I DON’T like the too-often token ‘celebrity RIP’ that modern society seemingly so favours.
You know what I mean. When somebody famous passes away there’s seemingly a race to social media from some to post about them, to somehow be associated with their stature; whether a well-known quote, an often-printed picture or a much-liked video clip that defines the deceased’s character, within seconds of an announcement online timelines are flooded with them.
It appears a lot of people like a lot of stars and are seemingly profoundly saddened by the deaths of these people; people they have never met, never mentioned, or never posted about before. Ever. Until now.
To a self-confessed cynic like me it seems contrived. And so often it is contrived. Not just on social media, but in the wider world.
Take, for example, the death of Graham Taylor earlier this year. An honest, decent man who worked hard for the good of football and later became a well-liked pundit. Also a man widely ridiculed and who suffered a torrent of abuse after his treatment by the tabloids, notably and unsurprisingly from The S*n and its morally bankrupt editor of the time, Kelvin Mackenzie.
Following his death in January, the very same Graham Taylor was lifted to the status of national hero. No ‘turnip’ now. No ‘do I not like that’. The very same rag of a red top that had vilified him called him a ‘legend’. It even had the temerity to discuss how he dealt with (their capital letters) “THOSE headlines”. That’s right, the headlines that ‘newspaper’ itself printed.
All of this is a long way around to say that today’s tributes to Ronnie Moran, who has died aged 83, are much different to these oh-so-often empty words.
Look around — from fans to pundits; from players still plying their trade on the pitch today to those who have long since hung up their boots. It’s not contrived or for the sake of it. They are heartfelt messages. Genuine sadness and shock. Real respect. They are meaningful. It isn’t a bandwagon of like-seekers or throwaway attempts at ‘cool’ because Ronnie wasn’t a celebrity. He didn’t want to be.
The better-remembered photographs are of Ronnie barking orders from the side of the bench, or looking non-plussed inside a huge Adidas/Candy coat. He played in over 300 games for Liverpool after joining as a teenager. He captained the Reds and won the Second Division and First Division title. He played under Bill Shankly, was given a job on Shankly’s staff and twice stood in as caretaker manager, first after Kenny Dalglish’s resignation in 1991 and then during Graeme Souness’s period of convalescence after triple heart bypass surgery.
A suited-up Ronnie even led Liverpool out for the 1992 FA Cup final.
Yet despite all that, despite that rich history, despite an honours list as part of the coaching set up that reads 11 League Titles, four European Cups, four FA Cups, five League Cups, two UEFA Cups and a Super Cup (plus 10 Charity Shields if you wish to count them), Ronnie never seemed to crave centre stage. Instead, he was man behind the scenes making things tick. Keeping the machine oiled. Making sure the course was set in the right direction.
It’s why older Reds will be sitting down younger Reds today and telling them the story of a no-nonsense man from Crosby with a kindly smile and a steely determination to win. A man who believed in hard work, dedication and keeping your feet on the ground.
For the generations that love Liverpool and have grown up watching him shout and scream from the bench, the name Ronnie Moran means something special. The nickname Mr Liverpool is no exaggeration. Part of the club’s identity has passed on with Ronnie.
He is sewn deep into my memories of Liverpool Football Club growing up: the man who took no shit. The man who kept what he called the ‘big heads’ grounded. He represented ‘a way’ – something that older generations of Merseysiders had that has perhaps been lost as time has ticked on. Modern football and modern society has its many ills. Among them – perhaps more so than ever before — are those that think they have made it before they have; that think the world owes them. Those living a rock and roll lifestyle before the hit album has been penned. Those celebrating victory when there are battles still to be won. Attitudes that, for continued and sustained success, simply don’t fit.
For those around my age and older, you will know the Ronnie Moran stories by rote. They have been repeated over and over. Weaved into the folklore of the club. And rightly so. He was central to setting a standard — making it clear what it took for a player to be good enough to play for Liverpool and stay at Liverpool.
The Reds win the league and Ronnie’s reaction is to tell the players when pre-season training starts. Ronnie throws down a box of League Championship medals and tells the players: “If you deserve one, take one.” Robbie Fowler scores five and Ronnie tells him to stop looking smug because he should have had six. John Wark signs for Liverpool and hits a cracking long pass in his first training session and Ronnie bollocks him for “admiring the pass” and not playing pass and move.
When getting misty-eyed and romantic about Liverpool’s past and what was central to the club’s stellar success it’s easy to talk about the beloved boot-room or about the old standing Kop. Undoubtedly great aspects of our great club. But Liverpool has never been about bricks and buildings. It’s not about a room either. It’s about the people. And Ronnie was one of the people. There, bringing the club alive, for 49 years, playing his part under nine different managers.
What was clear was that Ronnie knew what it took not just to win, but to keep winning. Not to do it once then fall away because you got caught in the trap of self-aggrandisement but to recognise what brought the glory in the first place and doing that again and again and again.
Bill Shankly, Reuben Bennett, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Roy Evans and Ronnie Moran. All forgers and carriers of a culture, a ‘way’, a tradition. Ronnie wanted it to be hard to play for Liverpool. And it should be. Because it’s hard to be the best. The easy life is elsewhere. Expectations are high and so they should be.
Among my favourite tales of Ronnie Moran is one from Ian Rush who says David Hodgson, a £450,000 signing in August 1982 from Middlesbrough, took exception to Ronnie’s badgering and berating in training.
Rush said: “Hodgey said, ‘Christ sake leave me alone’ and Ronnie said, ‘That’s him finished’. I always remember that.”
Less than two years after signing Hodgson was sold.
It should really go without saying that signing for Liverpool shouldn’t leave you thinking you’ve made it. It should just signal the start of the hard work. Ronnie made sure that was the case.
It was a privilege to have Ronnie by my side throughout my career sharing many great memories that will never be forgotten #RIPBugsy
— ROY EVANS (@Roy_Evo) March 22, 2017
He represents what I recognise as older Scouse traits. Perhaps it’s experiencing a World War. Watching your city bombed to bits, knowing of people your age who have lost their lives and having to get on with life regardless – it’s going to make you appreciate things, not least hard work. Perhaps also it’s just a societal thing. My grandparents always talked of taking pride in yourself. Of working hard. Of doing things for yourself but not being too showy when you achieve what you set out to do.
Players that sign for Liverpool always have ability of some sort. Somewhere, sometime, someone saw something. But over the years at times it’s been clear that standards have slipped. Ability hasn’t always been married to attitude and application. The unwritten checklist of what it takes to be a Liverpool player got lost. The culture of old was gone. Liverpool need to restore a new culture. The club needs to win, and win regularly. It’s not an easy task, as we all know all too well. It’s not simple for any club to breed that kind of serial success – now or then.
And that’s why someone so central to doing just that deserves to be revered for evermore by Liverpool.
I didn’t know Ronnie Moran but I felt like I did. I recognised things in what I heard about him and what I read that I admired. And that’s why I feel I can pay him a tribute. Because he was key to a club I love – he helped to make every supporter of Liverpool, and the city itself, proud.
Ronnie Moran deserves so much more than online tributes in a throwaway age.
Anfield in 2017 boasts the Shankly Gates and The Paisley Gateway – both permanent reminders of how huge characters, great men with great minds, played a central part in Liverpool FC being the club it is today.
In the future, Ronnie deserves something too. He stood for something. He meant something. He had values and he was a man to look up to. He gave his life to Liverpool. Liverpool should give something back.