Graeme Souness: Legendary midfielder and the embodiment of Liverpool in the ’70s and ’80s

There’s something about Souness. For many, it feels like he almost epitomises a particular generation of footballer. A particular mindset. A particular set of skills.

Which may, appropriately, have involved finding you and taking you out – on the pitch, that is – if it was decided that you deserved it.

Physicality and aggression were certainly key aspects of Souness’ game. One of his trademarks was his willingness to thunder into the kind of tackles that don’t tend to fair too well within modern football. That was required, of course, but to view that as his primary trait is to do him a considerable disservice.

He was the perennial, priceless all-rounder.

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Just look at his first goal for the club – a thumping left-footed volley in a 3-1 Anfield victory over Manchester United in February 1978.

Just look at the eagle-eyed, perfectly threaded pass that teed up Kenny Dalglish’s winner in the 1-0 European Cup final success over Club Brugge two-and-a-half months later.

Such a mix of attributes was, presumably, one of the key factors in Bob Paisley opting to bring him to the club on January 10 of that year.

The then-24-year-old already had experience in his native Scotland, as well as London, the USA and Teesside, by then.

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Born in Edinburgh on May 6, 1953, Souness played for local boys’ club North Merchiston during his formative years before he became an apprentice at Tottenham Hotspur.

He was sold to Middlesbrough for £30,000 in 1972 having made only one first team appearance, in the UEFA Cup, and after apparently expressing his frustration with his lack of opportunities to manager Bill Nicholson.

Intriguingly, during that summer, he impressed while playing for Montreal Olympique in the North American Soccer League.

His debut for the Teessiders came in January 1973, with his first goal arriving in December.


Jack Charlton – in his first managerial role – was appointed in May of that year and he was seen as a positive influence on the young Souness. He encouraged the midfielder to curb his apparent enjoyment of the nightlife at the time, and it paid off.

Middlesbrough achieved promotion as Second Division champions at the end of 1973/74 and Souness’ profile continued to rise, which saw him earn the first of 54 Scotland caps in October 1974.

It was after he broke Borough’s disciplinary code and served a week suspension that he got a call, instructing him to talk to a club in a Leeds hotel.

It was Liverpool. The £352,000 transfer – then a record sum for a player moving between English clubs – was completed on January 10.

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He debuted in a 1-0 win at West Bromwich Albion four days later and – once more – went from strength to strength.

He formed a superb central-midfield partnership with Terry McDermott in the months and years that followed, as the 1978 European Cup was backed up by First Division titles in 1979 and 1980.

Then, in 1981, came a first League Cup win and another European Cup triumph. Souness’ most memorable display for the club arguably arrived on the way to the Paris final with a brilliant quarter-final hat-trick against CSKA Sofia at Anfield.

The Reds overcame Bayern Munich in the last four, before Real Madrid were beaten by Alan Kennedy’s late strike in the French capital.


Souness’ influence on the side was reflected by Paisley handing him the captaincy, previously held by Phil Thompson, in the middle of the 1981/82 campaign.

1982 and 1983 would bring doubles – in the form of the League Cup and the First Division title – before Joe Fagan’s first season in charge produced a treble.

1983/84 ended with the club winning its fourth European Cup – on top of yet another League Cup and First Division success – and it would prove the most fitting way for Souness to bring his Anfield playing career to an end.

He rifled home a seemingly nerveless penalty in the shootout that followed the 1-1 draw against Roma in the final – held in the Italians’ home ground, the Stadio Olimpico, of course – and Bruce Grobbelaar’s wobbly legs then helped ensure another continental triumph.

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That the Scot’s last act in a Liverpool shirt was lifting his third European Cup – this time as captain – felt a fitting pinnacle to conclude on.

As it happened, he was back in Italy soon enough.

1984/85 and 1985/86 were spent with Sampdoria, whose team included a young Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli.

Once more, he wasted little time in making history as the club secured their first ever Coppa Italia in the Scot’s debut season – although that did prove the highlight of his two-year spell in Genoa.

He returned to Britain in 1986 to take on a player-manager role at Rangers, where he again proved highly successful – this time in re-establishing The Gers as a dominant force in Scottish football.


There were three league titles – in 1987, 1989 and 1990 – and four Scottish League Cups – in 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1991 – during his time at Ibrox and his impressive start in management saw him land the main role at Anfield in April 1991.

This, sadly, proved less successful.

The FA Cup – which he had never got his hands on as a player – was won in 1992. Michael Thomas and Ian Rush efforts secured the 2-0 victory over Sunderland at Wembley, shortly after Souness had undergone heart surgery – but that was the only major honour he’d lift as manager of the Merseysiders.

Struggles in attempting to modernise the culture, coupled with the team being in transition, made for a largely difficult tenure.

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His two full seasons ended in sixth-placed league finishes, before Roy Evans took over in early 1994.

Spells in charge of Galatasaray, Southampton, Torino, Benfica, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United followed in the years between 1995 and 2006 – and he has since become most widely recognised for his work as a pundit on Sky Sports.

His knowledge and experience is palpable in that role, even if he may sometimes be portrayed slightly harshly as a go-to critic of the modern game. Nonetheless, he tends to know quality when he sees it.

That, most likely, is because he had that quality himself.

He does feel like an embodiment of an era. Not because he was typical, but because – by force of will and immense ability – he played such a leading role in so many of its defining moments.

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James Noble

Contributor. 20-year-old uni student studying sports journalism. Southern Red.

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