Liverpool FC: The 10 Greatest Captains of All Time
Liverpool have a great tradition of having great managers. That's something we all know and are all thankful for.
When we think of the men to have led Liverpool to success the names Shankly, Paisley, Fagan, Dalglish, Houllier and Benitez all immediately come to mind. Sometimes however, we overlook the leader on the field.
While nobody would argue that Liverpool have had a couple of great captains over the years, some may not be aware of just how many great captains we have had throughout our history. In this article, I give a run down on my own personal top-10 players to have proudly worn the captains armband for our great club.
Hope you enjoy.
Honourable Mention: Ian Rush 1993-1996
Without question, Ian Rush will go down as one of the greatest players in club history and along with Roger Hunt, the greatest goalscorer to ever wear the jersey. What can sometimes be overlooked is his time as captain of the club.
While Rush was never a vocal leader, he most certainly led by example. The great Liverpool teams always defended from the front, and Rush was arguably the greatest ever at that.
Defenders never had a moment's peace when Rush was on the field. Even when he reached the twilight of his career he continued to run himself into the ground, hassling and harrying defenders and forcing them into mistakes.
Rush was the inspiration for Liverpool during his time as captain and while he only lifted one trophy during that time, the 1995 League Cup, that was more down to the players around him than Rush himself.
With 346 goals in 660 appearances for the club, countless medals and great service to the club during both his spells with us, Rush is one of our true greats. Unfortunately, a lack of success during his time as captain means he just misses out on this list.
Honourable Mention: Jamie Carragher
OK, I know he's never officially been team captain, but given the number of games Steven Gerrard has missed over the years, I would estimated that Carragher has captained Liverpool in about 50 games, probably more.
There's also no denying that while Gerrard is the inspirational leader, Carragher is the vocal leader. While Gerrard is the team's heart, Carragher is it's soul, and I simply had to give him some recognition as part of this list.
10. Sami Hyypia 2001-2003
I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that when Sami Hyypia arrived at Liverpool, a good percentage of the Liverpool fans had little to no idea of who he was.
When he departed for Bayer Leverkusen after 10 years of fantastic service, he was without question a walking legend in the eyes of everyone, as depicted above.
Hyypia was never a flashy defender. Everything he did was understated and subtle, but during his time at Liverpool, the number of mistakes which cost the team goals can probably be counted on your fingers.
Under-rated by all but those who saw him play on a regular basis, Sami was a rock for the Liverpool teams of Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez and played a huge role in both the fantastic cup treble of 2001 and the amazing Champions League success of 2005.
Technically, Sami was only captain of the team from 2001-2003 during a time when Liverpool's only successes were minor and secondary trophies, the 2001 Community Shield, the European Super Cup of the same year and the 2003 Carling Cup.
However, with both captain Jamie Redknapp and vice captain Robbie Fowler missing large parts of the 2001 season, Sami spent most of that season as captain, and with all due respect to Redknapp and Fowler, Sami deserves to be given credit for leading the team to the cup treble.
He was removed as captain in the middle of the 2003/2004 season when his form began to dip under growing pressure on him as captain and leader of the defense. He was, as we know, replaced as team captain by Steven Gerrard, although he did remain club captain for a number of years afterwards.
With 464 appearances for the club and 35 goals to his name during that time, Hyypia will go down in history as easily one of the five greatest central defenders in Liverpool history, and he lands at No. 10 in my top 10 captains.
9. Phil Thompson 1979-1981
One of the true greats, a man who served the club as a player, a coach and as assistant manager to three managers. Kenny Dalglish in his first stint as manager, his successor Graeme Souness and of course Gerard Houllier.
Phil Thompson was a Liverpool through and through and progressed from standing on the Kop as a young boy in the 1960s to living out his dreams and becoming Liverpool captain in 1979.
Along the way, he established himself as a fantastic defender who rarely put a foot wrong but frequently put his body on the line for the club he loved.
Thompson was appointed captain after Bob Paisley sold Emlyn Hughes to Wolves and would go on to lead the team to a league title, a league cup and his crowning glory, the 1981 European Cup final.
During his spell as captain, he was arguably one of the best defenders in European and deserves great praise for moulding Alan Hansen from a young, inexperienced defender into arguably the greatest defender ever to wear the famous red jersey.
Flanked by Phil Neal to their right and Alan Kennedy to their left, the pair would become a dominant force upon which Bob Paisley built a truly fantastic team.
Much to his disappointment, Thompson was replaced by Graeme Souness as Liverpool captain. He didn't let the removal of the armband affect him though and continued to perform brilliantly as he helped Liverpool to even more success.
When he left Liverpool he had amassed 477 appearances, scoring 13 goals along the way and writing his name into Liverpool folklore. After his retirement at the age of only 31, he would come back to the club and begin another chapter of his Liverpool story.
A truly great Red and No. 9 on my list of Liverpool captains.
8. Don McKinlay 1921-1928
Don MacKinlay was played in an era when men were men, and football was not a game for the faint-hearted. During that time, there were few men tougher than Liverpool's Scottish warrior.
McKinlay broke into the Liverpool team in 1910 at the age of 19 and would go on to give the club 18 years of fantastic service amassing 434 appearances with 34 goals (There was no league football for the duration of the first World War which means his appearance total is far lower than it would have been).
Upon his appointment as captain in 1921, Liverpool were in the midst of a 15 title drought. This was not something MacKinlay was happy about, and he made it his personal mission to bring title success to the starved Liverpool faithful.
It did not take him long. In his first very first season as captain, he led the team to the title as part of what was arguably the first great Liverpool team.
MacKinlay was a true believer in the captain being the leader of the team and other players followed the captains directions. Years after his retirement when asked about the great captains of the time (1955), he would say this about his views on the role,
"Generally today captains do not have sufficient reponsibility. It seems to me that all they do is to take the team out and toss the coin. There’s not enough directing and you hardly hear them shout instructions.
In my day I had full control on the field and if there was any decision on changing of positions, I took it. I am speaking generally and not individually, but captains today are not what they used to be. I told my players, ‘If I have to say anything to you, answer me back and don’t start sulking.’"
The MacKinlay led Liverpool would follow up their 1921/23 title success by retaining the title the following season making him the first Liverpool captain to lift the title in back to back seasons.
A feat that would not be matched until Emlyn Hughes did so in 1975/76 and 76/77. Perhaps not a name known by the masses but No. 8 on my list, Don MacKinlay.
7. Alex Raisbeck 1899-1909
Another blast from the distant past.
The first in a long line of great Scots who would lead Liverpool, Alex Raisbeck wrote his name in Liverpool history in 1901 when he became the first Liverpool captain to lead his team to a league title. Regardless of what came afterwards, nobody can ever take that huge honour away from him.
Raisbeck joined Liverpool from Hibernian in 1898 after a loan spell at Stoke failed to earn him a permanent move. He was appointed captain only a year later at the tender age of 21 and two years later would earn his place in Liverpool folklore when that first title arrived.
In 1904 Liverpool were relegated to the second division and Raisbeck would write another piece of footballing history as he captained Liverpool to the second division at the first time of asking and followed that up by leading them to their second first division title the following year, 1906, becoming the first man to captain his team to second division and first division success in back to back years.
In the 105 years since that magnificent achievement, only one man has managed to do the same, Dixie Dean of Everton in 1931 and 1932. That would be what you might call "exclusive company."
Raisbeck played for Liverpool on 341 occasions, scoring 19 goals and writing his name into history with the two great achievements I mentioned. I place him on my list at No. 7.
6. Steven Gerrard 2003-Present
Steven Gerrard is a walking icon for Liverpool fans. Over the last seven or eight years he has been, without question, the best and most important player in the Liverpool team.
He's the undoubted heart of the team, the man who has dragged the team to successes they may not have deserved. He certainly deserved them though.
Gerrard's story is well known to everyone and I see no point in repeating what's been written a thousand times. The facts are:
556 games, 140 goals.
PFA Player of the Year - 2006
Writers Player of the Year - 2009
As captain he has lifted the 2005 Champions League trophy, the 2005 European SuperCup and the 2006 FA Cup when he single-handedly dragged Liverpool to success scoring two great goals in the final, the second of which may be the best FA Cup final goal ever, especially given the circumstances.
Gerrard has never won a league title and unfortunately that keeps him further down this list than you might have imagined.
As a player, he's a sure thing for the top five Liverpool players of all time. As a captain, I place him at No. 6.
5. Alan Hansen 1985-1988, 1989-1990
The man they called Jockey. The man best known these days for his hatred of poor defending and vast array of adjectives to describe examples of such on Match of the Day.
Well 20 years ago, Alan Hansen had just called time on one of the great careers in Liverpool history and arguably left himself on top of the pile as the greatest defender in the club's history.
Hansen had arrived from Partick Thistle in 1977 for a fee of £110,000. He would go on to win a haul of medals which is surpassed by only Phil Neal and win plaudits the world over. Hansen won three European Cups, eight League titles, two FA Cups and four League Cups during his spell at Liverpool.
He was appointed captain in 1985 by his good friend Kenny Dalglish who had just become the new Liverpool manager, and during his spell as captain Liverpool won three league titles and the 1986 FA Cup, which completed a famous double.
Without question that Liverpool team should have won the double again in 1988. They were famously upset by Wimbledon in the FA Cup final, a game they really should have won easily.
Hansen missed the vast majority of the 1988/89 season and was replaced as captain by Ronnie Whelan. He was re-instated for the following season and led Liverpool to their 18th, and to date last, league title.
Hansen played for Liverpool 620 times, scoring 14 goals. He was a peerless defender who, in his prime, had very few equals in world football.
4. Graeme Souness 1981-1984
They say there are two sides to every story and that every football match has two halves. Well, the Graeme Souness story at Liverpool most definitely leaves Liverpool fans with two very different feelings.
As a player, he's one of our best ever, perhaps the best midfielder we've ever had. As a manager, he's one of our worst ever, perhaps the worst of all.
Personally, I prefer to base my feelings on Souness on his time as a player, and because he was so good, I can forgive him for how bad he was as a manager.
Souness was what Roy Keane wanted to be. He was all-around midfielder with no weakness, whose name alone sent shivers down opponents backs.
Souness was a hardman. He was a fantastic tackler who never shirked confrontation and wasn't above settling scores with his fists, but he was also a wonderfully gifted player who had fantastic passing ability, great vision, a wonderful shot with either foot and an engine that allowed him to cover every blade of grass for the full 90 minutes.
Souness arrived at Liverpool in January of 1978 and would go on to win an impressive haul of medal. Six league titles, three European Cups and four League Cups were won by Liverpool during Souness time at the club as Liverpool dominated at home and abroad.
He was made captain in 1981 and became the first man to lift three successive first division titles, although he relinquished the right to presented with the title in 1984, giving that honour to the soon to retire Bob Paisley.
Souness is, to my knowledge, the only man to ever lead his team to three league and cup doubles (league cup of course) in successive years, 1981/82, 1982/83 and 1983/84.
He left Liverpool for Sampdoria in 1984 after the third title was secured having made 359 appearances and scoring 55 goals.
3. Emlyn Hughes 1973-1979
Emlyn Hughes might be the most talented player to have ever worn a Liverpool shirt. Hughes was a world class defender, be it at central defender or fullback, and was also a top class player when asked to play in midfield.
Signed from Blackpool in 1967, Hughes was a massive signing for Liverpool. Manager Bill Shankly had spent two years trying to get his man, and when he finally did he had to beat off competition for his signature for almost every other top flight team.
Such was Shankly's admiration of Hughes's talents that when stopped by a police officer whilst driving Hughes from Blackpool to Liverpool for his unveiling, Shanks snapped at the unfortunate officer, "Don't you know who I've got in this car? That's captain of England!"
When the officer replied that he did not recognise Hughes, Shankly retorted "You will son, you soon will."
Hughes would indeed go on to captain England, but more importantly, he would become one of Liverpool's greatest players and of course, Liverpool captain. I should point out that there was some controversy to the way he became Liverpool captain.
Hughes was never the most popular amongst the other players and had never really gelled with then captain Tommy Smith. During contract negotiations in the summer of 1973, Hughes demanded to be made team captain, threatening to leave if this demand was not met.
Whilst Bill Shankly was never one to be strong-armed, on this occasion he did relent. He installed Hughes as team captain and appointed Smith at club captain. The fact of the matter was that whilst Hughes led the team out and wore the armband, the players took their directions from Smith.
Despite that, it is impossible to take away from the success Liverpool enjoyed during Hughes's spell as captain, three League titles, an FA Cup, two European Cups, a UEFA Cup and a European SuperCup.
With 665 appearances, 49 goals and an incredible trophy haul, regardless of how he got the position, there's no denying Emlyn Hughes his place on this list. I've got him at No. 3 on mine, but I'm sure others would have him higher.
2. Tommy Smith 1970-1973
I must admit to being somewhat biased with this pick, but then again, this is my list. Tommy Smith is my all-time favourite Liverpool player and would, without question, be in my all-time Liverpool 11.
He joined Liverpool as a member of the groundstaff at the age of 15, and three years later, in 1963, he made his debut. He would go on to earn the name, The Anfield Iron and become a club legend.
Smith's first couple of seasons saw him play a variety of roles including central defense(or wing half as it was back then), fullback and in midfield. He would eventually settle into the centre of the defense alongside team captain Ron Yeats.
Smith would become the rock on which a lot of Liverpool's success was formed. As Bill Shankly once said about him, "Tommy Smith wasn't born, he was quarried." Smith was the hardest of hardmen, but he was also a very talented footballer.
He was versatile too, he played centre back in two great Liverpool teams and right-back in another. It may surprise many to know that he was sent off only once in his entire career, and that was for talking back to a referee.
He picked up only a handful of yellow cards as well despite making many bone crunching tackles through his career.
Smith replaced Yeats as Liverpool captain in 1970 and lead them to the league and UEFA Cup double in 1973. As I've already mentioned he was replaced by Emlyn Hughes as captain after the 1973 season but was without question the leader of the team until he left the club in 1978.
His crowning moment for Liverpool was his bullet header in the 1977 European Cup final.
During his Liverpool career he won four league titles, two FA Cups, two UEFA Cups and two European Cups (although he missed the 1978 final after a bizarre injury caused while overseeing some construction at one of his properties). He played 638 games and scored 48 goals.
As I said at the start of this piece, it's a biased pick, but I place Tommy Smith at No. 2 on my list of Liverpool captains.
1. Ron Yeats 1961-1970
Who else could it be? He was good enough for Shankly, so he's good enough for me.
The story of the signing of Ron Yeats is probably the most famous of any Liverpool player.
Bill Shankly met Yeats and the board of Dundee United at a hotel in Edinburgh in July of 1961. Shankly took a walk around Yeats and uttered words that now have become legendary, "Jesus Christ son, you must be 7-feet tall!"
Yeats said, "No, actually I'm only six feet three."
"Well, that’s near enough 7-feet for me."
Yeats wasn’t quite sure where Liverpool was on the map and asked Shankly where Liverpool was situated. Shankly answered, "Liverpool is in first division."
Yeats replied hesitantly that he thought Liverpool was still in second division. "We are son, but with you in the side we will soon be in the first division!"
If Yeats harboured any doubts about moving south, they evaporated at this meeting. Shankly paraded him in front of the press at Anfield and invited them to take a look at the giant centre-half, "Come in, and walk him. The boy is a colossus."
Yeats remains the longest serving captain in Liverpool history, although Steven Gerrard is likely to surpass him, and while his list of honours is not as impressive as others on this list, he did lead the team to two first division titles, a second division titles and an FA Cup, all while making 454 appearances and scoring 16 goals.
But it's impossible to measure Yeats by trophies and appearances alone. He was the leader of undoubtedly the most important team in Liverpool history. He also set the bar for what was to come.
Any future Liverpool defender was challenged to reach the standards set by Yeats. The same is true of all captains that followed him. His value to the team, and the legacy he left behind is unmeasurable.
When I started this article, I knew Yeats had to be No. 1. Some may disagree but like I said, he was good enough for Shankly, and he's certainly good enough to be my No. 1.
Well that's that, my top 10 list of Liverpool's all-time best captains, along with two honourable mentions.
You may have noticed a distinct Scottish theme to things, maybe Stevie G needs to be succeeded by a Scot when it comes time to pass on the armband, as we seem to have had a lot of success with Scottish captains.
Hope you've enjoyed and perhaps learned a thing or two about players you may previously not have known.
Thanks for reading.
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