All entries for Sunday 18 April 2010

April 18, 2010

This is Ian Callaghan

Ian Callaghan with John Keith (2010) Cally On The Ball Liverpool, Trinity Mirror Sport and Media

A recent Tuesday lunchtime chat was made a little bit more interesting when a Liverpool supporting friend arrived in my very hot and airless office to chew the fat over the issues facing the Liverpool FC as this season staggers to a close. We were shooting the breeze on a range of topics such as the Europa League campaign or whether Torres’ knee could ever be the same again. I know that my friend is always interested in the books that I am reading, especially if the subject is Liverpool FC. I showed this new book from Ian Callaghan and wondered whether he was familiar with a player that had such a long period of service with one club

His face went blank with a tinge of embarrassment. He was unsure about who Callaghan was. It was obvious that he was out of his comfort zone and I did have some sympathy for him. No one likes to be found out with a slight tinge of ignorance about a key player in the club’s history. If I am totally honest, it was only after reading this book when I realised the importance of Ian Callaghan in Anfield for fifty years. This book is celebrating this half century but I would tentatively suggest that this player does not have quite the same public profile outside of Merseyside as a Keegan, St John, Dalglish or Rush figure for anyone under thirty years of age.

This book is not a full-scale biography of Ian Callaghan, and this book is all the better for adopting this different approach. You do not start off with the childhood years and nostalgia and finish off with the retirement and the regret. You will be reading a series of short tales and considered points of view, allowing this long serving figurehead to talk about anything and everything about the game, and his beloved Liverpool Football Club. A whole variety of subjects are up for discussion and although there are some tales of reminiscence, it is not another book that argues how everything was great ‘back in the day’ while modern football has ‘gone to the dogs.’

It is obvious that Callaghan has great respect for current Liverpool players. The first chapter is a discussion between Callaghan and Jamie Carragher about life as a Liverpool player, and it is obvious that both figures have the utmost respect for each other. There is no attempt to outdo each other in what can often be a tedious debate about which period was best. Fans of all ages would be interested in what is discussed. There is also much talk about Steven Gerrard who makes Callaghan’s all time Liverpool XI. The author acknowledges that “Stevie’s up there with the world’s best” but he wonders what will happen at the end of Gerrard’s career at Anfield. Callaghan hopes that new local talent is able to have their ultimate dream in the Liverpool first team like so many players from the great teams of the past.

There is a chapter on that memorable 2005 European Cup Final. Callaghan is comparing a corporate dinner at Anfield and the account talks about that well known dramatic change of mood from the utter despair at half time, to wild joy at full time. I will never get bored when I read stories from Liverpool fans or players, or think about where I was, on that May night nearly five years ago. Callaghan talks about Fernando Torres too, praising the Spaniard as a “sensational striker,” and name checking some of Torres’ fabulous goals such as the strike against Blackburn in April 2009. Torres does not make Callaghan’s top Liverpool XI due to his currently short Anfield career, but the author argues that Liverpool’s number nine could “become a legend among legends, a Kop hero to rival any of the past” if he stays on Merseyside.

Callaghan also passionately talks about the current problems facing the game in the twenty first century. The author’s solutions to these issues involve giving an automatic red card to the guilty player and installing off-pitch technology so a quick look at the camera can determine whether ‘simulation’ took place. There is a reference to David Ngog’s alleged dive during the November 2009 home fixture against Birmingham City; another example of the “win at all costs” trend that “sickens” Callaghan. It is probable that the author is not the only person who shares these views. Callaghan also talks about the decline of the FA Cup as a premier competition part of the national football heritage, and suggests that the FA Cup winners gain a place in the Champion’s League qualifiers instead of the fourth- placed team in the league. In an age when rants can be easily made about aspects of English football, this book is providing considered pieces with reasonable solutions.

Alongside the reflections on current issues, Callaghan does talk about the past, and shows utmost respect, pride and affection to those Liverpool figures that managed him during his long Anfield career. There are many references to Shankly and his iconic management at the club as well as Bob Paisley. Callaghan also talks about his frustratingly long wait to receive a World Cup medal after being part of the 1966 team. You are left wondering how such a proud footballing nation, such as the UK, allowed this delay to happen.

Alongside the football stories and debate, Callaghan talks about his career for the Littlewoods ‘Spot the Ball’ competition, which would be a job that I would have no problem in undertaking. This work included a chance meeting with Nelson Mandela who professed his support for Liverpool FC. Callaghan also talks about his discovery of the music of Tony Bennett, and many chapters talk about living in Liverpool during the sixties when the city had a Merseybeat voice in the cultural and musical life of the nation.

This book is a very accessible account to read and would appeal to Liverpool fans of all ages. You can dip in and out of the various stories, which are told in a very vivid manner, as if you had a pitch side seat to enjoy the action. It is obvious that Ian Callaghan’s love for the game and Liverpool FC has not diminished over the last fifty years. It is to be hoped that some of the current players continue to have a productive relationship with the club, because these links are what makes Liverpool Football Club so special.


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