Steven Kelly takes a look at the iconic life of former Liverpool player and coach Ronnie Moran.
Whether they were wearing tracksuits or business suits, any photograph of Liverpool’s Boot Room throughout the club’s most glorious years has become almost as iconic as Emlyn Hughes lifting the European Cup or Kenny chipping Bruges’ goalkeeper.
The fans may have been mesmerised by the talents on the pitch but young or old, they knew where the real work had been done.
From the mid 1960s to the early 1990’s, one man features in all of those photographs. Ronnie Moran’s death severs the last tie connecting the modern club — occasionally gifted, more often a travesty — with its illustrious past.
Supporters of a certain age (guilty as charged) felt his passing like a blow to the stomach. We’d known about his vascular dementia and were just grateful that a book aptly titled Mister Liverpool had been put to paper before the man could no longer recall everything about his fantastic life.
It often gets overlooked that he played well over 300 games for the Reds, in a period bridging that gap between Second Division embarrassment and the rebirth under Bill Shankly.
Once he bowed to the inevitable passage of time and his playing career ended, his profound qualities as a man were enough to earn him a place in Shankly’s coaching staff.
Moran, Shankly, and Paisley weren’t the most talented of players themselves but their experiences held them in good stead. Moran embodied the Scot’s emphasis on “natural enthusiasm”, both of them scornful of anyone who thought talent was enough by itself to merely “get by”.
Stories of his moaning and grouchiness are now legendary, but few believed that was ever the real man. It was a role, one deemed necessary to keep peacock footballers from spreading their wings to the detriment of the team as a whole.
The story of how Ronnie distributed title-winning medals has become a masterclass in Chinese Whispers. The act of tossing them out dismissively and warning players it would be harder to win the following season will one day involve him using a catapult and drawing blood.
A player and coach who gave everything, it’s difficult to imagine what he’d make of the current team and harder still to believe it might be printable. Beating Arsenal and Spurs, losing to Hull and Swansea? The paint on the dressing room walls would probably blister.
The psychology he’d used on the players in his and the club’s halcyon days could probably still work wonders today. The message was simple enough; never settle, never take anything for granted, the job is never over.
Even for those. like me, who actually witnessed those events first-hand, it’s still difficult to vividly recall how we approached things back then. It just seemed a natural reaction. One year, Liverpool were doing okay. Then they were winning trophies. Then they couldn’t stop winning if they’d tried.
The natural Anfield progression of coach to assistant manager to manager ground to a halt in 1985. For some reason it was decided Dalglish could vault over both Moran and Evans, bypassing the coaching apprenticeship altogether. Three league titles and two FA Cups in five years at least vindicated that decision. The mistakes came later.
When Dalglish infamously resigned in 1991, Ronnie took the job on, reluctantly at first, it appeared. But initial discomfort had not stood in the way of Bob Paisley and some thought Moran could eventually step up, face down a difficult challenge and keep Liverpool where they’d been for the previous 30 years.
Whoever decided Graeme Souness was the more natural successor in 1991 made a fatal error of judgement. By the time he’d spectacularly imploded and a grubby, spitting, red-faced Scot called Ferguson had scrambled impertinently onto our perch, the promotion of Roy Evans to the top job meant Ronnie would never manage Liverpool full-time.
For a man whose nickname was Bugsy it was easy to reach for gangster analogies and a great consigliere might not always make a good Don.
Lesser men might have huffed away in a strop but Moran’s devotion to Liverpool was total. Roy needed him. Liverpool needed him. I doubt he even had a second’s prevarication about staying.
A playing and coaching career devoted to one club lasted half a century before he eventually retired in 1998.
Such bullish devotion to duty had now begun to look almost quaint in a ruthless, modern sport. It must have been hard to keep silent while a Spice Boy slouch and lucrative modelling gigs became the norm rather than the exception.
Sure, the likes of Keegan had also become pretty boy corporate shills for the amazing smell of Brut or whoever else would pay back in the day, but it had never interfered with what mattered most of all; what you did on the pitch.
Not until now, and it always seemed like Ronnie got out before it got any worse.
When I edited a Liverpool fanzine I remember being sarcastic about Ronnie roaming the Anfield corridors in 1997 shouting “where are the vultures now?” Liverpool had just cruised past Derby 4-0, but it had been preceded by two ignominious defeats at Everton and Strasbourg. It was a futile comment on his part, yet Moran was only doing what he’d always done; giving his club and manager his full devotion and loyalty.
Easy to say with hindsight, but Ronnie was in the right and the sarky over-demanding outside world was out of step.
Checking back on what’s written above it feels less like an obituary and more the story of Liverpool FC itself. Far from wanting to go back and change anything, that feels as apt a tribute to Ronnie Moran as you can possibly get.
When he retired, the club’s Scouse voice reverted to the pitch with players like Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. There isn’t one at all now. Many local fans feel alienated from the club.
As vascular dementia set in, memory loss was inevitable. Everyone’s memories are special but somehow it feels most cruel when someone’s recollections embrace such colossal achievements in their lives. Rome, London, Paris, Rome again.
Before his light grew dim, you wonder if Moran saw something of himself in the passion and desire of Jurgen Klopp. I hope so. To die without hope must be an awful thing.
It ultimately doesn’t matter where you’re born, as long as you embody a spirit that is Liverpool through and through. We used to say in the fanzine; more Hyypias, less Dioufs.
That spirit shone brightest in Ronnie Moran. Mister Liverpool wasn’t some half-arsed concessionary term, a lachrymose concession to sentiment.
We meant it. We always will.
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