PAST mistakes are not easy things to admit to for a proud man and I can think of no prouder football man than Graeme Souness.
His confessional reflections on his management of Liverpool during Sky’s Monday Night Football programme this week came from deep within the same heart that has scared him half to death on a couple of occasions. It was lying in a hospital bed after open heart surgery at the age of 38 that he made his biggest mistake in the eyes of many Liverpool fans. He told The S*n all about it.
Souness has apologised a million times for that thoughtless lapse. It was compounded by The S*n’s publication on the third anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. If anyone has ever doubted the depth of those apologies, it is difficult to question the man’s enduring feelings for the club to which he gave nine years of his professional life.
As a “neutral” television pundit, he struggles to hide his obvious Liverpool leanings. Those feelings may even have got in the way of his management of the club and some of his former teammates, but the legacy of his time in charge was to make a series of changes that dragged Liverpool kicking and screaming into the late 20th century. They have survived to this day.
My career had carried me from Radio City in Liverpool to Granada Television when Graeme came back to Merseyside in the spring of 1991. I was living in Wirral. I can recall one long afternoon driving him and Phil Boersma around the more “des res” villages of the peninsular in search of a new home. All he was talking about was his new vision for the club he loved. Liverpool had appointed another of their “own” as part of the smooth succession of maintaining the time-honoured old “Boot Room” traditions, but this successor was ready to tear the Boot Room down. And did.
The theme of his admissions on Sky this week was that he tried to change too much, too quickly. He referred to the fish and chips and lager that the players consumed on the coach after every away game. Those ale-fuelled, carry-out meals were nothing and everything in the Souness revolution. Liverpool had won a cabinet full of trophies on that diet. They seemed somehow part of the secret. No problem.
But the incoming manager knew that he had to convince his dressing room that they were winners “despite” and not “because” of some of their outdated habits and ways. The chips were just the first thing to go.
As a local reporter, I actually travelled on the team bus to and from away games with the great team that Souness captained. After every match, the coach driver would stop at a local chippie and bring 20-odd takeaways on board. The premium strength lagers were under the seats. It was Liverpool’s idea of keeping their players’ feet on the ground, an example of the home-spun sports psychology that the Bill Shankly/Bob Paisley era perfected.
The very best players in Europe eating fans’ fare out of the same newspapers their exploits would fill in the morning. A few cans to celebrate. Great for team bonding, not great for team waistlines.
Two years playing in Italy had changed Graeme’s approach to diet. He couldn’t bring himself to preach clean living to his players all week long then hand them a tray full of stodge on Saturday teatime. A professional chef soon came on board the team coach instead.
While Everton’s headquarters were long established at their Bellefield training centre in West Derby, the Liverpool players still reported daily to Anfield. Every morning, 40-odd footballers of different ages would pile onto two ageing charabancs for the 15-minute chug to Melwood. A couple of hours later, they would hoist their weary, sweat-stained frames back on board for the return trip to shower and change at Anfield.
Souness set about developing and extending Melwood and based the team’s operations there. It made modern sense.
The boot room was the legendary inner sanctum at Anfield where the coaching staff “brains trust” gathered to plot the next triumph. In truth, it was a pokey cubby hole off the dressing-room corridor, decorated with saucy pinups where kit boxes doubled for chairs. Another example of Liverpool’s age-ripened simplicity, Graeme was asked by Peter Robinson if the room could be sacrificed in order to extend the media interview room behind it. The manager made no objections. It was not a tradition that served any purpose any longer. No more than a symbol.
But this was not a manager who was taking down framed photos of a club’s past glories by way of a purge. While Souness made cool, calculated operational decisions to move the club forward, he was maybe a little too sentimental in the transition of the team itself. Several of his former teammates were still in the squad.
As he revealed on Sky, there were bound to be problems with awarding wage deals to newcomers like Mark Wright and Dean Saunders on better terms to Ian Rush and Ronnie Whelan. The difficulties and dilemmas that he faced in trying to transform so much at once led to the mistakes he openly acknowledged last Monday.
Underpinning the whole interview was a tortured sense of regret that Souness has rarely allowed the outside world to see before. The emotional tone of his voice and the starkness of his revelations were striking. He didn’t refer to his triple bypass, or the death of his father, or the bitter divorce that all coloured his life during those two-and-a-half years in charge. He just talked about his football mistakes and how much he wished he could undo them. So much for the ultimate hard man.
As a player he was up there with anyone I have seen in a Liverpool shirt. Kenny Dalglish had the aura, Rushie had the numbers but Souness had the influence. I’m not sure I’ve ever watched a player have a greater effect on all the other 21 on the field than Souness at his authoritative, commanding, intimidating best.
I socialised with him occasionally in his playing pomp and he was always one for saying “put the ball away” when the Saturday night chat turned to the day’s game. What was done was done. As a player, his profession and his life were separate.
When he returned to Liverpool after five years at Rangers, he was a different animal. He was obsessive. He wanted to know about every player in every team in the world. Somewhere along the line between Genoa and Glasgow, football had completely taken over his life.
He was the obvious choice for Anfield to the point that Liverpool had already asked him to take the job twice before. He was as ready as a young manager could be. Only the timing was askew. Only the circumstances and the mistakes got in the way.
He won a trophy, he wasn’t a failure. But he wasn’t a success of the level he single-mindedly demanded of himself and his charges. He knows that well enough now to be big enough to say it. That’s the measure of the man.
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Really interesting article. You can see he still loves us whenever he’s on Sky. The dynasty had to end sometime and unfortunately he was in charge when it did.
Best midfield player I have ever seen bar none. I have the utmost respect for the man mistakes and all. I wish he could just enjoy the fact that he was probably Liverpool’s greatest ever midfielder and one of our best captains.
Good post. I would amend it slightly to state that he was one of our best ever midfielders but definitely our best ever captain. Nobody messed with us when Souness was on the pitch.
Fair enough, it’s always subjective when you say who was the best. We have had some magnificent midfielders in the modern era, but for me, to miss quote Shakespeare “he bestrode the pitch like a colossus”.
Agreed, the best midfielder ever. What would he cost in today’s market?
However as a manager I never rated him even when at Rangers, buying players for then British records, for a league which was never as good as the English 1st/Premier Division… I think I also never much forgave him for pissing off to Genoa when in his prime.
As for the players he signed for us, pretty much all were shocking buys and we paid well over the odds for them. We had better already still at the Club. It wasn’t just about changing so much so soon, it was equally about the shit he purchased that donned a Liverpool shirt. I actually sent my season ticket back in disgust due to Souness and what happened during that time. For me, while I remember the fantastic, majestic midfielder, I also remember he ensured the wheels truly came off and why we went down the pan so rapidly. he was lucky we had players such as Fowler and Macca coming through the Youth set up and the only player I actually give him any credit with signing and playing was Rob Jones. The rest were utter shite.
What a tremendous piece of writing, full of insight. This is brilliant stuff. Welcome aboard, Clive!
Glad European football went to BT so I don’t have to listen to him going on about Fergus and Utd.
He gave an interview to the Sun on the 3rd anniversary of the disaster – in the immediate aftermath, for all intents and purposes – under a headline which referenced CPR being given to dying people. Of all the days, of all the headlines.
What compounds this is the fact that, allegedly, he was fully aware of the issues with the Sun at the time and had instructed the players not to deal with the paper. This was set out in a letter sent by a then LFC shareholder to TTWAR in the late 90s so I don’t accept that he wasn’t aware of the issues at the time.
When Souness gave that interview, large numbers of fans who were at Hillsborough and the bereaved were suffering incalculably. Many were suffering from PTSD and continue to do so to this day. Many haven’t been able to access the support they needed and have taken their own lives. The actions of a Liverpool manager may have accentuated and contributed to that. So I’m sorry, Clive, but your words ring hollow here. And spare me your cheery recollections about fish and chips on the bus and socialising with Graeme in the 80s. Souness didn’t just make a grave mistake when he gave that exclusive, he danced on the graves of the Hillsborough victims, took the Sun’s money and insulted and demeaned the memory and compounded their grief at a time when he was in a leadership role at the club and should have been doing everything within his reach to support those in need. Oh, and he subsequently kept his job for another 21 months. If anything, Souness has got off lightly on this issue and continues to do so.
Superb piece. A privilege to have Clive contributing. TAW goes from strength to strength.
And we’re all well aware of the Sun debacle, but it’s time to give Souey a break. Sheesh, have none of you ever made mistakes in your life??
He’s worn his heart on his sleeve and apologised countless times since that incident. Time to show some forgiveness, fellas.
I suggest you direct that last comment to the bereaved and victims of Hillsborough, who remain affected by it to this day. Maybe we can all start reading the Sun as well? Hey, it was nearly 30 years ago….
I hear you loud and clear. Yet The Sun’s appalling behaviour towards suffering fans and our club at the time (and subsequently) means it’s an abomination of a rag that deserves nothing but utter contempt. Souness however has tried to make amends repeatedly and wears his affection for LFC on his sleeve. If you can’t forgive him, then that’s your choice.
Yep, that’s it. Poor innocent Graeme, in a minor role in football in 1992 trying to carve out a career in the game, got viciously duped and played for a fool by the Sun. He just didn’t know about the issues! He couldn’t have been expected to know! And he didn’t even get paid for it! Spare me. There’s a school of thought which says Souness has got blood on his hands over this such is the level of damage and hurt the April 1992 exclusive caused.
Oh, and trying to make amends doesn’t just consist of a few conciliatory noises whilst doing a well paid interview on Monday night tv.
You have to try and learn to be more accepting of people’s shortcomings, you can’t expect the rest of us to ever attain the perfection of yourself and Jesus.
That’s your call mate and I respect you for it. I was at Hillsborough, thank God not in Leppings Lane and the day lives with me. For me I accept the man’s apology and that he bears different scars to me. Others can see him how they wish.
Is that really the best you can do Ian? I wasn’t Liverpool manager and I didn’t give a front page interview to the newspaper which accused us of being responsible for the deaths of our own fans, and urinating on and stealing from dead and dying people.
Souness …. blood on his hands? What absolute tosh! He made a howler …. he admitted it as he couldn’t anything less … but his fee was given away to a good cause and since then he’s been contrite. He made a bad call. Previous writer was right. You never made a bad call? I’m not havin’ it. Souey talks sense on the box and it’s evident he loves the club…. despite the non forgiving nonsense from some people
One of the all time greats for us, a massive piece of our famous history/legacy. Yes definitely made a big mistake but I personally can’t see how it was any more than naievity or misjudgment. Surely when you’ve had a suprise life threatening incident your immediate judgment and actions can be excused a little. I was at Hillsborough, let’s remember Souness had nothing to do with the cause that day but just made some insensitive decisions which will probably always haunt him. Total LFC legend in my mind.
Wholeheartedly agree with being pissed off when he waltzed off to Italy whilst in his prime. However, when you read his chapter in Men in White Suits, he explains that he would have happily stayed at the club till the end of his career, but the club received an offer and considered it good business sense compared to what they signed him for. Well, it might have seemed like good business sense, but it didn’t make good FOOTBALL sense. We missed his presence and leadership on and off the field the following season. When we ask what led to the clubs decline, i believe that selling Souness was the first domino to fall.