It was the World Cup in Mexico 1986, I was at home watching on tv, I believe it was England v Poland and my attention was taken by this awkward looking guy up front; I was mesmerised by him, dribbling past opponents and picking out the passes. I wanted to know his name and who he played for. Of course, it was Peter Beardsley and although I was mad on Liverpool, I kept looking out for this guy from Newcastle United, who had captivated me. Back in those days, there weren’t many televised games, so other than watching my beloved Liverpool if there were on, I recall making a point of looking out for a Newcastle game on tv, just so I could watch my new hero.
I’ll never forget the devastation I felt when it was announced Liverpool were selling Ian Rush to Juventus for a whopping £3.2m in the summer of 1987. Rush and Dalglish were the names I cried out in commentary when I scored a goal, playing football with my mates, imagining I was in the famous Red shirt. Rush leaving gutted me, but thankfully my depression was short lived and my excitement could not be contained as news broke that Liverpool, my Liverpool, were buying Peter Beardsley from Newcastle for £1.9m. It was as though Kenny Dalglish had heard my pleas and acted upon them. My hero was now a Liverpool player, my dreams had become reality.
Name: Peter Beardsley
Born: 18th January 1961
Signed: July 1987
Liverpool games: 175
Liverpool goas: 59
Sold: August 1991
Aside from his superlative footwork and dribbling skills, he had an eye for goal and although not prolific, he certainly scored his fair share. One of his most impressive attributes though, was that very rare ability to see a pass before it was made; as though he was watching the game from up in the stands.
That 1987/88 Liverpool team is still one of the best footballing sides I’ve ever seen, they were a joy to behold. John Barnes, also signed in the summer of 1987, was understandably the headline maker; he was the dazzling winger scoring blockbuster goals. John Aldridge, signed in January 1987, was scoring so many goals that Ian Rush was almost forgotten about, but as much as I adored Barnes and Aldridge, my hero was still Beardsley. The understanding and link up between the three of them was off the charts, almost telepathic. Nottingham Forest were our closest challengers that season and we destroyed them 5-0 at Anfield in April 1988; champions-elect doing that to their nearest challengers was unheard of. It was like an instruction manual of how the game should be played and one goal encapsulated not only the vision and passing ability of Beardsley, but also the understanding he had with his attack partner Aldridge, who ran clear and scored from a precision Beardsley through ball.
His first Merseyside derby is one of my most memorable, a 2-0 win crowned by an absolute belter of a left foot strike. A few months later, at Anfield, it was Arsenal being put to the sword and after a terrific team goal, victory was sealed by Beardsley as he slipped the ball under an onrushing defender before calmly chipping the keeper. It was perhaps a hallmark of Beardsley’s career that he wasn’t necessarily a great goalscorer, but definitely a scorer of great goals. He had a coolness and composure with the ball at his feet that was more akin to iconic Brazilians or Argentinians than an awkward looking Geordie.
In his four years at Anfield, Liverpool played some of the best football I’ve seen, truly a privilege to behold. At the time, John Aldridge and Ian Rush were the main goalscorers and the magnificent John Barnes was understandably the star attraction, but it was Peter Beardsley who was the catalyst. The understanding he had on the pitch with Barnes, Aldridge and Rush in a Liverpool shirt and with Lineker at international level was incredible; it was certainly no coincidence that his strike partners scored lots of goals. I was gutted when we sold him to, of all clubs, Everton, but I was pleased for him when he returned to his Newcastle and continued to show the class I’d always admired well into his thirties.
Peter Beardsley was a player not always properly appreciated or valued, especially in the era he performed in. If he was playing now, he’d be a superstar; I have absolutely no doubt about that. He may not have the poster-boy looks or a velvet voice, but that didn’t matter because his football spoke volumes. He was the player I based my game on in my teens, the second striker, the provider, the creator, the catalyst. His vision, guile, trickery and technique inspired me, his goals wowed me and his unassuming humble approach made him a positive role model in my eyes. You could call him an unsung hero, but I just called him my childhood footballing hero.