PETER Beardsley cost a British record transfer fee of £1.9million when he was lured to Liverpool in July 1987. After initially struggling at Anfield, he went on to form a formidable partnership with John Aldridge and John Barnes.
After that slow start, which yielded just four goals in the first half of the season, Beardsley would score 11 league goals in the second half, soon endearing himself to the fans. The Barnes-Beardsley-Aldridge attacking trio helped the Reds go 29 games unbeaten as they clinched their 17th league title, tearing defences apart as they lost just two games.
The Geordie was a consistent scorer for the club, and was a regular starter for the most part, though his minutes decreased during the 1990-91 season, which he didn’t react well to. Despite rumours of a falling out with Kenny Dalglish over his role in the team, both have since insisted that there was no ill feeling between them. He still made 35 appearances in all competitions during that season, scoring on 13 occasions, but once Souness arrived at the club it became clear Beardsley’s days were numbered.
The Scotsman made Mark Wright and Dean Saunders, both from Derby County, his first two signings at the club for a combined fee of £5.7m. Saunders was initially being tracked by Everton but having missed out on the Welshman they instead decided to pursue Beardsley. The Reds’ manager, somewhat surprisingly, accepted a bid of £1m and the striker became the first player since Alan Harper in 1983 to make the trip across Stanley Park.
This was widely believed to be down to Souness inheriting a team from Dalglish that was coming towards the end of its shelf life, with Beardsley himself being 30 years old at the time. Nevertheless, the team were still second in the table when the Scot arrived at the helm, and they had some bright young stars coming through the ranks, such as Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman and Jamie Redknapp. Also, he would only sell two other players aged 30 or over before the start of the season — Gary Gillespie and David Speedie — which raised questions about whether there were other reasons behind the sale.
Beardsley speculated the reason in his book — My Life Story — as he said: “The impression that a lot of people got was that maybe Souness had had his card marked by Kenny Dalglish about me, especially after what happened in the later months of Kenny’s management. Whether that’s true or not, I’ll never know but I find it difficult to believe.”
The forward insisted that what his manager said and what he actually did were very different things, and after being named on the bench in consecutive big games, Beardsley was wondering what the future held for him at Liverpool. “There had been speculation in the papers about various comings and goings, and I felt it was reasonable to find out exactly where I stood with the manager. So I made an appointment to go and see him and ask about my situation.”
Prior to the fourth game of pre-season Souness had pulled Beardsley to one side and asked to speak to him. “I retreated to one side and after a while he walked over and announced, ‘I’ve had an offer for you.’ I asked him from which club and he told me that it was Everton. I asked him how much, to which he replied curtly, ‘I am not prepared to tell you’.
“He said there was a plane leaving the local airport at ten to five for Stockholm with a connection to London. He admitted it was a bit of a rush but explained that it was the way Howard Kendall wanted it. He said the Everton manager had requested that I be on the plane and he was going to have me picked up to meet him to discuss the move. Souness then made a point of telling me not to say a word to anybody about the deal because he wanted it kept quiet.”
This was the point at which Souness’ word became untrustworthy to Beardsley, as he bumped into a journalist on his way out of the hotel.
He wrote: “You can imagine my surprise when he came up to me and said, ‘So you’re off to Everton then?’ I just muttered, ‘No, where did you hear that?’, remembering that the manager had ordered me to keep the deal secret. Mike must have been surprised by my denial; it made me look especially foolish when he told me that Souness had just announced to the press what he had asked me to keep quiet about. I tried to find him to get some sort of explanation, but he had disappeared and I could not reach him.”
Beardsley would then meet with Everton manager Kendall, who he described as “cheerful, kind and warm” compared to the “frosty” Souness.
“With his opening salvo, he unknowingly made me aware of the underhand way Souness had handled things. ‘This is a bit of a nuisance for me,’ he commented. I told him I didn’t understand what he meant, to which he replied, ‘It would have been a lot easier for me if I could have seen you in Manchester tomorrow.’ It turned out that when he made an offer for me, Souness had agreed but then told him he wanted me out straightaway. Which was a completely different story to that which I had been given in Sweden, when he told me it was Kendall who wanted me on the flight to meet in London.
“I thought Souness’ attitude was rather pathetic. I couldn’t see any reason why I couldn’t have stayed for one more night, watched the match, said my goodbyes to the players and staff and then caught the plane to Manchester the next day. He did the deal with such indecent haste that he didn’t even allow me to pick up my boots which were back at the ground with the rest of the kit.”
The final nail in the coffin for Beardsley was Souness’ actions after he had left the club’s pre-season tour to begin talks with Everton. He added: “I never caused him any trouble and he wanted me out of the door — and this after virtually promising me I would be in his side at the start of the following season. It was almost as if he regarded me as a troublemaker who might have tainted the dressing room had I stayed any longer. I found out later he told Barnesy about the deal after I left Sweden but said he didn’t think I would sign for Everton because I didn’t have the bottle to switch clubs. Well, he was wrong about that, just as he was wrong about a few other things while he was in charge at Anfield.”
Souness has since tackled his mistakes during his time as manager head on, though he never addressed the Beardsley situation in isolation. In his book — The Management Years — he said: “My brief as Liverpool manager was to introduce new blood as quickly as possible into an ageing team. Yes, I was guilty of trying to change too much too soon but at Rangers I had supervised a massive turnover of players and we had been successful.”
He goes on to talk about the players he sold, saying: “I mentioned in a previous chapter that I off-loaded some players too quickly and paid the consequences but in other cases I felt justified in allowing certain individuals to leave because they were simply not good enough. Jimmy Carter, David Speedie and Glen Hysen came into that category. Steve McMahon, Peter Beardsley and Ray Houghton had their own priorities at the time because they were approaching the veteran stage and were looking for another move. With hindsight I should have kept them at least another year while I shopped for replacements but I was not prepared to wait because there was a massive rebuilding job to be done.”
In the aforementioned previous chapter he said: “I knew Peter Reid wanted to take Steve McMahon to Manchester City and I knew Everton was interested in Peter Beardsley, so it was no surprise to me when both players came into my office and hinted they were ready to move on unless there was a guarantee of regular first-team football and improved terms to go with it. They were suggesting they had the opportunity to join other clubs and because they were around the 30 years of age mark it was an attractive proposition to get a big new contract elsewhere. I could not get my head around that because Liverpool had always been the place to be.”
He went on to say: “I could not imagine a better place to be, so my reaction to any dissidents was to get them out of the door as soon as possible. That was the wrong approach. What I should have done was keep them for another year and buy myself some time to bring in replacements, but the idea that a top-class player wanted to leave Liverpool was simply beyond my comprehension, and I unwittingly played into their hands by letting them go too soon. These were experienced players, well capable of doing a job for me but I was impetuous and recommended we sell if the price was right. It was a major error.”
There can be some exception made for the size of the task Souness was left with — the Scot revealed in his book that Dalglish himself admitted the majority of the squad were past their best.
However, it can also be argued that Souness was too ruthless and tried to make too many changes too quickly and it ultimately backfired.
He goes some way to explaining the reasoning for the sale of Beardsley, however he doesn’t really justify the way he way he went about shifting the player. Not many would begrudge a manager for wanting to move on a player who was, according to his version of events, giving an ultimatum on his future. However, whichever version of events you think adds up, more rational thinking may have eased the Reds through that rough patch and then who knows?
Beardsley would spend two seasons at Goodison, making 95 appearances and scoring 32 goals, before moving back to his beloved Newcastle, where he would spend another four seasons, proving that he did still have a lot to offer at Liverpool.
He later revealed that a highlight was when he returned to Anfield for his first game in a Blues’ shirt on August 31, 1991: “Just before the game the Kop chanted my name and I don’t suppose that’s happened too many times, an Everton player getting his name chanted by the Kop. But during the game, with Liverpool winning, the crowd started to chant, ‘What a waste of talent!’ The Kop were a bit special to me on that day and I won’t ever forget it.”
As for Souness he would last just two-and-a-half seasons at the club, taking charge of 157 games. Despite winning the 1992 FA Cup, his reign left his reputation in tatters — not least after he sold his story to The S*n post triple by-pass heart surgery — and he claimed he had “fallen out of love with football”. He made many mistakes — and for a generation of Liverpool fans, selling Beardsley will always be seen as key among them.
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