Ronnie Whelan is known as a Liverpool legend, having won a wealth of titles during his lengthy career at the club.
Having made his debut as a teenager, the Dubliner soon established himself in the first team and played a crucial role in their numerous successes in the early 1980s.
In total, Whelan scored 73 goals in combined league and cup matches for Liverpool while his medal tally included six League championship titles, three FA Cups and a European Cup. He was also called upon to captain the side during the 1988-89 season before injury hampered the latter stages of his time at Liverpool.
However, despite those injuries, the Republic of Ireland international was completely blindsided by his exit from Liverpool and described the incident in detail in his 2011 autobiography, ‘Walk On: My Life In Red.’
In 1994, Whelan was 33 and had been with Liverpool for 15 years. He had come to the end of his contract and new manager Roy Evans informed him that the board were willing to offer him a one-year extension.
The Irish man “hummed and hawed” over the offer for a couple of days, feeling he deserved more. He was “flying fit” following an operation on his thigh the previous year and felt he still had much to offer the club.
Eventually, he decided to accept the deal and went into training to inform the manager.
“Evo went ‘OK, I’ll tell the board’. I came in the next day full of the joys and went on to the training ground; Evo saw me and came over. He had a very uneasy look on his face.”
It was in a matter of seconds that Whelan’s future went from certain to a completely blank canvas as his time at Liverpool was brought to an abrupt halt.
“He came straight out with it. ‘I’m sorry, Ron, the board have withdrawn the offer’. What? ‘What d’you mean? The one year?’ ‘Yeah. I’m afraid so.’
“Shock was setting in. I was frozen to the spot. I can’t remember if I uttered another word. Roy mentioned something about still coming in to train, if I wanted to, until I’d found another club. Then he just drifted back to where the first-team squad was training.”
In a daze, Whelan left Melwood with emotions threatening to overcome him.
“As I drove, the enormity of what had happened started to sink in. It was over. It was gone. My life as a Liverpool footballer was over. I could feel myself starting to unravel a bit. I pulled into a lay-by on the Formby bypass and stopped the car. I just sat there staring our the windowscreen. And then I burst into tears.”
As the Dublin native explained, football is a ruthless business. You can be picked up quickly when a team wants you but you can be cast aside just as promptly. You can go from being the star of the show to old news in a matter of games. You rarely get the golden send-offs you feel you deserve.
Yet, despite this knowledge, he was completely unprepared for the situation he found himself in.
“In my case, it was a bolt out of the blue. The board had offered me a one-year deal. Then they took it back.
“It was the speed of it that left me a bit traumatised. Fifteen years ended in fifteen seconds.
“No handshakes, no goodbyes, no word of thanks for services rendered. You just turn on your heel and walk away. The lads are playing a game just twenty yards away and you can hear them calling for the ball and talking and laughing the same as any other day. But you might as well be a million miles away.
“Suddenly you’re an outsider now. You’ve gone from the inside to the outside in a matter of seconds. You’re not part of the gang anymore.”
When the shock subsided, Whelan began to feel angry and bitter about the situation. He didn’t appreciate being dumped so promptly by the club he gave so much too.
“I felt I deserved better. I would’ve liked to have seen the end coming, if only to have been a bit better prepared for it. I would’ve liked to have been treated a bit more like a human being.
“But, I suppose, on a number of occasions in this book I have described the Liverpool team as a machine and myself as a cog in that machine. And when you think about it, that’s how I was disposed of in the end: a worn-out part that needed replacing and that ended up where worn-out parts usually end up – the scrap heap.
“It’s where every pro eventually ends up but I thought the club would do it with a little more decency. It hurt a lot at the time. I was angry, I swore, I called people names.”
After a number of days, Whelan “swallowed his pride” and returned to Melwood in order to take up Roy Evans on his offer of training with the club. He needed to keep fit in order to find a new team.
And that new team came in the form of Southend United whose manager, Peter Taylor, offered him a one-year contract. All of a sudden, he found himself in unfamiliar surroundings. The luxuries and safety net of Liverpool taken away, Whelan was forced to return to basics; small dressing rooms, washing his kit himself, and little to no support structure.
Yet he was back playing football and that was all that mattered. Determined to look to the future, Whelan soon found his anger towards Liverpool ebbing away.
“Deep down, I knew there was no point: it was just how the game worked. There was nothing personal. They buy you, sell you, drop you, pick you; they pay you well, renew your contract and pay you more; then they let you go and they don’t have to say goodbye or thanks or anything.
“It’s a conveyor belt that never stops.”