Advancing years has its advantages, not many I grant you and these tend to be outweighed by dribbling senility and incontinence.
One however is that over the years I have seen some of the greatest players ever to pull on a Red shirt. I’m old enough to remember the coming of the Glenbuck Messiah and the revolution that swept through a sleepy Anfield at that time. I watched with pride my team rise to become the greatest club side this country has so far produced. (I’m not too sure we appreciated at the time the magnitude of what we were all a part of during the halcyon days when the Red Army marched, like the Roman Legions of old, over Europe and conquered all before them).
I was privileged to meet Bob Paisley, the most successful manager in the history of the game, through his daughter who attended the same college as me and even married a mate of mine. Yes, rambling stories of matches seen and deeds performed by the Mighty Reds.
Some players we will never forget and the ramblings of this ancient owd lad may be of interest to a younger audience while the more mature readers may well recall with affection some of the events described here and even mutter “I was there when…..”
Roger Hunt is in my mind one of the greatest players ever to don the Red shirt. The facts are simple enough. He was there at the beginning when Shanks arrived and under his guidance the modest giant of the man won two league titles and was part of the famous F.A. cup winning side of 65.
He was the member of that elite group of legends who were the boys of 66 and the first to be knighted (by us, not by that shower in London) after the World Cup. The song went “Sir Roger Hunt, Sir Roger Hunt, Ee Aye Addio, Sir Roger Hunt.”
No European trophy for him, but he came close, so desperately close. The players who followed the immortal had a perfect role model in consistency and devotion to the Red cause. Oh for that consistency today with leads whittled away, crazy draws and nail biting finishes. However, I digress, the age thing again. His trophy haul may seem modest by the standards set by European Cup winners etc, but remember this man was there when we were shite and we knew we were.
The Blueslime were the top dogs in the late fifties and for the early part of the sixties. They rubbed our noses in it at every opportunity. By consistent scoring and an unbelievable work rate this man entered our lives and we were convinced that there was nothing he couldn’t do, no scoring record he could not break, no centre half he could not humble. The goals tally of 285 for Liverpool remains a fantastic achievement from a goalscoring legend. His determination to prove himself worthy to stay on at Anfield after Shankly’s arrival speaks volumes about his worth as a team member.
He made his first team debut in 1959/60 season against Scunthorpe United, replacing an injured Billy Liddell up front or as they were then known as centre forward. His natural nervousness was evident when he missed a golden chance after about twenty minutes, but, and this is the important part, he never got down and continued to strive. His persistence was rewarded with about twenty five minutes left he hit a screaming right footed shot into the net via the crossbar. In that team there were to be few survivors once Shanks had assessed the strengths or rather weaknesses of the players that season after he signed as manager.
Sir Roger Hunt once said that he regretted that his time at Anfield was not as a contemporary of Billy Liddell who he regarded as a living legend.
Now I for one don’t regret it one bit because if Sir Roger was older then I would have missed two legends not just Billy. After he was allowed to leave in 1969 he was the last playing link left with the pre-Shankly days. All the rest of that wonderful mid sixties side and the later rebuilt team were either brought through or signed by Shankly.
One of many moments Reds recall is the first Shankly Championship season of 1963/64 when at the end of a dream like game against a good Arsenal side with a win to clinch the title Sir Roger scored the fifth and final goal. The Kop went wild “We’ve won the League, We’ve won the League, Ee Aye Addio, We’ve won the League” was bellowed around Anfield and the rest of the city all night. This was the real big time. Winning the Second Division at a canter in 1961/62 was nothing compared to the elation felt by Reds at the time.
We were the team everyone was talking about and Sir Roger Hunt was proving that he was developing into one of the finest players of his generation. Typically his quiet acceptance of the adulation that poured down from 20,000 Kopites summed up the Shankly tradition. Work hard and get on with the game, no histrionics (though the sight of Shanks trying to clap in time with the Kop is an enduring memory of the day.)
Europe beckoned. Bloody Hell the thought of playing in a foreign country, as the best from England was almost unreal. In those days working class families went to the English seaside, if at all. Travelling to places where they ate funny food like spaghetti was beyond our comprehension. There was even a stupid pop song at the time about an English feller who married an Italian girl and sang of the delights of bangers and mash.
Roger and the rest of “…the team that Shankly bred” were equally in awe, but they got on with it and having beaten F.C. Cologne on the toss of a coin faced the mighty Inter Milan in the semi final of the European Cup. Before that however came a day no Red who was alive then will ever forget. May 1st 1965 is part of Liverpool social history. Everyone who went that day to witness our first ever Cup Final victory has memories that are personal and etched in our minds forever. My owd fella got two tickets, God only knows from where as they were as rare as rocking horse shit on Merseyside. People slept with them so that in case of fire they would save the most valuable thing they had ever owned. The match day was wet in London but I don’t remember it like that. I remember pouring out of the station, thousands of us, my Da saying, “Stay close lad, I’ve got the tickets safe and sound,” My eyes never left him. We went in some London alehouse and it was full of steaming Reds singing their heads off. We joined in with me standing as tall as I could to see what was going on. We sang all the way to Wembley or so it seemed to me. We entered the ground and sang and sang. The opening period of the match was littered with uncompromising Leeds tackles. Half time came and still no Liverpool goals. As the match flew by with neither side surrendering an inch, extra time beckoned.
One of Liverpool’s finest, Gerry Byrne, (who played for most of the game with a fractured collarbone, imagine that today!) crossed for Sir Roger to score with a stooping header. We were in heaven. Our own working class heroes had stuffed an evil Leeds side who should have worn black to match their hearts. For nine glorious minutes we were kings of all England. The rest of the match is well known, Bremner’s equaliser and the final glory “…a diving header from St John.” Sir Roger had started the scoring on what for me was one of the greatest days of my Reds watching life.
A measure of the man is that at the moment of triumph he had thoughts for the unlucky Gordon Milne who missed the final through injury. At the end we were delirious and for the first time in my life I saw grown men shed tears of joy. Days like that when we were starting out on adventures and visits to far flung places like Reykjavik were starting to be discussed seriously stay in the memory for ever.
One of the greatest nights in European Cup history was to be Liverpool’s next game. Three days after lifting the cup and receiving a tumultuous civic reception Inter Milan, reigning Champions of Europe came to Anfield. Much has been written of the atmosphere and Shankly’s master stroke of displaying the Cup prior to the game, but this is supposed to be about Sir Roger.
That night he scored not just one of the most important goals of his career, but one of the finest goals he ever scored at Anfield. A cross from Cally, which in all fairness to him was an early poke, bobbled and bounced towards Sir Roger who spun on the spot and smashed a volley past a transfixed keeper. The quality of the strike stunned some seasoned observers of the game who couldn’t believe an English centre forward capable of such “continental” skill.
We, who were growing up with “men of Shankly’s best,” took such goals from our hero as part of the natural order of things. The story of the 3–1 victory and the diabolical decisions which robbed us in the return is best left to be told elsewhere. That season was Liverpool’s first venture into Europe and Sir Roger had scored seven goals in nine games. Yes, SEVEN in NINE. It was to be his best ever scoring rate in European competition which saw him net 17 in 29 games overall. His name and fame began to spread beyond our shores with rumours that Italian clubs were eyeing him for transfer. The man however dismissed such talk as rumour and press crap. So nothing new twenty-five years later then from our wonderful gutter shite scum press.
The following season saw another trophy. Shankly’s second league title won with only 14 players throughout the entire season. His goals tally of 30 out of 37 starts screams consistency and a level of skill and domination that stands the test of time. Incidentally along the way that season we destroyed the Blueslime with a 5 – 0 drubbing at Anfield. This finally shut the sods up and confirmed us as top dogs on Merseyside. Sir Roger scored in a disappointing night in Glasgow when we lost to Borussia Dortmund in the Cup Winners’ Cup Final.
His greatest glory was to come later that summer when he was part of English international football’s finest hour. Despite being named as number 21, behind Greaves at 8 and Hurst at 10, (numbers meant something in those far off days) Roger worked hard and proved his worth to the astute Alf Ramsey. His skill and dedication were rewarded with games and the greatest triumph of any player’s career, a place in a World Cup winning team. No doubt that this was his finest hour as an Englishman. The following season’s Pit derby is remembered by many who saw the Jules Rimet Trophy carried around the ground by Sir Roger and Ray Wilson. I didn’t see that game, but the picture of one of my idols holding the greatest prize in world sport is etched in my memory.
After so many years in the first team Roger began to eye a longstanding Anfield record. Gordon Hodgson had set the club league goal scoring record in the mid thirties at 232. We all knew it would come, but the question was when? Sir Roger kept us waiting for weeks but at last in dramatic fashion he scored at Stamford Bridge in Jan 1969. Looking back it seems inconceivable that Sir Roger would be leaving the club within the same year as achieving a wonderful record with only ONE penalty to his credit. Yet that is what exactly happened.
There has been much said about how the rift between two of Liverpool’s finest came about. The fact that Sir Roger was substituted unexpectedly and threw his shirt into the dugout in disgust was the catalyst. I missed the throwing escapade as it was all over in a flash but it was seen by so many Shanks couldn’t ignore it (no, my name isn’t Arsene Wenger). The fact that we were in transition as a side and two honest individuals clashed even in the alleged privacy of the dressing room was a sign of the frustration that both men felt at the time. Sadly there could be only one outcome. Shankly would not tolerate dissent of any kind in his sides so Sir Roger had to leave. I’m not going to point fingers of blame. All I will say is that along with many thousands of others I felt bemused and distraught at the sad leaving of one of the heroes whose names will live with me and countless other Reds for as long as we live. That side we grew up with in the sixties was blessed and tinged with immortality. We witnessed our club rise from the second division to become champions and cup winners. We were there when the foundations of European glory were laid. We revelled in the glory of that era when nothing was out of reach to ordinary working people. We can still recall fantastic goals and each of us has individual memories of favourite moments when Sir Roger wore the Red with a beer mat badge sewn onto a plain, a perfect red shirt, not some self patterned designer job. He was regarded as one of us, a lad who could be found playing for the fun of it. Sir Roger was someone who we could all aspire to become if we were good enough.
Let’s never forget he was one of the greatest footballers of his or any generation come to that, a legend whose time of greatness coincided with the rise and rise of Liverpool.
Thanks for the memories.
By Red Dave