Ian Callaghan – still going strong
Long after the light has faded for many of his old friends who ave drifted away into the dark shadows of retirement, Ian Callaghan is skipping along and looking forward to several bright new tomorrows.
He is 37, an enduring star throughout the ‘sixties and ‘seventees, with an appetite for football that remain undiminished after almost 1,000 first-team appearances for Liverpool, England and Swansea City.
He is a MBE, was England’s Footballer of the Year in 1974 and over the years has collected enough silverware to open a pitch in Hatton Garden if ever times should become hard.
There is little sign of that Callaghan still trains like a demon and makes a round trip of 500 miles from is home just north of Liverpool to play for Swansea. Although he will be 38 in April, the thrill of the action is just as intense as when he made his debut for Liverpool in 1960. He was a winger then but the last few seasons have been spent in midfield.
He tells me, rushing his words with genuine enthusiasm: “The kicks are just the same. I still get nervous before matches.
“I still get a thrill out of winning. The feeling when Swansea won promotion at the end of last season was something fantastic.
“I have never felt tired, which is supposed to be the first worrying sign for a footballer getting on. After a match at Swansea I get into the car and drive home to Liverpool, arriving about 9.30, I go out with Linda, my wife, for a meal or a drink.
“If I felt tired I would just want to stay in. I just take each match as it comes and look forward to every one.
“People like Bobby Charlton and Geoff Strong have warned me not to pack in too soon. I know that Geoff had a bad time adjusting to business life once he had quit.
“I know it will be no easier for me, no matter how I try to prepare myself for the end. It will be like leaving school again. For football is really all I have ever known since I was a lad.
“At the moment I think I am benefiting from playing all the year round. Last summer I was in Australia and the year before that it was the U.S.
“I am sure this is a help to older players like me. I do not have to subject myself to the very hard slog of training that comes to English League players in the pre-season.”
Callaghan is in his second winter at Swansea, where he plays under his old Anfield pal, John Toshack. They have a fine understanding and it was Toshack’s influence that persuaded him to make the move.
“I came back from the summer in America aware that Liverpool were looking for young players,” says Ian.
“Other clubs were interested in me but Bob Paisley offered me a new improved contract and said that he wanted me to stay. Yet something told me that I might, at last, have to move to get the regular satisfaction of helping a team.”
He found that with Swansea, although his relationship with Toshack was strained briefly recently when Callaghan was hauled off the pitch and the substitute was sent on. Toshack says: “Ian is doing a great job for us, but this particular day he wasn’t getting into the game.
“Because of what he stands for in the game, and because he has always given more than 100 per cent, it really hurt me to have to take him off.
“He came and sat next to me in the dug-out for the last half-hour and never said a word. He wasn’t speaking to me. At the end he got in his car and went home without even saying ‘cheerio.’
“Anyway I phoned him at home in Liverpool during the week and I said, ‘Listen, Cally, I didn’t enjoy doing that to you.’
“And he said: ‘I know. You were right. You should have pulled me off earlier.’”
Callaghan still trains with his old Liverpool colleagues. The memories there are rich indeed. Throughout his career he was booked only once as a Liverpool player and that was right at the end in a League Cup Final reply against Forest.
A referee who had sensed that tempers were rising decided to produce the yellow card when Callaghan made an awkward challenge on Peter Withe.
“Throughout my career people have always kept me informed about the number of games I have played and the goals I have scored.
“I never have any idea myself, but that booking was certainly a statistic I could do without.”
Callaghan is a gentleman of the rat-race. He walks away from trouble, and even those cheeky upstarts of the Third Division provoked nothing more than a wry smile when they called him a “has been” or an “old man,” when he first joined Swansea.
Now there is nothing but respect for his fitness, his football and his reputation. Down the years he has won five First Division Championship medals, plus F.A. Cup, European Cup and UEFA medals. He played for England in 1966 and not chosen again until Ron Greenwood picked him 11 years later in 1977 in a forlorn bid to resuscitate England’s World Cup chances.
Liverpool were in Middlesbrough for a midweek match when Greenwood visited them. He told manager Bob Paisley that he would like to meet all the English born players as he felt he could build an immediate England team around them.
“I did not think he was interested in me, Callaghan recalled, “and’ I probably would not have gone to the meeting until the trainer told me to be there.
“You could have floored me when I was chosen to play.”
Memories all … but he loved the Liverpool FA Cup Final against Leeds in 1965 as the most unforgettable moment of all. It was his first experience of Wembley, and in extra time he drove over the cross that Ian St. John battered past Gary Sprake, to give Anfield the Cup.
he was a vital member of that great team and when Bill Shankly broke them up and created a second fine side he kept Callaghan in there. Since then a third marvellous side has evolved and he was there as a star at the launching.
Shankly once said: “Ian Callaghan is more than a great footballer – he is an example to every young lad starting off in the game. He has done nothing but heap credit upon himself since he started playing.”
Those words hold good today. May they continue to do so through the ‘eighties.
Copyright - Sunday Express by James Mossop, 23-12-1979 - transcribed by Kjell Hanssen