Ronnie Whelan's football career
Whelan was born into a family of footballers from Dublin, Ireland; his father, Ronnie Whelan, Sr., was an Irish international and a key member of the successful St Patrick's Athletic side of the late 1950s and early 1960s. His brother Paul Whelan played for Bohemian FC and Shamrock Rovers.
Ronnie was a skilful and industrious midfield player, who made his League of Ireland debut for Home Farm on his 16th birthday at Tolka Park
Whelan was signed for Liverpool by Bob Paisley for a bargain £35,000 on 19 September 1979, a few days before his 18th birthday and made his debut 18 months later, on 3 April 1981, scoring his first goal in the 27th minute of the 3–0 league win over Stoke City at Anfield. This would be Whelan's one and only appearance of the season for the first team, as Whelan spent much of his first few months at the club in the reserves.
The following season Whelan won his place on the left side of the Liverpool midfield, ending the Anfield career of Ray Kennedy and also taking over his No.5 shirt. It was an excellent season for Whelan, as he settled into first team football and helped Liverpool to another League championship. They also retained the League Cup with victory over Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley with Whelan scoring twice in the 3–1 win.
In 1983, Liverpool retained these two trophies and Whelan again scored in the League Cup final, scoring with a long-range shot into the Manchester United net in extra-time to seal a 2–1 win. Whelan then played a major role in Liverpool's treble of League title, League Cup and European Cup of 1984, although he was injured for part of this season.
Liverpool's trophyless season, culminating in the disaster at Heysel, in 1985 was followed by a much more successful season for Whelan and Liverpool, under the new management of Kenny Dalglish.
Liverpool clinched another League title and added the FA Cup, with Whelan setting up two of the goals in a 3–1 victory over Merseyside rivals Everton, the first time the two had met in an FA Cup final, also it was only the third League and FA Cup "double" of the 20th century. Whelan put in some fine performances in the league as well, most notably a hat-trick in the 5–0 home win over Coventry City on 12 April 1986.
Liverpool ended the following season trophyless, losing the League Cup final to Arsenal and coming second to Everton in the league. The following year, Whelan switched to a central role following the arrival of England winger John Barnes at Anfield. This season saw Liverpool play an exciting brand of football and they won both the league title and FA Cup, although Whelan missed out on the cup final as Nigel Spackman, who had won his place in the team when Whelan was injured earlier in the season was chosen ahead of him. Whelan's name and profile was even left out of the official match programme at Wembley for the FA Cup final against Wimbledon, which Liverpool lost 1–0.
An injury to club captain Alan Hansen meant that Whelan spent much of the 1988–89 season as captain of Liverpool, a role he relished as the club progressed to another challenge for a "double". Then the Hillsborough disaster happened, and Whelan played a key role in leading the team on and off the pitch in a difficult time.
When Hansen recovered, Whelan maintained the captaincy for continuity purposes and it was he who lifted the FA Cup after a 3–2 win over derby rivals Everton. However, he missed the chance to do the same with the League title, with Arsenal taking the championship thanks to a last-minute goal from Michael Thomas. This meant that for the second year running Liverpool narrowly missed out on a unique second double.
Liverpool won the League again in 1990 but Whelan's role in the side was diminishing, through a spate of injuries. He stayed at Liverpool until 1994 but an example of his bad luck came in 1992 when he scored the crucial equaliser against Portsmouth in the FA Cup semi-final, forcing a replay which Liverpool won on penalties, but missed the final against Sunderland, in which Liverpool triumphed 2–0, because of injury. By this stage, Liverpool were no longer quite the domintant force they had been in their heyday of the 1980s. They had finished second to Arsenal in the league in 1991, and despite the FA Cup win and UEFA Cup quarter-final appearance in 1992 they finished sixth in the league – failing to make a real impact in the title race for the first time since Bill Shankly had still been manager.
One of Whelan's more forgettable moments came in 1990 when, in a match at Old Trafford, an unmarked Whelan chipped a backpass from 30 yards over goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar and into the net. To date, it is considered to be one of the most bizarre and comical own goals in top flight history.
Manager Graeme Souness gave Whelan more first team opportunities in the new FA Premier League for the 1992–93 season, and he made 17 appearances (scoring once) as Liverpool finished sixth once again, but this came at the end of a season which had mostly been spent in the bottom half of the table and they stood 15th as late as early March. By this stage, however, Whelan's days in the Liverpool first team were looking numbered, as the midfield was now featuring recent signings like Mark Walters and Michael Thomas, as well as breakthrough stars Steve McManaman and Jamie Redknapp.
In 1993–94, Whelan made more appearances than he had done in any of the previous three seasons – 23 in the Premier League, scoring once. It was a disappointing season for the club, unfortunately, as they finished eighth in the Premier League and suffered a shock FA Cup exit at the hands of Bristol City, which had prompted Graeme Souness to resign as manager and be replaced by Roy Evans.
In all, Whelan played 493 first team games for Liverpool, scoring 73 goals. He scored in fourteen consecutive seasons.
He won six League title medals, three FA Cups, a European Cup and three Milk Cup medals in his time with the club.
Whelan was a regular for the Republic of Ireland, making his debut on 29 April 1981 when he came off the bench in the 63rd minute of the 3–1 victory over Czechoslovakia at Lansdowne Road.
Whelan was part of the Irish side which qualified for the UEFA European Football Championship of 1988 in West Germany. He was in the team which memorably beat England 1–0, and he then scored a spectacular long-range goal in a draw with the USSR. Defeat in the final group game, against eventual champions Netherlands, eliminated Ireland from the competition.
On his departure from Anfield in 1994 after 15 years, Whelan signed for Southend United and became their player-manager a year later, before being sacked at the end of the 1996–97 season following their relegation from Division One.
He later worked with clubs in Greece such as Panionios and in Cyprus such as Apollon Limassol but most notably with Olympiakos Nicosia. His greatest success as a manager, was with Panionios in 1999, when his team reached for first time the quarter finals of a European competition, the Cup Winners Cup, when they were eliminated by eventual champions SS Lazio with 0–4 and 0–3.