Ian Callaghan: Far More Than a Pop Quiz Answer

Ian Callaghan

Some people love the inimitable pop-quiz-type questions regarding football. You know, the type of question such as; Which player made his debut for one particular club at Wembley in the 1980s and then five years later played his final match for the same club at the same venue against the same opponents?*

While I am not a particular fan of such quizzes and questions (they hurt my brain too much now I am getting on a bit), I do have one more for you and it’s a double-header. Which player not only holds the accolade of having made the most appearances for Liverpool but also holds the record for the longest gap between appearances for the England national team?

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Cap doffed to those who squeaked ‘Ian Callaghan’ in response. (Although in all honesty, I guess most people were assisted by the slight clue in the headline of this week’s article, right?).

Anyway, in a period lasting no less than 18 years from April 1960 onwards, Ian Callaghan played a total of 857 matches for Liverpool and in doing so was the only player to straddle the years between the Second Division and European Cup glory.

A success-laden career, saw Callaghan play in four FA Cup Finals, two UEFA Cup Finals, a League Cup Final, and a European Cup Final. He was also an unused substitute for one further European Cup Final and managed the not-inconsiderable feat of winning five league titles along the way.

As well as all the triumphs and accolades that came his way on the pitch, Callaghan was also revered by teammates and supporters alike for his sheer class both on and off the pitch. A consummate professional, Callaghan received precisely one caution his entire career and that in itself came in his penultimate appearance for Liverpool, the 1978 League Cup Final replay.

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Callaghan made his debut for Liverpool in a league match at home to Bristol Rovers in April 1960, just four months after Bill Shankly had arrived at the club, and made such an impact that at the end of a 4-0 victory he was clapped off the field by not just the Liverpool supporters but also by the players of both sides and even the referee!

Breaking through to the Liverpool side as a regular in the promotion season of 1961-62, Callaghan was an integral part of the Shankly Revolution that saw league titles won in 1964 and 1966 with the FA Cup sandwiched between.

Playing on the right wing in the first decade or so of his career, Callaghan was blessed with both pace and good close control of the ball and it was his cross in the 1965 FA Cup Final that led to Ian St John heading home the winner. Years later, Callaghan would contend that this match and victory was the highlight of his Anfield career, despite the European glory that was later to come.

Speaking of Callaghan at around that time, Shankly had this to say:

“Ian Callaghan is everything good that a man can be. No praise is too high for him. He is a model professional and a model human being. If there were 11 Callaghans at Anfield there would never be any need to put up a team sheet. You could stake your life on Ian. Words cannot do justice to the amount he has contributed to the game. Ian Callaghan will go down as one of the game’s truly great players.”

High praise indeed.

Although not a prolific goalscorer, Callaghan still managed to net a respectable 68 goals for Liverpool, with his first and last being no less than 16 years apart.

As the 1960s ended, Shankly was forced to take stock of his team and a dismal defeat at Watford in the 1970 FA Cup signalled the end for many of the old guard. By now, however, Callaghan was approaching his peak years and so survived the cull but it was around this time that he suffered an injury that was to change the direction of his career somewhat.

A knee injury meant a prolonged spell out of the team and he was replaced by Brian Hall. Hall was a very good player and so retained his place once Callaghan was fit again, but desperate to have Callaghan back in the side as quickly as possible, Shankly compromised by moving Callaghan to the centre of the pitch. Thus, it was as a rejuvenated central midfielder that Callaghan would spend the next eight years.

“Ian Callaghan is everything good that a man can be. No praise is too high for him. He is a model professional and a model human being. If there were 11 Callaghans at Anfield there would never be any need to put up a team sheet. You could stake your life on Ian. Words cannot do justice to the amount he has contributed to the game. Ian Callaghan will go down as one of the game’s truly great players.”

The early 1970s saw Liverpool and Callaghan go “close but no cigar” in the FA Cup in 1971 and the league (1972) before the League and UEFA Cup double was achieved in 1973. This was followed by an FA Cup success in 1974 when Callaghan was instrumental in the 3-0 final victory procession over Newcastle United. A return to Wembley for the FA Charity Shield against league champions, Leeds United, three months later was settled by a penalty shootout with Callaghan netting the decisive spot-kick.

!974 was a great year for Callaghan personally, for as well as the dual Wembley successes, he was also voted Football Writers’ Player of the Year.

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!975 ended potless for Liverpool but the next two seasons were more successful with the league title and European success following in each. First of all, the UEFA Cup was regained in 1976 with a two-legged final victory over Club Brugge and then the next year, 1977, saw Liverpool finally capture the European Cup for the first time.

With Liverpool chasing the treble of league, FA Cup and European Cup, the Anfield men had two cup finals to play in the space of five days. It was then that Bob Paisley made one of the few self-confessed mistakes of his managerial career when he left Ian Callaghan out of the FA Cup Final starting lineup against Manchester United in preference to David Johnson. Paisley’s thinking was to be more attack-minded than usual as he was keen to avoid the possibility of the FA Cup Final going to a replay as it would not have been possible to play the game until June – nearly three weeks later – due to the upcoming European Cup Final and subsequent international duties.

With the side unbalanced, Liverpool lost 2-1 and Callaghan was returned to the side for the clash in Rome against the West German champions, Borussia Moenchengladbach.

As is well-documented, Liverpool triumphed in the first of six successes in Europe’s premier competition for the Anfield men. It was an emotional night for all concerned, not least for Callaghan who was the only playing survivor from the Second Division days all those years ago.

The 1977-78 season kicked off with Callaghan still featuring regularly in the side despite being four months past his 35th birthday as Liverpool continued to battle and compete for the major honours. In February 1978, with Liverpool safely through to the European Cup quarter-finals, in the final of the League Cup, and handily placed in the First Division, Bob Paisley dipped into the transfer market and landed long-term target, Graeme Souness.

Finally, the writing was on the wall for Ian Callaghan. With Souness cup-tied, Callaghan played in both games of Liverpool’s League Cup Final defeat to Nottingham Forest, but Souness took Callaghan’s midfield spot in league games and in Europe from then to the end of the season.

Callaghan’s last appearance in a Liverpool shirt was as an unused substitute in the 1978 European Cup Final at Wembley when the trophy was retained courtesy of a 1-0 victory over their old friends, Club Brugge.

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With retirement on the horizon, Callaghan was contacted by his old teammate, John Toshack, by now player-manager of Swansea City, newly promoted from the Fourth Division, who persuaded Callaghan to put all such plans on hold and instead come down to Wales for a Swan Song (see what I did there?).

Callaghan accepted Toshack’s offer and for two seasons was practically an ever-present as further promotion to the Second Division was achieved. After a spell in Australia with Canberra City and a couple of games in Ireland with Cork City, Callaghan signed for Crewe Alexandra for the 1981-82 season and played a further 15 games. His final match in professional football came on 20 March 1982, away to Halifax Town with Callaghan just two months shy of his fortieth birthday and twenty-two years since his debut for Liverpool.

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Callaghan was also capped four times for England. He made his debut for the Three Lions in 1966 in a friendly match against Finland just before the World Cup and also played again against France in the tournament proper. He then had to wait over 11 years for his next cap when Ron Greenwood wheeled the 35-year-old out for two matches in the autumn of 1977 – a friendly against Switzerland and a World Cup qualifier against Luxembourg. Callaghan thus became the last player from the 1966 World Cup squad to make an appearance for the national side as well as the player with the longest gap between appearances.

In 2009, Callaghan finally received a World Cup Winners’ medal for his part in England’s 1966 triumph.

Still active and sprightly at 81, Callaghan is rightly remembered as one of the all-time greats of Liverpool.

*It was Paul Bracewell. He made his Everton debut against Liverpool at Wembley in the 1984 Charity Shield, and his final appearance for the Toffees was also against the Reds at Wembley, this time in the 1989 FA Cup Final.