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My Favourite Player #13 - Ian Callaghan

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Ian Callaghan - is for life not just for Christmas

Where to start on Cally?

The obvious place? For many, he is simply a stat. 857  appearances,  a model pro,  a record holder. His story is so much more than that and the man has so much to be admired for. The 857 obscures a player who for a whole generation of us reds was synonymous with Liverpool, an embodiment of the Liverpool Way. He was a team player, at a time when Liverpool created the greatest team in the world.  A player that gave his whole heart to the club and the game he loved. In a cliche’d world when players regularly give 110% Cally was  ‘off the scale’.

Millionaire footballers and the modern cult of celebrity make it increasingly difficult to explain the type of player Cally was. A local lad from Toxteth, he had an obviously humble start to life. A schoolboy signing at age 15, he debuted just 6 days after his 18th birthday and less than a month after signing full time. An old man in comparison with Raheem Sterling perhaps but in an age when football was played to different rules, a 5’ 7” winger made from bone and gristle was taking his career in his hands playing so early.

Cally made what even for LFC was a remarkable debut. With just 4 reserve games behind him Shanks plucked the little fella from the reserves to take the place of the legend that was Billy Liddell. It is hard to imagine how that young kid would have been feeling at the time, pressure, nerves, excitement, or just cacking himself, who knows? Whatever it was, he must have been buzzing as he caught the local bus to the game and got caught up with the match going fans. You had to get to the ground early in those days, really early.

The young lad started the game on fire, set up three of Liverpool’s 4 goals and was, at the end of the game applauded from the pitch, not just by the crowd but by the opposition players and the referee. Seasoned hacks described it as the greatest debut they’d seen, confirming Liddel’s own earlier prediction, that the lad was his successor.

What happened next for the superstar? An England call up, a pay rise and a new contract? Cally played just 9 games in the following 2 seasons biding his time largely in the stiffs. Could you imagine the agents and the media standing for that in this day and age?  When he finally made the team on a regular basis Liverpool won the title.

I grew up with me Dad and Shanks singing the praises of Cally. A working class hero, a humble lad making the most of what God had given him but staying rooted in the club and the City. A team of Callaghans now that would have been a thing to watch you'd have been dizzy after 5 minutes but we may of had a problem with corners...........

In '66 Cally was part of the England squad and played one game in the World Cup finals. A winger in the age of the 'wingless wonders', he wasn't picked to play the final. That meant no medal , no roll of honour, no national recognition, just Nobby's teeth in his pocket for the game. It could have made him bitter and resentful instead he took it in his stride, congratulated the others and got on with his job. The lad had more dignity than Atticus Finch.

Brian Clough labelled Cally the most genuine player the British game had ever produced. Along with every single one of his team mates, his opponents, George Best and Bobby Charlton amongst them were part of his many admirers. Shanks described him as a managers dream, the only player he had to tell to take it easy in training. This from Shanks who’d break his wife’s leg to score a goal in five a side……pure dedication on and off the pitch. What else can you ask? Well for LFC you also have to have talent, lots and lots of talent, the pressure and competition to keep the shirt was high and Cally kept the shirt for 15 years. under two of the greatest and most ruthless managers to walk the planet.

Cally’s enthusiasm and dedication were constant. His never say die attitude and willingness to just keep running reflected the spirit of the Kop and the Liverpool team through the 60's and 70's. Some called him the marathon man , most just 'Cally'. How many late goals because of the belief to just keep going, on and on, an unquenchable will to win, to give your best.

You could see Cally revered both Shanks and Bob and would have run through a brick wall for them both and then come back with the bricks.  He was perpetual motion, he did not just simply work hard, he worked harder than everybody else and his legs and brain kept going when those of mere mortals were closing down. How can you forget that run and cross for the goal in 65 in the last 10 minutes on that ridiculously heavy pitch and you can be sure if it had been needed in the 91st minute Cally would have been there to do it all again. His work rate disguised what an intelligent reader of the game he was, he was always in the right place, sure his exceptional stamina carried him there but he needed to know where to be. He was Shank's secret weapon and Bob's after him, the player that did two jobs instead of one giving us space and freedom to create elsewhere.

Many forget Cally began life as a tricky winger before switching inside. The hunched shoulders, his head thrust forward, his left arm bent and awkward, his elbow jutting out like a sail on a windy day,  it all belied a superb balance which allowed him to jink or glide his way past opponents to the by-line, where his crossing invariably picked out a player. He wasn’t lightning quick but over a couple of yards he could leave the defender standing and find the space he needed. He would dart past a player with quick feet and an even sharper mind. One thing about Cally was he got the job done, no airs and graces , no fancy flicks, no dazzling pace. Cally was down to earth, a no nonsense player, just a drop of the shoulder, a switch of the ball and away. A busy, tireless player, he mastered all the arts of the game with one exception, heading. He never was the showman, he rarely drew a gasp or hugged the limelight and he didn’t take liberties with opponents he was a time served craftsman as reliable as the sun rise. His stuttering rapid run often gave the impression he was struggling to get there but he always made it.

In an age when wingers were marked by defenders for x rated tackles from the kick off, when the defender could scythe you down from behind without even an admonishing word from the ref, players  not only had to be physically tough but mentally strong. Cally set our all time appearance record by over 200 games and was booked just once. He was as tough as nails. Not an, in your face aggressive kind of tough but the type of tough that just picks themselves up, smiles and tries twice as hard.  The kind of tough that just keeps coming, keeps getting up. Callaghan was relentless. He was a true man who played the game in the spirit it should be played with honest enthusiasm and endeavour. Just one booking in the whole damn lot, a man even Ghandi would bow down to.

A knee injury saw his speed slowed and his jinks curtailed so he moved inside but his reading of the game and clever use of the ball saw him excel in his new role. In truth he could have played anywhere on the park except in goal, ok ok or centre half in the days of the Colussus it would have been a big ask. 

At 32, in his new role he won the Football writers player of the year, the first Liverpool player to achieve that honour. By the age of 34,  he helped us win the League and Uefa cup double, playing in all bar a couple of the games and at 35 did enough to get called back up into the England team after an 11 year absence, another record.

Maybe me dad and the lads of his generation were feeling their age, maybe it was the the lads longevity that endeared him to so many auld gits but he wasn't being picked out of sympathy he was a class act capable of controlling a game without ever being seen.

He started the final of the ’77 European Cup becoming the only player to play for the club from the 2nd division right through to our domination of Europe. He was still there a year later for another final but  kept out of the side by Graeme Souness. That’s the level of ability Cally was competing against in his mid thirties as he broke record after record.

This was a man who lived our dream, from the terraces to the European cup. Ten major trophies, our first FA Cup, our first Uefa Cup, our first European Cup.  He lived his career as you’d hope to live it, respected by all, true to himself. A quiet modest man, as enthusiastic and in love with the game at the finish as he was at the start and with the same humble character, who appreciated and treasured what he had.

My favourite player by a long way, no distractions, no glory goals just the strongest player on the pitch. A player that held everybody else together, the unsung hero without whom none of the rest ever happens. One of many reasons similar whole hearted players evoke so much sympathy with me I guess but Cally had the skills to match his work rate.

Oh and he looks just like me Dad only smaller  ;D

That's a great write up on a brilliant record breaking player. Thanks mate.

Crosby Nick:
That was a great write up thanks. Ian Callaghan is obviously a name all Liverpool supporters will know but I haven't ever seen too much footage of him (bar the European finals). That was a really informative read - thanks!

Another cracking write up. It's great learning more of the older legends as a lot of what we see or read isn't from a perspective we can associate with. RAWK forever leading the way  :wave

Great stuff that.

Nice to hear more about the man and player he was rather than just the numbers.


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