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From the Cape to the Kop

"As a South African Liverpool supporter, I found myself searching for a list of my countrymen who have represented the club over the years," says Liam Bekker who sent LFCHistory.net this noteworthy article. "This prompted me to write up a piece chronologically depicting the history of South African footballer's to have played for Liverpool. LFChistory.net was the primary source for much of the factual content of the article, hence I am confident in its accuracy."

Liverpool are recognized as being one of the most globalized clubs in the footballing world with an immensely diverse fan base and an equally diverse list of former players. Throughout the club’s 122 year history, stars from across the globe have been attracted by the allure that is to be found at Anfield. As a born and raised South African I take pride in knowing that a number of my countrymen have traded the sunny plains of Africa for the roaring crowd in the Kop - aptly named after a hill in South Africa. Some did so for only a short period of time while others have left a legacy that will last well into the future. Indeed, the influence of South African players on Liverpool Football Club is such that it would be only fitting to share the individual stories of these fine men.

ARTHUR RILEY (1925-1939) Image: Riley on bench with Hodgson and Nieuwenhuys


The decision by the South African team to tour the UK in 1924 would prove to be the catalyst for an everlasting relationship between the nation and Liverpool. During this tour the national team faced Liverpool on the 1st of October, recording an impressive (and very surprising) 5-2 win over the local team. The directors of the Liverpool board at the time were mightily impressed by the standard of football that the South Africans had shown, and were particularly enthralled by the performances of Gordon Hodgson and 20-year old goalkeeper Arthur Riley.

Based on the performance of that match, Liverpool decided to sign Riley the following year, bringing him in as a back-up to the legendary Elisha Scott. In the process Riley became the first South African, and indeed the first foreigner to represent the club. Scott’s dominance in goal meant that Riley was relegated to the bench for the most part of his early years at Anfield, but the former Boksburg FC man would become a mainstay in the Liverpool squad of the mid-late 1930’s. The lanky South African international was renowned for his aerial ability and fearlessness in the box, possessing all of the traits one searches for in the modern day ‘keeper.

Such was his quality that Riley represented Liverpool 338 times over the course of thirteen years; a service which makes the lack of silverware he achieved at the club all the more tragic. The team at the time were average at best and it is perhaps indicative of the struggles Riley faced that his final game at the club would be a 2-0 loss to Manchester United on the final day of the season in 1939.

GORDON HODGSON (1925-1936)

Gordon Hodgson was the other man (in fact a teenager) that had been spotted on that fateful day in 1924. The Johannesburg-born striker, who was the son of English parents, joined Liverpool a few months after Riley did and made his debut on the 27th of February 1926 - a debut that would spark the career one of the most prolific goal scoring players in Liverpool’s history.

In his early days at the club Hodgson formed a formidable partnership with Englishman Dick Forshaw, filling a vital goal scoring void that had been left by the out-of-form Harry Chambers. Hodgson’s goal scoring abilities were such that between 1926 and the end of the 1929-30 season, he had racked up an impressive 74 league goals in just 154 league appearances. This was nothing compared to the unprecedented heights he reached in the 1930-31 campaign however, as his 36 goals that season saw him smash Sam Raybould’s 28-year old record which stood at 31 goals (Hodgson’s record would stand for 30 years before being broken by one Roger Hunt).

The next five years would see Hodgson continue his free-scoring run at Anfield, scoring at an average of more than 20 goals per season before moving on to new challenges at Aston Villa in January 1936. His time with Liverpool had been spectacular and bore an incredible return of 241 goals in 377 appearances, as well as international recognition for Hodgson within the English national team. To this day only Ian Rush and Roger Hunt have scored more goals for Liverpool than the man from the Transvaal.

Hodgson is without a doubt one of the greatest players to have donned the Liverbird on his chest with his goal scoring records dwarfing many of those set by his modern day contemporaries. It is worth noting that Hodgson’s prime coincided with the reign of Dixie Dean at Everton, meaning that Merseyside was home to two of the world’s finest strikers at the time.

CHARLIE THOMPSON (1929-1931) Pictured on the right

Four years after the signings of Riley and Hodgson, Liverpool again dipped their hands into the talent pool that was South Africa, this time pulling out a defender by the name of Charlie Thompson. Unlike his predecessors though, Thompson would not have as much success at Liverpool, only making his debut almost a year after signing and amassing just six appearances before leaving the club for Blackpool in 1931.

LANCE CARR (1933-1936) AND BERRY ‘NIVVY’ NIEUWENHUYS (1933-1947)

On the 11th of September 1933, Liverpool completed the double signing of South African duo Lance Carr and Berry Nieuwenhuys (pictured on the left). The pair joined a growing contingent of South Africans at Liverpool with both the aforementioned Riley and Hodgson in the peak of their powers at the club. Ironically enough, both Carr and Nieuwenhuys had been spotted playing in South Africa by Arthur Riley’s English-born father who subsequently recommended them to the club.

Lance Carr was the less successful of the two. The left winger from Johannesburg represented the club between 1933 and 1936, amassing 33 appearances and scoring 8 goals before leaving the club for Newport County. Carr’s finest moment in the Liverpool jersey came in 1935 when he came off the bench to play an instrumental role in a 6-0 victory over rivals Everton. To this day it remains Liverpool’s biggest victory over the Toffees.

Nieuwenhuys, or ‘Nivvy’ as he was affectionately nicknamed, had a more storied career at Liverpool. The Afrikaner from Kroonstad made his debut 12 days after joining the club and immediately began displaying his wealth of talent. Predominantly a right winger, Nivvy possessed a brilliant turn of speed and had a knack for both goal scoring and goal creating. Such was Berry’s talent and versatility that throughout his career at Liverpool he reportedly took to the field in nine different positions. He was loved by many and had well and truly endeared himself to the Anfield faithful who could often be heard singing his praises from the stands. Some even called for him to play for England but his non-British lineage prevented this from ever happening.

His talent was put on hold in 1939 by the onset of World War II - during which he represented Arsenal and West Ham in the so-called War-Time Leagues. Upon the ending of the War, Nivvy returned to Anfield for the first post-war season in 1946/47 where he would be named as the clubs new captain. That season would be his last for Liverpool but in a fitting manner it also saw him lift the League Championship.

With 257 appearances and 79 goals, Nivvy had truly cemented his place in Anfield folklore as one of the club’s true greats – and great he was. The South African was one of the first “superstars” to have graced the club and was so highly rated amongst his peers that he was regarded as being of the same ilk as the brilliant Stanley Matthews.

DIRK KEMP (1936-1939)

Goalkeeper Dirk Kemp joined Liverpool toward the back end of Arthur Riley’s stay at Anfield. Unlike Riley, who made over 300 appearances for Liverpool, Kemp only managed to represent the club on 30 occasions before seeing his career interrupted by the Second World War.

HARMAN VAN DEN BERG (1937-1939) - Eighty-six year-old Harman pictured with his wife in 2004

Harman van den Berg joined Liverpool as a spirited 19 year-old from Peninsular in October 1937. The pacey left-winger made his debut in the Merseyside derby the following year and displayed a show of skill and ability well beyond his years. A serious injury slowed him down in 1938 before the start of the Second World War brought an untimely end to his playing career. The dynamic winger only managed to represent Liverpool on 19 occasions but was impressive throughout, collecting three goals in the process.

ROBERT ‘BOB’ PRIDAY (1945-1949)

The Second World War had seen Liverpool lose many of their players and therefore had to embark on a journey of rebuilding the club from scratch. South African winger Bob Priday was one of the clubs first post-war signings, joining from Cape Town City in November 1945. Priday, who operated on both flanks, made his debut in January the following year but never really managed to cement himself a place in Liverpool’s starting XI. His return at Liverpool was more than decent though and saw him amass 40 caps and score 9 goals before leaving the club in 1949 to join Blackburn Rovers.
  
HUGH GERHARDI (1953)

It would be four years later before Liverpool signed another South African, this time purchasing 20 year old centre-back Hugh Gerhardi from Thistle FC. The towering defender made his debut for Liverpool in February 1953 but would leave the club only two months later, citing homesickness as the reason for his return to South Africa. Six appearances was all Gerhardi made during his short time at the club.

ROBERT ‘DOUG’ RUDHAM (1954-1960)

Doug Rudham joined Liverpool in October 1954, having made his international debut for South Africa the year before. The 28-year old was the third South African goalkeeper that Liverpool had signed (after Riley and Kemp) and would go on to enjoy reasonable success at the club.

Rudham, who joined from the Johannesburg Rangers, was for the most part Liverpool’s first choice ‘keeper in his first two seasons and even retained his position despite infamously conceding nine goals in a match against Birmingham. The arrival of Tommy Younger from Hibernian in 1958 changed all that though as the South African shot stopper was relegated to the bench and only made 6 more appearances over the course of the next three seasons - his last being a 4-2 defeat at the hands of Lincoln.

The lack of game time at Anfield frustrated Rudham who subsequently left the club to return to Johannesburg, this time in the colours of the Ramblers. In his six years at Liverpool, Rudham represented the club on 66 occasions.

CRAIG ‘SKIPPY’ JOHNSTON (1981-1988)

On the 3rd of April 1981 Liverpool signed an exciting 20-year old in the form of Craig Johnston from Middlesbrough. Despite his tender age, Johnston had already racked up over 60 first team appearances and had developed into quite a fine young player.

His Liverpool debut came in August 1981 in what was the start of a season that would see him score 7 goals in 23 appearances. Over the course of his stay at Anfield, Johnston’s tireless running, knack for scoring important goals and all-round charisma made him a favourite amongst Liverpool fans. He was an enigmatic player that possessed an incredible work-ethic and great versatility (which in many ways was as much a curse as it was a blessing).

Johnston was an integral part of Liverpool’s famous League, League Cup and European Cup treble winning season in 1984. He was also a key player in the clubs League and FA Cup double two years later, scoring in the Cup final against Everton. Johnston’s time at Liverpool was very rewarding and saw him walk away from football in 1998 with five League titles, two League Cup winners’ medals and an FA Cup medal.

Johnston could have achieved more at Liverpool but, being the man he was, decided to retire from football at the age of 28 to look after his sister who was suffering from brain damage following a gas-related accident in Morocco. He ended his time at Liverpool, and indeed his playing career, having featured in 271 games, scoring no fewer than 40 goals.
Skippy’s love for the club never waned after his retirement and, following the tragedy of Hillsborough, he managed to raise around £40 000 for the families of the 96 who had lost their lives on that day.
Though he was raised in Australia and is Australian by nationality, Johnston was born in South Africa. Regardless of any dispute that may arise their though, his true home is and always was Liverpool.

BRUCE GROBBELAAR (1981-1984)

With 33 caps for Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Durban born goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar was a talent that South African football missed out on. Liverpool wouldn’t make the same mistake though as they snapped the 23-year old up from America’s Vancouver Whitecaps in 1981. Grobbelaar was the fourth South-African born goalkeeper that Liverpool had signed and would prove to be the best of the lot. The reasoning behind Liverpool’s signing of Grobbelaar was that he would serve as cover for Ray Clemence but to the surprise of many the England no. 1 left Liverpool for Tottenham just a few months later, meaning Grobbelaar was thrown in at the deep end. From that point on, and up until the arrival of David James in 1992, Grobbelaar was a virtual ever-present in the Liverpool starting line-up.

An error-strewn and inconsistent start to his career at Liverpool saw Grobbelaar get off on the wrong foot with the Anfield faithful, often being blamed for poor results and being lambasted by the local media. He took it on the chin though and it wasn’t long before he found his flying form, showcasing his immense, and rather flamboyant, goalkeeping abilities on a weekly basis. Grobbelaar is perhaps remembered best for his performance in the 1984 European Cup Final against Roma. During the penalty shoot-out the peak of Grobbelaar’s eccentric powers came to the fore. After being told by manager Joe Fagan to try and put off Roma’s spot-kick takers, Grobbelaar pulled out the famous ‘spaghetti legs’ just prior to Francesco Graziani’s spot-kick. The Italian international was clearly put off by Grobbelaar’s antics and blazed his effort off the post and over. Alan Kennedy stepped up to score the winning goal from the subsequent penalty but it was Grobbelaar’s display that is most remembered from that night.

That was one of many titles that Grobbelaar lifted at Liverpool. In total, the happy-go-lucky ‘keeper won 6 League titles, 3 FA Cups, 3 League Cups, 1 Super Cup and of course that European Cup. He spent 14 years altogether at Anfield before leaving for Southampton 1994, racking up an incredible 628 appearances – making him the most capped foreigner in the club’s history.

SEAN DUNDEE (1998-1999)

Of all the South African players that Liverpool have signed, Sean Dundee’s tenure at the club would prove to be the most unspectacular. The striker had joined from Karlsruhe in Germany for a fee of £1.8million pounds in 1998 on the back of a good season in the Bundesliga. With the likes of Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Karl-Heinz Riedle all in good form, Dundee found himself at the bottom of the pecking order and only managed 5 substitute appearances for the club before returning to Germany to play for VFB Stuttgart the following year.
  
MARK GONZALEZ (2006-2007)

After failing to obtain a work-permit the year before, Mark González officially joined Liverpool in 2006 from Spanish side Albacete. The South African born Chilean international had the perfect debut for Liverpool, coming off the bench in a Champions League tie against Maccabi Haifa to score the winning goal in the 88th minute. His career at Anfield never really took off though, and he left just a year after joining having played 36 games for the club.

Fourteen South African-born players have represented Liverpool Football Club over the last hundred-odd years. Some stayed for only a few months, while others truly made Anfield their home. Whether they were infamous for their antics or if their stories are still told in the tales of folklore today, each one played their individual part in the fantastic history that Liverpool and South Africa share. It’s anyone’s guess as to when another South African player will make the glorious journey to Liverpool, but from those who have gone before, a fantastic backdrop has been set for South African stars of the future to follow suit.

Copyright - Liam Bekker
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