By James Crump – @TheJamesCrump
Today we jump back to 1972, to the birth of former Red David James.
The Englishman’s seven-year stint at Liverpool is remembered as much for dodgy fashion and on-pitch blunders as it is for quality goalkeeping.
David Benjamin James was born August 1st, 1972 in Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire. James started his career as a trainee for Watford, playing 89 times for the first team before moving to Liverpool in 1992.
A Luton Town fan in his youth, legend says the future England international used to wear Hatters’ socks underneath his kit – presumably his method of mitigating the fact that he played for his favoured club’s bitter rivals.
James signed for Liverpool on July 6th, 1992 for £1.25 million (just slightly shy of Alisson Becker’s recent fee). He made his debut for the Reds a month later in a narrow 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest.
James was not a regular starter at the beginning and end of his Liverpool career, competing with the legendary Bruce Grobbelaar and the American Brad Friedel. Despite not having a settled place in the side, James performed when called upon, gaining a place in the England squad during his time at Anfield.
His poor start continued and James was replaced in the starting line-up before Christmas by the 35-year-old Grobbelaar. James had nearly conceded double the amount of goals as games played. In an attempt to improve his ailing defence, manager Graeme Souness took him out of the firing line.
Despite appearing occasionally in the next two seasons, James only solidified his place as Liverpool’s No.1 after Grobbelaar was injured in February 1994. The opportunity came about through luck, but James took his chance and stayed in the starting line up until Friedel arrived four years later.
James eventually left Liverpool in 1999 when he was sold to Aston Villa for £1.75 million. He ended up playing 277 times for Liverpool over a seven-year period. It was a barren time for the club, with only the 1994 League Cup and a runner’s up medal in the 1996 FA cup providing medals during his stint on Merseyside.
Although a mainstay in the side for four consecutive years, ‘Calamity’ James – like many Liverpool ‘keepers over the years – was prone to mistakes. A weak punch in the 1996 FA cup final that lead Manchester United’s winner didn’t help his cause.
His predecessor Grobbelaar was guilty of the same at times, but was a fan favourite and an integral member of a successful team. James played in a less fruitful era for Liverpool, causing his frequent errors to be better highlighted and his reputation to be damaged.
James also made news off the field, with his style a favourite media story at the time. He, alongside the likes of Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman, was a member of the so-called “Spice Boys”.
This nickname was solidified when the players wore the infamous white Armani suits to the 1996 FA Cup final. Former teammates Phil Babb and Robbie Fowler have blamed James for the suits, pointing to his modelling for the luxury fashion house at the time.
The English media has often shown a distaste for any player being interested in pursuits outside of football, with James being a high-profile victim in the ’90s. James often experimented with his hair, and modelled for both Armani and H&M, leading to him being mocked and his performances being more heavily scrutinised.
Sadly, his performances didn’t match up to his celebrity status, and the media punished him. The mistakes didn’t stop after he left Anfield, but was clearly a talented stopper. He continued to perform to a high-level for a decade after he left Liverpool, including a long international career.
He went on to play for Aston Villa, West Ham and Manchester City. He made 53 appearances for England and went to four major championships. Presently, James is the only black goalkeeper to have represented England.
Despite an objectively good career for club and country, James is on a long list of modern Liverpool goalkeepers who are remembered more for their mistakes than for their saves.