A Liverpool Legend

Former Liverpool striker John Aldridge is a familiar face around Praia da Luz. When he isn’t playing golf, you might have seen him hanging out in one of the bars, enjoying a cold beer, and not realise he is a former Premiership footballer with a career total of 474 goals – a post-war record.

John is a friend of Tomorrow magazine and has helped us raise money for TACT with his John Aldridge golf days, so I thought it would be rude not to join him for a beer and a chat about his career highs and lows and how he is going to help raise money for those in need in the Algarve.

John started playing football from as young as he can remember; he credits a bombed-out house in the back of his garden in Liverpool, as giving him plenty of practice. “It made a perfect five-a-side pitch. After school, me and my mates would grab a ball and play there the whole time.”

He attended the Banks Road School and realised he had a talent for scoring goals when his team became the champions of Liverpool. From playing local football, he ended up at South Liverpool, a 5th division, non-league team.

In 1978, John was about to qualify as a toolmaker, when his £7 a week apprenticeship pay would rise to £82 plus overtime. The manager of Newport County knew this and offered John a one-year contract on £78 per week to swap his tools for a football. Despite the lower wage, John knew he had to take his chances at the only thing he had ever wanted to do; he signed for the Fourth Division club.

At Somerton Park, he played 198 times and scored 87 goals, including a respectable seven goals in just 12 FA Cup matches, helping Newport’s promotion from the Fourth Division and Welsh Cup glory in his first season. They reached the quarter-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in his second season.

John joined Liverpool in 1987 after three years playing for Oxford United, where he is fondly remembered by Oxford fans for his role in Oxford United’s unprecedented years of success between 1984 and 1986. At Liverpool, he immediately had the pressure of filling the boots of Ian Rush, who was leaving for Juventus. Did he feel daunted by the prospect?

“There is always pressure with any football job when you are scoring goals. I had pressure without Ian as I was a big Liverpool fan as I was growing up. I went to my first game when I was six years old, so the pressure of playing for Liverpool was on me anyway because I couldn’t let them down. But when you are following someone with the ilk of Ian that ́s tough, one of the best strikers in the world of football. I have always got on well with Ian, he has a place not far from here and we have a meetup and a drink occasionally. The team was full of international stars and I knew I would get lots of opportunities and chances, but I was confident in my own ability to take those chances. And that’s what happened – I won the golden boot the first year.

“And when you ́ve got John Barnes on one wing, Ray Houghton on another and Peter Beardsley behind you, that’s like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from a strikers point of view, you couldn’t get much better.” John earned the affectionate nickname from fans of “Aldo” that would stick throughout his career.

The Hillsborough disaster was the toughest period of his life. “Being there and witnessing what happened that day, and everything that went with it, there were people I knew as a fan who passed away; 96 people going to a match and not coming home, it was horrible.

With John Barnes and Steve McMahon as 1st division champions for Liverpool FC in 1988

“We all had to go to funerals – I went to 11. It was incredibly tough and we weren’t given counselling. I couldn’t talk about it for years. I went to the funeral of the two Hicks daughters and two brothers, but the one that hit me was one of the last ones. In those days you weren’t chauffeured I got into my car and found the church and someone came to meet me and said ‘John can you just
go and sit behind the family’. I didn’t know whose funeral it was – I hadn’t been told – then the coffin came out and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ was playing. I was trying to keep my head down, but as the coffin came past, I noticed a smaller coffin coming behind, and it ripped my insides out. I heard it was father and son.

On the Monday after the horrible event, we had to go to the hospital where some fans were in comas. The doctor said, ‘can you talk to that wee lad there? He ́s only 13.’ And I was telling him it was John Aldridge here and when he came round, I ́d give him a signed shirt and he could meet John Barnes – this sort of talk. So as I walked away, I said to the doctor, so when will he pull through? He told me they were cutting the life support that afternoon.

So you can imagine my son was the same age. It was horrendous. I feel for the mothers who wouldn’t let it go when the government thought they would give up. The fact that they never got justice after all these years absolutely stinks.”

After Liverpool failed to achieve the “double” of the League Championship and FA Cup, Aldridge appeared inconsolable as he sunk prostrate to the turf, demonstrating just how devoted he was to his team.

Scoring qualifying goal for Republic of Ireland Vs Malta for World Cup 1990

The following season, Rush was fully settled back into the Anfield groove and Dalglish had reverted to a 4–4–2 formation with Rush and Beardsley as first-choice strikers. With Aldridge playing just twice in the League that season, in early September, Liverpool accepted an offer of £1 million for him from La Liga side Real Sociedad. “I didn’t want to leave. Wearing the Liverpool shirt meant everything to me, but Dalglish didn’t want me, and I had a ridiculous offer from Spain, so I took it.”

Aldridge was a hit at Atotxa (then Real Sociedad’s stadium), scoring 40 goals in 75 appearances over two seasons, as the first non-Basque player to sign for Sociedad in several decades. Despite his success, he experienced hostility for being a foreigner; he handed in a transfer request in 1991 to the newly appointed manager John Toshack – another former Liverpool striker and moved to Tranmere Rovers.

When I talk to John we are all recovering from the disappointment of seeing England defeated by Italy in the Euro 2020 final. John enjoyed the game from his purpose-built bar at the back of his home in Liverpool and says he was supporting England, although his international career saw him gain 69 caps for Ireland. “My Gran was Irish and Jack Charlton invited me to join the team; it was a fantastic experience. I played in Euro 88, and we beat England 1-0, so I never regretted it.”

A family man, John has been married to Joan since 1980. His son and daughter also live in Liverpool and he proudly shows me the pictures of his new grandaughter Nel, his 4th grandchild and a first child for daughter Jo.

Adidas Golden Boot winner of 1988 while playing for Liverpool

The collapsed European Super League would, I imagine, be the very antithesis of what John Aldridge stands for. “I still think it will happen, I have always believed that something of this ilk will happen in the future, I don’t know when. All these clubs are being bought up by the super-rich as they know how popular football is, something will happen somewhere and they will all benefit from it financially. It ́s not like when I played and we used to bunk in when we played away; it ́s a huge business. When I was playing for Liverpool, the average wage was 3k a week.”

He is still very active within the Liverpool club and works in their corporate hospitality company while acting as a Liverpool FC ambassador on match days which he calls “a great day out”.

He discovered the Algarve in 1998. “We came first to Monte São Pedro and just loved it. We kept coming back then I got involved in Oceanico and at one time owned four apartments in Estrela da Luz, but now I am doing my own development in Luz.”

What does he like most about the Algarve? “The amanhã mentality, although I always have to be doing something, but I like the atmosphere here, apart from now – all the COVID form filling is driving me insane!”

Just after he retired from football, John was at a loose end and decided to start up a charity event with some friends – the John Aldridge Charity Golf Classic was born at Boavista Golf course. The first year they raised around €8,000. “It ́s just a really good crack and we make money for charity. Over the years, we have had lots of celebrities, including John Bishop, who is such a good laugh and of course, professional footballers come to Portugal for the event.”

John with Steven Gerrard at his golf event in Laranjal – Quinta do Lago

Playing at Boavista for John Aldridge golf classic

John now generously donates the proceeds from the event to the Tomorrow charity TACT and we are delighted that it will be able to go ahead in September. As it may still be difficult for people to travel from the UK, we are looking for local support to make it a fantastic and successful event for our charities. It could not go ahead in 2020, but John heard about our Vicente appeal and donated some money towards his hip operation this year. “When you see kids in trouble of course, I want to help or save a life. I try to utilise what little bit of fame I have to help.”

John is also donating a Liverpool shirt, which Jürgen Klopp will sign for the winner. The second prize will be a shirt signed by John. Tomorrow magazine will be running the raffle, which costs €1 to enter. All proceeds will go to TACT and help those in need in the Algarve.

It has been a complete pleasure to get to know John, an all-round good bloke, who is incredibly down to earth, fun and generous with his time. We know this year’s golf day is going to be one to remember!

Participate in the raffle


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