A Cult Hero Tribute

Posted by Garstonite on August 18, 2006, 12:35:44 AM

In the 2004/2005 season Steven Gerrard was voted "cult hero" of the club. There's no question that he's a great player. A monstrous one in fact. But he is far from being a cult-hero. For me the fact that he topped the poll suggests that a lot of people don't actually know what the term means. That is what has inspired me to write this.

So, here, I give you, a tribute to the heroes of Anfield in years gone by. From the magnificent, to the absolutely dire, all of them were special in some way.

Enjoy.

Albert Stubbins

“A-L-B! E-R-T! Albert Stubbins is the man for me…”

Newcastle born Albert Stubbins was signed in September 1946 and he made his debut a few days later against Bolton Wanderers in a 3-1 win, scoring one of the goals.

A prolific goal-scorer for his home-town club - a traditional bustling English centre forward – Albert Stubbins signed for Liverpool after receiving a message on the screen at a cinema, the Newcastle News Theatre: "would Albert Stubbins please report to St James' Park". The message was that there were representatives from both Liverpool and Everton in town, wanting to discuss a move.

Unlike most transfer sagas today, the matter was quickly solved, as Albert joined Liverpool due to a flip of a coin. It came down heads which meant Albert spoke to Liverpool first and came to an agreement to join before Everton had a chance to meet him. Manager George Kay was so desperate to land his man he broke Liverpool’s then transfer record and splashed out a whopping £12,000.

The Geordie formed an understanding with strike partner George Balmer and Albert was top-scorer in the 1946/1947 season, netting 24 times.

He famously made an appearance on the Peter Blake designed cover of The Beatles album “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band” in the 1960s.

Described by many journalists as a better player than Newcastle legend Jackie Milburn, the red-headed centre forward was a hit on Merseyside. His magnificent record was a testament to his hard-work, but also his fast-pace and wonderful control and technique.

Despite never making “the 100 club”, he scored 83 times in 180 games, whilst the “Albert Stubbins Crazy Crew” still lives on to this day, despite his death in December 2002.

Gerry Byrne

Signed in 1955 as an amateur, Byrne went on to make his debut for Liverpool in a 5-1 defeat to Charlton Athletic in the old Division 2.

To say “things got better for him”, would be an ironic statement, as the full-backs cult-hero status came amid excruciating pain in the 1965 FA Cup final against Leeds at Wembley.

Three minutes into the game, Leeds United skipper Bobby Collins caught Byrne with a full-blooded challenge. Byrne not only went onto play the rest of the match with a broken collar bone, but also put in a magnificent display, assisting Roger Hunt for Liverpool’s first of the game with a superb cross.

Bill Shankly, when speaking of Byrne’s courageous display, said "Gerry's collar bone was split and grinding together yet he played on in agony", said Shankly. "It was a performance of raw courage from the boy".

After the game, the Football Association decided to allow teams a substitution in competitive matches. Bert Trautmann, Ray Wood, Roy Dwight and Dave Whelan would argue that there decision was a little overdue.

The versatile full-back was a part of the Shankly side which was promoted from Division 2 to Division 1 and Byrne also picked up 3 Charity Shields (two shared) and, of course, an FA Cup. Nobody could argue he didn’t deserve the latter.

Joey Jones

Joey Jones was signed by Bob Paisley in July 1975 for just over £110, 000 from Wrexham.

One thing which is rather disappointing about fans' memories of Joey Jones is what he was like as a footballer. Everybody remembers him as the definition of a cult-hero. His connection with the fans was legendary and he constantly gave 100%, entering challenges Roy Keane would never dream of. Few, unfortunately, forget to recall that he was a very stylish full-back - very comfortable in possession and capable of whipping in decent crosses.

After all he achieved in the game; he is just as proud to show-off the infamous banner as he is his medals, not to forget his Liverpool tattoo.

His hard-work, grit and determination is what will always be remembered, though. He gave his absolute all in every performance. The fans connected with him; they felt that if they had the honour to play for their beloved club, they would give as much effort as he does, and he shared the affection. He may not be the greatest player to ever walk on the Anfield turf, but he is a shining example of to a lot of people, as he is up there with the best of them, in my book.

His position as an Anfield legend was helped by a fantastically original banner unfurled in the 1977 European Cup final against AS Roma; "Joey Ate The Frogs Legs, Made The Swiss Roll, Now He's Munching Gladbach". A banner as priceless as every trophy in Liverpool's museum, Joey Jones represented what Liverpool were all about. He was never going to make the back-pages, but everyone who ever saw him play will always remember him.

Howard Gayle

Well, Howard may have only played in Liverpool Red on five occasions, but his position in Liverpool folklore is assured, due to the fact that he was the first ever black player to play for the Mighty Reds.

Growing up in Toxteth, he was an avid Red's supporter, who was spotted in a Sunday League team. He completed his dream by signing for Liverpool in 1977, but found it difficult to break into a magnificent first-team that was destined to greatness, led by Bob Paisley. He was, however, a permanent fixture in Roy Evans' reserve side and eventually made his first team debut in a 3-0 away win over Manchester City.

His claim to fame came months later in the European Cup semi-final against Bayern Munich in Germany. After an early injury to Kenny Dalglish, Howard Gayle came on and gave an admirable performance against top-class opposition, running the German defence ragged and doing his every bit to help Liverpool to an aggregate win to set up a blockbuster clash against Real Madrid, which would find Liverpool's third European Cup come home. Gayle was picked on the bench and despite not appearing in the final, he picked up a winners medal.

He scored his first and only goal for the club in a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane three days later and only played for the first team twice ever again.

Gayle later moved onto Birmingham, as well as spending periods at Sunderland and Blackburn.

Bruce Grobbelaar

Brucie was a bit of cult-figure at the Vancouver Whitecaps, the side he played for before he joined Liverpool in early 1981.

We all fondly remember the idiocy of a certain Fabien Barthez, whose eccentric style got Manchester United into trouble on a number of occasions (always nice to see), but Brucie was the same, if not worse. Playing a system where the defenders operated a high-line, Grobbelaar had the important job of the "Sweeper Keeper", something Ray Clemence had mastered expertly before him.

Playing over 620 games over a 14 year period, Brucie was like the kid at school forced unwillingly to play in goal and therefore attempted to make the best out of the situation.

Grobbelaar's huge yell is still being bounced off the walls in Anfield to this day and even on days when the Kop was in full swing, Brucie gave them a fantastic run for their money as he bellowed instructions to defenders. Just ask Jim Beglin, who was given a verbal bashing in the 1986 Cup Final. He was certainly not a man to cross when he was in a bad mood. McManaman can too vouch for that.

But it was the 1984 European Cup final which brought Grobbelaar's best moment. It was a game that Grobbelaar just seemed to be in a funny mood in from start to finish. He was on lead vocals as he and fellow Liverpool players sang Chris Rea's I don't know what it is in the tunnel before kick-off. (Cue puzzled looks from AS Roma players.)

But it was later on, with the game tied at 1-1 after extra time. It was penalties, when goalkeepers can only become heroes. Bruno and Francesco Graziani both missed their spot-kicks, largely due to Grobbelaar's antics, his spagetti legs, jelly legs, wobbly legs - whatever you want to call them - are down in Liverpool folklore. Liverpool went on to lift the trophy and Brucie became the first African to win the European Cup.

Fond memories of Grobbelaar were his handstands on the pitch at Wembley and doing handstands in front of me at the Kop end, as the announcer spoke of "Operation Anfield Excercise". That and his rather strange talent of being able to balance umbrella's on his nose.

He was a talented one, our Brucie.

A man with massive amounts of confidence and a personality as big as his trophy cabinet; he was definitely one of the finest goalkeepers of his generation.

He left Liverpool for Southampton in 1994 and a match-fixing scandal quick ensued. He along with Wimbledon keeper Hans Segers, Villa striker John Fashanu and Malaysian businessman Heng Suan Lim were found guilty of conspiracy to corrupt. He and his co-ofendants were cleared of all charges in 1997.

John Aldridge

The definition of a cult-hero is somebody who isn't the greatest of players, but somebody who gave 100% every time they went on to the field. Well, Aldridge did both.

Signed as the replacement for Rush, Liverpool might as well have kept quiet about their dealings. Nobody ever watched Italian football anyway and Aldridge carried on were Rush left off and even had a moustache in remembrance of the Welshman. However good Rush was, and good God he was, replacing him with Aldridge, Barnes and Beardsley has got to go down as some of the smartest pieces of business in our history.

Aldridge's record at Liverpool is outstanding and he played at the forefront of a brilliant attacking side and happily finished off swift attacking football with comfort. Aldo scored 26 goals in his first season at the club and was a hit with the fans. He adored the club and his commitment was never questioned as he always warranted a rest at the end of every game.

Later that season, he missed a penalty in the FA Cup final against Wimbledon. Beasant saved his spot-kick, which was placed in the left corner - an area he always went for. Wimbledon went on to win the game and the cup. Liverpool, however, won the title with relative ease, with Aldridge's goals helping towards it, without a doubt.

The season after, he struck back with great courage and continued his wonderful scoring streak. Arsenal snatched the title on the day of the season, though, and Aldridge was left dumbstruck. But regardless of the drama, what happened on the 15th April. Aldridge was left clearly disturbed by what happened and publicly conceded that he thought about packing it in. Aldo probably would have been in the Leppings Lane End that day, had he not become a footballer.

In the reschedueled game against Nottingham Forest, Liverpool won 3-1 and Aldridge scored two goals. Upon Liverpool's third and Aldo's second, he celebrated by ruffling the hair of Forest defender Brian Laws, whilst laughing. It was classic Aldridge.

Ian Rush signed and Aldridge's days looked numbered. Dalglish struggled to find a system which got the best out of both of their similar talents. The two were simply incompatible. After not getting as much playing time, by the end of the season Aldo decided to leave. He was brought on as a substitute and scored a penalty in the 9-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace. He duly threw his shirt and boots in to the Kop at the end of the game.

He onto to play for Real Sociedad, their first non-Basque signing and came back to Merseyside to play for Tranmere. In 1996 he was given the position of player-manager at Prenton Park and guided them to countless FA Cup upsets.

He now does commentary on BBC Radio Merseyside and, during his coverage of the game in Istanbul, after the game was won, shouted "FIVE TIMES BABY! FIVE TIMES!"

A great Red, a true cult-hero and a fellow Garstonite to boot.

"Mad" Erik Meijer

Erik Meijer was signed of a free on December 11th 2000 from Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. Despite statistically being a terrible striker, averaging a goal every 14 games, he was a hit with the fans. The big reason he failed to inspire was due to the competition he faced - Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen and Emile Heskey - all of which he conceded "were better than me".

If ever a player actually backed up their statement of being a Liverpool supporter, it was him. Not a game went by without seeing the Dutchman red in face screaming orders or words of encouragement to fellow players.

One memory of mine was reading about Meijer during a reserve game, after struggling to break into the first team. Games, which by the way, he treated as European Cup finals. With the scores level, the opposition side were playing keep ball. Meijer, defending from the front, was hounding the defenders. The first center half got hold of possession, took a touch and before he could even think about playing the ball, the Dutchman slid in taking both the ball and player. It rolled into the path of the second centre half. Meijer did the same trick, but again the ball ran to a member of the opposition, this time it was the right back's turn to feel Meijer's wrath. He, once again, slid in, taking the ball and player and this time the ball ran out of touch, hitting the advertising boards with an almighty thud. Meijer got up onto his feet and clenched his fists to the three men and a dog in the crowd, proud of his achievement. Conceding a throw-in.

Perhaps, however, the stand-out moment for the majority of people was when he joined Liverpool fans in Dortmund, before the UEFA Cup final against Alaves in 2001. He drank as many pints and sang as many songs as anyone did.

Jamie Carragher paid tribute to him, saying, "he was just a great fella to have around the place and a great fella to have on the pitch when he did play – a real team player who'd really put himself about. He was just unfortunate at the time that we had so many good strikers and he was probably number four choice before he got the chance to move on. Mad Erik, I think he's definitely a cult-hero."

Igor Biscan

How I miss moronically chanting "EEEEEGOR" from my seat in the Kop, whilst Biscan paid tribute to Johan Cruyyf trying all kinds of tricks and turns, working desperately hard for the adulation of the fans. If we were lucky - and Biscan started - we would get a wave, acknowledging our pre-match appreciation, whilst usually fondling his man-hood with his other hand.

What was it that made Biscan such a hero, on the Kop; was it is dopey expression, his Stan Laurel hair-cut, his silky-skills in an otherwise limited game-play; was it the images of his 'tackle', in a different sense of the word, against Everton or his strip-tease in the dressing room after the Champions League win?

Memories of being sent off in the Merseyside Derby in 2001 were erased two years later when he made the most remarkable last-ditch tackle of Everton's Tomas Radzinski, when playing 'out of position' (or was he? Even Biscan himself failed to make his mind up on whether he was a center half of a central midfielder). It was a challenge Bobby Moore, Franz Beckenbauer, Paulo Maldini et al would have been bloody proud of.

Remarkably, this eejit from Croatia, signed for, well, too much money, started to show his worth last season. Particularly in our Champions League run. Fans eyes which were rolling at the thought of him gracing Europe's finest stage were popping out of their sockets as he strolled past challenges and made mazy attacking runs into the box, one of which aided towards the winning goal against Deportivo in the group stages.

His Anfield career had been revived. The man who bore uncanny resemblence to Beaker from the Muppets, was showing that he was a rather good footballer after all. In the game against Fulham at Craven Cottage, Igor arrived on to the field to see the game out, as Liverpool were against the ropes with only 10 men. As he ran on from the touchline, looking as though he wished Benitez hadn't woken him up, he and Stephen Warnock played a couple of one-two's and Biscan unleashed an unbelievable strike into the top right hand corner of the goal. He turned away as players jumped on his back. It looked as though he needed confirmation that this wasn't one of his many day-dreams.

Other highlights came against Bayer Leverkusen when, on another tremendous burst from midfield, he slipped through Luis Garcia who slotted the ball into the back of the net. And finally, against Bolton, in a must-win game, Biscan grabbed a late winner, heading a killer ball from Djimi Traore straight into the ground and in past Jaaskelainen.

He left for Panathanaikos and the look on his face at the press-conference was the same as always.

However, Igor will never be adored as much anywhere else as he was by the Kop.

***

So, there you go. The real heroes. Apologies for being a little thin on information for some, I've obviously found it easier to think of things for people who have been playing more recently, so if anyone wants to suggest alternative cult-heroes or further information on my choices, fire away.

Ste Gerrard pfft, don't make me laugh. He's going down in Liverpool history for different reasons, let the real cult-heroes have their moment of glory!

© Garstonite 2006

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