Club Legend: Alan Hansen

hanson rush after winning title for liverpool

To some, Alan Hansen will be best remembered as a TV pundit. In the years after his football career drew to a close, the Scot appeared regularly on Match of the Day on the BBC between 1992 and 2014, famously once saying of Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United side that ‘you’ll win nothing with kids’.

To older Liverpool supporters, however, he will forever be known as being one of the best defenders ever to play for the club, winning everything there was to win in a career that saw him play for the Reds from 1977 until 1990. One of numerous Scottish players who helped to make Liverpool the best team on the planet, the main thing he didn’t do was manage the club.

In the modern era it is extremely unusual for a player to only play for one or two clubs during their career. In the past, though, a player was able to do so if they were good enough. Alan Hansen was very much good enough, arriving to Liverpool from Partick Thistle and retiring from the game when he left Anfield.

He is thought of as one of the best footballers that Scotland ever produced, to say nothing of one of the finest defenders that the game saw play. Whilst he might have gone on to be known for saying defending was ‘shocking’ or ‘diabolical’ on MOTD, his performances on the pitch earned him the right to criticise.

Hansen’s Early Years

Alan David Hansen was born in the Scottish town of Sauchie on the 13th of June 1955. He grew up as a Rangers fan, attending Lornshill Academy and being noteworthy to many because of his unusual last name. It came from the fact that his grandfather was Danish, with Hanson being the spelling if he’d been Swedish.

His early football was played alongside his brother John with their local side, Sauchie Juniors. When he was 17-years-old, Hansen was late for a volleyball match and ran straight through a glass panel, which caused him to have a large scar on his forehead. He ended up getting 27 stitches during a two-hour procedure.

Hansen chose to sue the eduction authority, winning his case. He decided to give up volleyball in order to focus on golf, believing that he was good enough to turn professional. His brother and father both wanted him to play football, so he went on a trial with Hibernian and was offered a professional contract.

He turned it down owing to the fact that it would have meant that he wouldn’t be able to play golf competitively and he was due to play in the Scottish Boys’ Strokeplay at Montrose that weekend. When he said as much to the Hibs manager, Eddie Turnbull, he received the reply, Are you an idiot?

Becoming a Footballer

In spite of his love of golf, Hansen, who had turned down the chance to go to the University of Aberdeen to study, chose to join up with is older brother at Partick Thistle. His application was assessed during the summer, so he went to work for General Accident Insurance to earn some money.

He hated his time there, finding it extremely boring and being in fear of someone phoning up for an insurance quote whilst he was manning the phones at lunchtime. Luckily for him the football panned out, allowing him to join Partick Thistle and seeing him attend the Scottish League Cup final in 1971 when they defeated Celtic in a huge shock.

His brother John had been in the Partick Thistle side that had defeated the favourites 4-1, giving him something to aspire towards. He soon began playing regularly for the side, including 21 appearances during the 1975-1976 season when the club won the Scottish First Division and were promoted into the Scottish Premier Division.

He added another 35 appearances to his slate over the following season, resulting in numerous top clubs watching him. One of those keeping an eye on his performances was Bob Paisley, the Liverpool manager, who wanted to add the Scot to his ranks at Anfield in order to bolster the club’s defensive attributes.

Arriving at Liverpool

alan hansen playing for liverpool in 1981
Hans van Dijk for Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

On the fifth of May 1977, Alan Hansen signed for Liverpool and made the move to Anfield. Having been known for years as ‘Stretch’, a nickname that he loathed, he was soon given a new one by his teammates of ‘Jockey’. At the time, he felt out of his depth, not least of all because he hadn’t wanted to leave Scotland and didn’t really want to be there.

The nerves were an issue for him, getting worse the more experience he got. His teammates believed he was extremely cool, with the player sitting in the dressing room reading the programme and singing ‘Don’t Go Changing It’ by Billy Joel. In reality, he was trying to hide his fears.

It was only when he ran down the tunnel and touched the ‘This is Anfield’ sign that the nerves would dissipate. Having cost the club £100,000, there was a desire for him to succeed. He made his debut in a match against Derby County at Anfield, with Liverpool keeping a clean sheet. His first goal came in the European Cup, finding the net in the first-leg of the second round tie against Dynamo Dresden, with the Reds running out 5-1 winners. His first season at the club saw him enjoy sporadic appearances, not being selected for the League Cup final replay loss to Nottingham Forest but appearing in the European Cup final win over FC Bruges.

@verocalciolfc Liverpool’s Alan Hansen #liverpool #liverpoolfc #lfc #LFC #alan #hansen #scot #scottish #centreback #elegance #class #CB #vero #calcio ♬ original sound – Vero Calcio

In the following season Hansen became a regular started for Liverpool, helping the club to a record tally of 68 points at a time when two points were awarded for a win. The Reds conceded just four goals at Anfield all season, with Hansen becoming an automatic first-choice when Emlyn Hughes was sold to Wolves ahead of the 1979-1980 campaign.

The club retained the First Division title, following that up with a League Cup and European Cup double the following season. A year on and Liverpool beat Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup final, with Hansen missing it through injury but having a medal made for him as he played in every round prior.

Becoming Liverpool Captain

The 1980s was a period of extreme dominance for Liverpool. The Reds made the final of the European Cup in 1984 after beating Dinamo Bucharest 3-1 on aggregate in the semi-final, including a point in the first-leg when Graeme Souness broke the jaw of one of the Bucharest players. Hansen played in the final against Roma at their home stadium of the Stadio Olimpico, with 69,000 people seeing Liverpool win a penalty shootout after the match had ended 1-1.

The Reds also made it to the final of the European Cup in 1985, but were banned from European competition following the Heysel Stadium Disaster when 39 supporters died.

Joe Fagan chose to retire after Heysel, with Kenny Dalglish taking over as manager. The Scot was a good friend of Hansen and chose to give him the captaincy. At the end of the 1985-1986 season, Hansen became just the third captain to lift the FA Cup as well as the First Division trophy, with the Reds having followed in the footsteps of Spurs in 1961 and Arsenal in 1971 by doing the double. It also saw ‘Jockey’ complete the domestic set, having not won the FA Cup until then.

An unsuccessful 1986-1987 campaign saw Arsenal beat Liverpool in the League Cup final and Everton win the First Division, with the Reds ending up trophyless.

Winding Down & Retiring From Football

The Reds bounced back from the disappointment of a trophyless season by losing just two league games across the entire 1987-1988 campaign. Liverpool were denied a double thanks to a shock loss to Wimbledon in the FA Cup final, but two days later 31,000 turned up to Anfield for Hansen’s testimonial. In the 1988-1989 season, the defender’s appearances were limited when he dislocated his left knee during a pre-season friendly against Atlético Madrid.

One of his few appearances came in the FA Cup final against Everton, which Liverpool 3-2 in extra-time. Hansen gave the honour of the trophy lift to Ronnie Whelan, who had deputised in his absence.

The 1988-1989 season will forever by known by the tragedy of the Hillsborough Disaster, in which 97 supporters lost their lives. Hansen referred to as ‘the blackest period of my life’, having attended 12 of the funerals and later saying that ‘the emotional scars will be there forever’. The Reds missed out on the league title when Michael Thomas scored a last-minute winner for Arsenal in the final game of the season at Anfield.

Although he made more appearances in the following season, his persistent knee problem caused him to consider his future. Although Liverpool won the title, Hansen could sense that the end was nigh.

He set a record when Liverpool won their eighth league title during his time at the club, but he failed to play a single game in the following campaign. His friend Kenny Dalglish resigned as Liverpool manager in the February of 1991, with Hansen deciding to retire from the game a month later.

He was offered the role of Liverpool manager, but turned it down. He later explained, “I had realised at the time that if I was feeling the pressure as much as I did, as a manager you can multiply that by a hundred”. He was offered other managerial roles, including that of Huddersfield Town in 1992 and Manchester City in 1995, but was never interested in management.

Hansen the Pundit

Almost as soon as Hansen stopped playing, the relatively new Sky Television decided to employ the Scot as a pundit and summariser. He did well enough in the role to mean that the BBC got in touch, asking him to work for BBC Radio 5 Live initially before employing him as one of the main pundits on Match of the Day.

He became known as a calm and authoritative voice who offered rational analysis of the games that were covered. When Manchester United lost 3-1 to Aston Villa on the opening day of the 1995-1996 Premier League campaign, Hansen said, “You can’t win anything with kids”. It was a comment that came back to haunt him when United won the double that season.

Hansen’s contract with the BBC was due to expire in the wake of the 2014 World Cup. He appeared on Match of the Day for the final time on the 11th May 2014, then made his last appearance for the broadcaster two months later when covering the World Cup final. In the end, his television career spanned 16 FA Cup finals, six FIFA World Cups, five Euros and a Summer Olympic Games.

It wasn’t a career without controversy, such as during the coverage of the Argentina match against Romania when he said a defender ‘warrants shooting for a mistake like that’ the day after Andrés Escobar had been shot, with his death widely believed to be because he scored an own goal against the United States.

Alan Hansen’s Honours List

By the time that Alan Hansen retired as a footballer, he had made 620 appearances for Liverpool, scoring 14 goals. More importantly, he left with 17 winners’ medals to his name, which were made up as follows:

  • First Division: 8
  • League Cup: 4
  • European Cup: 3
  • FA Cup: 2

He also won the UEFA Super Cup in 1977.

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