Ragnhild Lund Ansnes’ third Liverpool book was first published in Norway in the spring of 2016. My copy of the book is written in the author’s language Norwegian. This book will be published in the UK and Ireland on the 5th October 2016. Ansnes’ first two books were official LFC products, this last one isn’t. As she introduced people to the new book of hers in Bodø, North Norway, Robbie Fowler came with her as she introduced the book. As she talked about the book in Northern Norway, she said Jamie Carragher, whom she has had good contact with for some time now, talked to Steven Gerrard on her behalf to talk to her as well.
This book is a good read and a book which features in-depth interviews with people who seldom give in-depth interviews to authors and journalists. To name three of these men: Greame Souness, Sami Hyypiä and Steven Gerrard.
Ansnes is a Norwegian author and journalist who apart from writing three books on Liverpool, the club’s supporters and players was the editor of the Norwegian edition of Bill Shankly’s one and only biography written by himself, “My Story”
“Liverpool Captains” consists of interviews conducted by the author, and features very good and revealing interviews with sixteen Liverpool captains: Ron Yeats, Tommy Smith, Phil Thompson, Graeme Souness, Phil Neal, Ronnie Whelan, Glenn Hysén, Mark Wright, Ian Rush, John Barnes, Paul Ince, Jamie Redknapp, Robbie Fowler, Sami Hyypiä, Jamie Carragher, and Steven Gerrard.
In order to introduce the readers of this book to the book in question, I am going to do my own personal translations of some few sections of the book of mine – the Norwegian language original text. –
Ron Yeats and Tommy Smith
Doing the interviews with Ron Yeats and Tommy Smith wasn’t all that easy, as both of them have fallen victim to dementia. Ian St John and Chris Lawler joined the author when she was to visit these former captains, as this would make it easier for her to get the interviews she wanted. St John assisted her when talking to Yeats, Lawler when talking to Smith. As for some of the issues covered in the chapters that concern these players, Ansnes has had to make use of some few external sources to get the wording and manner of thinking correct.
Ian St John is deeply concerned about the matter of Alzheimer’s syndrome and football players who played in the 1960s. Such a lot of these players have been diagnosed with this condition, yet it still isn’t recognized as a work related condition. St John says: “It’s a topic that is important to take into account. I don’t think there are many who are aware of how many of their old heros now suffer from dementia. In our team, Geoff Strong was struck by this. He died. Ron is struck by this, I have the symptoms of this and Tommy Smith is seriously afflicted with Alzheimer’s. And this is only men from our team. I could have rattled off many more names of players of other clubs in the same era who suffer from dementia by now. Football itself and the clubs themselves have billions of pounds running through the system of TV rights and sponsors. So it’s not as if there is no money,” Ian St John says, thinking about the necessity of providing help to former players, heros and big stars who now suffer from dementia.
Talking about the reasons why so many footballers who were active players in the 1960s so often find themselves with the condition of Alzheimer’s or dementia, Ian St John brings the readers back to the days of heavy and wet leather footballs that footballers would be heading very often, both during games and in training. “I think it is an industrial injury, a condition that is brought about on many of us as a result of being at work as footballers. When boxers get heavy blows to their heads, they must take a rest. That was never an issue with us. (…) They should have been granted compensation so that they could get the best help possible their disease taken into account, and also in order to lead a life of dignity the few years they have left,” Ian St John says with a voice of commitment as he looks dejected.
Ron Yeats gets the last words of his own chapter. Ragnhild asks him if he is still a great fan of Liverpool, and Yeats answers: “Oh, yes! Before they play I always get nervous on behalf of the team, and when they lose it affects me. I start thinking of what I would have done differently, but that I keep to myself.”
Ansnes met with Yeats at Echo Arena after Steven Gerrard’s last home match in May 2015. Yeats says: “You all talk about Steven Gerrard. I believe I was just a short step behind him as a player. In everything has to do he is a wonderful captain, but not as good a captain as I used to be. I was the captain for nine years, playing for such a fantastic club. I’ve appreciated every minute of my time in the club. It feels good for me to say I was one of you.” Yeats’ personal handwritten words at the end: – Thanks for the years. My love for all the fans of Liverpool F.C. ~ Yours, Ron Yeats
Tommy Smith is much more affected with Alzheimer’s than his ex teammate Ron Yeats is. This is a disease that affects people in different ways and degrees. Tommy Smith’s story also to a great deal involves the story of his wife Susan who he cared for for years as she suffered from this disease before she passed away. Their daughter Janette says: “They lived together over half a century. They were always together. Mum was also a softie just like dad. We always were very, very close as a family. When I was a child, we used to go on holidays together, to the USA and other places. And then later mum and dad also were like nannies for their grandchildren.”
Then Sue got dementia. Tommy would still collect the grandchildren on the usual days while also taking care of his wife. Janette expains: “Dad always took care of her. He had to quit working, as working life took too much of his time to take care of her as she got worse. It was a little hard on him to stop working but he easily did so as he took that for granted. He took care of her and helped her indefatigably. (…) He was so patient with her how he helped her to explain or describe things every time she forgot about something. When she was gone, everything was so sad and everything changed. After only two weeks dad was completely different. It happened so fast.”
Tommy Smith stood strong and remained strong because of his caring for his ailing wife Susan. When asked how it feels for her, Janette says: “It’s just very difficult. Frustrating and really sad. It is the only way I can describe it.”
When asked what she thinks about many people saying that her dad and other players with his condition gave their entire body away for the football, Janette says: “I believe, if you asked them, they would never do away with their football careers and the lives they had within the club. In boxing there are lots of security measures, they have never had these things in football. Being a footballer today is quite a different world now as the balls are much lighter. Even so, whenever I see my boys playing football and heading a ball, I cringe every time.”
Ansnes asks Janette if she ever would have wished her dad never played football. The Liverpool legend’s daughter gives her answer in a very clear way: “No! Football and Liverpool was his entire life. He wouldn’t have been able not to take part in it.”
Let’s return to Tommy Smith himself. There is a story I really like. When Bill Shankly approached him lots of odd things happened. Tommy Smith was a young teenager. His ex teammate Chris Lawler says: “Tommy was like a thirty year old man when he was fifteen.” They became apprentices at the same time and are still the best of friends.
His mother came with her son to meet with Shankly in his office at Anfeld. Tommy’s dad had died a few years before the event, and there were no agents around back then. Tommy Smith was anxious and a little afraid that his mum would start talking about football. She knew nothing about football and would certainly say something stupid if she said anything football related, he believed. Mum indeed said something about this topic.
She asked the manager one simple question: “Mr. Shankly, Liverpool has never won the F.A. Cup, have you? No, Mrs. Smith, we have not. I’ll offer you a piece of advice. Let my son play, then you shall see that you win the cup!” Tommy and Chris Lawler just managed by the skin of their teeth to secure a place for themselves in the first team in 1965. They thus got to play the F.A. Cup final against Leeds, and Ron Yeats got the honour to raise that trophy as the first Liverpool captain ever.
In the dressing room right after the match, Bill Shankly came rushing over to Tommy Smith, gives him a good embrace and said: “Smithy, yor mum must be one of the foremost future visionaries on this earth!” Ansnes asks him a question about his mother: “It must have made a great impression on him that a mother handled the talking on your behalf? Such a thing wouldn’t happen very often.” Smith responds: “Absolutely, but she had to do it, as dad was dead. I think it was the only time she was up at Shankly’s office. And think about it! He could remember something she had told him five years earlier!”
Ronnie Whelan and Paul Ince
Okay, I could have chosen to say things about any of the other former Liverpool captains featured in this book. Phil Neal, Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher or Steven Gerrard. I decided to say a few things about Ronnie Whelan and Paul Ince. And what might that be? Well, the Manchester United connection that is so often talked about whenever Michael Owen is in Liverpool or he is tweeting about that other former club of his: The Red Devils. If only that was all there was to it, but it certainly isn’t.
Steven Gerrard has a few things to say about Paul Ince: “He has a completely astonishing talent. He can use both feet almost as well as any. But I believe what made Paul Ince the player he is must be his inner hunger, inner drive and passion which has led him to the top and which made him stay at the top for as long as he did. He is certainly one that I admired in my adolesence. What he doesn’t know is that I used to study him almost on a daily basis. I watched what he did on the pitch, what he did off the pitch. I used to copy little things. I took with me what I loved about him, while I at the same time also picked up little things that I thought he could have done differently.”
After early days of serious hardship in life, living with an aunt in Ilford, a rather large north London district seething with a very tough gang mentality and with crime in full bloom, when he was ten years of age, his mum having moved to Germany to work and no father around, Paul Ince was always out in the streets fighting. When he was 15, West Ham United offered him a youth contract and private lodgings in Dagenham. His own mum had moved back to Barbados by then. A troublemaker from Ilford got taken well care of by Barbara, a woman in her sixties. Young Paul could long at last relax.
Some time later after having signed a full contract as a West Ham apprentice, Ince got a very important lesson in life. He had been leading a double life, both being a leading figure of street gang and being a West Ham player, he had for long been out fighting in the streets of London as well as in night clubs on Friday evenings, only to play a youth game for West Ham on Saturday. One day he was tracked down by John Lyall’s asssistant Mike McGiven. London police officers wanted to talk to him in John Lyall’s office. He was accused of breaking another gang member’s jaw in a big fight at a college party. Ince was not the only one involved in that fight, there were twelve members of his gang at the party in question, but it certainly had to be him – the young footballer – who was named to the police.
John Lyall told him that he had tried for two long hours to ward the police off making an arrest. His punishment was to be six weeks of exclusion from training, and that was the worst thinkable punishment for a young lad who just loved to play football. Rather than training Ince was made to do other forms of work. He was doing a lot of painting at the stadium for six weeks – hard work – and had to feel the humiliation of standing there painting while the other apprentices were at the same time and place training. Six weeks felt like an eterity.
“That was the turning point for me,” Ince says. “When something goes wrong you want someone to support you. He could have listened to those in the rest of the coaching staff who said I only would be a troublemaker who would only produce extra work for the coaching staff. But Lyall gave me another chance. He knew I had something in me. That was my saviour. This was how he gave me belief in myself. John Lyall was like a father figure for me, and I wanted to give something back to him by proving to him I really could play football. I can easily thank John Lyall for the fact that I got a successful career. It could have ended early on if not for him.”
Paul Ince remains the only football player in history who has been the captain of Manchester United, Liverpool and England. After playing for Inter Milan, Ince was signed by Liverpool. Ince was signed by Roy Evans in order to bring in a leader who could make the other Liverpool players stop being The Spice Boys as they were known as back then. Ince became the right type for the Liverpool manager. Not going to parties and training hard, he set an example for other players at Anfield and Melwood.
Jamie Carragher is quoted as saying: “He helped me enormously. We played a lot together in the midfield position during his first years. He didn’t like being a defensive midfielder. He wanted to go forward and score goals. He was a great personality. Buzzing and never the one to back down. He had a typical behaviour like what you think a captain is: the loudest in the dressing room, very strong presence, great personality and big in the mouth.”
Ronnie Whelan’s Manchester United connection is very easily explained. Like most other 1960s boys in Dublin, he watched George Best playing for Manchester United, and was a fan of the club we as Liverpool fans just can’t stand! Ronnie Whelan’s father knew two of the 1968 European Cup final winners’ players in person, and that made it possible for his son to be sneaked into his favourite football club’s dressing room when they played a game in Dublin against the Irish national team. The little one was only seven years of age, and became a Manchester United supporter straight away. He just stood in the dressing room in silence looking at the world star players surrounding him. And especially so at George Best.
From the age of fifteen, Ronnie Whelan got to train in Manchester at times, even though his father had told him to wait and stay at home until he had finished his school years before he went to the UK to sign a contract as a first division club’s apprentice. As things turned out, Ronnie was given the chance to get on trial for Everton, Celtic and Coventry. Celtic offered him a contract, but then Liverpool F.C. wanted him to join them for two weeks on trial during pre-season,. He signed a contract in Bob Paisley’s presence in September 1979 just before he turned eighteen.
Ronnie Whelan’s trophy cabinet is full of medals and memorabilia; the most important of the former being the F.A. Cup final ball which is signed by all the players who were at Wembley for the game of the 1988 / 89 season. The Hillsborough season. Ronnie Whelan was the club’s captain then. He has always believed the league title wasn’t lost when Arsenal defeated Liverpool at Anfield in the very last game of the season by two goals, as needed to. He feels the league title was lost much earlier on. In fact when Liverpool Football Club played its first football match after Hillsborough; a 0-0 draw versus Everton. “Our first league game after Hillsborough was staged at Goodison Park. It was like a friendly for the city, not like a competitive match. We lost two points there. Points that would have sealed the first division title for us.”
But to the very least, Liverpool won that F.A. Cup final at Wembley. Whelan ends by saying it would have been unthinkable not to win that game for the fans that season after what had happened in the semi final at Hillborough. Something really, really bad and tragic that will always be remembered in Liverpool, in England and in the world.
“Liverpool Captains” was published by Ansnesprod Forlag. The photographs in this book are either taken by photographer Tony Woolliscroft or personal belongings of former captains interviewed by the author and publisher Ragnhild Lund Ansnes.
Written by @magneleokarlsen