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#SHANKLY100 The one....The only....Mr Ian Callaghan

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The one....The only....Mr Ian Callaghan.

Right – Picture the scene. Liverpool are in the Second Division, and have been for far too long in the opinion of most reds. The only real shining light at the time being Billy Liddell. So imagine the panic caused when Bill Shankly decides to drop Liddell and drop an 18 year old called Callaghan into the fray.

Many believe that his Anfield debut came against Bristol Rovers in April 1960. In fact Ian Callaghan got a taste of Anfield six years previously in the Catholic Schools Intermediate Knock-Out Cup when he turned out for St Patricks and helped them beat All Saints 1-0. It was not the last match Callaghan won on the infamous Anfield turf.

He won on his Liverpool debut 4-1, and went on to play a further 855 games for the Mighty Reds spanning two decades and numerous trophies. Ian Callaghan was an exciting right-sided winger breaking in to a Liverpool team which was just beginning to break the shackles of mediocrity to go on and become one of the most successful and exciting sides ever seen. The side included players like a young Roger Hunt, Jimmy Melia, Alan A’Court, Dave Hickson, Gerry Byrne, Bobby Campbell and of course – Ronnie Moran. We all know Ronnie Moran – he is a winner with the kind of abrasive character needed to succeed in life. He soon recognised the talent in Callaghan and was quick to offer him advice on ways he could improve his game (a clear indication of the work that lay ahead for Moran!). Callaghan was willing to take on board any of the ideas Moran could offer him later admitting “I don’t know how I would have managed without him. It was a big step up playing in the first team, and I don’t know how I would have coped without somebody keeping an eye on me and helping me out of difficult situations. I soon learned that at Liverpool, we were essentially part of a team and depended on each other.”

The immediate thing that became apparent about Callaghan was his huge enthusiasm and boundless energy – he was applauded off the pitch after his debut by his team mates. Shankly’s job was to harness that energy in to a way that would benefit Liverpool. Shankly (as with so many players it seems) felt he had to build Callaghan up so that it would be difficult to knock him off the ball – and with the fierce competition Shanks was introducing to the squad at this time – it was 18 months before Ian could claim to be a first team regular.

It was in the promotion season of 1961-62 that Callaghan made the breakthrough. We all know that Bill was a stickler for fitness – so it is easy to see why he was such a big fan of Cally. He covered the whole of the right wing for 90 minutes non-stop. His distribution of the ball was intelligent as well as unselfish. He epitomised Shanks’s theory that you should always make yourself available for a pass. Shankly said of him: “To watch Ian play is to see a player in perpetual motion. It must be terrible to play against him because he never stops running, and he never gives you a moments rest. He is a model professional and a model human being. If there were 11 Callaghans at Anfield there would never be any need to put up a team sheet.”

An argument which is fairly prominent on the MB’s is “Why don’t we ever sign any start players?” My usual reply is that even the Liverpool teams of the past (though we had star players) were made up of players with guts and determination – that is what brought us our 18 titles and 4 European Cups. Callaghan is a shining example of this. He was inexhaustible, and would ignore the toughest of tackles by getting up and fighting again for the ball.
Ian Callaghan was booked on just one occasion in his 18 year career at Anfield – significantly this was in the League Cup replay against Forest at O*d Trafford. We lost to a very dubious penalty and Ian was booked for a push on Peter Withe.

The fitness of Shankly’s team is what took them to the second division title. The opposition struggled to cope with the likes of Hunt, St John, and Peter Thompson battering away at them. They finished 8th in their first season back in the first division and then went on to win two League titles in three years, with an FA Cup thrown in for good measure.

International honours followed, firstly at England Under-23 level, and then with the full England team. Ian was one of the fall-guys when Alf Ramsey decided to go with his ‘wingless wonders’ – and it is criminal that Ian Callaghan only collected 4 International Caps. Ramsey did play Ian once in the 1966 World Cup campaign against France. Callaghan created both goals for Roger Hunt in a 2-0 win, and was promptly dropped. It is difficult to question Ramsey’s judgement when you look at his achievements in the tournament, but you can’t help but feel sorry for Callaghan, I mean, who the hell would want to share a bench with Jimmy Greaves (Sorry, serious head back on now!).

The late sixties were lean times for Liverpool in terms of trophies. Shankly brought in players like Emlyn Hughes, Tony Hateley and Alun Evans. Callaghan stuck to what he knew best – working hard – but when he damaged his cartilage in September 1970 – the doom merchants feared the worst. Shankly was about to break up his team to form a new one, and rumours were prominent that Callaghans career may be over. He had been an automatic choice for the previous eight years and this was his first serious injury. In came more fresh-blood. Heighway, Toshack, Keegan, Brian Hall. It looked ominous for a while – but when he regained his fitness Mr Shankly employed him as a right sided midfielder rather than a winger. It proved to be something of a rebirth for Cally. He said “There’s more space in midfield, and you’re not as restricted as you are when playing on the wing. The main difference is that I don’t carry the ball as much as I did and I let the ball do more of the work.” Simple, yet effective.

When Shanks passed the reigns to Paisley – Cally was still going strong. Tommy Smith said of him “He’ll probably go on for another 20 years because on away trips he never lifts a finger. His room mate once had to make the tea, fetch the papers and run the bath. No wonder he’s still going strong!”

In 1975, 15 years after Callaghan made his debut, there was a whole host of fresh honours to come. First off he was awarded an MBE in the New Years honours list. He was also crowned as 1974-75 Footballer of the Year by the Football Writers Association. He had already become the first red to amass 500 league appearances and he was named as Merseyside Sports Personality of the Year by readers of the Echo. The following season – Cally made 40 out of a possible 42 appearances sticking two fingers up at those who had suggested he was over the hill.

Soon however it did become clear that his time was drawing to a close. Players like Jimmy Case and Terry Mac had broken through – and Cally’s appearances started to wane. Though the number of appearances decreased, he never once let down the team.

Perversely, Callaghan was called up to the England squad at the age of 35 by Ron Greenwood – a full eleven years after his last England appearance where he doubled his total of caps with appearances against Luxembourg and Switzerland. Four caps is a terrible record for such a talented player.

When Ian left Anfield he had smashed every record held previously. Five league titles, two FA Cup winners medals, Two European Cup winners medals, a World Cup winners medal and a Footballer of the Year award. He appeared in 640 league games, 78 FA Cup Ties and 88 European matches – a total of 848 first team matches in all. Even after moving to Swansea he played a further 76 games!

I am too young to have seen Callaghan play – and I’d love to hear the memories of anybody who did witness any of his appearances. However – I do trust the judgement of Bill Shankly – and he said this about our Ian:

“He typifies everything that is good in football, and he has never changed. You could stake your life on Ian.”

That’s good enough for me. Ian Callaghan MBE - Liverpool Legend.

Superb read, Cally could cover every blade of grass on the pitch and still look able to do it again after 90 minutes.

Cally was and is a cracking bloke on and off the pitch, think he only ever got booked once, and that was a stupid decision, even the opposition players had a go at the ref for booking him.

His only hat-trick came in the League cup game at Anfield in the early 70's against Hull City 4.1 it ended up, Cally had a smile on his face as wide as the Mersey tunnel.

Brilliant, to have players like that in a squad is such a blessing.

Mr Liverpool- heard him called that before and he deserves it. Its incredible he was only booked once in an 18year career for us, tells you a lot about the man that does.
Nice post

Excellent post, Emsy. You should do more of such posts - besides the custard ones  ;D


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