When Liverpool went to Craven Cottage in 1958-59, the unthinkable happened as star player Billy Liddell was dropped from the side, but the Reds still returned with a victory.
After five wins and five defeats from their opening twelve games, hopes of promotion were already diminishing for the Reds. Fulham, on the other hand, were unbeaten and flying high in the in he second promotion spot, nine points clear of Liverpool and with five wins from their opening six home fixtures.
The greatest talking point before the game was that of the team selection, as Scottish international Liddell, a virtual ever present since 1946, was sensationally left out and Louis Bimpson called up in his place. Liddell had scored nine goals from nine appearances so far that season, whilst Bimpson hadn’t featured at all and had never won the crowd over in previous appearances. Speculation about Liddell’s future intensified when he was also left out of the reserves side and manager Phil Taylor chose not to attend the game, going on a scouting mission to Grimsby instead.
Despite all the upheaval, the Reds were able to put in a resolute first half display with the defence repelling everything that was thrown at them. Reserve keeper Doug Rudham, a late replacement for Tommy Younger who had suffered a hand injury, belied his deputy status. Up front Alan A’Court was a constant threat and helped silence a previously confident home crowd. Unfortunately the other forwards, Bimpson in particular, failed to make use of his pinpoint crosses.
Liverpool upped the tempo in the second half and totally overwhelmed Fulham. The forwards played much more as a unit with Fred Morris and Jimmy Melia being very impressive, the former hitting a tremendous shot against the post. But Bimpson had a quiet game and it was clear he was not the answer to the Reds striking problems as he missed a number of chances. The ex Burscough man did get the game’s only goal however with a simple finish after A’Court had crossed in low from the left.
The win was a vital one for the Reds, who desperately needed to peg back Fulham. With new leaders Sheffield Wednesday next up at Anfield, there was renewed optimism that a good run could be put together to get back in the promotion frame. For that game Liddell was again left out, with the Board taking the unprecedented step of explaining his omission in the programme. Calling Liddell the greatest player the club had ever had who they hoped would have ‘many more games in the Reds jersey’ they wrote:
‘Every player in the game reaches the time where he can not satisfy without some relief. The greatest players of the game have shown the wisdom of a lighter programme of games in order that they can give their best and prolong their playing career. Our readers can be rest assured that the action taken was believed to be in the interests of the player as well as the club’
The team selection again proved justified as Liverpool came from 2-0 down to win 3-2, but there was again to be no promotion, as they finished a distant third behind Fulham and Wednesday. Liddell was used sparingly that season, and the next, eventually hanging up his boots in 1960-61 aged 38.