I was nine years old, just a boy. It must have been November 1980. Something like that. I watched football on Norwegian TV every Saturday. Some few years before this, a friend of mine adviced me to become a Leeds United supporter. I never listened to his advice. Leeds United was definitely out of the question. I simply didn’t like their style of play.
A cousin of mine was a Liverpool supporter. I didn’t get along with that cousin, and could never become a Liverpool supporter at the age of eight. All because of him. A cousin I didn’t like. He wasn’t any good at playing football either. I had a good laugh watching him try to become a goalkeeper. If only I knew what I could have told him at the time, I would have told him “you’ve never watched Ray Clemence play, have you?”
OK, I was too young and inexperienced to know of Ray Clemence’s existence or how good he was. In November 1980 I knew that much, alright. That’s when I became a Liverpool supporter, and it had nothing to do with anyone’s good or not-so-good advice. I never listened to my very bad goalkeeper cousin anyway. When I was six and seven I knew Liverpool had great players like Kevin Keegan, Steve Heighway and Terry McDermott, but I took no interest in any club in particular before I was ten and finally became a Liverpool supporter.
That first season didn’t quite work out for The Reds. Aston Villa won the league title. Liverpool lost an away tie against Everton in the F.A. Cup’s fourth round. We won the League Cup, okay, but what really mattered was the European Cup final victory in Paris against Real Madrid.
I will never forget Alan Kennedy’s goal scored in the 81st minute of the final. That was a nice goal, Kennedy running into the opposition’s box to curl the ball into the net behind the goalkeeper.
I will also never forget what happened after about an hour of play. Kenny Dalglish, was consistently kept under the complete and flawless control of the Real Madrid defence. The big star was substituted off and Jimmy Case came on.
What happened next? Liverpool had more goal opportunties after Dalglish had been substituted off. We won the match, and I do wonder if we would have done so if Dalglish had remained on the pitch throughout the match.
My Liverpool All-time XI shall have to be based on what I have watched myself. There can thus be no place open for players such as Billy Liddell, Ron Yeats, Ian St. John, Gerry Byrne, Roger Hunt, Tommy Smith and Kevin Keegan, just to mention a few.
Goalkeeper: Bruce Grobbelaar. He replaced Clemence and became a goalkeeper legend as I became accustomed to being a Liverpool supporter. He was great fun. In fact, in the beginning he was a bit too fun. He was a joker and a jester, not only in the dressing room but also on the pitch. This had to stop. He became a brilliant goalkeeper.
Many years after Grobbelaar retired from football, Jamie Carragher came running to Jerzy Dudek. We were up against AC Milan, the Istanbul audience was waiting for the penalty shoot-out to start off. Jamie Carragher reminded Dudek of Grobbelaar’s way of acting, wobbling his legs and all. Dudek did the Grobbelaar job to full, and Liverpool won the Champions League trophy in 2005.
Right back: Phil Neal. Who else? Solid defensively, a good wing-back and also a certain goal scorer when it came to penalty kicks. Phil Neal simply was ahead of his time. We have never had a better right back – before or after.
Centre back: Alan Hansen. Just like Neal a solid defender, but also the kind of centre back who was good on the ball. He could go forward and create chances for others, too.
Centre back: Sami Hyypiä. No nonsense central defender. Big and strong, never fooling around but doing his job. Tackling, heading, clearing, running, passing. We have had so many very good centre backs, it was difficult to pick one to couple up with Hansen. It would have to be an arch typical big and strong guy like Hyypiä, equally strong in terms of size and brains.
Left back: Alan Kennedy. An easy LFC Dream Team pick for me. He scored the European Cup final goal in 1981. He also scored the final penalty shoot-out goal in 1984. He was a solid defender, not a goal scoring attacking back like John Arne Riise. I always preferred Norwegian left back Stig Inge Bjørnebye as compared to fellow Norwegian Riise. Safe and sound player like Kennedy, also with a good left foot. Not a prolific long range shot goalscorer, but rather a creator of goals.
Four midfielders: Ronnie Whelan. It is just impossible for me to leave Whelan out of my Liverpool Dream Team. He came to Liverpool as a teenager, and was signed to replace Ray Kennedy in due time. He proved to be a better player than Ray Kennedy. He had vision, he had skills, he could score and create chances for others. Also good in the defensive play. A first class box-to-box midfielder, always on the move and equally always with a tremendous vision of what took place around him on the pitch. I was amazed. I guess we all were.
Steven Gerrard. One of the best midfielders in the world, Captain Fantastic, he was – and will forever be – a Liverpool player, even now as he resides in California and plays for LA Galaxy. What a shot! And how many headers?
He will, unfortunately for him, forever be taunted by away fans for two damned reasons: his embarrassing slip at Anfield when we lost to Chelsea on 27 April 2014, Demba Ba scoring the first goal and Liverpool losing 0-2, and then also his ultimate fate that he never lifted the Premier League trophy. Does it matters? Of course it does, and I know he will think about it for the rest of his days. He will nevertheless go down in Liverpool history as one of the truly greats. Legend.
Graeme Souness. A colossus in midfield, a hard man, yes, but also very skillful. He would tackle, he would pass the ball, he would shoot, he would lead, he would shout and scream, he would see any player on the opposing team off, no problem, and then perhaps score a goal or create a goal for a team mate in the middle – just to add injury to insult. Judged as a player only, not as a manager, this guy belongs in any Liverpool supporter’s All Time XI. No doubt.
John Barnes. Funny thing. My mother and I travelled to England and Wales for a summer holiday in 1982. I was eleven at the time. We spent some time in Watford, then some in Preston. Ever since the summer of 1982, I have followed both Watford’s and Preston North End’s progress closely. When I heard John Barnes had been signed by Liverpool, I was extremely happy, knowing he would live to prove his worth and then some.
And he did. John Barnes was a player many Liverpool based fans of The Reds weren’t quite as convinced about as I was. No black player had ever really made it in Liverpool and only a few had ever been tested out before. Well, Barnes got lucky. He started off shining and he kept on shining for The Reds until his legend status was lying safe and sound in every fans’ pockets. Barnes know this fact was essential. No worry. He just dribbled the away fans into oblivion, banana on his boot and out of the way. Classic move. As always. Fast, deft, smoothe, concentrated on his own game, doing what he was good at. What wasn’t he good at?
Two forwards: Kenny Dalglish. Signed from Celtic as a replacement of Kevin Keegan, Dalglish had quite a task on his hands. Or at his boots? In his head? Well, he didn’t want to be compared to Keegan. He would do things his own way, play his game, score goals, create chances for others, exactly like he’d been doing in Scotland for years. And yes: he did so. I didn’t watch him play very often before I became a supporter in late 1980. By then Dalglish was – well, simply the best – and to me and many others he still is. King Kenny.
Ian Rush. The goal machine. His patnership with Dalglish was magical. Beardsley and Barnes just continued to be perfect partners of his. Rush would run, Rush would know where to run, then in the end Rush would score. Simple matter. The best compliment a striker can get is one that comes from a very good keeper. In Neville Southall’s words: “Ian Rush. He was the best striker I ever saw. He was the worst. Terrific.”
Five substitutes: Ray Clemence. The goalkeeper legend makes the cut. He was a Liverpool player in the 1980/81 season, then went on to Tottenham in the summer to be replaced by Grobbelaar. I remember the match between Norway and England on 9 September 1981.
Ray Clemence could have saved the second goal scored by Tom Lund but credited Roger Albertsen who stole the goal, he wasn’t near the ball but cartainly made things more difficult for Clemence. Hallvar Thoresen’s first goal came as the result of a mistake made by Terry McDermott while Thoresen did something he had done such a lot of times before, playing for Twente and PSV Eindhoven. Kevin Keegan was the captain, and scored England’s only goal. 2-1 and three Liverpool legends involved. Not to forget Phil Neal, too, who was thoroughly scolded by radio commentator Bjørge Lillelien as he attacked and fouled Tom Lund. “Phil Pig Neal!!! The Englishmen have hooligans on the pitch!!! What a pig! Give him hell, boys! Take revenge as soon as possible!!!” Funny match.
Glenn Hysén. Very good central defender, not so good elsewhere on the field, but he used to be a midfielder for PSV Eindhoven before he was sold to Fiorentina. To quote Jamie Carragher: “He played alongside Hansen when they won the league title, but I will never forget when he met with Gary Lineker in the match between Sweden and England. That was the first time I discovered him. Lineker was our super star and he almost didn’t touch the ball throughout the match when he was up against Hysén. I was an Everton supporter so I wasn’t at all happy when he signed for Liverpool. He was a fantastic defender.”
Jimmy Case. Midfielder, hard man, skillful and good. To use the words of Bryan Robson: “I won’t say he was dirty but certainly the hardest opponent was Jimmy Case. He could certainly look after himself. He was very clever about it as well.” Jimmy Case could fill in for any of the midfielders in my Starting XI, and be a real asset on the substitutes bench.
Peter Beardsley. Signed from Newcastle by Kenny Dalglish. John Aldridge was a player just like Ian Rush, who was signed by Juventus before the arrival of Beradsley and Barnes. Beardsley was signed as a replacement of the new player-manager Kenny Dalglish who wanted to spend more time on the bench now that he had become the boss. And what a player. Not as good as Dalglish, but a player who could really fit the bill of a forward to be coupled with a proper striker like Aldridge. Very skillful, Beardsley could both score goals and create chances for others.
Luis Suárez. Fabulous forward. Goals, assists, movement, vision, passion. Too much passion? All the biting. Problem. King Kenny thought about it after Suárez had bitten Giorgio Chiellini in the Brazil 2014 World Cup: “It is my belief that when you bring a player to a football club, he becomes your responsibility. You don’t just turn you back on a player because he has done something wrong. (…) You can’t really ask any one person why what happened against Italy happened, because there is only person who knows and that is Luis – some people have – injuries you can’t see. Sometimes, when people have something wrong with them, just because they don’t have a plaster cast on their leg, people think they don’t need help.” Later on, Chiellini admitted to overreacting to Luis Suárez’ bite during the 2014 World Cup in order to get the Uruguay striker sent off, Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini quoted as saying “It was a kiss that my girlfriend gave me and I did it to get him sent off. I did it to get an advantage.”
Written by @MagneLeoKarlsen