PSYCHOLOGISTS talk of a phenomenon called involuntary memory chains — the idea that something can trigger an unintentional recall of a string of memories, good or bad.
Anything can kick it off — a taste, a smell, a piece of music…
Neil Ruddock’s face.
At The Anfield Wrap’s offices we’ve got a load of memorabilia from Liverpool’s past – glorious and not so – from books, videos and match programmes, to photos, magazines and DVDs.
And the other day, there it was: Neil Ruddock’s face. Fittingly, he was wearing a colourful wig under a cap. He looks anything but a footballer you’d look to for a clean sheet.
The involuntary memory chain began.
Pass the pound, pissing himself on purpose during a game just for the ‘banter’, lamping Robbie Fowler, breaking Andy Cole’s legs, white suits, Julian Dicks, Paul Stewart, Istvan Kozma, Mark Walters, Torben Piechnik, Graeme Souness…
What a fucking mess. Both Ruddock, and Liverpool at that time.
The tales go on and on about Ruddock at Liverpool. Few of them reflect well on him, or the club.
A drinking culture, underachievement, poor decisions, poor diets, crap buys, players sold too early and often what appeared to be a severe lack of professionalism.
It was a decline in earnest from standards set over a long period of time – Liverpool slumping from a record of six league titles in 10 years from 1981 to 1991 to the current situation – none in 27.
The seeds were sown by buys like Ruddock and the culture that followed.
One story goes that Ruddock was meant to be working his way back to fitness on a running machine in the gym, but when the physio disappeared he went off for a cuppa and a bacon butty.
Five minutes before he returned, he went back, started jogging again and threw water over himself to look like he was sweating.
Such a laugh, eh? What a guy. Leading by example. Those kids at Melwood must have been so impressed.
I had the misfortune to go to a sportsman’s dinner once that Ruddock was speaking at. It changed none of my perceptions of the man. He aped the ‘where did it all go wrong’ quote of George Best – seemingly with little awareness of the irony – and despite the fact that he never came close to displaying the skillset of the legendary Northern Irishman.
Any hecklers were greeted with the standard ‘well what have you done in the game?’ reply – the stock answer of the banter-loving ex-pro.
As well as Ruddock being at the scene of some of the shittest results Liverpool produced in a lifetime – the Reds finished eighth having lost 16 in the league in 1993-94, a season when the man bought for a then record fee for a defender played in 39 of the 42 league games – Ruddock was also a player that seemed to mark the end of the idea of ‘a Liverpool player’.
By this, I mean there was an understood standard – a shared knowledge – of what it took to be worthy of the red shirt. We used to look at players at other clubs and go “he’s a Liverpool player” – he was our type, he had our style, he had the right attitude and attributes to cut it at Anfield.
Ruddock didn’t, clearly. And in the era he represented Liverpool he wasn’t alone.
Looking back, what grates almost as much is the trading on Liverpool’s name that followed, even revealing a ‘YNWA’ tattoo.
Yes, Ruddock played for us – in 152 games, scoring 12 goals and picking up a League Cup winners’ medal in 1995. But to suggest many people are happy about the fact is pushing it.
Ruddock was later hoovered up by a developing culture of professional football ‘banter’ – a moony-pulling, shit-joke cracking ‘top lad’ for Soccer AM; something that became a target for the ire of Half Man Half Biscuit in the brilliant Rock And Roll Is Full Of Bad Wools:
Enter Ruddock left
“More doughnuts” shout the crew
High art shall not ensue
Here, today, in this place
And our hapless singer’s band
Has just gone moribund
Stay tuned, following the break
Crazy Razor gonna get him in a headlock
Crazy Razor headlock
Why do people like it? Or think it’s funny? It’s not. Yet to Ruddock seemingly everything is a joke.
After only two games for Liverpool, he fractured Peter Beardsley’s cheekbone in three places playing in Ronnie Whelan’s testimonial against Newcastle.
Beardsley not unreasonably concluded it was Ruddock trying to prove he was a hard-man.
Ruddock went for the ‘banter’ in repsonse: “If anything the slight rearrangement of his face did Pete a favour…”
Oh, my sides.
On breaking Cole’s legs, he said: “I can only assume it was the way he fell.”
And what of generally pissing much of his career, and his dough, up the wall? What has Ruddock said about that?
“At 18, I was driven,” he once said. “But by my late 20s, I was overweight, drank and partied too much. I betrayed my wife and let my family down. I should have had the discipline to resist temptations.”
Indeed. There are more incidents that could be detailed but by now you get the picture.
Neil Ruddock's birthday today… pic.twitter.com/dEggLIIDtE
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) May 9, 2017
It’s Ruddock’s birthday today. I’ll be raising no glasses to him. His Liverpool ‘highlight’ is scoring with his face in a 3-3 draw with Manchester United. A match which Liverpool trailed 3-0 after being pulled apart at the back.
It’s hardly the body of work of Ian Callaghan, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard, Ian Rush, Alan Hansen and so on, is it?
The manager who signed Ruddock was sacked six months after he arrived. The manager who inherited him – Roy Evans – has talked about his difficulties in recruiting quality centre-halves when he took charge.
Souness doesn’t even offer a glowing reference in his 1999 book, Souness: The Management Years.
He says: “When I signed Neil Ruddock to play alongside Mark Wright I was confident I had the combination which would serve the club well over a long period of time. ‘Razor’ was big and not afraid to use his strength. He had the physique to frighten forwards, an accurate left foot, and he was strong in the air.
“He was a bouncy character, always game for a laugh, but perhaps that was his undoing. When I signed him he was exactly what I was looking for but when he looks back on his career I suspect he will realise he did not fulfill his potential.
“Not everything in his life was right. He had problems controlling his weight – maybe he liked a night out too much – and there were other factors which contributed to him not achieving as much as he should have.”
Top of the list of ‘other factors’ must surely be attitude. Everything was a joke. And everything still is. Team spirit is one thing, a winning mentality another. Ruddock had the wrong idea about one, and no idea about the other.
Meanwhile, those who truly love Liverpool look back with no longing to a period when a dressing room that once would unite to conquer the bloody world was filled with men who lacked the character, the will, the drive and the professionalism to carry the Liverpool name into another decade of winning.
Thanks then, Neil. Thanks for nothing. I’m going to bin that photo if it’s all the same. I’ve seen enough of that face to last me a lifetime – it’s an involuntary memory chain I’m desperate to break.