Irish Footballers that Played for Liverpool – John Aldridge
John Aldridge – Introduction
John Aldridge was born in Liverpool on 18 September 1958. A prolific goal scorer he had established an enviable goal scoring record with Oxford United. His goal per game ratio was 0.64. A lot of these goals were scored in the lower divisions in England but bigger clubs took note as he continued scoring goals when Oxford gained promotion to the top flight in the 1985/86 season.
He was already a Republic of Ireland international when he signed for Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool team in January 1987. He was signed as a replacement for striker Ian Rush who was departing for Italian giants Juventus. Liverpool paid £750,000 to Oxford United for Aldridge’s services. It was a dream move for John Aldridge who had been a fervent Liverpool supporter since he was a boy.
John Aldridge& Liverpool
John Aldridge made his Liverpool debut on 21 February 1987 against Aston Villa in a First Division. He came on as a second half substitute for Craig Johnson. The match ended in a 2-2 draw at Villa Park. His international team mate Mark Lawrenson scored an own goal in the match.
On 28 February 1987 John Aldridge had a dream home debut at Anfield in his first start for Liverpool. He scored the winning goal against Southampton in front of the Kop as the Reds won 1-0. ‘Aldo’ made just one more during the 1986/87 season although he did make a further seven appearances as a substitute. He managed just one more goal in that and it came in his only other start that season, in the League finale against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Aldridge scored Liverpool’s third goal in a 3-3 draw.
First Major Silverware with Liverpool
John Aldridge started the next season as a fixture in the Liverpool first XI. He rewarded his manager’s faith in him by scoring in each of the first ten league matches including his first Liverpool hat trick on 29 September 1987 against Derby County. This amazing goal scoring form was also reflected in the team’s form as Liverpool remained unbeaten in the first 29 First Division matches that season. The Merseyside club lost just two matches and were unbeaten at Anfield. Liverpool won the League title by 9 points having scored thirty more goals more than runners-up Manchester United. John Aldridge scored 26 League goals plus three more in the cup competitions.
John Aldridge is First Player to Miss Cup Final Penalty
Although Aldridge had collected his first major silverware, the 1987/88 would be tinged with regret and failure. Liverpool looked to be near-certainties to complete a League and Cup double when the team took to the Wembley pitch in the FA Cup final on 14 May 1988. Opponents Wimbledon were very much underdogs and most observers expected Liverpool to win. When Wimbledon took a shock lead through Northern Irish international Laurie Sanchez on 37 minutes there was plenty of time for the Reds to reply. In the 60th minute Liverpool won a penalty. Up stepped ‘Aldo’ to take the spot kick and Liverpool fans were confident as he had converted eleven penalties already that season. Unfortunately John Aldridge became the first player to miss a penalty in a major Wembley cup final.
Aldridge Goal Rush Continues Despite Return of the Welsh Wizard
Ian Rush returned to Anfield before the start of the 1988/89 season putting pressure on John Aldridge to maintain his scoring rate. He didn’t disappoint as he scored twice against Wimbledon in a 2-1 win in the Charity Shield curtain raiser. Aldridge followed this up with a hat trick against Charlton at Selhurst Park. He chalked up a total of 31 goals that season including six in an FA Cup run that saw Liverpool lift the cup at the expense of Merseyside rivals Everton. Aldridge scored twice in the semi final to see off Nottingham Forest 3-1 and he scored the opening goal in the final as the red side of the city of Liverpool triumphed 3-2. It was a bitter sweet victory due to the tragic events surrounding the semi final clash with Forest.
Liverpool had been drawn to play Nottingham Forest on the 15 April 1989 in the FA Cup semi final at Hillsborough, Sheffield Wednesday’s home ground. As the match kicked off there were thousands of fans still outside the ground trying to gain access. The Liverpool fans had been allocated the Leppings Lane end of the ground. In those days the terraces are all-standing and the fans were fenced in to keep them off the football pitch. The fans knew that the match had already started and the crush to get into the ground intensified. To alleviate this, decisions were made that meant far more people were given access to areas of the terrace than was safe – with tragic consequences. Five minutes into the match the officials and players realised that there was something seriously wrong and the referee ordered the players to the dressing rooms. The crush on terrace reached critical proportions as the fans continued to flood in and more than 700 people were injured. Ninety-six of these were fatally injured.
Most of the Liverpool players of the day were impacted emotionally by the events that day. As a Liverpool lad and a life long fan of the Reds John Aldridge appears to have been affected most by the losses suffered at Hillsborough that day. In his autobiography he says:
“If I hadn’t become a footballer it is almost certain I would have been in the middle of the Leppings Lane terrace at Hillsborough on Saturday, 15 April 1989. In the days when I was a fan I would never have considered missing an FA Cup semi-final … my emotions were of great sadness for the victims whose only mistake was choosing the wrong day to watch a football match; a football match in which I was playing. Yes, time does heal, but if I am still alive on 15 April 2039, the fiftieth anniversary of Hillsborough, I will shed tears. That is because I shed tears every year on 15 April. Not out of ritual. Not out of obligation. Not out of duty. But out of a deep sense of grief for the lost and a genuine feeling for the loved ones they left behind … it remains one of the most significant events in my life, I have to write about it. I don’t want to, but I have to. Thinking about it hurts, so talking about it and putting it down on paper serves only to bring back the horror of it all.”
John Aldridge Misses Out on the Double … on the Double
Due to the tragic events of Hillsborough the League program extended beyond the FA Cup final that season. Having secured the Cup Liverpool would complete the double if they won their two remaining league matches. First up was West Ham United and the Londoners were duly dispatched 5-1 at Anfield three days after the Cup final. John Aldridge opened the scoring after twenty minutes.
Following this result Liverpool would win the League, and the double, if they could avoid any result worse than a 1-0 defeat. Fate ordained that Liverpool’s last match of the season was against their nearest challengers, Arsenal. On 26 May 1989 with just moments left in the match Arsenal led 0-1 at Anfield Road. Unbelievably Arsenal’s Michael Thomas snatched a second goal for the Londoners with almost the last kick of the game. Arsenal won the League title by the narrowest or margins – by goals scored. For the second season in a row Liverpool missed out on the League and Cup double by a whisker.
John Aldridge – Liverpool Career Ends
Despite finishing on 31 goals in the 1988/89 season, compared with 11 from Ian Rush, Aldridge started the next season sitting on the bench. Kenny Dalglish made it clear that he regarded ‘Aldo’ as supernumerary at Anfield. In the first five matches he saw just 17 minutes of play when he came on as a substitute against Luton Town. Without first team football his chances of making the Irish 1994 World cup squad would be in jeopardy so he reluctantly agreed to a transfer to Spain’s Real Sociedad. John Aldridge describes the circumstances of his last appearance for Liverpool against Crystal Palace on 12 September 1989 at Anfield Road:
“I wouldn’t describe it as an altogether happy memory for me because I was leaving the club I loved – and the club I had always dreamt of playing for – but to get the chance to score at the Kop end in my last game was special. It was a very poignant moment for me. Everyone knew I didn’t want to leave … I remember when we got the penalty against Palace and the Kop suddenly started singing my name. They clearly wanted me to come on to take it and I was a bit surprised when Kenny went along with their wishes. If I had to leave the club then this was the best way to do it, scoring a goal at the Kop end and having the crowd show their appreciation for what I had given the club over the years. At the end of the game I was all over the place emotionally and it’s really difficult to put into words exactly how I was feeling at that time. It was a real mix of emotions, that’s for sure.”
That last goal in a 9-0 defeat of Crystal Palace brought his goal tally to 63 in 104 matches for Liverpool FC. This was a goal to game ratio of 0.61 proving that John Aldridge was prolific goal scorer at every level that he played club football.
John Aldridge – Ireland Career
Of all the teams that John Aldridge played for his lowest scoring ratio was for Ireland. Undoubtedly this can be attributed to Jack Charlton’s football style with the Irish team. John Aldridge made his debut for Ireland on 26 March 1986 against Wales in a friendly match at Lansdowne Road (now Aviva Stadium). It took more than 30 months and his 20th match before John Aldridge scored his first goal for the Republic of Ireland. He scored the third goal in a friendly match against Tunisia on 19 October 1988 in Dublin.
Aldridge, along with fellow Oxford player Ray Houghton, qualified to play for Ireland via the Granny Rule, and both made their debut in Jack Charlton’s first match as manager of Ireland. Previous Irish manager Eoin Hand was aware that Aldridge qualified to play for Ireland but had lost his job before he got a chance to give the Liverpool man a cap. Shortly after his appointment Charlton went to an Oxford United match to assess Aldridge and when Big Jack asked him did he want to play for Ireland “…he not only expressed an interest, he told me about Ray Houghton. ‘He’s more Irish than me’, John said. So on a cold night in March 1986 I acquired, thanks to John Aldridge, two of the greatest players in Irish football history.”
This was the beginning of a golden age for Irish football and Aldridge was a central part of this era. He played in the first major football championship finals that Ireland qualified for – the 1988 Euro Championships in Germany. He also played in all of Ireland’s matches at the 1990 World Cup finals in Italy as the Irish made the quarter final against the host country. John Aldridge was also in the Irish 1994 World Cup squad making one start and two appearances as a substitute against Italy and Mexico. The latter appearance was notable in that he scored his first goal for Ireland at a major finals and although Ireland lost 2-1 Aldridge’s goal meant that the Irish went through to the next round on goal difference.
John Aldridge played his last game for Ireland on 27 March 1996 against Russia at Lansdowne Road. It was a somewhat symmetrical end to his international career in that 1) It was almost exactly eight years to the day since his debut 2) his first and last matches were at Lansdowne Road, and 3) both matches marked the beginning of an Irish football manager’s international career. The match against Russia was Mick McCarthy’s first match in charge.
John Aldridge scored 19 goals for Ireland in 69 appearances and his last Irish goal was the second of two scored against Latvia on 11 October 1995 at Lansdowne Road in a 1996 Euro qualifier.
SOURCE: John Aldridge My Story; John Aldrige & Hyder Jawad (1999); Hodder & Stoughton
John Aldridge – Liverpool & Republic of Ireland Statistics
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