Geoff Strong: Footballer who won League and Cup with Liverpool

Some footballers become utility men because they can't quite reach the required standard in any one position. But in the case of Geoff Strong, who starred for Arsenal as a prolific striker before tasting glory as a serial chameleon with Bill Shankly's Liverpool in the second half of the 1960s, he was so efficient everywhere he played that it was well-nigh impossible to pinpoint his most effective role.

During Strong's Anfield sojourn, in which he helped Liverpool to the first FA Cup triumph in their history in 1965, then to lift the League title a season later as well as cutting a swathe through some of the continent's top clubs on the way to a European final, the whippet-slim Tynesider covered every slot but goalkeeper – and as Shankly once remarked, if the green jersey had become vacant, it was a fair bet that the prodigiously versatile Strong would have excelled in it.

Kopites adored him not only for his comprehensive range of skills, but for his raw courage, too, which he never displayed more memorably than on one of the most tumultuous nights even Anfield has known, during the Cup Winners' Cup semi-final victory over Celtic in April 1966. Hobbling as a presumed passenger at centre-forward following an earlier serious knee injury in those dark days before substitutes were permitted, he sprang from his one sound leg to nod home a cross from his close pal Ian Callaghan, simultaneously winning the tie and securing an eternal niche in Reds folklore.

As a gifted schoolboy sprinter and brilliant all-round athlete, Strong seemed a likely candidate to make his living from sport, but he had been training as a machine-tool fitter while playing for north-eastern amateurs Stanley United when he joined Arsenal in a £100 deal as a 20-year-old in November 1957. After honing his abilities in the Gunners' junior sides he stepped up to the first team at centre-forward in September 1960, scoring on debut in a 5-0 drubbing of his home-town club, Newcastle United, at Highbury. Clearly he was an uncut gem, a lean and lethal marksman who was single-minded and clinical in his finishing, assured in possession of the ball and intelligent at making runs to receive passes. Utterly fearless and willing to work until he dropped, he was terrific in the air, too, completing a high-quality package.

Though his immediate progress was limited by the demands of his National Service in the Army, Strong averaged better than a goal every two games when he did play and in 1962-63, his first full season – under new manager Billy Wright and lining up at inside-right alongside the exuberant spearhead Joe Baker – he scored 21 times in 39 League and FA Cup outings.

That front pair, together with the incisively creative inside-left George Eastham, formed a sumptuous inside trio, terrorising rearguards. They specialised in quicksilver interchanges of short passes and at their best were enchanting entertainers, clearly enjoying themselves hugely, sometimes impudently challenging each other to score from kick-off without the opposition touching the ball.

In 1963-64 Strong and Baker raced each other to be the Gunners' top scorer, eventually settling for a tie on 28 each. Alas for Arsenal, the defence was less reliable, Wright's team never threatening to win the top prizes.

By 1964-65 Strong's all-round game was so impressive that the manager gave him a run in midfield, which rather perplexed him. Then, with a further reshuffle on the cards, the 27-year-old was transferred to Liverpool for £40,000, having contributed 77 goals in 137 games as a Gunner.

Bill Shankly had long admired Strong as a complete footballer, but initially the newcomer took time to come to terms with the Merseysiders' more strenuous training regime. By the time he had settled the team was flowing fluently without him and he became the most polished all-purpose deputy in the League.

His first high-profile assignment was standing in for sidelined right-half Gordon Milne in the 1965 FA Cup final, when he virtually nullified the waspish threat of Leeds United's play-maker Bobby Collins and tested the Yorkshiremen's 'keeper Gary Sprake with several snap-shots on the way to a momentous 2-1 victory. Then in 1965-66 he paraded his full complement of wares, filling in at various junctures for striker Roger Hunt, Milne and Willie Stevenson at wing-half, full-back Chris Lawler and winger Peter Thompson as Liverpool surged to their second League title in three years.

That season, too, came the European Cup-Winners' Cup sequence to which Strong made a spectacular early contribution with the pulverising 25-yard shot which knocked out Juventus in the preliminary round. There followed that courageous clincher which stunned the thirsty Celtic hordes, who left the Liverpool groundstaff to clear up a mountain of empty bottles and cans the next morning, and thereafter the Kop took Strong to their heart, chanting for him until he limped from the bench to take a bow the day the Championship was secured at home to Chelsea.

Over the next two campaigns Strong played pretty regularly in a variety of roles before settling into an accomplished two-year stint at left-back. With his pace and vision he might have been even better suited as sweeper, but that position was already spoken for, and most eloquently, by Tommy Smith.

When he was sold to Coventry City for £30,000 as a 32-year-old in July 1970, having made some 200 appearances for the Reds, Strong's diversity of gifts was sorely missed. As one wag put it, he didn't leave one gap, he left 10. At Highfield Road Strong performed splendidly alongside centre-half Jeff Blockley as the Sky Blues finished in the top half of the First Division in 1970-71, but then he suffered injury and retired in the summer of 1972. Later he ran a hotel-furnishing company on Merseyside and co-owned a pub with Ian Callaghan.

Geoffrey Hugh Strong, footballer: born Kirkheaton, Northumberland 19 September 1937; played for Arsenal 1957-64, Liverpool 1964-1970, Coventry City 1970-72; twice married (two sons, one daughter); died Southport 17 June 2013.

Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

News
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
Review: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
news Sprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Charlotte Brontë, the English novelist, poet and the eldest of the three Bronte sisters who lived into adulthood, has been celebrated with a Google Doodle depicting her most famous novel, Jane Eyre.
arts + ents "Reader, they doodled her".

Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Oxegen in Ireland has been axed as promoters decide it is 'no longer viable'
arts + ents Promoters have axed the event as it is 'no longer viable in current form'
News
The troubled star is set to give fans the biggest insight into her life away from the headlines
people Star made the announcement during the final episode of the programme, entitled Lindsay
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players