Remembering Ronnie Moran, much more than 'sergeant major'

On what would have been Ronnie Moran's 84th birthday, we remember a man who strived tirelessly to make – and maintain – Liverpool's success at home and in Europe across five decades at Anfield.

The true Reds legend, who served the club with distinction in the roles of player, captain, coach, physio, assistant manager and caretaker manager, sadly died in March 2017.

His legacy included 13 league championships, four European Cups, two UEFA Cups, five FA Cups and five League Cups – and his remarkable story was told in the biography Mr Liverpool, released just weeks before he passed away.

In an excerpt from the book below, those who knew Moran best explain how his determination and drive kept everybody at Liverpool on the correct path to continued glory…

In the summer of 1979, Joe Fagan and Ronnie Moran gained new titles. Joe was now assistant manager to Bob Paisley and Ronnie was promoted from first-team trainer to chief coach, with Roy Evans taking over his prior duties.

A typical week at Melwood hadn’t changed much for the past 20 years. If there was no midweek game, players were not required for training on Sundays and Mondays. The players assembled on the Tuesday with a gentle warm-up to loosen the muscles and when the body was wide awake, hard half-laps of the training tracks were on offer to open up the lungs. Training throughout the week would always end with a small-sided practice match between the staff and the players, where Ronnie was dominant.

He would stir things up by telling the players he could still beat them, even at his age. “Some of you think we’ve never played,” he said to remind them that the staff had been half-decent players. He would claim that Liverpool teams of old would have wiped the floor with the current batch wearing the red shirt.

If he detected a lack of enthusiasm during a practice match, he would simply say: “Right, if you don’t want to play, we can just set the cones out and go for a run. It’s up to yourselves.” That threat would instantly get the game going again. Ronnie picked the staff team that had to be strengthened by a couple of players and more often than not he chose Jimmy Case, Ray Kennedy, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness or Phil Neal to be on his side.

The four men that kept the players hungry for success at that time were an ideal blend, according to Roy Evans.

“I was never going to be a Ronnie Moran, someone whose work can’t be underestimated,” Roy said. “He made sure everyone fell in line and gets called the ‘sergeant-major’, but he was much more than that. Joe was the glue. Bob wasn’t great at speaking in front of a crowd but everyone on the staff knew what he meant. Then I was the fella that put the arm around a few, hence the reputation as Mr Nice Guy. There was a great balance, all good people, nobody went after anyone else.”

In the dressing room, Ronnie massaged the legs of the players and gave them final instructions before they headed out of the tunnel, telling them who to mark or look out for.

During the match, Ronnie would bark orders as well as whistle to grab the attention of players who were not doing their job. He would also have to resort to using hand signals, especially for the likes of Jimmy Case, who is deaf in his right ear.

If the ball went out of play while Liverpool were leading in the game and it would land near Ronnie, he was in no hurry to give it back, as Kenny Dalglish recollects. “He’d either knock it down the track or jam his fingers into it, checking the pressure before passing it back, just wasting time. If Ronnie picked up the ball, he’d throw it against the wooden edging of the pitch so it bounced back into the crowd, killing a few more precious seconds.”

During half-time, Ronnie would reinforce his instructions if he felt anything was going awry. After the game, Ronnie left the players with his usual message, as remembered by Dalglish. “Any injuries, see you tomorrow. Straight home. Don’t go boozing or gallivanting with girls. Rest up, no messing about.”

Alan Hansen and others credit Ronnie Moran with being the inspiration they needed when the going got tough, but that wasn’t necessarily known outside the club.

“Ronnie is quite unlucky that he isn’t better known for his contribution to the success of Liverpool Football Club,” Hansen says. “But in all honesty, he probably wouldn’t have wanted it; he was quite happy just to sit in the background and do his stuff. The people who knew best were the players who were there.

“He never gave long speeches, just sharp reminders of what we had to do to get the job done for Liverpool Football Club. Throughout my career, he was in that dressing room and on the training field, a massive figurehead.”

Mr Liverpool: Ronnie Moran is available to purchase here.