IN the summer of 1996, eighteen year old Jamie Carragher from Bootle had just broken into Liverpool’s first team squad for the very first time. He had featured in most of the preseason friendlies that summer and his performances had impressed his manager, Roy Evans and fans of the club. Shortly afterwards, “One to watch” reporters caught up with him to find out more about him.
“Is there anything different or one thing about being in the first team squad that’s different to the youth team, any kind of polishing touch?” asked the reporter, to which Carragher coolly responded, “No. There’s probably a bit more pressure because it is the first team but it’s the same right the way through, you get told the same things and it’s no different to the first team.”
He was asked which shirt number he’d eventually like to wear at the club and after a couple of seconds of thought and an unconcerned shake of the head, he replied “Erm, number eight.” When probed for his reasons, he simply replied, “I don’t know. It’s just the one I used to wear at school.” Then he was asked if he had a number now. “Twenty three” he beamed before agreeing with the reporter that he had to work his way up the pecking order. Earlier on in the interview, Carragher had revealed how he was a boyhood Everton fan who often turned up to training sessions wearing an Everton shirt when he was a youngster.
After watching this interview, I remember being impressed by the level of maturity in his answers and his attitude. Naturally, he was bursting with enthusiasm and excitement for the future and when we consider that he was living every young Scouser’s dream, he could possibly have been forgiven for letting the whole first team experience go to his head. But this didn’t happen at all, nor was there any danger of it happening. Young Carragher was calm, collected and completely unfazed. Little did we realise that this was the first sign of his classic transformation from an enthusiastic young apprentice to an irreplaceable club legend and when Roy Evans said that Carragher “has a great future ahead of him” during that very same summer, he certainly wasn’t wrong.
Over the years, Carragher’s versatility, determination and passion have dominated strikers all over the world and won over the hearts of the Anfield faithful. Our fans love nothing more than to see a player give 100% in every game and Carragher has done this for us consistently for 26 years. Everyone can see that he loves and feels honoured to play for the club every time he pulls on that number 23 shirt and his passion for Liverpool Football Club hasn’t once dwindled. When we look at him now, it is hard to believe that he ever supported our city rivals.
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When we talk about the highlights of Carragher’s career, it’s easy to pinpoint Istanbul and his Champions League winning contribution back in May 2005 and rightly so. He stretched his exhausted and cramp riddled body to its absolute limit that night and threw himself in front of every ball for 120 minutes when others in his position would probably have been forced off the field. Few will forget his triumphant face as he lifted that European Cup and nobody can deny that he deserved it more than anyone else. Of course, Carragher himself would dispute it but that’s just Carragher all over. We often hear him screaming orders at his team mates and giving them stick when they make mistakes but he will always give credit where it’s due and that’s one of the things that I personally love about Jamie Carragher. His honesty is golden and it will definitely be missed when he retires.
In my eyes, his quick chat with goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek before that vital penalty shootout in Istanbul was equally as memorable as all those blocks and tackles. After the 120 minutes were up, most defenders would assume that their job was over and stand back, unless they were taking one of the penalties of course. But this is Jamie Carragher we’re talking about now and not content with that killer 120 minute shift, he ran straight to Dudek and gave him some pearls of wisdom. “Do a Brucie” he said, in reference to the antics of former Liverpool keeper Bruce Grobbelaar in the 1984 final of the same competition. He remembered how Grobbelaar successfully psyched out the Italians of Roma with his wobbly leg tactic and advised Dudek to do the same. As we all know, Dudek did indeed ‘do a Brucie’ and it worked as he saved Andriy Shevchenko’s crucial penalty. We’ll never know if Dudek would have saved that penalty without those words of wisdom from but we definitely cannot doubt Carragher’s burning desire to be a winner.
Even Carragher himself pinpointed Istanbul as the highlight of his career but he will no doubt look back fondly at other highs such as his goal scoring debut against Aston Villa back in 1997 and his defensive heroics in our treble winning 2000/2001 campaign. Sure, he has made the odd mistake over the years as all humans do but none of these mistakes have ever come from a lack of effort or determination, that’s for sure.
I could write a list of Carragher’s top career moments but I personally think that true strength and loyalty is reflected more in times of struggle.
Just before our triumph in Istanbul, Geoff Shreeves of Sky Sports interviewed Carragher and suggested that his recent performances in the Champions League could earn him a move to a ‘bigger’ club than Liverpool and one where he would have a chance to win more medals. At the time, we were going through a bit of a trophy drought with only the 2003 League Cup to show since our 2001 treble. Still, Carragher was indignant. “Who’s bigger than Liverpool?” he interrupted. “No, I’m not accepting that. I’ve already got four or five medals here and I’m sure I’m going to win some more.” I’m sure I’m not the only fan who loved this response because it proved that loyalty still existed at a time when the game had become dominated by money.
Fast forward a few years to our 2-0 victory against West Brom at the Hawthorns in May 2009. During the game, Liverpool defender Alvaro Arbeloa had made a series of errors, so when he left Albion’s Marc-Antione Fortune unmarked at the far post, Jamie Carragher’s uncontrollable passion finally ran riot. Furious, he stormed up to Arbeloa, screamed at him and shoved him, leading to a scuffle which had to be separated by Xabi Alonso. Although his fiery approach may not have been appreciated by Arbeloa at the time, it is a typical Jamie Carragher reaction and one that our fans can understand, at least. Scuffling with team mates on the pitch is never a good sight but it just proved exactly how much he cared about every game and given the choice, I’d prefer our players to have too much passion than none at all.
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Another example of Carragher’s burning passion surfaced during our visit to the Emirates on 17th April 2011. Determined not to be beaten, Carragher, as always, was launching himself 100% into every challenge. Unfortunately, him and team mate Jon Flanagan challenged for the same ball in the 56th minute and there was a clash which left Carragher knocked out cold. I remember the horrible feeling of worry in the pit of my stomach as he was carried off on a stretcher wearing a neck brace and receiving oxygen. I remember worrying that we wouldn’t see him in a red shirt for our next game. Looking back, I should have known better because the minute he regained consciousness, he immediately asked if he could go back out and re-join the game and he wasn’t too pleased when he was told that would not be possible. Instead of resting and recuperating, he ran out onto the pitch to congratulate his team mates on snatching a dramatic point after the final whistle. I found it truly amazing that this man had no regard for his own health whatsoever, just the team and the result but this type of commitment is typical of the Jamie Carragher we know and love.
Fixtures against our M62 rivals Manchester United have always been a heated affair. Ask a fan of either club and they will tell you that this is a fixture neither club can bare to lose. The rivalry is so intense and it’s vital that the players understand exactly how much this fixture means to the fans and perform on the day. Luckily for us, we’ve had Jamie Carragher and he is one of those players who need no explanation. Rather, he has been the one who has given the explanation to some of the none-locals and youngsters. He has been the one who demanded 100% for the fans and he has been the one who has lead by example on the pitch. His crunching tackle which left Manchester United’s Nani in tears back in March 2011 was a perfect example of this. It may seem rash looking back and it certainly upset the Manchester United dressing room but these are the qualities fans want to see from that very first whistle to the last. Nobody wants to see a player avoiding a 50/50 challenge for fear of injury or discipline. Carragher may have apologised for hurting Nani but you can bet your life he’d do it again because he fears nothing and no one.
The subject of fear brings me to another classical moment. Having recently retired from International duty to focus on his Liverpool career, Carragher turned on his radio in July 2007 to hear Adrian Durham call him a “bottler” on Talk Sport. Durham didn’t agree with his decision to retire and felt that he should have fought for his place instead. Furious, Carragher searched frantically for the number and phoned the show to confront Durham live on air. “It’ll be interesting to see if you’ve got any bottle and come down to Anfield or Melwood and say it to me and we’ll see what happens, won’t we?….Don’t ever call me a bottler on radio in front of thousands of people listening to you…..None of you are more of a fan than me so don’t try and make out that I’m someone who’s more interested in money than playing football” fumed Carragher. I’m sure a few Liverpool fans will have been delighted with his reaction here. I know I was because for me this whole incident epitomises what Jamie Carragher is all about. He’s honest and he’s passionate and where other footballers would probably have chosen to ignore Durham’s comment, Carragher has always worn his heart on his sleeve and this occasion was no different.
In his 2008 autobiography, Carragher spoke about priorities. “I’d just missed a penalty in the World Cup quarters but I thought…I’d rather miss for England than Liverpool. Defeats wearing an England shirt never hurt me in the same way as losing with my club. The Liver Bird mauled the Three Lions in the fight for my loyalties. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, it’s just how it is. If people want to condemn me and say I’m unpatriotic, so be it.” Adrian Durham and the rest of England probably didn’t appreciate or understand these comments but they were music to my ears. Generally speaking, Scousers tend to stick together and form a tight knit community. We can wind each other up all day long but the minute people from outside of Liverpool try to do it, it’s a different story. Many of us prefer to call ourselves Scouse as opposed to English and I have to say, I am one of them. I don’t hate the rest of England or the England team; I just feel no attachment or loyalty towards them at all. If I get asked on holiday where I’m from, I’ll always say ‘Liverpool’ not ‘England.’ Liverpool is a massive part of my identity and England isn’t. For this reason, I personally regard this quote from Carragher as the best of all time. Sometimes it is easy for footballers to become out of touch with fans because the money they earn allows them to live in a totally different world so it’s nice to know that Carragher is still on the same level as us.
I’ve always admired the fact that he has the courage to stand up for what he believes in regardless of other people’s opinions. He recently stood up for team mate Luis Suarez while the rest of the country was baying for his blood for his bite on Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic. “Luis knows he has done something seriously wrong…He needs help not hounding….I know what it’s like to have your leg broken by a reckless tackle. Lucas Neill cost me six months of my career in September 2003 when he played for Blackburn. Would I have preferred to have been bitten? Absolutely.” While I’m not condoning Suarez’s actions in any way, Carragher’s honest words did put things into perspective and I admire the fact that he had the courage to come out and say those things, even know he probably knew the rest of the country would disagree with him. Still, Carragher proved in that 1996 interview that he cared more for honesty than other people’s opinions when he admitted he was an Everton fan. Having been raised a blue myself I can appreciate that he will have taken some stick from his Evertonian friends, not to mention thousands of people at the game. But none of that mattered to him and he has well and truly proved that it doesn’t matter if you’re not lucky enough to be born a red as long as you live a red. And Jamie Carragher has certainly lived for Liverpool Football Club over the last 26 years, nobody can ever doubt that.
It must have been devastating for Carragher when his diminishing pace eventually cost him his place in the starting eleven earlier this season. I can only imagine how frustrated he must have been watching Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel take over in the heart of our defence when all he wanted to do himself was go out there and play. Still, he remained dignified at all times. He naturally expressed his disappointment at the fact he wasn’t playing but at no point did he criticize his manager’s decision. Instead, he respected the decision, spurred his team mates on from the side lines, continued to give 100% in training and vowed to win back his place. So, when Martin Skrtel’s form began to dip midway through this season, Carragher ‘s hard work paid off when he regained his position. He was determined to make it his own again and needless to say, we’ve barely seen Martin Skrtel since because Carragher’s form has been tremendous. He may have lost a bit of pace but his awareness, his ability to read the game, his leadership and his determination more than make up for that and it’s a shame to see his playing days coming to an end because I personally thought he still had so much to offer. His attitude, particularly when he lost his place was incredible and it set a wonderful example to our youngsters.
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As the end of the season approaches, so too does Jamie Carragher’s final game in a Liverpool shirt, sadly. I’m glad that his final game will be played at Anfield because it gives us a chance to ensure that he gets the best possible send off before he hangs up those legendary boots for good. It will be an emotional day because we aren’t just losing a footballer, we a losing the heart and soul of our club.
After 26 years of loyal service, 737 games, 1 European Cup, 1 UEFA Cup, 2 FA Cups, 3 League Cups and a collection of priceless memories, it’s difficult to express exactly how much Jamie Carragher ‘s contribution has meant to Liverpool Football Club. The word ‘legend’ comes to mind but for me, that word is largely overused and undervalued. Anyone who manages to draw a cheap laugh from their friends can be labelled as a ‘legend’ nowadays so in that respect, it just doesn’t do Jamie Carragher justice. In fact, words in general don’t seem enough. The man is a rare and completely irreplaceable diamond and I feel privileged that I have been able to stand inside Anfield and have the pleasure of watching him play. He may have wanted Steven Gerrard’s number 8 shirt back in the day but he has made that number 23 his own and it’s hard to imagine anybody else wearing it now. The very sight of that number 23 has given us so much reassurance over the years. Shortly before Chelsea visited Anfield last month, some rival fans were winding me up saying that former red Fernando Torres was going to score against us. My response? “No he won’t. Jamie Carragher won’t let him.” And I was right.
It’ll be strange not being able to hear Carragher’s voice barking orders from the Anfield stands next season because it’s a sound we’ve all become accustomed to over the years. But hopefully some of our local youngsters will have learnt a few things from the master himself. I don’t expect them to reach his heights but if they can pick up just a couple of his traits then his legacy will continue for years to come. One thing is for certain though; Liverpool Football Club and fans worldwide will never forget what Jamie Carragher has done for this club and his name will be remembered fondly amongst other Anfield greats such as Dalglish, Shankly and Paisley. We all wish him well for the future and if he does decide to come home to Anfield one day, he’s guaranteed to be welcomed back with open arms.