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Case history

Case history

IT'S a beautiful day in Bashley and the local football team is receiving the benefit of His Master's Voice. As he prowls outside the dugout, his thick Scouse tones reverberate around the Recreation Ground: "Push up, PUSH UP! Watch the ball WATCH IT!" Then the constant "Talking! Talking! TALKING!" as he reminds his players of the need to communicate.

You always hear Jimmy Case before you see him at Bashley on match day.

And it only requires a cursory scan of the sparse crowd to spot the prominent nose, the trademark moustache and hearing aids.

Jimmy Case, Bashley's director of football, is totally engrossed. Yet there's no frustration. No hysterics. And no swearing that I heard. Just a constant stream of advice and encouragement.

Looking at him, it was impossible to avoid flashbacks of yesteryear.

The swaying, massed humanity packed into the old Kop terrace at Liverpool chanting Jimmy's name; that wonderful night in Rome's Olympic Stadium when he took his turn to hold aloft the European Cup; and his true grit at the Dell where the Archer's End bestowed cult status upon him.

Reality, in the form of a Jimmy quip, cut short the nostalgia trip.

"Number eight's throwing his weight around ref and he's got enough of it!"

Laughs all round and Jimmy wanders over to say hello.

"We've got a couple of new lads in today I like to talk them through the game," he says. And then he's back to the touchline telling "Robbo" why a hopeful boot upfield is unlikely to break the deadlock.

I had met Jimmy five days earlier at Southampton's Hilton Hotel, where he uses the gym and relaxes with his wife of 23 years, Lana.

Casual in jeans and open shirt, he appeared in the foyer with one hand clutching a gym bag and the other outstretched in welcome.

He is 46 next month and his 5ft 9in frame is in excellent shape.

"You can ask me about anything," was the first thing he said, sinking into a sofa. "Just fire away."

Jimmy is, as work colleagues had stated, perfectly at ease in company. He has a comfortable body language and he acknowledged all hotel guests who smiled in his direction.

Jimmy is also, as colleagues further observe, funny, dry, witty and full of anecdotes.

Yet it's his unnerving modesty which strikes you. And his thoughtful, almost philosophical, interpretation of his life-experiences.

James Robert Case was born and raised with two brothers and a sister on a Liverpool council estate down by the docks.

Eight-year-old Jimmy idolised the Brazilian soccer star Tostao, and a teacher was the first to spot the lad's own latent talent when he saw him kicking a tennis ball around the playground.

Jimmy soon graduated through the school teams before joining a tough dockers outfit, Blue Union, at the age of 17. Even then, playing against the city's hard men, young Case developed a reputation for aggressive, determined displays.

When Jimmy left school he served an apprenticeship as an electrician.

The big-time beckoned when Liverpool asked him to join them but he turned down the offer. "I know that sounds daft but I wanted to have something to fall back on," he said, seeing my furrowed brow.

"I might have only been there a short time and not made the grade, so I wanted to finish my electrician's training."

He did, however, sign part-time in 1972 and played for the reserves while still an electrician.

It was two years later, at the age of 20 and on less than £100 a week, that Jimmy Case made his Liverpool debut against Queens Park Rangers.

The transition from terrace to Kop idol is relayed in a profoundly matter-of-fact way and he again notices my surprise.

"It didn't really sink in then," he acknowledges. Yet it was a great moment, he remembers, when Tommy Smith, the Liverpool hard man, invited him into the first team dressing room.

"Up until then I was on the fringe of the first team and used a dressing room on the other side of the corridor. Suddenly I had a peg next to Ian Callaghan and Phil Thompson. It was mind-blowing, really."

Wasn't he overawed, plagued by self-doubt, fearful first of supremo Bill Shankly and then his successor Bob Paisley

"No. I have always had the ability to worry about very little. In any case, the Liverpool crowd are so knowledgeable and always get behind those players giving 100 per cent. So I just fell in line and tried to improve with each game."

Jimmy evolved into a tough, uncompromising tackler blessed with a great shot and a creative brain. He also had an intimidating presence, and I ask him why ex-Liverpool boss Joe Fagan once described him as "the quiet one you had to watch".

Jimmy's laughing again. "The secret was never to say anything to another player if he hurt you. I'd just remain expressionless and then I'd quietly catch up with the player later on". His grin is mischievous, the eyes are flashing, and the man who took no prisoners on the pitch is with us.

Then reflective Jimmy returns. "The reputation thing is because I am basically a quiet man and those types of people are hard to fathom sometimes. I actually think a great deal about things and off the pitch I'm far removed from the aggressive, do-or-die footballer."

Let's talk about his Liverpool achievements, I suggest.

I read him the list and he nods along: Four league title gongs, one League Cup winner medal, one UEFA cup medal (1976) and three European Cup winners' medals in 1977, 1978 and 1981.

I push for the highlight. "Oh 1977, definitely," he replies. "That first European Cup win against Borussia Moenchengladbach in Rome was the pinnacle. We had just lost in the FA Cup Final at Wembley yet we picked ourselves up to win. A fantastic atmosphere too. Just a sea of red and white."

Without a hint of a brag, he adds casually: "I always used to take the medals home for mum and dad and there would be two at a time some weeks. But some we called The Decent Ones such as the European medals."

He then reveals this gem: his dad, now 78 and still living in Liverpool, used to keep the medal haul in a Tesco bag up in his loft with old tyres and assorted rubbish. Today they are, thankfully, safe in a bank.

We laugh.

A familiar question has to be asked: Yes, he replies, perhaps he was unlucky to be overlooked for England honours. (He played just one game for the under-23s, and never made the full team.)

"At that time Steve Coppell played in my wide position for Manchester United. He got the England call and that was fine. I was so wrapped up playing for Liverpool and I played a lot at Wembley, so I can't complain."

After seven seasons at Liverpool he joined Brighton for £350,000 in 1981 and helped get them to the FA Cup Final two years later.

But he was to lose in an FA Cup Final for the second time - and once again to Manchester United.

"My mum passed away that night," he said suddenly. "And that put everything else into perspective."

When Brighton were relegated, Lawrie McMenemy lured Jimmy to Southampton in 1985. The rumour was his legs had gone but Jimmy stayed for six years and played 262 games. He became captain, was Saints Player of the Year in 1989-90 and is widely credited with accelerating the progress of players like Alan Shearer and Matt Le Tissier, who in turn idolised him.

But when new Saints boss Ian Branfoot arrived in 1991, Jimmy was shown the door. The fans never forgave the manager, and to this day the subject infuriates them.

Spells with AFC Bournemouth, Halifax, Darlington, Wrexham and Sittingbourne followed, as well as a stint in Australia.

Jimmy then rejoined Brighton under Liam Brady as player-coach and got his first taste of management when Brady left. But Brighton were in turmoil and he stayed just one year in the hotseat.

He played his last professional game at 42 before Bashley, a small village club with big plans, put in an audacious bid for his services in 1997. Jimmy joined as manager, and in between marking out the pitch and sorting kit, almost clinched promotion in his first season.

Times have been difficult for Bashley in recent years yet Jimmy continues to rebuild the squad and enjoy the talent-spotting aspect of his work. He cultivated Bashley teenager Wade Elliott and recently sold him to AFC Bournemouth, a deal which clearly gave him immense pleasure.

Meanwhile, Jimmy found himself on the Bashley subs bench last year at the tender age of 44 and he continues to have occasional bust-ups with referees. (He once tucked a pencil in his sock in readiness to be booked, which had the crowd in stitches).

He still clearly loves the cutting remarks and banter that is part and parcel of the charity games he restricts himself to these days.

"I'm just as enthusiastic and the buzz of constructing the Bashley team is the same at this level as any other," he says. "There is also no stress here, which cannot be said for my friends in professional management."

Could he ever be lured back into the professional game "I would certainly never rule it out. I will keep my options open and see what happens."

Jimmy is also a part-time van driver for a stationery firm these days and agrees he's content with his lot.

He says he doesn't regret not playing in today's money-mad climate with a wage fixed, say, between Beckham's £20,000 a week and Roy Keane's £52,000.

I actually believe him.

"I didn't have that sort of cash but I have the medals," says Jimmy. "And I feel sorry for the players today because they are analysed such a lot.We could go out and socialise and it wasn't such a problem as it is now. No, I'm happy. I'm not a millionaire but I've got a nice house and a wonderful family."

As if on cue, his beaming wife Lana appears en route to the hotel gym.

I first met her last year at a Saints reunion dinner in Southampton, and she is as warm, friendly and down to earth as her husband.

The couple first met in Liverpool in 1970 and were married seven years later. They have lived in Chandler's Ford for the past 16 years and have two children, 19-year-old Emma and Jodie, 15.

Lana is a helper at Scantabout School in Chandler's Ford where their children attended.

Jimmy is quick to acknowledge the importance of his marriage in his achievements. "She is my rock," he says simply. "Lana has kept my feet on the ground."

Time's up and he is itching to join her in the gym. He rises, hand outstretched.

It's a curiously refreshing experience talking to Jimmy Case. Why Perhaps because he has reached the very top, yet managed to remain gracious, rather humble and, above all, grateful.

He was, after all, expecting to be an electrician and part-time player, so the rest was a bonus and he has never forgotten it.

Jimmy Case has also been true to himself. Not for him the slating of fellow pros - not even Ian Branfoot. Not for him the vain fashion statements of the current crop - instead, two hearing aids because he's been going deaf since his 30s.

As a result, his unassuming decency has deepened the universal regard for him in a way that the publicity-seeking players of today must envy.

In short, few genuine stars have been so untroubled by past glory, so level-headed about achievement, and so comfortable with transition into a post-stardom phase of life.

And so the fans' perception of him is 100 per cent accurate: He was one of them - and he still is. Liverpool's glorious citadel of Anfield really is the same as Bashley's modest Recreation Ground to Jimmy Case. He is simply interested in football, in being involved. That's why he offered to play on half wages at cash-strapped Bournemouth so he could stay longer. That's why it could be Wembley or the local park yet the same menacing glare and crunching tackle would be faithfully brought out, dusted down, and enthusiastically deployed.

In this respect, Jimmy Case reminds us of something which today's game has somehow lost. When football propelled itself into the salary stratosphere, genuine love of the game became over- shadowed by corporate greed, ludicrous wage demands, and the personal excesses of showbiz soccer.

Jimmy, meanwhile, has always known who he is and has happily let others construct dangerous worlds of illusion around them.

He summed it up thus: "I'm just happy if I'm fly fishing at Mottisfont. It's so peaceful and I can think for hours down there. I love watching the world go by - and what's wrong with that"

Nothing, Jimmy. Absolutely nothing.

Copyright - Southern Daily Echo

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