Peter Thompson obituary

One of Liverpool FC’s greatest players who won 16 England caps

The footballer Peter Thompson, who has died aged 76, was a stellar figure at Liverpool for much of Bill Shankly’s fruitful reign as manager, both when the club first shot to the summit in the mid-1960s and then when Shankly assembled a second, different looking side in the early 70s.

Before Thompson was forced to leave Liverpool through injury in 1974 he won two league championships, in 1964 and 1966, and was a key figure in their first ever FA Cup triumph in 1965. By the time he left Anfield he was considered one of the club’s greats.

A supremely hard-working presence on the left wing, Thompson had dribbling skills, allied to pace, control and a determination to get to the byline, that tormented countless defenders over the years.

But his berth at outside left worked against him at international level, as the England manager Alf Ramsey generally preferred to operate without wingers. He was named in provisional 28-man squads for the World Cup finals of 1966 and 1970, but on each occasion was among the unlucky half dozen who failed to make the final cut. As a result Thompson played a modest 16 times for his country between 1964 and 1970.

Born in Carlisle, he was the son of Eric Thompson, a joiner, and his wife, Margaret. Peter was hailed as one of the finest schoolboy stars of the late 50s and, although he trained as an apprentice toolmaker after attending Harraby secondary school in Carlisle, it was clear he would eventually become a professional footballer.

Peter Thompson, centre, beats Peter Houseman, left, and Eddie McCreadie to whip over a cross during a Liverpool v Chelsea game at Stamford Bridge.
Peter Thompson, centre, beats Peter Houseman, left, and Eddie McCreadie to whip over a cross during a Liverpool v Chelsea game at Stamford Bridge. Photograph: PA Photos/PA

First Division Preston North End won the race to sign him in 1959, making him a first-team regular at the age of 17 as a replacement for the great Tom Finney. He was the club’s top scorer in 1960-61 and made 121 league appearances in three years before Liverpool snatched him away in the summer of 1963 for a £37,000 transfer fee.

As he arrived at Anfield to sign a contract with Shankly, a large crowd of fans were milling around outside the ground. When Thompson asked what they had come to see, the manager replied: “You.”

Liverpool had just emerged into the First Division, and with Thompson playing every league match in his debut season they were able to win the championship ahead of Manchester United in 1963-64. He then made a strong contribution to Liverpool’s extra-time 2-1 victory in the 1965 FA Cup final against Leeds, and missed only two games in the 1965-66 campaign as his side took the First Division title again before losing 2-1 in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final against Borussia Dortmund.

In his first seven years at Anfield Thompson missed only 10 of 294 league fixtures, and in his later seasons there, when Liverpool were still highly competitive but unable to win silverware, he remained one of Shankly’s go-to men as the manager rebuilt his squad.

In Shankly’s penultimate season, 1972-73, Liverpool, making the most of the talents of new players such as John Toshack and Kevin Keegan, won the title again. By then, however, Thompson had developed serious knee problems and was unable to play for the first team at all during the campaign. He remained on Liverpool’s books, but his contract was allowed to expire at the beginning of 1974 and he decided to drop down a division to sign for Bolton, where he could manage his ailing joints more easily.

Having made his last first team appearance for Liverpool in January 1972, Thompson had played 416 times in all competitions for the club, scoring 54 goals. His relationship with Shankly had become strained in his last injury-racked days, but there was no doubting the manager’s deep admiration for him. “His work-rate was outstanding, his fitness unequalled, his balance like a ballet dancer,” said Shankly later.

Thompson managed another 126 matches for Bolton before retiring in 1978 at the age of 35 – after the club had gained promotion to the First Division.

After his footballing career ended he ran caravan parks near Morecambe in Lancashire for a number of years, then sold up to move into the hotel trade, including as owner of the Hare and Hounds hotel at Bowland Bridge in the Lake District and then the Delaine hotel in Harrogate.

He is survived by his second wife, Debbie (nee Crosbie), whom he married in 1993, and their two children, Chantell and Connor; and by two daughters, Deborah and Karen, from his first marriage, to Barbara, which ended in divorce.

• Peter Thompson, footballer, born 27 November 1942; died 31 December 2018