Whelan's background always made it likely that he would be successful in the sport as it had become something of a tradition in the family. His father was an Irish international and his younger brother Paul also played in the League of Ireland for many years. Dublin-born Ronnie impressed as a youth with Home Farm in the city of his birth, Dublin. A number of English clubs showed interest including Manchester United where he was a trainee but it was Liverpool who made a definite move shortly before the youngster's eighteenth birthday and signed him on 19 September 1979 for £35,000. Like many young players brought to the club by Paisley Whelan had to be patient for his chance to show that he was worth a place in the team. That chance eventually came two days after Liverpool had won the League Cup for the first time on April Fools' Day 1981. Whelan replacing Ray Kennedy was the only change from the cup-winning team, that had defeated West Ham in the Villa Park replay, when Stoke City were the visitors to Anfield. Whelan slotted easily into the side and even surged forward just before the half-hour mark to calmly slip a shot past Stoke 'keeper Peter Fox.
Whelan did not play for Liverpool's first team again that season but when Ray Kennedy was sold to Swansea in January 1982 he saw off challenger Kevin Sheedy and it was soon clear that Whelan would be a very capable successor, not just with his positional sense and reading of the game but also with his contribution in terms of the goals he could score and make. After sitting uncomfortably halfway down the table at New Year, an astonishing run of 11 successive first division victories between 9 March and 1 May 1982 helped propel the team to a most unlikely championship success. Whelan played in all eleven of those wins, scoring four times, and he also scored the goal that effectively wrapped up the title in the final home game against Tottenham, who had already suffered the "Whelan factor" when he scored twice against them in the League Cup final at Wembley in March. Many expected Whelan to become one of the game's greats with the fantastic start he made to his career. He may have developed into a less spectacular player than expected but he was still a damn good one.
And when those special matches come round and there are medals to be won and the pundits are asking whether the match winner will be Rushy or Kenny or Brucie, then I look past them all towards Ronnie Whelan and think to myself: 'There's our man for the big occasion." - Bob Paisley
During the next eight seasons that ended in a different decade, Whelan played for Liverpool's first team nearly 400 times and scored 54 goals. He really matured as a footballer during this period and continued to regularly add medals and Irish caps to his collection. His intelligent play profited those around him, by controlling the tempo of the game and he was capable of the extraordinary when the team needed it the most. Who can forget his curler against Manchester United in the Wembley League Cup final in 1983 and the belter against United as well in the FA Cup semi-final at Goodison Park in 1985? Whelan had clearly an eye for the spectacular when playing Manchester United as his chipped backpass from 30 yards sailed over Bruce Grobbelaar and into his own net on 18 March 1990. To date, it is considered by many one of the most bizarre own goals in top-flight history. Whelan moved into a more central midfield role after John Barnes arrived in 1987 and prospered alongside him with greater responsibility and this increased when he was made captain in 1988/89. Whelan's proudest moment came when he went up the Wembley steps to receive the FA Cup after Liverpool's thrilling 3-2 extra-time victory over Everton in May 1989. "A lot of people said I would be on my way when John Barnes came but Kenny moved me back into the centre," Whelan noted. "That was my best years. I loved playing in the centre. I loved being involved all the time, although I didn't score as many goals because I was more defensive and Macca did the runs forward. I knew I was there to win the ball back and give it to the likes of Beardsley and Barnes. I didn't try to do anything spectacular. I couldn't dribble. I was a good passer of the ball. I could read the game well. I could break up attacks and start them off very quickly. The managers and the players appreciated the job more than some of the supporters."
The 29-year-old Whelan was out with a fractured shin when Graeme Souness succeeded Kenny Dalglish as manager and was sidelined for seven months with a knee injury in the 1991/92 season. The Dubliner scored a dramatic late equaliser at Highbury to earn a replay with Portsmouth at the semi-final stage of the FA Cup in April 1992. Although he played in the Villa Park replay, which Liverpool won on penalties, Whelan missed the final against Sunderland because of injury, again. It was by now the same old story in the 1992/93 and 1993/94 seasons. Whelan was a regular from the start of the season until he got injured come September/October and didn't return until February/March. Souness had an uneasy tenure as a manager which finally came to an end and Roy Evans' reign began. "The injuries didn't help me. Every time I got fit I'd get another injury. It was just non-stop for four years," Whelan said. "When I was fit I didn't play too many games. I was a bit disappointed with Souey when he took the club captaincy off me and gave it to Mark Wright. I'd worn the number five shirt for so many years and when the names and squad numbers were introduced I got number 12. It doesn't make you think you're wanted that much in the team. All in all it wasn't great for me the last few years." If Whelan's final four seasons at Anfield were not successful in terms of injuries received, games played and medals gained, nobody can be in any doubt that between 1981 and 1990 Ronnie Whelan was a hugely influential part of a very successful squad of players, success that brought him no fewer than six League Championship medals as well as winners' medals in six major cup competitions. two in the FA Cup, three in the League Cup and one on the European stage when Liverpool went into the Lions' Den in Rome in 1984 to take the giant trophy away from the Roman hordes who mistakenly believed they only had to turn up to witness victory.
Shortly into the 1994/95 season Whelan moved to Southend United to become their player-manager following his contract expiry with Liverpool in the summer. After his retirement as a player in 1996, he coached Panionios in Greece and Apollon Limassol and Olympiakos Nicosia in Cyprus. His finest achievement in management was taking Panionios to the quarter-finals of the European Cup Winners' Cup, at which stage they were soundly beaten by Lazio 7-0 on aggregate.
"I was playing ever since I was 15 at Home Farm in Ireland but every school holiday I was playing for Manchester United as a trainee. Manchester United offered me an apprenticeship but I wanted to finish school and the year I finished school I went to Celtic in Scotland for a trial where I was going to be signed up. I wanted to play in England despite even Dundalk wanting to sign me up also. I went to Liverpool in the summer for a two-week trial and by June-July they decided they wanted to keep me. I was pretty nervous about going there but my dad told me I might as well start at the top!"
|15||West Ham United|
|7||Brighton & Hove Albion|
|4||West Ham United|
|200||29.10.1985||Brighton & Hove Albion||Anfield||League Cup|
|450||11.04.1992||Aston Villa||Villa Park||League|
|50||78||04.01.1986||Norwich City||Anfield||FA Cup|
The Irish Kop is a tribute from the heart of Anfield to those amazing fans who go to incredible lengths to follow Liverpool FC.
Match report from British Soccer Week on Liverpool - Portsmouth on 05.04.1992.
Duel between Peter Beardsley and Neil Ruddock ended in Beardsley fracturing his cheekbone in three places in Ronnie Whelan's testimonial. From "British Soccer Week 19.08.1993.
Match report from The Daily Mirror on 03.09.1985.
Match report from News of the world on 12.04.1986.
Bob Paisley looked to one player on the big occasion.
Ronnie Whelan featured in Star Spot in Match in 1985.
I was playing ever since I was 15 at Home Farm in Ireland but every school holiday I was playing for Manchester United as a trainee. Manchester United offered me an apprenticeship but I wanted to finish school and the year I finished school I went to Celtic in Scotland for a trial where I was going to be signed up.
I wanted to play in England despite even Dundalk wanting to sign me up also. The manager of Dundalk approached Liverpool and told them that I may be the player they're looking for. So I went to Liverpool in the summer for a 2-week trial and by June-July they decided they wanted to keep me. I was pretty nervous about going there but my dad told me I might as well start at the top!
Ronnie Whelan in an interview by Malta's LFC supporters club
"Came over from Ireland as a young boy at 18 years of age. Scored on his debut against Stoke City I think and just carried on from there. A good goalscorer, good passer and good runner. A determined and hard midfield player who was very underrated."
Kenny Dalglish on Ronnie Whelan
"The Spurs fans were already toasting their victory when Ronnie Whelan popped up and whipped his goal in to equalize in the dying seconds. It took a good player to do that because Ray Clemence was still a great goalkeeper, he’d kept Spurs in the game.
Paisley would not let us sit down before extra time started. He was bellowing: ‘Get up off your feet, don’t them let them see you are tired.’ It stemmed from Shankly, who would never let an opponent see that you were weak. After that, we felt we had it in the bag."
Phil Neal on the 1982 Milk Cup final vs. Tottenham
"The injuries didn't help me. Every time I got fit I'd get another injury. It was just non-stop for four years. When I was fit I didn't play too many games. I was a bit disappointed with Souey when he took the club captaincy off me and gave it to Mark Wright. I'd worn the number five shirt for so many years and when the names and squad numbers were introduced I got number 12. It doesn't make you think you're wanted that much in the team. All in all it wasn't great for me the last few years."
Ronnie Whelan on his last years at Liverpool
"A lot of people said I would be on my way when John Barnes came but Kenny moved me back into the centre. That was my best years. I loved playing in the centre. I loved being involved all the time, although I didn't score as many goals because I was more defensive and Macca did the runs forward. I knew I was there to win the ball back and give it to the likes of Beardsley and Barnes. And I knew when I played on the left side of midfield it was more of a holding job and maybe get around the back and score a few goals.
I did the job they wanted me to do. I didn't try to do anything spectacular. I couldn't dribble. I was a good passer of the ball. I could read the game well. I could break up attacks and start them off very quickly. The managers and the players appreciated the job more than some of the supporters."
Ronnie Whelan on his role at Liverpool
Over the course of a decade, Whelan made the transition from thrusting inside forward to holding midfield player, executing every role asked of him with class. It's the goals most people remember, the two that saw off Tottenham in the 1982 League Cup final and curling the ball into the Manchester United net at Wembley on the way to winning the same trophy a year later. Yet there was so much more to Whelan who, almost more than any other player I've seen in a red shirt, understood how to control the tempo of a game.
Tony Evans from Times online captures the essence of Ronnie Whelan
|Club||Season||Club rank||League apps||League goals||Total apps||Total goals|
|Home Farm||1976-1979||League of Ireland||0||0||0||0|
|Southend||1994-1995||England First Division||33||1||34||1|
|Southend||1995-1996||England First Division||1||0||1||0|