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On the 18th January 1997, then Liverpool manager Roy Evans handed youngster Jamie Carragher the number 23 shirt for his first start for the Reds against Aston Villa.
He scored the decisive opener in front of the Kop as Liverpool ran out 3-0 winners.
In seventeen years and seven-hundred-and-thirty-odd appearances later, that tally would only increase by four. Still, Carragher remained, with the number 23 etched on his Bootle-bred back.
Indeed, the paucity of Carragher’s goals became part of his legend.
Fast-forward to the 2012-13 season, aged 37, he was no longer a regular in the heart of Brendan Rodgers’ defence.
‘Carra’s’ final appearance for Liverpool came on 19th May 2013, as Queens Park Rangers were welcomed to Anfield on a sunny Spring afternoon. He was given a guard of honour before the game.
In the 67th minute, he found himself in nosebleed territory 30 yards out from goal. The crowd willed him to shoot and Carragher duly indulged them:
The manner in which that thundering strike cannoned off the crossbar perhaps suggests he should have been shooting more all along. In reality, Carragher scored more own goals (7), the joint second-most in Premier League history.
That statistic doesn’t do the man justice though, as rarely have defenders been as committed as he was.
Starting out at full-back as well as sporadically appearing in midfield, it wasn’t until Rafa Benitez arrived in 2004 and partnered him in the heart of the Liverpool defence with Finnish favourite Sami Hyypia that non-Scousers started to appreciate Carragher.
He was unfortunate to play in an era when England was blessed with an array of quality central defensive options – John Terry and Rio Ferdinand were simply too difficult to dislodge, not to mention the likes of Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate.
Carragher would still feature 38 times for England, but that was a number he would routinely reach annually in the league for Liverpool. It will ultimately be his contribution to Liverpool Football Club that he will be remembered for as a player.
Jamie Carragher was the voicebox of a Liverpool side whose heart was captain Steven Gerrard. While ‘Stevie G’ drove the side forward, ‘Carra’ let people know what needed doing and kept others switched on. Gerrard himself has acknowledged the role that Carragher played in his captaincy.
Watching Carragher barking out orders to oft-confused teammates was a trademark of his career and it suggests a man who lives and breathes the game.
Carragher was recognised as being a football obsessive long before his popular move into football punditry alongside an unlikely partner in Mancunian Gary Neville.
In late November 2003, while out injured, Jamie accompanied his father and fellow fans to Liverpool’s away fixture at Middlesbrough. The match ended 0-0, but it meant so much to fans to be able to say that they watched the game with local lad Jamie Carragher.
That summarises the legacy of Carragher in so many ways – it’s the character, determination, grit and passion for the club and game that shine through so clearly whenever you watched him play for Liverpool.
It’s also the sight of him suffering from cramp during extra-time in the 2005 Champions League Final in Istanbul, yet still managing to put in the match-saving blocks and interceptions that would see them crowned Champions of Europe for the fifth time against all the odds.
An ode to his commitment is fondly remembered at Anfield:
“Number one is Carragher
and number two is Carragher
Number three is Carragher
and number four is Carragher….”
Which carries on up to…
“We all dream of a team of Carragher’s
A team of Carragher’s
A team of Carragher’s”
Few would have thought that he would have been able to reinvent himself so well as a pundit but again his love of the game, not to mention knowledge, trumps most. Viewers have warmed to his high-pitched Scouse accent, which has even seen him bring Neville down a few levels:
— Mike (@MikeMongie) October 30, 2018
Such is the character of Carragher, he pulled aside the successor to his number 23 shirt, Xherdan Shaqiri, while on their recent away Champions League trip to Paris to tell him: “It’s the (Merseyside) derby on Sunday. You have to win. Youhave to win.”
By Andrew Misra