If ever one player embodied the multitude of qualities which built Liverpool into one of the world’s greatest clubs then, undeniably, Ian Callaghan was that man. From the day he made his debut as a teenager against Bristol Rovers at Anfield in April 1960 ”
receiving an ovation from team-mates, opponents, the crowd and even the referee! ”
until his departure for Swansea nearly two decades later, he was without ever being a star in the accepted sense, a shining example of everything a top footballer should be.
Ian’s career divides nearly into two halves. He spent the sixties as an orthodox right-winger, one of the best in the country, before being converted into a chugging dynamo in central midfield, a role which was to win him a belated international call up ant the age of 35.
He made his bow as a diminutive professional of six weeks standings with only four central league games behind him. A man-size shirt hung loosely from his wiry frame but there was no suggestion of a little boy lost when he started to play. In that 1st match he revealed confidence, bags of natural ability, and a precious instinct which told him when to hold the ball and when to release it. A golden future awaited but Bill Shankly was wary of prematurely pitching his gifted rookie into the hustle and bustle of league football. A season and a half later had passed before he was awarded a regular berth and then he helped to win long-coveted promotion.
Ian’s game blossomed in the 1st division. He formed a potent partnership with left flan trickster Peter Thompson and the honours flowed. While Peter was more devious, Ian was fast and direct, making it his business to reach the byline and feed ‘œSir Roger’ & ‘œThe Saint’ with a diet of crosses which did much to nourish the Reds goal tally.
Never a heavy scorer himself, ‘œCally’ did contribute several memorable strikes. Particularly satisfying was an acute angled side foot from a well rehearsed free-kick routine involving Hunt and Willie Stevenson that stunned Inter Milan in the 1965 European Cup semi final at Anfield; though more spectacular was a 30-yarder which sunk Everton in autumn 1963 as Shankly’s men headed for their first Championship.
The watershed in the Callaghan career came in 1970/71. Liverpool were experiencing an indifferent patch but their reliable right winger was playing as well as ever until a cartilage operation sidelined him for 4 months. In his absence, newcomer Brian Hall, prospered and there were fears that ‘œCally’s’ days in a red shirt were over. Such qualms were not shared by the gaffer, who doubted neither his mans resilience, nor his capacity to adapt, and simply handed him a new job in midfield.
Ian responded by missing only 4 games in the subsequent 5 seasons, during which he was awarded an MBE, was voted ‘œFootballer of the Year’, and played a major part in placing untold strain on the Anfield trophy cabinet. His intelligence and enthusiasm, precise passing and limitless stamina were never seen to better effect and that return to the England side ”
he had been axed when Alf Ramsey abandoned wingers in 1966 ”
was a fitting reward. The cascade of tributes which followed genuinely puzzled the modest Callaghan, who felt his game had remained at the same consistent level throughout his years with the Reds.
When it was time to move on he could look back at an exemplary record. He had been the one common denominator in three fine teams , played more games than anyone in the clubs history, never been cautioned by a referee, and set a towering example of loyalty, dedication, and skill. Ian Callaghan created a formidable standard; if others can meet it they will be great men indeed.
International Caps ”
Liverpool 1959/60 ”
Article Copyright (c) Roper 2003