Ex Red Volume 18 – Avi Cohen: 1956 – 2010

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avi-cohenJust over a week ago, the tragic news came through from Israel that former Liverpool player Avi Cohen had been involved in a serious accident while riding his motorcycle in Tel Aviv. He was listed in critical condition, and the news became more worrying a short time later when doctors at Ichilov Hospital reported that he had undergone emergency surgery, but the prognosis was that in spite of their best efforts he was not expected to recover. At this point, the news had spread to all of the various LFC related websites, where without exception the hopes and prayers of Liverpool supporters around the world were expressed, with hope in our hearts, that a miracle may occur and that Avi would somehow make a full recovery.

Unfortunately that hoped for miracle was not forthcoming, and it was announced early on Tuesday (December 28th) that a death certificate had been issued after doctors confirmed that there was to be no recovery from the extensive brain injuries that Avi had suffered, and that Avi’s family had sadly and reluctantly accepted the inevitable.

Avraham (Avi) Cohen only made a few appearances for Liverpool over two seasons, but he will be fondly remembered by those who were around the club at the time. He wasn’t one of the great Liverpool players to make it into the top 100 Players Who Shook The Kop, and neither was he included in the spoof 10 Players Who Shook The Kop (with laughter) featured on The Liverpool Way website. His transfer to Liverpool came in May of 1979 during Bob Paisley’s time as manager, and was signed for a fee of £200,000 from Israeli Champions Maccabi Tel Aviv. At the time, he was highly rated as the best all-round player of all the Israeli internationals, and was expected to perform well in a variety of positions. He was even described by some as “The Beckenbauer of the Middle East.”

His first appearance was in September 1979 as a midfield replacement for the injured Ray Kennedy in a match against Leeds United. It was far from a dream debut and showed that it was going to take some to become familiar with the English game, and particularly with Liverpool’s methods. That resulted in him being put into the reserve side for six months, after which time it was decided that he may be ready to join the senior squad again. That was for the last home match of the season which turned out to be a memorable occasion, but not necessarily for the right reasons.  In his total time at Liverpool, which was only for two seasons, Avi Cohen played in twenty games and scored two goals. That’s not a bad ratio for a defender, but one of those was an own goal!

In the last home match of the 1979-80 season, Liverpool could clinch the title with a win against Aston Villa; and Cohen was playing at left back in place of Alan Kennedy. The match was off to a great start when David Johnson opened the scoring after only three minutes. Then, with Aston Villa pushing forward, a shot from Villa’s Linton deflected off Cohen’s outstretched leg that was attempting to block the shot, and looped over Clemence into the net. Avi described his feelings at that moment saying, “I just wanted the ground to swallow me up.” Six minutes into the second half, Cohen ran onto a badly cleared ball and blasted it through a crowd of players into the Kop goal. The moment was immortalized by John Motson’s commentary, “Oh I say! At the same end he’s got one back!” Liverpool went on to win 4-1 and become champions for the twelfth time. Avi Cohen did not receive a medal though as he had not played in enough games that season.

His smooth passing and distribution of the ball, combined with an ability to read the game and anticipate play, as well as strength in the air and hard tackling, should have signalled the birth of a new star at Anfield. But, his lack of pace was enough to mean that he was mostly used to replace players who were out due to injury. At the start of the 1980-81 season, things were looking up as he went on a run of appearances, but as it turned out he only played in fourteen League matches.   

One famous story about Avi Cohen concerns his problems with a new language. When he came in for training, he found that his peg was next to Kenny Dalglish’s. Avi repeatedly said to Kenny, “Me, you, same.” Kenny’s curiosity finally broke down his patience until he asked (in broad Glaswegian), “What do you mean by that?” Avi replied, “Kenny, you me same. Both learn English!”

The fact that Avi Cohen was the first Israeli player to sign for an English club, and one of only a few foreign players in the English League, generated considerable interest from the press – especially in Israel. One time when Bob Paisley was in his office, the phone rang and Bob answered it. The caller said that he was a reporter from the Jewish Chronicle and wanted to know if Avi Cohen was orthodox. “Orthodox what?” replies Paisley, “Do you mean orthodox defender or midfielder?” “No” said the reporter, “Orthodox Jewish. If he is, he cannot play on Saturdays.” Paisley then said, “I’ve got half a dozen like that already!”

His contract was not renewed in 1981. It may have been the cold English winters or his wife’s homesickness that led to his return to Israel and Macabbi Tel Aviv in November of 1981 for a fee of £100,000. Avi’s total appearances amounted to 24 games, with one goal, and was part of the Charity Shield winning side in both 1979 and 1980. Six years later, he and his wife braved one more winter by going to Glasgow Rangers who at the time were managed by former team-mate Graeme Souness who obviously still thought highly of his abilities. After that single season in Scotland, he returned once again to Israel with Maccabi Netanya.

Avi Cohen’s international career spanned from 1976 to 1990, during which time he earned 64 caps and scored 3 goals (none of which came during his two seasons with Liverpool). The later stages of his playing days took him to Sheffield United, Huddersfield, and Port Elizabeth in South Africa. After retiring from playing for Maccabi Netanya, he moved into management at the club, followed by spells at several other Israeli teams. For the past five years he was the head of the Israeli Professional Footballers’ Association, a position which he held right up until the end.

Avi was a great friend and mentor to many Israeli international players, going to the trouble of sending a very encouraging message to Yossi Benayoun when he signed for Liverpool in 2007, to wish him well and to let him know from his own experience that he was joining one of the best clubs in Europe. He naturally also took great pride in watching the development of his son Tamir, who first played in Maccabi Tel Aviv’s youth squad and senior squad, as well as a midfielder with Avi’s other Israeli club Maccabi Netanya. Since January 2008 Tamir has been at Bolton Wanderers, where his first goal for his new club came in a 3-1 loss to Liverpool in March of that year (we can only speculate as to which side Avi was cheering for on that day!). Tamir left Bolton last week to be with his family in Tel Aviv as they held vigil over Avi’s last days.

Looking back at Avi Cohen’s overall career, he may have only had a brief playing period with Liverpool, but it is one that many of us will remember – and remember with fondness. The news of his passing has brought sadness to all of those who were fortunate to have known him personally, with many of his former team-mates relating their memories of how much they enjoyed his company. For the rest of us, we’ll always cherish the memories, especially of that one unforgettable goal that brought us the championship in 1980, and for the trophies that he helped us win.

Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time, our deepest sympathy goes out to all of them and to all of his friends and colleagues. Rest in Peace Avi, You’ll Never Walk Alone.

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Ex Red Volume 2 – Peter Beardsley

Beardsley

Beardsley

This week’s featured Ex Red is a player who will always be extremely popular here in Vancouver, Peter Beardsley. I really love Peter Beardsley and he’s definitely one of my top five favourite players of all time. He’s a top bloke too, I know this because I’ve met him, but more on that later.

Peter Beardsley was born in January 1961, in Newcastle. He started his football career with Carlisle United in 1979 after being spotted playing for Wallsend Boys’ Club and after making over 100 appearances he decided to accept an offer to move to Canada and join the Vancouver Whitecaps who bought him for £275,000 in 1981.

He made enough of an impact in Vancouver for word to get back to Man United who paid £250,000 for him in 1982. Beardsley made just one appearance for them, in the League Cup, before rejoining the Whitecaps on a free transfer.

In his autobiography there is an entire chapter dedicated to his time spent in Vancouver. He speaks very fondly of his time with the Whitecaps and says he was tempted on a number of occasions to move there on a permanent basis, but there was no way he could eventually resist signing for his hometown club, Newcastle United. He had some memorable performances for the Whitecaps and scored some great goals and is fondly remembered by all those who saw him play at the time.

In 1983 he joined his boyhood club Newcastle United for £150,000. He had four years with the Magpies that included memorable partnerships with another Ex Red, Kevin Keegan, and also Chris Waddle. Not only did he score great goals but he also set up some spectacular ones too. Peter helped Newcastle gain promotion to Division One in 1983/84 which was Kevin Keegans final season as a player. It was at this point that he began to attract a lot of wide attention for his incredible ability as he scored twenty goals in that promotion season.

In the 1985/86 season Peter famously ended a game against West Ham as the stand in goalkeeper. The game ended in an 8-1 defeat for Newcastle with Peter conceding three goals. I recall watching Newcastle play on Match of the Day sometime around 1986 and my dad speaking at length about how much he wanted Liverpool to sign Peter.

His stock rose even higher after impressing during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. He partnered Gary Lineker and helped him to win the golden boot for the tournament. Peter also managed to get on the scoresheet himself in the second round victory over Paraguay. In a recent interview Gary Lineker was asked who his favourite striking partner of all time was and he chose Peter.

During the summer of 1987 Kenny Dalglish smashed the British transfer record and brought him to Liverpool for £1.9 million. The season before had ended badly for us as Everton had won the league title by nine points and Ian Rush had departed for Juventus. Kenny had already brought in John Aldridge from Oxford United to replace Rushie and in the summer of 1987 he added our man Peter and John Barnes from Watford. They were followed soon after by Ray Houghton also from Oxford United who had played a blinder for them at Anfield at the start of the season.

This side is regarded by a lot of people, including myself, as the most skilful Liverpool side ever. We went twenty nine games unbeaten at the start of the season equalling the record set previously by Leeds United. Annoyingly the chance to achieve the record was denied to us at Goodison Park against Everton with a Wayne Clark goal.

It wasn’t just the amount of wins we put in that season it was the way in which we went about it. The standard of skill on show that season was truly breathtaking with memorable victories against QPR, Everton and most famously the 5 – 0 versus Nottingham Forest which was later voted as the ‘performance of the century’. At that time Barnes was probably the best player in the world and to be honest although he didn’t get as many headlines Beardsley wasn’t too far behind him. It took Peter a few games to score his first goal, which came in an away victory at Coventry City. From that moment on he was flying and was involved in some really memorable moments that season. Possibly his finest goal came in the televised Merseyside derby when he smashed in a blinder off the crossbar. In the FA Cup Final defeat to Wimbledon Peter scored a fine goal, only to have it disallowed because the referee had already blown for a free kick to Liverpool in the build up and didn’t play the advantage.

He had four fantastic seasons at Anfield during which he won two league titles, an FA Cup and three Charity Shields. He also gained the hearts of all Liverpool supporters and the people of Merseyside when he helped to look after the families after the Hillsborough disaster. He was so upset by the disaster that he was only able to attend one funeral but his efforts are still very much appreciated and won’t be forgotten.

There was rumours that Peter didn’t get along with Kenny Dalglish because he was often the victim of a rotation system but this was very much untrue. In fact they were next door neighbours for six years on Merseyside and Kenny helped Peter with the sale of his house when he left the area.

In his final season at Anfield, 1990/91 Peter was in and out of the side but scored eleven goals, including a memorable hat-trick against Man United in September 1990.

Unfortunately Peter’s time at Liverpool came to an abrupt end soon after Kenny Dalglish resigned as manager in February 1991. Peter was criminally fazed out of the team, often in favour of Ronny Rosenthal, by Kenny’s replacement, Graeme Souness. My dislike of Souey’s management reign could have its own separate article and one of the worst things he ever did was to sell Peter to Everton for one million pounds in 1991, to help raise funds to buy Dean Saunders. This decision still leaves me scratching my head all  hese years later as Saunders was never ever in the same league as Peter. The stupidity of that decision was made clear at the time by the fact that Liverpool supporters were not angry with Peter for moving across Stanley Park but instead vented their anger and frustrations towards Souness and the Liverpool board. In my opinion it is not a coincidence that the sale of Peter Beardsley coincided with glory years coming to an end and us not winning a league title since 1990. Peter was just one of many great players sold far too soon during that period.

I was fortunate enough to meet Peter in early 1992 while he was an Everton player. My uncle Graham used to be a registered FA referee and officiated non league games for many years. One time he was chosen to be the fourth official at a cup game between Everton and Watford at Goodison Park and he invited me and my dad to be his guests for the evening. We got to sit in the referees changing room before and after the game and then sit in the director’s box during the game. The referees changing room was in the same corridor as the two teams and I was able to meet and get the autographs of lots of players including all the Everton team, and from Watford the great Luther Blissett and a young David James just months before he signed for Liverpool. My favourite memory of that night was meeting Peter Beardsley and out of all the players I met that evening he was the nicest. He stopped and chatted with me for a good five minutes even though he was busy. I remember him rubbing my hair and making jokes and just being absolutely brilliant with me before signing my match programme which coincidentally had a picture of him on the cover. I was already a big fan of him already but after that moment he became a real hero to me and I always followed his career wherever he played.

During his two seasons at Everton Peter joined David Johnson as one of only two players to score for both sides in Merseyside derbies. I remember being present in the ground when he scored the winner for Everton in 1992.

In July 1993 he returned to Newcastle (again along with Kevin Keegan, this time as manager) who had just gained promotion to the top division. In his first season at Newcastle, the 32 year old Peter rolled back the years with some vintage performances. He scored 25 goals and helped them to third in the Premier League. He had four glorious years back at Newcastle and almost captained them to the Premiership title in 1996. He was the team captain for that famous 4-3 game at Anfield that was later called ‘The Game of the Decade’.

Peter left St James’s Park in 1997 and then spent the final two years of his career drifting to various teams including Bolton, Fulham, Man City and Hartlepool Utd where he won his final medal as a player in 1999 when they won the second division (now division one) title. His loan spell at Man City makes him the answer to a great trivia question as the only player to play for both top clubs in Liverpool and Manchester. He ended his career at the age of 38 with two games in Australia for the Melbourne Knights.

After retirement he returned to Newcastle where he worked as part of the coaching staff until 2006. In March 2009 he returned to the club as an academy coach before becoming the reserve team manager in July 2010. When Chris Hughton was sacked as first team manager in December 2010, Peter was put in charge as caretaker manager for a few days. His first game was amazingly almost at home against Liverpool.

Peter Beardsley played 175 games for Liverpool and scored 59 goals. Even though he was only with us for a short time he is regarded as an Anfield legend and one of the most talented players ever to play for the club. He was a key player in the great side of the late 1980’s and formed amazing partnerships with John Aldridge, John Barnes and Ian Rush. He was voted in at number 19 in the series ‘100 Players Who Shook the Kop’. Peter Beardsley we salute you!