Forgotten Hero: Phil Boersma

Our forgotten heroes series makes a welcome return, with Keith paying tribute to a squad player from the early seventies who returned to Anfield as part of Graeme Souness’ coaching staff.

The dream of so many young lads is to play for the local club alongside the players that they idolise. For Phil Boersma it was a dream that came so close to reality but just didn’t quite work out as successfully as it might have done.

Phil Boersma was born in Kirkby on September 24th, 1949. He was a big powerful young player, and his 5ft 10in height and 11st 7lbs (161 lbs) was ideally suited to his preferred position as a forward. He had power and pace as well as skill with the ball, and was signed by Liverpool at the age of 19, in September of 1968. As was usual in those times, he went straight into the reserve squad, playing in the Central League where he worked on proving himself worthy of being called up to the senior squad. One year later, on his 20th birthday, he made his debut for Liverpool. Phil was called upon to take a place on the substitute’s bench for a third round League Cup tie against Manchester City at Maine Road. The Reds were losing when Phil came on in the 67th minute to replace Alun Evans, but could not turn the game around with Liverpool eventually going down 3-2. A few days later, Phil was given another chance when he made his League debut in a 2-2 draw away at West Bromwich Albion. This time he started the match, and was in turn replaced by Alun Evans in the 70th minute. It was a slow start to a promising career, with only three more league appearances and one in the European Fairs Cup until the turn of the year. After a spell back in the reserves, he went on loan to Wrexham, in March of 1970, for a seven game spell before returning to Liverpool in April. He then ended the season on a high note with his first medal as Liverpool Reserves won the Central League Championship for the 1969-70 season.

The 1970-71 season was to be a lot more promising as Phil joined the senior squad as a substitute on their European Fairs Cup trip to Dinamo Bucharest, for the 2nd leg of the 2nd round, in October of 1970. Alun Evans picked up an injury early in the match and so Phil came on to replace him after only fifteen minutes. This was his first appearance for the season, and he scored his first goal for Liverpool in the 47th minute, giving the Reds a 1-1 result on the night. The first leg at Anfield had ended with a 3-0 victory and so Liverpool were comfortably through to the next round with a 4-1 aggregate result. A few days later, he was rewarded for his efforts with a place in the starting eleven in a 0-0 draw against Derby at the Baseball Ground. Two more appearances as a substitute followed before he managed to put together a string of starting appearances, and ended the season with a total of twenty one ‘“ three of which were from the bench. He managed to score a total of 3 goals, with two of those in European Fairs Cup matches. That wasn’t impressive for a striker, and so it was understandable that he lost the starting position to a young up and coming new player by the name of Kevin Keegan at the start of the 1971-72 season.

Phil Boersma was not one to sulk about his lack of playing time with the first team, and instead concentrated on being ready if and when called upon. It must have been disappointing to be continually left out but when the partnership of Keegan and Toshack was beginning to produce goals by the score, then it’s not so surprising that Phil would remain on the fringes as a squad player for the next couple of seasons. In the 1972-73 season, with Toshack out with injury for much of that season, he made something of a breakthrough as he played in thirty one games, with eight of those in the UEFA Cup run that brought the first European trophy to Anfield. Those eight appearances produced four goals, which is a respectable return for any striker in European competition. His final appearance for the season was as a 77th minute replacement for Steve Heighway in the second leg of the final in Germany, helping the Reds to hold on for the 3-2 aggregate win. He also managed to make fourteen League appearances, scoring seven goals (also a respectable return) and was rewarded with a League Champions medal as Liverpool won a historic double. So it was that the lad from Kirkby was now living his dream, winning two major medals in one season.

The following season, 1973-74, should have been one to build on the previous year’s success. But, his form was not up to the standard that Shankly demanded and so he was used less often. By the end of the campaign, he had made fifteen appearances in the league, five in the FA Cup, and two in Europe. He scored a mere four goals, and so it was not much of a surprise that he was not selected to start in the 1974 FA Cup Final against Newcastle. This would not have been particularly unreasonable as he had made five appearances and scored once in the FA Cup run, but even so he was told by Shankly that he would be on the bench and therefore may play a part in the match. He then found out later that Chris Lawler would be named as the substitute instead. That was the lowest point of his career so far, and he walked out on the team with a vow that he would never play for Liverpool again. The FA Cup Final was one of the most memorably one-sided ever seen, with Liverpool easily winning 3-0. If ever there was a time when a player would feel that he wasn’t needed, then this would be it. It must have felt that he had not only ended his Liverpool career but his defiant act of walking out had possibly ended his football career as well.

Fortunately for Phil, he and the club managed to patch up their differences, and the new season began with a new man in charge (Bob Paisley) after Bill Shankly shocked the world with the announcement of his retirement from football. Before the new season was properly underway, Liverpool travelled to Wembley to face Leeds United in the FA Charity Shield. This was the first time that the competition had been played at Wembley, and Phil marked the occasion by opening the scoring with a goal after only nineteen minutes. Leeds equalised later on, but the match will always be remembered as the one where Keegan and Bremner were both sent off for fighting. The match was eventually decided on penalties, (which was also a first as the shield would have been shared in previous years) with Liverpool winning 6-5. The lengthy suspension to Keegan following his sending off at Wembley (combined with an earlier sending off) was an opportunity for Boersma to establish himself in the starting eleven. He made a long string of consecutive appearances in Keegan’s absence, ending the season with a total of twenty nine, with only one as a substitute. He also contributed in the scoring totals, with a couple at Stamford Bridge, a hat trick against Spurs at Anfield, and a couple in the record setting 11-0 win over Stromsgodset I.F. in the European Cup Winners Cup. That was a total of nine goals to his credit already, but there was only to be one more for the season, which came near the end of September against Stoke. Up to that point he had scored an incredible ten goals in eleven starts, but there were to be no more goals for the rest of the season.

Bob Paisley began building his team for the future, with Keegan and Toshack being the preferred partnership up front. Boersma was to be a squad player at best if he was to remain at Anfield, and so when the 1975-76 season began he could only manage one starting appearance and four as a substitute. New players were starting to come through from the reserves, including David Fairclough, and so it was inevitable that Phil’s time at Anfield would be coming to an end. In December of 1975, Bob Paisley agreed to a fee of £72,000 from Middlesbrough, and Phil Boersma was off to begin a new phase of his career under manager Jack Charlton.

Phil Boersma made his debut for Middlesbrough in a 0-0 draw at home to Manchester United. Charlton decided that Phil was more suited to a midfield role rather than as a striker, and so he made most of his almost fifty appearances in this position. It wasn’t a memorable time with less than steady selection and a mere four goals over two years, but more importantly it was here on Teesside that he met Graeme Souness and the two of them began a lasting friendship. Phil left Middlesbrough in the summer of 1977 for a season with Luton Town, where he scored eight goals in thirty six appearances. From there it was to be one more season (1978-79) at Swansea, where he joined former team-mate John Toshack who had been appointed manager a few months earlier. An ankle injury effectively put an end to Phil Boersma’s career after only eighteen appearances and one goal.

He then decided to take up physiotherapy and coaching (following in Bob Paisley‘s footsteps) after his playing days were over, and was appointed first team coach and later Assistant Manager as the Welsh club began to climb up from the third division all the way to the first. He left Vetch field in 1983 to take the Assistant Manger’s job at Lincoln City, and then took a call from his old friend Graeme Souness who was now manager at Glasgow Rangers. Souness invited him to join him at Ibrox, and then followed him down to Anfield when Souness became manager during the closing stages of the 1990-91 season following Kenny Dalglish‘s resignation.

The partnership between Graeme Souness and Phil Boersma was to be a long-lasting one. Souness resigned as Liverpool manager following their FA Cup defeat to Bristol City in January of 1994, and Phil then followed Souness as he moved first to Galatasaray (1995-96) where he almost started a riot by planting the club flag in the centre circle after winning the Turkish Cup against bitter rivals Fenerbahce. From there the two of them were off to Southampton (1996-97), and then after a short spell in Torino they were off to Benfica for two unsuccessful seasons (1997-99). After being dismissed by Benfica, Souness moved back to England and took over at Second Division Blackburn Rovers. Phil followed once again, and the two of them managed to lead the club back to the Premier League by the end of their first season in charge. After four years at Ewood Park, it was time for Souness to move on and once again Phil followed. This time it was to Newcastle United for a couple of seasons (2004-06), where the two eventually parted company.

Boersma now decided to move on to a new challenge, and was appointed as the assistant manager at Llangefni Town FC of the Welsh Premier League. That was to be a short-lived position as the bottom-placed club decided on a change of management, with Phil leaving the club along with fellow Liverpudlian and player-manager Alex Kevan in January of 2008 after only one month.

Professional football can be a tough business at times, and for players like Phil Boersma it becomes one of survival from year to year. It can’t be easy to persevere after being kept on the fringes for so long as a player, and then to have such a turbulent career in management as he has had over his almost thirty years as coach, physiotherapist, and assistant manager. Still, he has a few medals and plenty of memories to show for his efforts, and there’s no value that can be placed on that. By the time he finished his seven plus seasons with Liverpool, he had made a total of one hundred and twenty appearances and scored thirty goals. He has the Central League Champions medal from 1969-70, the UEFA Cup and League Champions medals from 1972-73, and the Charity Shield medal from 1974. He may not have been much in the limelight during the building of Shankly’s second successful side, and then during the transition years from Shankly to Paisley – he mostly spent his time in the shadows of international superstars like Toshack and Keegan. But, he certainly made a significant contribution to the club during his time both as a player and later as a member of the coaching staff, and for all of that he is another Liverpool hero who should not be forgotten.