Birthdate: 6 May 1953
Birthplace: Edinburgh, Scotland
Other clubs: Tottenham Hotspur (1969-73), Montreal Olympique (loan 1972), Middlesbrough (1973-78), West Adelaide Soccer Club (loan 1977), Sampdoria (1984-86), Rangers (1986-90)
Bought from: Middlesbrough
Signed for LFC: £352,000, 10.01.1978
International debut: 30.10.1974 vs. East Germany
International caps: 54/4 (37/2 at LFC) - 08.06.1986
Liverpool debut: 14.01.1978
Last appearance: 30.05.1984
Debut goal: 25.02.1978
Last goal: 21.04.1984
Contract expiry: 12.06.1984
Win ratio: 59.05% W: 212 D: 86 L: 61
Games/goals ratio: 6.53
Total games/goals opposite LFC: 9 / 0
LFC league games/goals: 247 / 38
Total LFC games/goals: 359 / 55
“Being successful has always been more important to me than being popular. I long ago accepted that the name of Graeme Souness would top few popularity polls, regardless of whether the votes were cast by my fellow professionals or by the supporters. In that respect I suppose you could say that I have achieved my ambition for, thanks to Liverpool, I have a cupboard full of memories and scarcely a friend on the terraces or in the dressing room.”
Graeme Souness was a true midfield maestro who is certain to finish on everyone’s greatest Liverpool XI-list. Souness attracted attention for his part in Tottenham' youth team’s great run in the FA Cup. There were four finals in total and he scored in the first and fourth, but was sent off in the third. When he was 17, he knocked on manager Bill Nicholson’s door and demanded a fair chance in the first team. He didn’t agree, Souness stormed out and went back home to Scotland. Souness played ten games in the North American Soccer League for Montreal Olympique before Tottenham sold him to Middlesbrough in 1973 for £30,000. The only game Souness played for Tottenham’s first team was a European match against Icelandic club, Keflavík.
When Jack Charlton took over at ‘Boro soon after Souness joined, he learned from his fellow coaches that the fiery Scot liked the nightlife a bit too much. Charlton reminded him that he could be a very successful football player or his career could be over in just one year if he wasn’t careful. Souness took notice of these wise words... for the time being. In 1978, Souness went off the tracks again and broke the club’s disciplinary code. “I am fed up, disenchanted with the game. I feel like a good holiday away from it all,” Souness groaned. He had still left a strong impression on Middlesbrough fans as one of the best players to serve the club in the post-war years. Following a week’s suspension imposed by Boro he got a call telling him to go to a hotel in Leeds to talk to a certain club. To Souness’ delight, the European champions were the party interested. Middlesbrough Chairman, Charles Amer disclosed: “There was no argument. John Smith, the Liverpool Chairman, accepted our price without a blink. We shook hands and it was all over in about 90 seconds.” Club skipper Stuart Boam seemed relieved this matter had been settled. “Graeme is a great player, make no mistake about that, but all the publicity and unrest was not good for team morale. It unsettled the rest of the players.” Souness was understandably delighted after signing for the European champions. “I feel on the top of the world,” he enthused. “To join a world class club like Liverpool is marvellous.” Souness was driven in a limousine back home and told to be ready for next Liverpool match against WBA. The sum Liverpool paid for him was £352,000 which was at that time a transfer record between English clubs, £2,000 more than Manchester United paid for Leeds’ Joe Jordan a week earlier.
Souness’ Liverpool career didn’t start very promisingly as he revealed in his autobiography. “As a kid you usually live in digs where there is someone to keep an eye on you but when I moved from Middlesbrough to Liverpool I was given a room in the Holiday Inn. This was the start of the third period of my life during which I very nearly managed to wreck my own career. I lived there for nine months and it was then I earned the nickname of ‘Champagne Charlie’. The routine was quickly established. I would train at Melwood, go back for lunch and a few beers, get involved in a session at the cocktail bar, sleep between 4 and 7pm and then crawl back down for dinner. If that became a little too boring there was always a club open somewhere, where they were only too happy to have a Liverpool player gracing their bar or the dance floor.” Souness also made a serious faux pas with one of the most experienced campaigners at Anfield. “That first day at Anfield, 10 January 1978, was a revelation. It seems a long time now but I remember how normal and ordinary it all was, no prima donnas, no superstars. I made only one error on that first morning, I asked Tommy Smith if I could borrow his hairdryer and he turned to Phil Neal and said pointedly: ‘Everyone is allowed one mistake.’ I took my own in the future.”
Souness’ first goal for his new club was voted BBC’s Goal of the Season, the recipients of his thunderbolt were Manchester United. Souness was in and out of the side, but the end of the season was sweet. Souness’ pass released Dalglish to score the winning goal in the European Cup final. His debut season was a dream come true. “The nearest I had been to European competition before was watching the Eurovision Song Contest so it was a dream come true when I won a European Champions’ medal within four months.” Souness was the driving force in midfield for Liverpool and controlled the play with Terry McDermott when Liverpool won the title in 1979 and 1980. Souness led by example and netted a hat-trick against CSKA Sofia in the quarter-finals on their way to yet another European triumph. ‘If Graeme plays until his 100 he’ll never hit three more perfect shots in one match,’ former Kop idol, Ian St John, acclaimed. The trophies kept on coming and Souness’ genius was for everyone to see. During Christmas 1981 Liverpool lost 3-1 to Manchester City and the team was in twelfth place. Bob Paisley felt that he needed to make a serious adjustment to the team. He promoted Souness to captain in place of Phil Thompson, but at the cost of the players’ friendship. “One day, at half-time during a dodgy performance at Villa Park, Bob asked Thommo if maybe the captaincy was not a bit too much for him,” Souness revealed. “Phil, a proud Liverpudlian who treasured the captaincy, gave a very abrupt reply. Bob did not like that one bit and flew back at him. It was a rare sight and, a few days later, I was leaning against a goalpost helping to collect balls at shooting practice session when he asked me how I would feel about the captaincy. I knew that was what I wanted and I told him that if it was offered I would take it, and sure enough at the next match at Swansea I was captain. It was a great thrill and a great honour even though it ended any pretence of friendship between Phil Thompson and me. He took it as a personal affront and it was a long, long time before he would say even hello to me.”
The 1983/84 season turned out to be Souness’ last with the Reds, winning the League title for the third year in a row. Souness said his goodbyes to Liverpool in style by securing the League Cup against Everton with a great shot outside the penalty area and came second in the PFA’s Player of the Year voting. The club reached their fourth European Cup final by winning every away-leg. In the second-leg of the semi-final with Dinamo Bucharest, Souness was attacked verbally and physically by Rumanian players, incensed that he had broken the jaw of one of their colleagues in the first meeting at Anfield two weeks previously. He responded, as he usually did when the odds were stacked against him, with a performance of great discipline. The European Cup final turned out to be Souness’ farewell Liverpool appearance and he left on a high. Following Liverpool’s win after a penalty shoot-out, that included one from Souness of the unstoppable variety, he couldn’t keep his emotions in check. “I went berserk. For the first time I wept tears of joy and I was alternately laughing and crying along with a few other professionals and we launched into our famous victory celebration song as we lined up for a team picture. The words are too dirty to repeat but they seemed to delight the Italian photographers.” Souness’ performance on that memorable night in the Italian capital undoubtedly helped secure his move to Sampdoria shortly afterwards. He received a warm welcome in Italy as he recollects. “Goodness knows what the other people on the aeroplane must have thought when we touched down for it was like a carnival time with what seemed to be thousands of people on the tarmac. There were flowers for my wife, kisses and hugs from old ladies and a Sampdoria shirt with a number eleven on the back was thrust into my hands.” He helped the club win the Italian Cup and scored in the final. After two successful years in Italy, he returned to his homeland to become player-manager at Glasgow Rangers and immediately set about the task of ensuring that they would become the club to beat in Scotland. “Forget Souness”, were Joe Fagan’s words as Liverpool came together in the 1984/85 season, emphasising the important role he had played in that team. Bruce Grobbelaar, Sammy Lee and Ronnie Whelan all acclaim Souness, not Dalglish, as the best-ever player they played with at Liverpool. As a player Souness had many remarkable years of success with numerous trophies and unforgettable performances. Souness deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest players ever to wear the famous red shirt.
Souness followed best mate Dalglish in the managerial hot seat at Anfield after a successful five-year-spell at Rangers. Dalglish left an ageing side behind but on the other hand future stars like Fowler, McManaman and Redknapp were coming into their own. Liverpool needed a leader in defence to replace Alan Hansen. Mark Wright was bought from Derby as well as striker Dean Saunders. Peter Beardsley was off to Everton and the promising Steve Staunton followed him out of the exit door. Rangers wizard Mark Walters was an old acquaintance of Souness and the best purchase Souness ever did, Rob Jones, arrived in October 1991. However, the team was in dire straits early on. At the end of September it was in mid-table and Barnes, Wright and Whelan all out injured. Mølby missed ten weeks and Rush was out for 20 games. Rush blamed Souness for Liverpool’s lengthy injury list in his autobiography, as he had put the players through a strenuous training programme in pre-season. “It produced an incredible series of injuries to the lads, before a single ball had even been kicked.”
Souness tried to strengthen his team by purchasing Arsenal’s Michael Thomas and Hungarian Istvan Kozma arrived from Dunfermilne. Liverpool were back in Europe after a six years’ absence and having pushed Lahti easily out of the way, the Reds lost 2-0 to Auxerre in France, but an impressive performance at Anfield ensured a 3-0 victory. Tirol was an easy prey, but Genoa in the fourth round proved an obstacle that Liverpool could not handle. Steve McManaman proved the catalyst in the FA Cup final and delivered much needed silverware, following a disappointing League campaign in which Liverpool finished sixth, 18 points behind champions Leeds. Souness had missed several games in April and May because he had to undergo a triple by-pass heart surgery. He was though in charge at Wembley, but could hardly enjoy his only Cup victory as Liverpool’s boss. However, the beginning of the end for Souness was already in motion in mid-April when he sold the hated Sun his by-pass operation story, on the third anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. Liverpool supporters would never forgive him this error. Souness begged forgiveness in the Liverpool Echo in 2011. “I agreed to have a picture taken after the FA Cup replay against Portsmouth. That picture was meant to go in on the Tuesday but because it had gone to extra-time and penalties, it missed the deadline. So it went in on the Wednesday. The Wednesday was the anniversary of Hillsborough and that killed me. The local journalist for The Sun at the time was Mike Ellis, who was away on holiday and was the one person who could have said to The Sun newspaper’s office, you just can’t do that. So I hold my hands up. I’m still a Liverpool supporter. They are still my team. I had a great time as a player at Liverpool and I’d like to think I had a great relationship with the supporters at the time, and it hurts me. I can only apologise and it’s something I have to live with.”
Souness himself admitted that he wanted to change things too quickly at the club. Established stars like Peter Beardsley, Steve McMahon, Barry Venison and Ray Houghton were on their way while he bought players of much lesser talent like Mark Walters, Istvan Kozma, Julian Dicks, Nigel Clough and Paul Stewart. In the summer of 1992 David James was signed as a future replacement for the ageing Grobbelaar. Liverpool made their worst start to a season for 39 years. The alarm bells were seriously ringing! Dean Saunders was gone to fund the arrival of Torben Piechnik. Liverpool made a 4-4 draw at Anfield against third division side Chesterfield, in which they were 3-0 down for a period. Souness was unable to utilise the talents of John Barnes and Jan Mølby through injury. Nobody seemed up to their task and Souness wasn’t even present for the final game of the 1992/93 season against Tottenham at Anfield. He was instead bizarrely sent away to run the rule over Coventry against Leeds United. It was widely expected that Souness would leave before the start of next season, but the Board decided to promote Roy Evans to assistant manager, clearly indicating he would take over from Souness if things didn’t work out as planned.
Souness signed Nigel Clough from Nottingham Forest and Neil Ruddock from Tottenham. Liverpool started the season in emphatic fashion with three wins, but three defeats in a row in September put things into perspective. October and the start of November proved to be fruitful, a 5-2-0 record. Liverpool ended 1993 by drawing four League games in a row. Liverpool were in seventh place with 36 points from 23 games midway through the season. A 1-1 draw away with Bristol City in the FA Cup third round caused concern which changed to panic when Liverpool lost the replay at Anfield 1-0. This was totally unacceptable and Souness knew it! He handed in his resignation the following week. He was not present at the mandatory press conference but instead issued a statement confessing: “This is a sad day for me. After a great deal of soul searching I have reached the conclusion that the best thing for the club and I is that we should part company. I took this job believing that I could return the club to its former glory but this proved to be more difficult than I anticipated. The fans have been very patient but I feel that their patience is now running out. Liverpool Football Club has, and always will have, a very special place in my heart and I can only wish the club well and every success in the future.” Chairman David Moores was certainly sorry to see his friend leave and cited Souness’ heart surgery, his father’s death and the unprecedented amount of players’ injuries not helping him in the job. But no matter what had happened it came finally down to just one thing. “The results have been well below what is expected by the club and its supporters.”
Souness pulls no punches when he looks back on his managerial career at Liverpool. “Bill Shankly had a problem telling players like St John and Yeats that they were too old, and, as a result, he went seven years without winning anything. Liverpool always outed at the first sign of decline. Kenny came through Heysel and Hillsborough with some of his players. He’d become so emotionally involved with the whole Liverpool thing that he found it hard to say thanks, but no thanks. Then I came along and my job was to move all the people away. So I was the bad guy. Nobody’s ever written or said that. Sure, I know I made mistakes, both in my manner and the way in which I tried to change things too quickly. But everyone accepted that when I took the job that it was the most difficult period for the club in its recent history. We managed to win the cup in my 21/2 years, but my timing was all wrong. Players like Redknapp, McManaman and Fowler were waiting to flourish, but were still too young. From the operation until the day I resigned in April 1994, I didn’t enjoy the job. The criticism I received from people I played with really pissed me off. I think of them as professional Scousers, people who went on and on about their love for the club. Nobody could accuse me of not putting everything into Liverpool, both as a player and as a manager. Liverpool always used to expect the older, more experienced players to put things right if things weren’t going well. I adopted the same approach, but players like Steve Nicol, Bruce Grobbelaar and Ronnie Whelan were queueing up for testimonials. Contrary to popular belief, I was under no pressure, but I’d fallen out of love with football. The Chairman suggested I should give it a little longer at the club, but I told him I didn’t enjoy it anymore.”