Interview: Jimmy Case

Three time European Cup winner Jimmy Case did not have a conventional introduction to professional football. Rejected by Liverpool scout Tom Saunders at the age of 14, he dropped into non-league football, only to be scouted again by Saunders and signed at the age of 17. Unwilling to turn his back on a burgeoning trade as an electrician, he insisted on signing semi-professional forms, just in case it didn’t work out. You can find out how well it worked it out by reading his autobiography, “Hard Case.”

Jimmy, what changed between your rejection at 14 and your recruitment at 17?

I was only a small guy at the age of 14, but I went away and worked on myself, I did bodybuilding. I just had to grow a bit. When I was 17, my stature was better. You see, in the schoolboys, they only took the big, rough and ready lads. I was bitterly disappointed, but when I started playing in the local leagues, when I went to play for South Liverpool, I was playing in the physical presence of men. And that’s the difference, you don’t know how you’re going to fare until you do that.

It was like Raheem Sterling when he first started. He was getting knocked about here, there and everywhere. Now, he leans in. You learn your trade. You see the same thing with Jordan Ibe now, he’s gone out and got that experience. The further you go down, the rougher it gets. The referees are a bit more lenient to a challenge. Ibe obviously flourished at Derby. Like me, he’s quickly learned how to look after himself.

Throughout your book, you repeatedly refer to Bill Shankly as ‘Mr Shankly’. Was he an intimidating figure?

Even now, I remember the first meeting with him. Just visiting the club before I started my trial…I wasn’t in awe of the players, but I was in awe of him. He was on another level. When he walked into a room…if he just said something to you, it penetrated you. He had that thing about him.

With me being a semi-professional, I used to get picked onto the staff team to play against the youngsters. So we had Bob Paisley in goal, Shanks playing out, Joe Fagan, Ronnie Moran, Roy Evans, Tom Saunders, John Bennison, and then me playing amongst them. We’d have Ray Clemence up front. He used to love playing up front and scoring goals. He had a great touch too. But when you played with Shanks, when you played on his team and he turned around and said, “Well done son!” you felt ten foot tall. It was unfortunate that I didn’t play for the first team under him, I would have loved to.

What was he like on a day to day basis?

I didn’t seem ever day. With my electricians training, I was in two mornings a week, two nights a week, and I’d work all day, every day during the week. But he would come to reserve games, he’d pop in and he’d give you loads of encouragement. Footballers are like anyone else. Some of them need a bollocking and some need a cuddle. We had good cops and bad cops. Ronnie Moran was the bad cop, Joe Fagan was the one to put his arm round you and say, what’s the problem, and talk you through the situation. Shanks though, he’d be a bit of both.

Was that one of Liverpool’s strengths? The coaching team?

I think it’s that old thing; the Liverpool way. There’s no getting carried away there. Everything was done for the supporters. But Shanks was incredible. His enthusiasm. He could talk anyone into doing anything. Paisley knew players. He’d be the one saying, “We ought to get him in.” And it all came together in the boot room.

Were you shocked when Shankly resigned?

Big time. When he left, we all said, “What’s going to happen now?” With me, I was looking to sign a full time contract. If someone else had come in from outside, it might not have happened. You put in all that work for two years in the reserves, you build your reputation to the coaches, trying to pull on that red shirt…and if somebody else had have come inm if Bob had left, it could have gone all wrong.

Bob didn’t even want the job, he said it himself. And then he won all those trophies. But it was a bombshell, an absolute bombshell, when Shanks left. It was like when Kevin said he was going, that was a bombshell too. Why would you ever want to leave Liverpool Football Club? It was beyond me.

Was there a strange atmosphere afterwards? Did anyone try and test Paisley?

No. Bob had always been there and there was the utmost respect for him. No-one tested him, everything was done the same. If you started playing up, you’d soon be shot down in flames. There’s so many things they had up their sleeves, those coaches. They knew everything that was going on. Anything that was creeping in, they were on it. But we didn’t have players who would unsettle things.The competition was rife between players for places and things like that, but everyone knew that they had to keep the team where it was and where it should be.

Did anything change at all?

Nothing. They did everything the same. We didn’t really train that much to be honest. We just kept ticking over and we played five-a-side. And a lot of the tactical stuff was left to the players. Not that we were sent out there without any particular way of playing, but they’d leave you to your own devices. What are you good at? And they’d tell you if you stopped doing it.

I remember Bob Paisley coming up to me once and saying, “Why have you stopped going at them?” I used to be direct, I used to have a sight on the near post and I’d head towards that. That’s what they put me in the first team to do. That question was a warning.

Once he came over and he said, “When’s the last time you drifted-a-one?”  That’s how he spoke. He just walked over said, “When’s the time you drifted-a-one?” And then he walked away. He wanted me to shoot a bit more. Don’t shirk the responsibility, take the opportunity and shoot. That’s what you’re there for. That’s what he was saying.

When you’re in there, in that team…if you don’t listen and you don’t take on board what the coaches say, you won’t get anywhere. Especially at that club, at that time. Bob was just putting me back on the straight and narrow. They were there to help you. Ronnie would give you a right bollocking, Joe would put an arm around you. Bob was a man of few words. But they looked after you. It was like a family.

The Leeds United players used to say the same about Don Revie with his dossiers and his organised carpet bowls nights

We didn’t have anything like that at all. Some of the lads used to read. We played cards. Snooker. Our wasn’t so much a drinking culture, but we’d go out together, we’d socialise together. But there were never any excursions or anything like that. We’d have a team building trip, so to speak, we might get taken away somewhere nice as a team, we were allowed to order an al a carte meal. We were allowed whatever we wanted to drink, things like that.  whatever you want to drink, things like that. Without getting smashed, like.

But we never really thought about dossiers or things like that. Don Revie used to play bingo and things like that.

Is it fair to say that Liverpool treated you like men and Leeds treated their players like schoolboys?

That’s fair to say, yeah. We had our own amusements, but none of your bingo stuff, we though that was a little bit, like you say., schoolboy-ish. I couldn’t imagine Tommy Smith shouting house, put it that way.

What was about this simplistic coaching that worked so well?

The FA had this coaching seminar down at Lilleshall one year. All the managers got asked to go, and Liverpool sent a delegation, Bob Paisley and Roy Evans and that. It was all based on an England team coaching scenario. I think Bob and the coaches only lasted one night. They came away saying, “It’s not for us, that.” The way they were thinking about the game, it wasn’t the same.

People used to say, what’s the secret and it’s just doing the basics well. There’s no big deal about it. Everybody complicates the game nowadays. You see players coming onto the pitch now and you see the coaches going at them, you do this, you do that, you pick him up. You can be over coached, your mind can be addled with all kinds of stuff.

When we were 2-0 down in the UEFA Cup against Bruges, I was substitute and they sent me on at half-time. I thought they were going to hit me with all these tactics, not with a dossier or anything, but just tell me what was going on and what I had to do. And the coach came over and he said, “What we want you to do, Jimmy, is to cause fucking havoc.”

I understood that to mean: I’ve got to close them down, get tackles in and upset their rhythm a bit, get the ball, win it off them and give it to our gifted players like Kevin Keegan. Which we did. And that’s how we got back in the game. That’s how we won. You can be over-coached.

Do you think Brendan Rodgers is adhering to that philosophy now?

Brendan likes to play football. We were the same. We didn’t generally play long ball. Ray Clemence tended to roll it out rather than kick it miles. The further the ball goes, the more chance there is of losing possession. That’s why we used to close the opposition down so much, in a pack, so mugh that we’d make them kick a long ball and then we’d win it back again. I think Brendan’s got that type of thing right.

But it’s more than that. It’s all about controlling the ball. ou’ve got to be able to kill it dead and not have it coming off you five or six yards. Sometimes the present day footballers, you look around the country, and they can’t control the ball. It comes to them at speed and it’s gone.

And then it’s all about passing, accuracy of passing and intelligent movement. That’s the basis of it. That’s all Brendan trying to do. When you get it all knitted together as a team unit, that’s when the lads play well. That’s when you win.

Jimmy Case’s autobiography ‘Hard Case’ is out now. You can read a review and order a copy here.

Interview: Jimmy Case
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