I was having a chat with a fellow red the other day about our right-back situation; I believe it to be the healthiest it has been for many, many years with Johnson, Kelly and young Flanno all capable of going on to carve out great careers at Liverpool and at international level; in fact Glen is certainly looking over his shoulder for both club and country considering how Kelly has performed in his absence. And so it got me thinking about our greatest right-backs and how we’ve had a fair few; not all clubs can say that, even some of the greatest club sides had match-winners in more attacking areas that masked the deficiencies of some players that would simply ‘do a job’ at full-back.
Not in the reckoning was Crazy Horse Emlyn despite originally beginning his Anfield career on the right of our defence; I remember in one of Hughes’ first games Shanks would say to him do not let anyone past you, so Emlyn rugby tackled the winger, think he ripped the fella’s shorts off. And of course, Stevie filled in at right-wing-back so admirably in Istanbul but we’d be crackers to include him…
Here’s our top five – let us know your thoughts…
5 – Markus Babbel
As committed as they come, Babbel was a warrior of a right-back who became a firm fans’ favourite – with crucial goals at Goodison and in the 2001 UEFA Cup Final doing his case no harm at all. Always recall a winning goal he scored at Southampton when he carried on playing with an injury as we’d made all our subs and he didn’t want to leave us with ten. Like the man who’ll follow at no.4, he was a truly excellent right-back who was dogged by injury; without which he could have gone on to be even better. He’s summed up by this anecdote from a broadsheet paper some time ago: ‘Markus Babbel was able to get up out of his bed in hospital and the first thing he asked the nurse was to fetch his Liverpool top and a football. He put his top on and placed the ball at his feet, and with all his energy tried to kick the ball as far as possible. After it went two yards he exclaimed “Fucking hell, this is going to take some time”.
4 – Rob Jones
As a full-back, Trigger had it all. Pace, stamina, bravery and great positioning – unfortunately the one thing that went against him was horrendous luck. He had a meteoric rise to fame; plucked by Souness from Crewe, he was thrown in at the deep-end in his first LFC game to mark Ryan Giggs and did so with aplomb. The hairy bed-hopper went on to describe Jones as his toughest opponent. In fact, if it weren’t for shin splints, back problems, knee injuries etc, rat-face Neville would never have got a look-in at international level. Retired at 27 without scoring a goal which is a huge regret for all reds; he must have hit the woodwork a dozen times!
3 – Chris Lawler
Funny that with the visit of Swansea this weekend, it took me back to Chris Lawler’s testimonial back in the late 70s – pretty sure Gareth Edwards made an appearance! Lawler was before most people’s time but if he’d played today, he’d be renowned as being one of the best around. He clocked up 546 games in a red shirt, notching 61 goals all from open play – a record for a full-back in the English game. He was always known as The Silent Knight for his quiet, undemonstrative manner. Chris was once asked to adjudicate whether a “goal” by Shanks in a five-a-side training match was valid. Chris’s typically short answer was, “No goal boss.” Shanks went off his head shouting, “Bloody hell Chris! Ye don’t open yer mouth for ten years and when yer do it’s a bloody lie!”
2 – Steve Nicol
One of the most versatile players you would ever see but a man who certainly made his mark at right-back; Steve amassed a total of 468 games for the reds winning five league titles, three FA Cups and a European Cup. Will never forget his hat-trick at Newcastle from full-back; capped off with a superb chip for number three. The commentary stuck in my mind, “And that’s a fabulous way to cap a magnificent performance.” Mirandinha was making his Toon debut but it was Stevie who played like a Brazilian. It summed up our original ginge, incredibly talented and committed and would tear down the flank for 90 minutes. Often dubbed one of our most underrated players of all time, notching 46 goals for the club including some absolute belters with his monster sized 14 feet! Football Writers’ Player of the Year in 1989 so he did in fact get some much deserved recognition.
1 – Phil Neal
Forget the Graham Taylor ‘yes boss’ bollocks, Phil Neal was one of the greatest right-backs the English game has ever seen – and the most decorated too. Famously ever-present for what seemed like an eternity (366 consecutive league games), he ended his Anfield career with eight league titles, four league cups, and amongst others four European Cups – yes, Phil has more ‘Big Ears’ medals in his own cabinet than any other English club. A proper red and a true gent, always remember the pic of him strolling across Stanley Park with his boots on his shoulders for the Derby game. A full-back as solid as they come and one of the greatest penalty takers the club has ever had, for sheer consistency and the abundance of trophy wins – Neal has to be our greatest ever right back. And from numerous stories I’ve heard, a man who always has time to stop and chat with fellow reds.