Ian Callaghan: 'I'm Liverpool through and through, but I always keep an eye out for Swansea's results'
HE'S a bona fide Liverpool legend — but Ian Callaghan still has a soft spot for Swansea City.
A Reds supporter as a child, Callaghan made a club record 640 appearances for the club during an 18-year stay at Anfield.
He was also the only player to represent Liverpool in the Second Division and remain with them right the way through to their European Cup triumph in 1977.
During that time he collected five First Division championship medals, won the FA Cup twice, the Uefa Cup twice and was voted Football Writers' Player of the Year in 1974.
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In the autumn of 1978, Callaghan finally left Liverpool for a brief spell with American side Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
But then his old team-mate John Toshack came calling.
Toshack had taken the manager's reins at Swansea earlier that year and led the club to promotion from the Fourth Division in his first season in charge.
"It was a long time ago, but it was a very enjoyable time," remembers Callaghan. "The reason I went there was because of John Toshack and because they'd signed Tommy Smith as well.
"I didn't know much about Swansea before I arrived, although I knew they had beaten us in the cup in 1964 when Noel Dwyer was the hero.
"I've still got friends in Swansea and I visit quite often."
Smith was another Liverpool old boy recruited by Toshack and he and Callaghan used to travel to Swansea together.
As part of the agreement that took them to South Wales, the pair would spend the early part of the week training in Liverpool.
They would then head down to Swansea on a Thursday to take in a Friday training session before the weekend match.
"I've got some really great memories of Swansea. Jeremy Charles and Alan Curtis were there at the time," recalls Callaghan.
"To leave Anfield and go to the old Vetch Field was a big change and playing in the Third Division took some adjusting to as well. It was a different type of football.
"I was playing in the USA, but I'd played with Tosh at Liverpool so came to join up with him.
"He did a lot of things like Liverpool did and I had good vibes that it was going to be a successful year."
Callaghan's hunch was right as Swansea had already embarked upon their sensational rise to the top flight.
They were promoted to the Second Division that May after a campaign in which the midfielder made 40 league appearances.
He also played a prominent role the following season before injury led to him being released in January 1981.
At the end of that campaign Swansea went on to clinch the ultimate promotion and reached the top tier for the first time in their history.
Callaghan continued playing, first for Irish side Cork Hibernians, then Norwegian outfit Soudifjord and finally Crewe Alexandra before retiring in the summer of 1982.
"No-one ever thought Swansea would get to the First Division, that was fantastic," he says.
"I signed for a year initially and ended up staying longer because I really enjoyed playing for Tosh and his assistant Terry Medwin.
"It was one of the most enjoyable periods of my career once I got used to the type of football.
"Swansea will always be my second club.
"I'm Liverpool through and through, but I always keep an eye out for Swansea's results.
"It was terrific the way we were treated down there, I'm not just saying that, we were made to feel so welcome."
These days Callaghan remains an ardent Liverpool fan and is involved in hospitality at Anfield on matchdays.
He was there last year when Swansea claimed a gallant draw and was a guest at the Liberty as Danny Graham's late goal secured an historic win over Kenny Dalglish's side back in May.
Though not thrilled with those results, the 70-year-old is delighted to see Swansea back in the big time.
"The way they fell away after rising was so sad and the past couple of years have been fantastic," he adds.
"They've come back and held their own. I was very impressed when they came up last season.
"They drew with us at Anfield and beat us 1-0 at the Liberty, where they were the better side.
"Some of the football played last season under Brendan (Rodgers) was sensational.
"With the new stadium, the change has been unbelievable since myself and Tommy Smith were there and I'm so pleased for them."
Swansea's performance against Liverpool five months ago helped convince the club's American owners to lure Rodgers to Merseyside.
And Callaghan is delighted they bagged the Northern Irishman, having been impressed by his style over the past few years.
"I was down for the play-off game with Nottingham Forest," he says. "The passing game under Brendan was fantastic and now he's come to Liverpool.
"I was pleased when he moved — but some of my friends in Swansea were not so happy."
Things have not gone entirely according to plan for Rodgers since his switch from South Wales.
Liverpool have made a slow start to the season and have won only one of their first four home league games.
That was a nervy 1-0 triumph over struggling Reading ten days ago.
"So far results haven't reflected the way we have played," reckons Callaghan. "We've played terrifically at times, but haven't had the rewards.
"Brendan Rodgers is looking to the future and I agree with that.
"Having met him, he's very nice, but Brendan isn't a pushover, he will do things his own way."
Another man who has swapped Wales for Merseyside is Joe Allen — and the £15 million former Swansea man has already enhanced his reputation at Liverpool.
"He's been terrific since he came in," says Callaghan. "Brendan clearly wanted him and he's slotted in straightaway, he's a fantastic player. He's a great lad who is already really vital for Liverpool."