The second in our series of LFC Greatests explores some of the finest defenders ever to grace the game, and we had them. We’ve been blessed with some truly great centre-halves so as you can imagine, getting five down on paper was hard enough but then to rank them was an altogether different problem which had us dithering and pontificating for, like, loads of minutes…
Here we go.
5 – Phil ‘Thommo’ Thompson
Thommo is as red as they come having stood on the Kop as a skinny kid to leading the side to European Cup glory and ultimately managing during Houllier’s recovery period.
He was a new breed of centre-half; a midfielder-turned-defender who didn’t just head the ball clear but brought it out of defence with poise and finesse. It was almost by chance that Shanks stuck him alongside Hughes and is partnership with Crazy Horse became one of the finest we’ve ever had; epitomised by just 16 goals conceded in 1978-79.
Famously he took the European Cup back to his local ale house in Kirkby before sleeping with it under his bed that night and he still lives and breathes LFC. Who could forget him losing it completely during Sky’s Istanbul commentary and bashing the perspex screen as if to urge ‘Come on lads!’
Simply one of us.
4 – Sami Hyypia
An incredible player, a wonderful man, and someone who should be brought home to coach the next generation of Liverpool defenders – just imagine what the likes of Coates, Kelly and Wisdom could learn from him.
Surely one of English football’s best bargain signings, Sami turned down the opportunity to play in the Champions League with little Willem II having played a pivotal role in getting them there to instead join Houllier’s Anfield revolution and he quickly established himself as a world-class centre-back.
In 2001, Sami was our rock as we picked up five trophies in six months and he went on to play every minute of 57 consecutive European competition games for the Reds between November 2001 and February 2006, including Istanbul.
With more appearances than Ron Yeats, a habit of popping up with crucial goals in big games (Juve and Arsenal in the Champions League spring to mind) and the regard in which he holds Liverpool with mutual feeling, Sami is a no-brainer in our top five.
3 – Mark Lawrenson
These days it seems easier to dislike Lawro with his pundit persona, disdainful tone and continuous slips of the tongue. But as a player – what a player.
He had pace in abundance, awareness, strength in the tackle and could bring the ball forward with ease. His partnership at the back with Hansen was arguably the greatest in LFC history, providing the foundation for numerous league titles, League Cup domination and Big Ears no.4 against Roma in their own back yard.
For a couple of seasons, Lawrenson was the best in the world and a truly shrewd Paisley signing. Teams would often sit back against us but we countered it by Lawrenson or Jocky starting quick moves from the back, advancing beyond the half-way line and picking out their own midfielders in advanced positions which was something most teams had never come across and was incredibly difficult to stop.
His pace complimented the more elegant Hansen and if it wasn’t for an Achilles tendon injury against Wimbledon he could have gone on longer in a red shirt.
2 – Emlyn ‘Crazy Horse’ Hughes
The first Liverpool captain to lift the European Cup, Hughes had enthusiasm, determination and heart probably only ever matched by Carra – and showed immense bravery by taking the armband off Tommy Smith!
Signed by Bill Shankly for £65,000 from Blackpool in 1967, he started out at left-back and then midfield before finding his home at centre-back.
He gained his Crazy Horse nickname after just four games with the Reds and it stuck for the rest of his career and, sadly, his life having passed away in 2004.
At the start of his Anfield career, who could have guessed that he’d be involved in all of Liverpool’s glory for almost a decade. A period which saw the club establish itself as the epitome of Shankly’s vision of a ‘Bastion of Invincibility’. It’s no exaggeration to say that Emlyn was at the centre of that revolution.
As mentioned earlier, he formed a great partnership with Phil Thompson and led by example as captain, often stamping his authority on games by bombing forward on crazy runs that would often result in a goal. Like Thommo, he played the Liverpool Way from the back and never looked flustered in possession.
He was the first great defender I saw play, and truly became one of us. Sadly missed.
“Liverpool are magic, Everton are tragic.”
1 – Alan ‘Jockey’ Hansen
A man who made defending look effortless, Jocky was, in my eyes, the best centre-back the club has ever had, carrying on where Crazy Horse left off.
A true sportsman, he represented Scotland in volleyball, squash and golf at junior level and, of course, football at senior level but got a raw deals with just 26 caps – the Aberdeen pair of Willie Miller and Alex Mcleish often got the nod. If anything, this was to Liverpool’s gain as he amassed 620 appearances for the club over 14 years picking up three European Cups, eight League titles, four League Cups, two FA Cups and countless other trophies in a legendary period.
Great at dominating in the air and so comfortable when carrying the ball out of defence, Jocky struck up the perfect partnership with Lawrenson and became the bedrock of so much success. Where his fellow centre-back often dived into spectacular sliding tackles, Hansen’s reading of the game made going to ground an often unnecessary action. He always seemed to have loads of time on the ball, a sign of a great player, and would often spring attacks from deep in our own halves with his vision and composure to find the right pass.
Off the pitch, Liverpool is in his heart and is ever respectful towards the club and the city. Who can forget his conduct in the Hillsborough aftermath, attending 12 funerals and visiting numerous injured fans in hospital.
Alan ‘Jockey’ Hansen, a true and loyal Anfield hero.
“Alan Hansen is the defender with the pedigree of an international striker. He is quite simply the most skilful centre-half I have ever seen in the British game. He is a joy to watch. Alan has always been an excellent footballer, a beautifully balanced player who carries the ball with control and grace.” – Bob Paisley.
LFC Greatests – Centre-back, a LoveFollowConquer.com blog post