Thursday, 8 January 2015

A chat with Jimmy Case - December 2014

Jimmy Case sticks his old black car on a pair of double yellow lines, gets out and changes his mind. He's ten minutes late - insert some clumsy parallel with the Albion and Liverpool legend's tackling here - and for a Wednesday evening when most people are still working, there's a decent queue inside City Books.

Once he's in, most of the talk is about Liverpool: Case went to see them beat Leicester last night, and wonders what, if anything, Mario Balotelli "has between his ears" to have come up with an extraordinarily crass, if possibly unintentionally racist, tweet the previous evening.

Case had none of the modern footballer’s luxuries. “I actually got turned away by Burnley when I was 16,” he rues. “The fella who was youth team coach at the time told me I wasn’t any good.

“That was a fella called Dave Merrington. Well, where did I end up? Southampton. Every single mornin’ I used to pull his shirt, ‘the one that got away, eh?’ ‘Cos I went to Liverpool instead of Burnley and won all them trophies.

“And I never got in Liverpool schoolboys – there was a fella there called Tom Saunders and he turned me away, said I wasn’t good enough. He was only a schoolmaster at that time but he ended up at Liverpool.

“He was the one who asked me, he said, ‘Mr Shankly would like to sign yer.’ I said ‘oh you bloody well want me now, do ya?’, cos he turned me away from the schoolboys two, three years earlier than that. You don’t forget.”

That was in 1974, and 40 years later the moustachioed marvel reckons his autobiography, Hard Case, is worth reading. “I’ll give you the money back if you don’t like it. There are people who’ve read the book twice who’ve never read a book before. There are pictures – it’s not a con, you know.”

Merrington was, at one point, linked with the Albion during our darkest days. In the book, Case talks about the despair of realising what Archer and Bellotti were up to in the mid-90s and Liam Brady - “for my money one of the best managers I had ever worked with” - committing to Uncle Dick's vision, only for One-Eyed Bill's refusal to concede control scuppering everything.

“I don’t blame the Brighton supporters for the actions they took,” he writes. “They are as fanatical about their club as any group in the country and they deserved better than they were getting from the owners.”

The Lib Dem sacked him, but he didn’t care. “I hadn’t wanted the job in the first place and by then I had had more than enough. It had been 24 hours a day, seven days a week stress and, as anyone will tell you, I don’t handle stress very well.”

Happier memories, perhaps the happiest: his 35-yard free-kick on the cup run semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury in ’83. “That was a screamer, that one. I’ve seen it a few times since and it gets better each time I see it,” says Case. And less happy times, for us lot at least, under the present tenure of a manager presiding over even less success than Case despite the benefit of a grand stadium and supportive board.

“I’m up at Liverpool quite a lot but I saw the Southampton friendly at the beginning of the season,” he observes of a current saga he knows little of. “At the moment, just looking at results and paper stuff, it’s taking a bit of time with the players and not going too well. But I’m sure it’ll be alright in the end.”

Hard Case is out now - buy it, it's pretty good.

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