An extraordinary first encounter between two titans of the modern game took place during a First Division match at Maine Road, Manchester, on Saturday November 29th 1947.
Lining up for Manchester City, after waiting nearly eight years to get into the first team, was right half Joe Fagan.
Facing him across the pitch at left half for Liverpool was none other than doughty Scottish defender Bob Paisley.
Decades later, the two were both destined to manage Liverpool to domestic and European glory as products of Bill Shankly’s legendary ‘Boot Room’ coaching team.
But little did they know that at the time. The pair had a game of football to play – and an important game at that as Liverpool and City were close to each other in the First Division table.
City had just been promoted as Second Division champions and were keen to establish themselves at the top level. Liverpool, on the other hand, were reigning First Division champions and had no plans to surrender their crown.
The result was a hard-fought 2-0 victory for the Blues with goals from Eddie McMorran and George Smith.
Lining up alongside Fagan for City that day were defenders Eric Williams, Eric Westwood and Les McDowall. In goal was Alec Thurlow.
In the midfield and attack with Smith and McMorran were Albert Emptage, Bill Linacre, Andy Black and Roy Clarke.
City and Liverpool could not be separated at the end of the 1947-8 season. Both finished on 42 points, but the Blues pipped the Reds to 10th position thanks to a better goal difference.
Born in Liverpool, Joe Fagan signed for City in October 1938 at the age of 17. He reckoned he’d get more first-team football with the Blues than Liverpool or Everton.
Fagan made his way into the reserves and was knocking on the door of the first team when the Second World War broke out in 1939.
As he was just too young to join the armed forces, City allowed Fagan to play for Hyde United in the Cheshire County League. Unlike the Football League, county leagues had not yet been suspended.
Along with his City team-mate Billy Walsh, Fagan had a good season at Hyde. The pair helped their adopted team win the East Section of the Cheshire League.
Fagan was back at City for the launch of regional leagues in the 1940-41 season, where the opening match was a home 0-0 draw against another Merseyside team – Everton.
After five matches, Fagan volunteered for military service in the Royal Navy. It was a bold decision as he’d never been to sea before – and quickly discovered he was prone to seasickness.
He served in Egypt where he worked as a telegraphist for a minesweeping flotilla until 1946. During his time abroad, he played for service teams in Alexandria and Manchester City on leave.
Fagan was nearly posted to the ill-fated battleship HMS Hood which was blown to pieces in the Battle of Denmark Strait in May 1941.
After the war, Fagan was contesting for a place in City’s first team under manager Wilf Wild. His senior debut came against Fulham at Maine Road in January 1947 after Wild had been replaced by new manager Sam Cowan.
City won the match 4-0 and went on to become Second Division champions. For Fagan it was the start of 121 consecutive league appearances until November 1949.
A popular figure at Maine Road, Fagan was renowned for his strong team ethic, cheerfulness and determination – all qualities that would later help him in his coaching career.
He played alongside some inspirational characters at City. These included former prisoner of war Bert Trautmann, who carried on in goal in the 1956 FA Cup Final with a broken bone in his neck.
Other influential figures were deep-lying centre forward and captain Don Revie, left back Sam Barkas, inside forward Alex Herd and goalkeeper Frank Swift.
In 1951, Fagan broke his leg and decided to go into coaching. He was 30 at the time and had made 138 appearances for City, scoring twice.
He became player-manager at Lancashire Combination team Nelson, guiding them to the 1951-2 championship. Brief spells as a player followed at Bradford Park Avenue and Altrincham.
In 1954, Fagan was appointed assistant manager at Rochdale where he served under another Merseyside legend – future Everton manager Harry Catterick.
As well as coaching, Fagan was happy to help with the laundry and marking the pitches at Spotland – such was his team spirit.
On Catterick’s recommendation, Liverpool manager Phil Taylor offered Fagan a coaching position at Anfield – and he duly accepted.
The rest, as any fan will tell you, is football history.
*Many more sporting legends from the North West are recalled in Clive Hardy’s three Around Manchester books covering the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
Each book is packed with around 300 past images of Manchester along with fascinating insights and commentary from the author. The price is £14.99 per book, with all postage and packing paid.
Just go to inostalgia.co.uk to place your order or telephone the order hotline on 01928 503777.