Callaghan, a Liverpool supporter as a youngster who idolised Billy Liddell, joined the Reds as an apprentice on the 28 March 1960 and made his debut that April on the 16th against Bristol Rovers at Anfield. Rovers couldn't live with the Reds with the score finishing 4-0 in their favour.
A winger based on the right hand side of the pitch, Callaghan was a regular in the team from 1961 onwards. The club was still in the Second Division in those days but were promoted as champions in 1962 under the management of Bill Shankly. Liverpool had spent eight years in the second tier and had come close to promotion on quite a few occasions under both Shankly and previous manager Phil Taylor. In 1962 all that changed as Shankly finally steered Liverpool back to the top flight and Cally would be a big part of the side that took them back to the top flight. He appeared twenty three times and also managed to score his first goal for the club, which came in the 56th minute of the game against Preston North End at Deepdale on the 4 November 1961.
Callaghan became a major part of the side which Shankly took to great heights in the mid-1960s, finishing a creditable 8th in their first season back in Division One. Shankly’s Reds surpassed everyone’s expectations the following year, 1963-64, winning the League championship by four points over north-west rivals Manchester United and five over Merseyside rivals and reigning league champions Everton. Shankly had done what he’d set out to do and Callaghan was enjoying the journey; he was an ever-present in the title winning side adding this winners medal to the one he picked just two seasons earlier.
The 1964-65 campaign was a mixture of disappointing league form and a decent run in the FA Cup. The Reds could only finish 7th in the defence of their title but Wembley beckoned for the Anfield club who were desperate to end their seventy two year wait for the world’s most prestigious domestic cup win. West Bromwich Albion, Stockport County, Bolton Wanderers, Leicester City and Chelsea all fell by the wayside as Liverpool fought their way to a Wembley showdown with league runners-up Leeds United. As predicted, it was a tight affair with neither side able to break the deadlock in 90 minutes thus ensuring extra-time would follow. Roger Hunt opened the scoring for the Reds three minutes into the extra period but Billy Bremner equalised just two minutes later. The game looked to be heading for a replay when Callaghan broke down the right nine minutes from the end and sent in his usual pinpoint cross which was met by a diving Ian St John who headed home from close range past a shattered Leeds defence. This proved to be enough and the F.A Cup was going to Anfield for the very first time.
The 1965 season was a rollercoaster of both joy and despair. Success came in the shape of yet another League championship but this was tempered by defeat in the European Cup-Winners Cup final as Borussia Dortmund won 2-1 at Hampden Park. Callaghan's disappointment reverted back to joy again when he and team-mates Hunt and Gerry Byrne were named by Alf Ramsey in the England squad for the 1966 World Cup for which England were hosts.
Callaghan played in the group game against France which England won 2-0, but ultimately was left out of the side as it progressed, with Ramsey preferring Alan Ball in an innovative system which did not deploy natural wingers of Callaghan's type. The team went on to win the World Cup and became known as the "wingless wonders". Callaghan's England career was almost over at the age of 24.
The rest of the 1960s proved fruitless for Liverpool and Shankly set about dismantling the now aging team, building a new, younger one. Callaghan, along with team-mates Tommy Smith, Chris Lawler and Emlyn Hughes, would emerge from the cull intact to become "elder statesman" figures (even in his late 20s) as a vibrant young side developed around him. Callaghan switched from the wing to a more central midfield role.
After a five year period of quiet, Liverpool, with Callaghan in the side, reached the 1971 FA Cup final. However this time Cally and the rest of the Liverpool team tasted defeat losing 2-1 to Arsenal after extra time. The 1972-73 campaign would be a better one for Liverpool as they achieved a League and UEFA Cup double, winning the league by 3 points over Arsenal and defeating Germans Borussia Mönchengladbach 3-2 on aggregate in the UEFA Cup. However, this could have been a much different story as Ray Clemence saved a Jupp Heynckes penalty at Anfield. If he had scored Gladbach would have won the trophy on the away goals rule.
Liverpool were now becoming a class act once more and in 1974 they won the FA Cup for the second time, this time easily beating Newcastle United 3-0 in one of the most one sided F.A Cup finals ever. Cally was collecting a fine collection of medals under Shankly when the great man shook the very foundations Anfield stands on and announced his retirement. Ian was the only player to have lasted longer in the first team than the time Shankly spent in charge of it. Also in 1974, Callaghan was named the Football Writers Footballer of the Year and was honoured by being awarded the MBE for his services to football, a much deserved award.
In 1976, at the age of 34, Cally was showing no signs of slowing down as he featured in Bob Paisley’s side which, again, won a League and UEFA Cup double. He played in all the European matches and missed just 2 league games. The League was a tight affair as Queens Park Rangers pushed the Reds all the way and were actually top with Liverpool having one game left to play. Liverpool had to win the game but would have to travel to Molineux to face the already relegated Wolverhampton Wanderers. Things were not going as planned as Liverpool trailed 1-0 with just fourteen minutes remaining to turn the game around. Kevin Keegan got the Reds back into the game as Liverpool now piled forward and attacked from all angles but especially down the flanks with Steve Heighway and Cally getting in numerous crosses. With five minutes left on the clock the travelling fans erupted as John Toshack finally put the Reds into the lead. Liverpool didn’t sit back on their lead though and with a minute left and Liverpool supporters ready to invade the pitch either side of the goal, up popped Ray Kennedy to fire into the roof of the net and the title was Liverpool’s once more and another medal could be added to Ian’s stash. The UEFA Cup final saw the Anfield club face Bruges of Belgium. Liverpool took a slender 3-2 lead to Belgium and held Bruges to a 1-1 draw to take the trophy for second time.
The 1976-77 season, during which Cally reached the grand footballing age of 35, he was so impressive in Liverpool's march towards an unprecedented treble that he was awarded a third and fourth, and final, England caps. Cally had made his international debut on the 26 June 1966 in Helsinki against Finland and won his second during the ’66 World Cup. It would then be an incredible 11 years before Ian would play for England again. Cally's 3rd appearance for his country was memorable as he was one of six Liverpool players in the international against Switzerland. Clemence, Neal, McDermott, captain Emlyn Hughes and Ray Kennedy were the others. Also appearing was former idol Kevin Keegan who had only just left the club to join SV Hamburg.
Liverpool won the League again in 1977, beating Manchester City into second spot by a single point. The other Manchester club, United, stood in their way for a domestic double and the second part of the potential treble. Callaghan was a substitute for the game which was a thrilling spectacle, but United stopped the run by beating the Anfield club 2-1.. Ian came on in the second half and impressed Paisley enough for him to keep Callaghan in the side for the European Cup final in Rome a few days later. Rome was engulfed in red and white as Liverpool supporters invaded the Italian capital. They were not let down either as Liverpool showed true professionalism and put the previous Saturday’s disappointment behind them. Terry McDermott put Liverpool ahead in the 29th minute but Dane Allan Simonsen equalised in the 50th, veteran Smith scored his first goal of the season in the 67th to give the Reds the lead once more and with five minutes left Keegan was brought down by man marker Berti Vogts in the penalty area. Penalty expert Phil Neal converted the spot kick and Liverpool held on to beat old European foes Borussia Mönchengladbach 3-1 and brought the trophy to Anfield for the very first time.
The effervescent Callaghan played one more season for Liverpool appearing in 41 league and cup matches. By the end of the 1977-78 season, Liverpool had retained the European Cup beating another old foe, Bruges, 1-0 in the Wembley final. Callaghan was a non-playing sub for the game which was won with a Kenny Dalglish goal. Cally did, however, play in Liverpool’s first ever League Cup final at Wembley, which they lost to Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest after a replay. The League Cup would ultimately prove the only domestic trophy to elude him.
In the autumn of 1978, Callaghan finally left Liverpool after 856 first team appearances, during which he scored 69 goals. He joined his former Anfield team-mate John Toshack's renaissance at Swansea City, helping them to two consecutive promotions. He also spent some time playing in the U.S. for Fort Lauderdale on loan, alongside fellow veterans Gordon Banks and George Best. He also played for Canberra City, also on loan, Cork Hibernians and Sandefjord of Norway and finally concluded his career at Crewe Alexandra where he set an all time record of 88 F.A Cup appearances. He retired at the age of 39 in 1981 though it was injury rather than age that finally curtailed his career as he suffered an Achilles tendon problem which forced him to quit.
Callaghan, a true gentleman who is well liked and respected, has kept a low profile since retirement but his name remains in the club's record books for the most first team appearances, the most League appearances, the second most European appearances (behind Jamie Carragher), as well as the distinction to be the only Liverpool player to progress from Second Division championship to European Cup. His appearances record is unlikely to be beaten. A further record is that he was only once booked (cautioned) in his entire career.
After retiring from football Ian Callaghan started an Insurance sales business with an office in Lydiate and can still be seen at Anfield as he is a regular visitor to the club he still supports and is the president of the Official Liverpool FC Fanclub. Cally is still revered amongst the Anfield faithful, he was voted in at No.15 in the 100 Players Who shook The Kop poll in the summer of 2006.
1963-1964, 1965-1966, 1972-1973, 1975-1976, 1976-1977
1964*, 1965*, 1966, 1974, 1976, 1977* (* Shared); Runner-up: 1971
1965, 1974; Runner-up: 1971, 1977