As anyone who’s ever taken part in a pub quiz in the last nine years knows, Steve Finnan was the last footballer who went on from the English non-league grind to win the European Cup. But he had a predecessor, and at the same club no less. Jimmy Case, once of Northern Premier League side South Liverpool, made the same journey. But he won the European Cup three times.
Case, a combative right-sided fiery bastard of a midfielder with a penchant for thunderbastards, was a local boy and had already been turned down by legendary Liverpool scout Tom Saunders, as well as Burnley. But his tenacity in the backwaters of football brought him to Saunders’ attention once again and this time he made the right impression.
Awarded a two year contract by Bill Shankly, a man referred to throughout as Mr Shankly, Case insisted on continuing his apprenticeship as an electrician, just in case it didn’t work out. Given that a recent survey stated that only 4% of scholars signed at 16 are still playing at 18, there might be a lesson there.
Case’s autobiography is, like all the other Liverpool books, a collection of familiar characters and familiar anecdotes. Bob Paisley’s teamtalk in Rome: “Last time I was in Rome, I was on a bloody tank.” Shankly on a shy player who disallowed his goal in training: “Chris! You’ve been here ten years and you don’t say a fucking word and when you finally do say something, it’s a fucking lie!”
There aren’t too many new stories from the Liverpool era, but the mystery of Kevin Keegan’s infamous black eye is at least cleared up in glorious style. Rumour had it that Case, disgusted with Keegan’s performance in the 1977 FA Cup Final and convinced that he was saving himself for the forthcoming European Cup Final, had punched his team-mate in the face. Au contraire, says Case.
“Some of the press lads were milling around the hotel pool. We didn’t always get on with the press, especially the London boys, because they only ever came up to see us get beat. Anyway, some of the lads grabbed hold of one of them, it might have been Jeff Powell or Steve Currie, and they decided to throw him in the pool. As it was kicking off, Phil Neal’s elbow came up and caught Kevin in the eye. It was as simple as that.”
For much of the book though, it’s the usual fare of after-dinner speaker tales, rolled off with enthusiasm and charm admittedly, but hardly breaking new ground in our understanding of the era or the reasons for Liverpool’s extraordinary run of success.
However, the book starts to shine when Case recounts the events leading up to his removal from Liverpool. The drinking, the fights and the spectacular rows with journalists, including the aforementioned Powell and Currie again, the poor sods. Case believes, and with some justification, that the Anfield boot room had taken note of his behaviour and had decided that his time at the club was up. It is not said in so many words, but if you are looking for reasons for Liverpool’s dominance, ruthlessness would be one of them. Sold off to free up funds for Mark Lawrenson, Case is banished with heavy heart to Brighton.
There are a few inaccuracies. Liverpool didn’t lose the title in 1975 to Brian Clough’s Derby, it was Dave Mackay’s Derby. Nor did Case make an impression on his debut for Southampton in 1985 by wiping out Tottenham’s Gary Lineker. Lineker only signed for Spurs in 1989.
Nevertheless, it’s an enthusiastic and honest read, and a reminder of a time when even signing for Liverpool wasn’t enough to make you quit your day job.