scot’s position as manager while he was recovering from heart surgery in the Spring of ‘92.

The Scouser would return to Anfield in November 1998, of course, after Gérard Houllier took on full managerial duties and – valuing Thompson’s knowledge of the club – asked him to become his assistant.

It was a role that he largely thrived in.

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There was the treble of League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup in 2001 and then he rose to the challenge of leading the team through the middle of the 2001/02 season while Houllier recovered from heart surgery of his own.

That campaign, which saw the Reds finish second in the league and reach the Champions League quarter-finals, reflected impressively on the former skipper.

Another League Cup success arrived in 2003 before he departed with Houllier in the summer of 2004.

A successful punditry career has followed. He was a regular on Sky SportsSoccer Saturday until earlier this year and he continues to appear on LFCTV.

His insights and intricate knowledge of the culture at Liverpool should remain highly valued – as should his immense contribution to his boyhood club.

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