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Ian Callaghan - The Marathon man

It's quite symbolic that when Callaghan made his debut he was mentioned in the same breath as Billy Liddell, who had then made most appearances for Liverpool and effectively who Callaghan replaced in the side: "The 18-year-old right winger, making his debut for Liverpool, had put up a fantastic show that even old favourite Billy Liddell couldn't have bettered." (The People).

Two bona fide Liverpool legends. Callaghan with the great Billy Liddell

Billy Liddell was asked in 1961 if there was any player who could replace him in the Liverpool team. Billy said: "There is always someone to follow on. They have one at Anfield already, a youngster named Ian Callaghan. I played with him twice, watched his progress and I believe he'll be a credit to his club, the game and to his country."

Billy was my idol when I was at school and it was fantastic to take over from him. I had so much respect for him. Great man - It's very hard to compare decades, but in the 50s, they used to call them Liddellpool. He was a god in Liverpool. I took over from him on the wing and he finished playing not long after that.

Billy Liddell was incredible. When I went to my first professional football match it was Liverpool. When Billy got the ball the anticipation from the crowd was just huge. What is he going to do with it? Is he going to shoot from 30 yards or take it past people. He was wonderful. Billy played with a heavy ball on the heavy pitches. The way he used to kick the ball, wow! He was so strong!

Later I worked for the Littlewoods Pools Company Spot the ball and Billy was on the panel. Billy was the chairman and I actually took over as chairman from Billy. I got to know him and he was a really quiet and a really nice man. Terrific. He is one of those of the people who will always be remembered in Liverpool like Shankly and Paisley.

You broke Billy Liddell's appearance record for Liverpool when you made your 535th appearance on 15th of August 1972.

It's been fantastic for me, I think the nearest is 600 odd games. 857 is a lot of games and takes a lot of beating. Jamie [Carragher] has 500, but it will take a lot of games. I'm very proud of that.

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 "Cally deserves every accolade he'll get tomorrow. He has been the model professional, never in trouble on or off the field and never giving less than 100 per cent." - Billy Liddell

So what was the secret behind your longevity at Liverpool? Did you always go early to bed?

Oh, God. I used to love to have a drink with the boys after the match. There were rules that you didn't drink after Wednesday, which I didn't. If you were playing in midweek somewhere they did allow you to go out and have a beer. You had to be back by 12 o'clock at the hotel. There would be a curfew because you were flying back the next day and then you would be playing again on the Saturday.

You were the first Liverpool player to be chosen Footballer of the year in 1974

Yes, the Football writers' player of the year. That was just before the cup final with Newcastle. We were in London for the final. "The Footballer of the year" was on a Thursday night and Shanks took me and we missed the start of the dinner. I was nervous because I had to give a speech which I had never done before. You looked at the audience. All the past winners were at the top table. Stanley Matthews and all those people. I had written something down, but said 'I can't do this'. I always remember what Shanks said to me. He said: 'You have won this award because you deserve it. Just go and enjoy it.' It was an unbelievable night and I was the first Liverpool player to win it. Just fantastic.

Cally with his trophy back in 1974

"Ian Callaghan is everything good that a man can be. No praise is too high for him. Words cannot do justice to the amount he has contributed to the game. Ian Callaghan will go down as one of the game's truly great players." - Bill Shankly

You were only booked once in your Liverpool career in your penultimate game for Liverpool in March 1978. You must have deserved more bookings and once or twice done something untoward?

Tommy Smith said that I should have been booked more than him. It was just the one booking. It was against Nottingham Forest in the League Cup. We played at Wembley on the Saturday and we drew and the replay was at Old Trafford. The referee was Pat Partridge. He had given a penalty. Phil Thompson tackled a guy and it was a yard outside the box. It went a bit mad after that and people were tackling. The ball bounced between this Scouser, called Peter Withe, and myself and I went in and he went in. I caught him in the chest and he took my name. The club tried to get it taken away, but they didn't. I would like to meet that Pat Partridge. He is still alive and well. I want just to meet him one of these days and you know.. yeah.. [gestures in a threatening manner.]

It was unbelievable in 1974 when Shanks decided to resign that Bob reluctantly took over. The nice thing was that Bob took over. You always knew Bob as "Bob" because he was the second in command. You always used to call Shankly "Boss". It was very difficult to call Bob boss at first. He was the most unassuming man you could ever wish to meet. He never changed his ways when he became the most successful boss in the game. He was still the same guy. They were two phenomenal men. I just feel I've been privileged in my career to play under the two of them.

I believe really, that we needed Shanks to come in 1959. Somebody who was very strong and outgoing to turn the club around because we weren't going anywhere until Shanks arrived. The foundations were laid by Shanks and Bob carried on. I don't know whether Bob could have started that, it needed Shanks to do that.

LFChistory.net talked to Liverpool legend, Gerry Byrne, about his former room-mate at Liverpool, Ian Callaghan.

Ian Callaghan holds the record for appearances and Chris Lawler the full-back on his side holds the record for the number of goals scored at full-back. Cally was up and down and was tireless. He never stopped, defend or attack and Chris used to sneak up. (LFChistory.net will next week publish an exclusive interview with Gerry Byrne).

Callaghan was the only player who played in Liverpool's first European game in Reykjavik in 1964, who won the European Cup in 1977.

In those days you didn't charter planes, so we got a flight from Manchester to Glasgow. Reykjavík is a beautiful place. I remember the hotel we stayed at. You couldn't get an awful lot of beer there in '64. Alcohol was difficult to come by, but I think we found some place.

In '77 I was a sub in the final the Saturday before when we played Manchester United in the FA Cup. I was sub for that because I was coming for the end. I went on in the last 20 minutes of the game and we went into training on Monday and Bob came up to me, and this is typical of Bob, 'Do you want to play on Wednesday?' 'Of course I want to play, yeah.' He said: 'Well, you're playing.' Then he later told Tommy Smith that he made a massive mistake in not playing me in the FA Cup final. The first time you win something you make history for the club. If somebody asked me which was my greatest moment for Liverpool it would be winning the cup in '65 and the European Cup in '77. 

The best pair of wingers who have ever played for Liverpool were undoubtedly Peter Thompson and Ian Callaghan. Thompson is full of praise for his former teammate and credits Shankly with motivating him to greater heights:

The boss was a great influence. He made me believe I was the greatest winger in Europe, and he made Ian Callaghan believe he was better than I was! Cally and myself complemented each other perfectly. He was direct whereas I would tend to dwell on the ball a lot more and try to beat people. Some games one of us would be struggling, the defender facing Cally may have been faster than him or the right back could handle a dribbler like myself, so we’d simply switch flanks and it’d work.”

Ian Callaghan with Shanks and Paisley
on the eve of his testimonial on 19th September 1977

What comes to your mind when I mention the following...

- Matchday food

We used to eat a steak before a match and now they reckon it's the worst thing you can eat as it's hard to digest. It wasn't until later we moved to beans on toast or scrambled eggs.

- The Sweat box.

It was just a device by mister Shankly. It was just like boards and you had to run. They timed you. You were only in there for one minute or two minutes. You had to run as quick as you can. All the lads were along the touchline and Shanks and Bob, Reuben Bennett and Ronnie Moran were shouting all the time - you had to hit ball against the board, control it and run to the other boards. It was really hard work. The sweat box became quite famous like the Bootroom. You would come out and your legs would be like jelly.

- The 1966 World Cup

In '66 I played one game in the world cup against France. I made my debut in Finland which was a warm-up to the World Cup. He [Sir Alf Ramsey] played John Kinnelly and Terry Payne in the world cup as wingers. Then he decided when it got to the knock-out stages that he wasn't going to play with wingers. It was sad for us, the wingers, but having said that, he went on to win the World Cup so something he got right. Now I've got a world cup winners' medal along with the other 11 in the '66 squad. Even now at my age something is happening now.

- Most difficult opponent

The most difficult left-back I've ever played against was Ray Wilson who played in the '66 World Cup and played for Everton. He was a tough player.

- Moving into midfield

In 1970 I had a cartilage out and I couldn't get back into the team as they were playing so well. There was a chap playing central midfield called John McLaughlin. He got injured and then Shanks decided to put me into central midfield. I then had another career. I went to play for England when I was 35 in central midfield. This the biggest gap ever and never probably be ever beaten. Some 11 years later getting called up to play for his country.

- Best ever game at Anfield

European Cup semi-final vs. Inter Milan in 1965. One thing I feel sad about is that Bill Shankly never won the European Cup because he won everything else. That year we had a fantastic chance. I scored from a free-kick which we had been trying for I don't know how long. We had practiced it at Melwood and it never came up, but that particular night it came off. I didn't score many, but it was a good goal.

We were 3-1 up after Anfield and we were robbed. I had never played in an atmosphere until then like it was in the San Siro stadium. It was just unbelievable. I don't think we would have got out of the stadium if we had beat them. The referee was, the word would be, bent. Inter were regarded then as the best club team in the world as they had beaten Independiente earlier in the Intercontinental cup. They had fantastic players like Luiz Suarez and Facchetti. He was the captain of Italy and was a terrific player.

Guess three times who was the referee in the Independiente game?

The same referee... (laughs) There you go. Enough said.

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