Cally was a great player. He always gave 100% in the red shirt. He was an inspiration to any youngster or fan and was a credit to his profession.
These are cliches that are often trolled out to describe any old journeyman. In Callaghan's case they are inadequate descriptors of a player who comes along once in a generation.
Callaghan was the ultimate club servant and exceptional even at a time when it was not uncommon for players to spend many years at their clubs. What made Callaghan unique of course was his commitment to a club during a time of unprecedented growth and success. He was part of a stupendous epoch at a legendary club that came to define all the magnifence of the strength of the characteristics in the national sport.
He was a role-model at a time when role models weren't fancy-dan millionaires commanding heavy financial remuneration as a gift for providing the public with an ironic reminder about how far removed they are from the ordinary fan. He was an ordinary man in an extraordinary setting.
Callaghan typified all things Liverpool. He was the personification of The Liverpool Way. Cally was never a showman. He was never a champagne Charlie but an honest and decent man, faithful to the cause who brought those qualities into his play and gave the team its soul and its heart. His skills and trickery relied more upon athleticism and endeavour than flashy flicks and feints. He had the ultimate "engine" and a never-say-die spirit that was infectious, thrilling and exhorting in equal measure those gladiators in red around him and the accolytes baying with excitement in the crowd.
It is difficult to find a picture of Callaghan that does not portray these qualities of quiet reserve and a modest nature whether it be of him turning a defender, or acknowledging the cheers of the adulation of the crowd after a Callaghan drive and volley has hit the back of the net, or even raising a trophy above his head. There was never any triumphalism in victory or sneering in defeat. Even in his most personal accolades such as when he was nominated as the Player of the Year Award or when pictured with his World Cup medal or his European Cup medal or Liverpool's historic first FA Cup win. The pictures show a man enjoying the moment proportionate to his upbringing, modest and well-balanced, mature and centred.
He was in every sense, a true man.
Writing about such a wholesome hero as Ian Callaghan sometimes gives the impression that he was a stolid figure. This isn't the case. There are references in that Callaghan interview about how he liked a pint with the lads after a match and, although he never pushed the boat out too far, there was one occasion I heard Tommy Smith tell of when Callaghan ran the gaunlet of Shankly's temper.
After a particularly difficult game in Europe in which Liverpool were subjected to some heavy tackling (Standard Liege springs to mind), the team came away with a win and Shankly with one eye on the domestic programme forbad anyone from having a drink. It was a case of getting lots of rest and an early start home the next day.
Ian St John and Tommy Smith had other ideas. The boys planned a little R&R. They cajoled Cally to accompany them on the town for an illicit drinking session and sneaked out of the hotel. In the early hours the trio returned only to find that Shankly, Paisley and Ronnie Moran were waiting for them in the hotel lobby.
Shankly was incandescent with rage and as the sheepish players trudged in his rasping Scottish voice crackled on the air.
"Ian St John ! Oh, wee big man eh ? Thought I'd not found out eh ? Right. I'll fine ye a week's wages and drop ye tae the Reserves for a week. That'll teach ye, aye."
And the Saint sloped off to bed.
"Tommy Smith ! The hard man, eh ? This is not the first time ye've broken a curfew, is it ? Right, aye. I'll fine ye two weeks wages and I'll drop ye tae the Reserves for two weeks, just ye wait an' see."
And the Anfield Iron scuttled up the stairs.
When the third figure hoved into view Shankly could not believe the evidence of his own eyes.
"Callaghan ! Ian Callaghan ! Well, ye're a dark horse, ain't ye ! Just ye wait till I tell yer muther !"
Originally published at Talklfc.com