On this day in 1981, Ronnie Whelan made his Liverpool debut in a 3-0 win against Stoke City.
Born in Dublin Whelan grew up in a sporting family with his father being an Irish international and his younger brother playing in the League of Ireland for a number of years. Ronnie impressed at youth level with Home Farm in Dublin and a number of English clubs showed interest in him including Manchester United. However, it was Liverpool who made a definite move just before his 18thbirthday and officially signed him on 19thSeptember 1979 for £35,000. Whelan had to be patient for his chance to impress and it eventually came two days after Liverpool won the League cup for the first time in April 1981. He replaced Ray Kennedy on the team sheet when Stoke City visited Anfield and he slotted in easily and even surged forward during the first half to calmly slot his first Liverpool goal past Stoke goalkeeper Peter Fox.
Unfortunately, he did not feature for the Reds first team again that season, however when Ray Kennedy was sold to Swansea in January 1982 he saw off Kevin Sheedy and it was clear that Whelan was capable of fitting into the team and being the successor of Kennedy. After sitting in a comfortable mid-table position at New Year, an outstanding run of 11 successive first division victories helped push the team up to the top of the table and to championship success. Whelan played in all of those eleven winning games, scoring four goals. Many expected Whelan to become one of the greats with the great start he made to his Liverpool career.
Over the following eight seasons, Whelan made a total of 400 appearances for the Reds and scored 54 goals. He continued to add medals to his collection and also picked up a number of Ireland caps. Whelan clearly had an eye for the spectacular when playing against Manchester United after he scored a fantastic curling shot in the Wembley League Cup final in 1983, and a belter at Goodison park in the 1985 FA Cup semi-final but there was also the 30 yard chipped own goal in March 1990 after a failed back pass sailed over Bruce Grobbelaar.
After John Barnes arrival in 1987, Whelan started to play more centrally and prospered with having greater responsibility and this increased when he was made captain in the 1988/89 season. He recalls his proudest moment in a Liverpool shirt when he walked up the steps first to receive the FA Cup after Liverpool’s 3-2 extra-time victory over Everton in May 1989. ‘That was my best years. I loved playing in the centre and I loved being involved all the time.’
Whelan was out with a fractured shin when Greame Souness succeeded Kenny Dalglish as manager and was side-lined for seven months with a knee injury in the 1991/92 season. He scored a late dramatic equaliser at Highbury to earn a replay with Portsmouth at the semi-final stage of the FA Cup in 1992 and although he played the Villa Park replay, which Liverpool won on penalties, Whelan missed the final against Sunderland because of injury. This was no becoming a regular occurrence with Whelan starting the season as a regular and then getting injured around September/October and not returning until around March. ‘The injuries did not help me, every time I would get fit I would suffer another injury.’
His final four seasons at Anfield were not successful in terms of injuries but nobody can be in doubt that between 1981 and 1990, Whelan was a huge influence in the success of the squad and the success that was brought to Anfield. Come the end of his career at Anfield, Ronnie left with six League championship medals, two FA Cup winners’ medals, three League cup winners’ medals and one European winners’ medal after beating Rome in 1984.
The 1994/95 season saw Ronnie move to Southend United to become their player-manager following his contract expiry at the Liverpool. He retired from playing in 1996 and went on to coach Panionios in Greece and Apollon Limassol and Olympiakos in Cyprus. He reached the quarter-finals of the European cup winners’ cup with Panionios but where beaten by Lazio 7-0 on aggregate.
Ronnie Whelan made 493 appearances for Liverpool and scored 73 goals and was key player during his time with the Reds.
Article by Lauren Black – @LaurenBlack9
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