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Johnny Loves...John Aldridge

If I was to ask you who the greatest goalscorer these islands have produced since the war, chances are the name John Aldridge would not even be on your list. You'd be giving me the likes of Lineker, Shearer, even Steve Bull maybe but not Aldridge. However, the fact is that in 882 career appearances he scored a record 474 goals.

No-one thinks of Aldo. He's been forgotten somehow. But he was THE man when it came to sticking it in the net in the 80s and 90s and he did it at all levels from his days at South Liverpool right up to World Cups. He was even a big success in Spain, the first non-Basque players to play for the Real Sociedad. He was the very definition of a goal machine. If you wanted a finisher to rely on you got Aldo in. He never had a bad season. Not one.

It's a bitter irony that he's probably most remembered for his penalty miss in the 1988 Cup Final against Wimbledon (the first penalty ever missed in a cup final) because that season - his first full one at Liverpool - had been a massive success.

He'd been bought from Oxford United (can you imagine Liverpool's number 9 being bought from Oxford today?) to replace the prolific Ian Rush, who had gone to Juventus.

Comically with the same dark hair and tache combo so beloved by Scousers in the 80s, Aldo even looked a bit like Rushie. Then again, so did most men in their 20s on Merseyside at the time.

He had that essential, instinctive ability to find space where no space seemed to exist, finding just enough to get to the ball ahead of the defender. He had a super cool temperament, often placing rather than blasting the ball. And he was possibly the finest header of a ball that decade saw.

Just behind that cup final miss in the public memory is the sight of him screaming abuse at an official at the 1994 USA World Cup as he struggled to get on the pitch as a substitute. It was a magnificent incident that only increased his legendary status.

He wasn't an athlete. Back in the 80s and early 90s, you didn't need to be an athlete at the top level, you needed to be tough and Aldo was as tough as old boots. For a number 9 who took his fair share of crunching tackles in the era that was noted for its physicality, he was hardly ever injured, playing an average of 38 games every season for 18 years.

Aldridge was part of that last generation of footballers who, despite being at the top of his career and a legend in his own lifetime, was still a man of the people.

He didn't turn professional until he was nearly 21. In other words, he'd lived a normal life. He hadn't been pampered in the bosom of a big club since the age of nine. He joined Newport County in 1979, then in the fourth division. Within two years they'd got promoted and, incredibly, reached the quarter-final of the European Cup Winners' Cup after winning the Welsh Cup the previous season. It was a much more democratic era.

His transfer for a whopping £78,000 to Third Division Oxford United in 1984 hadn't made much impact in the football world but quickly he started to be noticed. The man was on the score sheet almost every week. In two-and-a-half seasons he scored 72 goals in 114 games; a goal every game and half and consequently the team was promoted in consecutive seasons, reaching the first division for the 1985-86 season, a season that saw them win the League Cup.

As one of the top strikers in the league and with Rush leaving, it shouldn't have been surprising that Aldridge signed for Dalglish for £750,000 in January 1987 but it was. He was not really high profile and there was considerable doubt that he would be able to fill Rush's illustrious boots at such a big club. And until Rush left that summer he didn't get a lot of chances to prove himself. But the following season was a cracker as he bagged 26 goals in a rampaging Liverpool side that was one of the most exciting ever seen with Beardsley and Barnes providing Aldo with the ammunition.

When Rush returned the following year, having found Italy to be a foreign country full of people who don't speak English, he struggled to get back into the side with Aldo on such good form.

It still seems odd that Liverpool sold him in 1989 for a million quid to John Toshack's Real Sociedad. Aldo scored a goal every 1.6 games and though by then he was 30, still had a couple of good years in him.

His final appearance was the stuff of legend. The 9-0 caning of Crystal Palace during which he came on as a sub, throwing his shirt and boots into the crowd at the end.

Aldo kept banging them in regardless of what country he was playing in - 40 in 63 in Spain before returning to Tranmere, where he promptly knocked in 40 during his first season. What a player. He was to tally up 138 goals in 242 games at Prenton Park, going on to be manager during some epic cup runs.

Aldo's era was the time just before the big money really kicked in. The era when players did not lead a life utterly removed from our own experiences. Aldo was and of course still is a genuine, regular bloke who just happened to be the finest goalscorer of his generation. Not for him the movie star's lifestyle and the pop star girlfriends. And that almost certainly accounts for the affection he is still held in on Merseyside and in the football world more broadly. His post-Hillsborough work when he attended many funerals has not been forgotten either.

A good illustration of the affection in which he is held came on a 5live discussion show being held in a pub in Liverpool earlier this year. He was due to appear in the second half of the show but half-way through the first section, you could tell that he'd arrived because the whole audience suddenly erupted into cries of 'Aldo! Aldo!' as he walked in. It was easy to imagine the big fella grinning in that slightly wicked way of his and taking his adulation with good grace.

You can't imagine that happening to many top players today ten years after their retirement.

Hugely successful, a true unsung great of the British game and a thoroughly decent man as well, that's John Aldridge: legend.

Copyright - John Nicholson Football 365

Your Comments
McFunkalot
"felderkirk, Carra does run Aldo close in terms of being the man and a representative of the kop on the pitch with a sprinkling of scally. In my honest opinion, i think Fowler surpasses both. A lot of similarities between Aldo and God though. love 'em both"

mgaffney
"What a great Pro, never on the front of the paper for wrong reasons normally on the bag pages for the right reasons putting the ball in the net. Agree with article one of the deadliest finishers ever in the game but the most underrated player ever in English football. True great, shame about his stint with Tranmere he did great in the cups just unfortunate that the club hadn't got the money to sustain a challenge to get into Premiership & eventually they went down into League 1 because of the lack of funds available to Aldo."

totalfootball
"Aldo was great, and so were Greaves, Chivers, Gilzean, Hector, Toshack, Clarke, Osgood etc."

felderkirk
"Totally agree with Ezy_Rider - not just for the pro-Liverpool comments but for Aldo's ruffling of Brian Laws's hair! I remember that well and always thought it was a bit cheeky. But then, you could get away with stuff like that back in those days - nowadays you'd probably be booked! Aldo's the man. And possibly more so than anyone who has ever pulled on a red shirt, he was the Kop's representative on the pitch. Carra pushes him all the way, but Aldo had a touch of the scally about him."

kevLFC14
"Aldo aldo I was luck enough to see the team talked about in this story with my own eye's I was a season ticket holder from 86-87 to 89-90 and barnes beardsley hansen and ALDO where the spine of that great side of course Dalglish wasn't bad either when he played but Aldo deffo knew where the goal was and how to get to it"

dude
"Was on holidays in Malta in 91. Aldo was there with his family. What great lad, and I am a united fan. Everyday he was running up hills in the mid day heat. He also told me a great story about leaving Liverpool for Sociedad. 'They told me they transferred me. I told them no you didn't. I am going nowhere unless you make it worth my while.' Liverpool ended up paying him to go. His family was in Liverpool he had no desire to go. Good for him. Met him then in NY in 94. Super lad Super player."

JD_Quench
"He filled the goalscoring, big nose and moustache void left by the (temporary) departure of Ian Rush from Anfield. But what I remember him for was his no-nonsense, spot-on prediction of David Beckham's move away from Old Trafford in 2003; "There's only one club that David Beckham can leave Manchester United for, and that's Real Madrid or Barcelona." Makes you wonder why he doesn't do more punditry work than he does..."

tripleg
"Spot on, man of the people he still is, I met him in Athens the day of the CL final in 2006, he was giving an interview in an apartment above a bar when a bunch of fans (including myself)asked him to come down and have a drink with us.A minute later, there he was chatting away with us, getting his photo taken, soaking it up just the same as the rest of us...top fella !"

howlong
"Spot on Ezy_Rider, that team was one of the finest club teams ever but will never get the true recognition because they never got to prove themselves in europe due to the ban. "

brucemole
"great player, all the more likeable for his rapport with the fans his barney with the linesman in the WC in America was top notch too"

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