The Parc De Princes, Paris. Wednesday 27 May 1981. A 24-year-old Steve Ogrizovic walks up to collect the fifth medal of his short career. An 83rd minute Alan Kennedy goal had just given Liverpool victory over Real Madrid in the European Cup final. It was their third European title and Ogrizovic’s second, as the Merseyside team continued their period of domination. For the likes of Ray Clemence, Kenny Dalglish and Phil Thompson it was a reward for long careers at the highest level. Ogrizovic was now the proud owner of medals for two European Cups, two Charity Shields and a European Super Cup.
It would be the last major medal for the former policeman during his five-year stay at Anfield. Signed from Chesterfield by the legendary manager Bob Paisley, “Oggy” had made just 18 first team appearances for the Third Division side before signing for the Reds in November 1977. Paisley was looking for cover for England international Clemence and his chances were always going to be limited. He made his debut in a game against Derby and only played four more times: against Leeds, Coventry, Nottingham Forest and Anderlecht.
The Anderlecht clash, in the European Super Cup at Anfield, was played in heavy fog leading the Kop to chant “Oggy, Oggy what’s the score”. Liverpool won the match 2-1 but lost the tie on aggregate. However, having so little opportunity to play first-team football he moved on to Shrewsbury Town, playing 84 times in two years before he moved to Coventry in a £72,500 deal that would make his name synonymous with the Midlands club. Over the next 16 years he would chalk up over 600 appearances for the Sky Blues, wining the FA Cup and becoming acknowledged as one of the finest goalkeepers of the era never to win an England cap.
There was something about the reassuring about Ogrizovic as a keeper, a calm unassuming presence between the posts. There was none of the flamboyance of Bruce Grobbelaar, nor the attention-grabbing look of David Seaman and his preposterous ponytail. He had the calm countenance of a man that knew what was needed and the ability to ensure that it got done. A reliable keeper is vital to any football team and Ogrizovic was certainly that. During the many intense relegation battles the Sky Blues were involved in during his time at the club his contribution can not be ignored.
The high point of his time at the club came in 1987 when, to the shock of the footballing world, Coventry beat Tottenham in the FA Cup final. Spurs were the, very, short odds favourites, possessing a multitude of internationals – including the man that kept Oggy on the bench at Liverpool. In a sport as superstitious as football, the fact that half of the Spurs shirts didn’t have the sponsors name on them could have been seen as an omen. Ogrizovic, who had become a father just two days before the final, was a little rusty to start with but grew into the match. Eventually, the intervention of Gary Mabbutt’s knee won the cup for Coventry and Ogrizovic had another medal to add to his impressive collection.
Another highlight came during a match at Hillsbourgh when, during a match against Sheffield Wednesday, on a day described by the match commentator as being “very, very windy”, he managed to become one of the few to score a goal from open play in the English top flight. With the scores tied at 1-1 Ogrizovic hoofed the ball down the ground, it finally landed about eight yards outside the Wednesday penalty area and bounced over the head of Martin Hodge in the Wednesday goal and into the back of the net. The game ended 2-2 but it was just another special moment in a career that seemed to hold so many. If Coventry’s time in the top flight could be described as moments of magnificence spread over years of mediocrity, then Ogrizovic could be acknowledged as having provided many of the highs.
After he retired in 2000 it was as if Coventry had lost some of its indomitable spirit, a spirit that had miraculously kept them in the top flight for 26 years whilst similar sized clubs had yo-yoed up and down. Two years later they finally succumbed and left the Premier League for a helter-skelter future, both on and off the field.
Ogrizovic has stayed at the club in one capacity or another since hanging up his gloves, twice stepping into the breach as caretaker manager and, at the age of 61, is currently the club’s goalkeeping coach. The man whose association with the City is possibly more well known than that of Lady Godiva continues to an integral part of the club and the city. An outstanding example of loyalty and devotion that is so lacking in modern football.
In his lifetime Ogrizovic has arrested people, played in European finals, won more continental medals than David Beckham, scored a top-flight goal, played at the highest level of English football in four separate decades and even bowled Sir Viv Richards whilst playing cricket for Shropshire. There may have been better keeper’s during his career, players that have become embedded in the footballing psyche but Steve Ogrizovic will remain a legend for many and a goalkeeping icon for those that like their goalkeepers just a little bit different.
By Phil Withall
Part of our Number Ones series