Jimmy Case. Tough-tackling, thunderous shot-taking engine of a midfielder, who played 632 career league matches, scoring 46 league goals. A hero for Liverpool and Southampton, with sides as varied as Brighton and Bashley also on his CV. A gentleman and a cracking laugh, Jimmy was certainly a pleasure to talk to.
Early career and signing for Liverpool
Case began his career at a tender 16 at semi-professional ‘South Liverpool’. After being approached for Liverpool schoolboys years before, Case was rejected because of poor physique. Joining dockers team Blue Union, he underwent a stunning transformation in which he grew to a stature in which he was fit for professional football.
“Well if you got into Liverpool schoolboys in them days, you knew you were almost guaranteed a career in at least the football league, if not the top level. I turned up, and the guy running the trials was a man named Tommy Saunders. He was a brute of a man, a headmaster type, and he walked along the line of us. ‘You, in. You, in. You, no.’ I was obviously disappointed but I just got on with it.”
So Case, after being let down by Liverpool, decided to take up an apprenticeship as an electrician after finishing school, playing Sunday football with docking side ‘Blue Union’. Eventually, he would end up with the aforementioned South Liverpool.
“I was playing for them and a lad walked over with his dog. It was soaking wet and I’d just got a corner, and the lad whispered in my ear, “Do you want a trial for Liverpool?”. My response was of shock and featured several expletives, and I thought he was having me on.
“So he sorted it with the club and eventually I went along to Melwood for a two week trial. At 19 this was a big thing, and at the end of the two weeks I got called into an office and told that Mr (Bill)Shankly wants to sign me.
And who else walks in but Tommy Saunders! He offered me the deal, and I turned it down. I thought, ‘If you didn’t want me before, you can’t have me now!’, and I returned home to a family in dismay! What was I thinking, they said.
Subsequently Shankly returned and had a word with Case’s company, and arranged for him to have two mornings and two nights a week to train and the rest to continue and finish his electrical apprenticeship. Case had officially become a Reds player, but spent the following two years in the reserves until a fateful day in 1975.
Debut and Liverpool Years
Case actually made his debut on the final day of the 1974/75 season against Queen Park Rangers, meaning he would have to wait another three or four months for another appearance. But it was certainly worth the wait.
“They used to stick up the three teams up on a Friday morning. The A Team, the reserve team, and of course the first team. I wasn’t actually down to be even in the squad, I was in the reserves. But in the evening time I joined the squad in the hotel and I thought, wow, I might be sub! I’d have been absolutely made up if I was sub!
“Anyway, Joe Fagan, Ronnie Moran and the coaches told me to head up to bed for an early night. The team wasn’t announced by Bob (Paisley) until around an hour and 15 minutes before kickoff in the changing room. We played 4-3-3 in those days, a very fluid, attacking game, and I thought again I might be sub. He named the goalkeeper, the back four and the midfield three and in my astonishment, he said: ‘And up front will be Keegan, Toshack and Case’.
“It was just such a feeling of being almost taken-aback, to get your name called out like that and you run out in front of the Kop. All I can say is wow, and we went on to win 3-1. I crossed for Keegan and then was brought down for a penalty. What a great day, but as it was the last day I had to wait until the next year to bl**dy play you know! I could’ve played the next day and it was surreal having to wait!
Case had a good debut season at Anfield, scoring 12 times and winning the League/UEFA Cup double, only to win the European Cup just a year later.
The success in Case’s career didn’t only come in team form, winning the inaugural ‘Bravo Award’ for European Young Player of the Year in 1978, the year Liverpool won their second consecutive European Cup.
I asked Jimmy what he had in common with Eden Hazard, Lionel Messi, Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba, and he responded with “Well it certainly wouldn’t be downing a pint in a few seconds!“
“That was quite a prestigious thing back then, and I guess it still was until it finished. I had to fly out to Italy in my suit to get it and I was totally surprised to get it. Although when we were playing in Europe, I usually scored quite freely so maybe they saw that side of me a little more than in the English game.
“You saw the names that were there like Paolo Rossi. I mean, wow. What a player. He won the main award. The fella who came second to me was Cabrini, the Juventus fullback, again unbelievable player. And the player who came third was Johnny Rep from Holland. To top them two was a real honour and something unique to talk about for the rest of my career”
South Coast Affiliation
The time came in 1981 for Case to be moved on, being used in a £450,000 makeweight for Mark Lawrenson to go up north with Case joining Brighton and Hove Albion.
Case infamously though scored at Anfield for the Seagulls, knocking Liverpool out of the FA Cup in 1983.
“It was 1-1 at the time, and it rolled out to me. I sort of went into a zone and struck it. I struck it well and it took a deflection off Ronnie Whelan and flew past Brucey (Grobbelaar). Whenever Liverpool fans talk to me about that one I always say ‘blame Ronnie it came off him!’. But whenever Brighton fans talk to me about it I always saw how much of a screamer it was!”
Case went on to describe the reaction of a reporter after the victory, with the reporter questioning Case’s integrity. It was the only trophy Bob Paisley never brought back to Anfield, how could he be so selfish as to score the goal that knocked his hometown club and a manager he was signed by out of the prestigious Cup.
“Well I’ve never won the cup too you know!” Case replied, and the Kop continued to chant his name in respect for a professional and excellent performance.
He would go on to reach the final of the competition, only to lose 4-0 to Manchester United in a replay after drawing 2-2 in the first match. Brighton ended the season rooted to the foot of the table, and Case would spend two more years at the Goldstone Ground before joining Southampton aged 31 in 1985.
“I arrived at Southampton and spent 8 years there. And I tell you what, I enjoyed every minute of it. When I came, Lawrie McMenemy was the manager and he wanted to get someone in who wouldn’t be intimidated by a dressing room with Peter Shilton, Joe Jordan, Charlie George and all sort of older players, and I fit in easily. I ended up staying on a one-year deal every year until I was 39!”
At the age of 40, Case was deemed not fit enough to play the long ball game by Ian Branfoot. He was shifted to Bournemouth within just a few days of the beginning of the ex-Reading manager’s tenure. This would the first time, in his so-far 20 year career, that he would play in the third tier.
Harry Redknapp was the manager at the time, and although Case was deemed to old for Southampton, he featured 49 times for the Cherries that season. Spells at Sittingbourne and Wrexham in the next two years culminated in a return to Brighton.
“I do have a real affinity with the area, and still live down there today. My children and grandchildren are all based down there and its a beautiful part of the world, it really is.”
Case spent two years as a player/coach for Brighton, before being appointed manager after Liam Brady’s departure in 1996.
“There was not that much money at all, and yes, money isn’t everything, but it is when you’re struggling. And on the tin it said I was the manager but under such constraints that it wasn’t really my job at all.
Before that situation arose, I said I’d never be a manager. Not so much that you have to be a liar and a cheat, but you have to keep the fans on side, the players on side and the directors on side and usually they’re not all going to agree themselves. I’m a bit too honest for all that.”
Non-League Football and a cheeky pint
After leaving Brighton, Case returned to his non-league roots, securing the management role at non-league side Bashley, a side from the New Forest.
“Non-league was brilliant for me. It just brought back that real community of football where we would all go out for a pint and have a laugh on the team bus. Non-league was my sort of style too. I don’t like any of this diving nonsense we see today, and the challenges were let go as normal which helped for a really good contest.
“One day we needed to win to go top of the league, so I said to the boys – if we win I’ll let you play all your hip-hop rubbish on the way back and we’ll have a drink. If we lose you’ll have to listen to Max Bygraves all the way home.
“It seemed to work, we ended up winning pretty easily I believe, and the boys were buzzing. I even got the Brandy out! The boys had gone quiet for a bit at the back, and slowly I heard them chanting. ‘We want Max, we want Max’!”
The Modern Era – what’s next for Jimmy’s former clubs?
Jimmy retired from any real involvement in football in the early noughties, and has since been doing radio work, punditry, and is a regular at legends’ meet and greets for Liverpool. The modern era promises so much more than just that 6th Champions League in Madrid – and what does the future hold for the south coast sides in their quest to stay in the top flight?
“Well we came close in 2014, that Suarez season, we took a dip, and now we’re above and beyond any of our expectations really. To think four years ago we were finishing sixth and now we won the sixth! Jurgen has done a marvellous job at solving all our problems. Not being funny about Karius, Mignolet or Lovren – all good players, but we need the best men for the job. Alisson and Van Dijk have been integral for us in winning all these games this season.“
“Brighton and Southampton are on downward trails – probably Brighton more than Saints because of their new manager, Bournemouth though – brilliant investment and here they are – a stable Premier League club playing beautiful football, and under a fantastic young manager in Howe.“
I would like to extend a massive thank you for Jimmy’s brilliant conversational and entertainment skills and talking to me personally. A real pleasure, Mr Case.