Jim Beglin has the distinction of being the last player Bob Paisley signed for Liverpool before he retired in the summer of 1983, and handed over the manager’s office at Anfield to his assistant Joe Fagan. He began his career at Shamrock Rovers, playing at left back for the Milltown club, and initially tasted European competition as Rovers were continually, but not altogether surprisingly, eliminated in pre-qualifying or the initial rounds proper. Some quarters of the media at the time were puzzled when Paisley signed the Irishman, bringing in a player from effectively a league equally as competitive but obviously not containing as much quality or the resources of the English divisional system. Additionally, Liverpool already had a very fine left back in Alan Kennedy. Paisley had an eye not just for a talented player, but someone who would fit into the Liverpool ‘Boot Room’ philosophy.
Maybe because of this, Beglin spent the first eighteen months of his time at Anfield in the reserves, basically performing a sort of ‘apprenticeship’ learning the Liverpool way. The Irishman was not alone in this, as many players signed for the Red team from Merseyside experienced the very same. Beglin made his debut in autumn 1984, playing infrequently through the season but did enough to be noticed by the Republic of Ireland manager Eoin Hand. He slotted straight into his national team, which at the time included Frank Stapleton, Kevin Moran, Paul McGrath and Liam Brady. An exciting first season for Beglin, who also scored his first goal for Liverpool during the European Cup Semi-Final against Greek side Panathinaikos, climaxed in the terrible events at Heysel in May 1985.
The following season saw Joe Fagan make way for Kenny Dalglish to become player – manager at Anfield, which turned out to favour Beglin, as the Scotsman made him his first choice left back over Alan Kennedy. He played an essential part of the club’s first double winning team – the first time in twenty-five years any side had won the League and F.A Cup in the same season - and maintained his place in the Ireland team as they narrowly missed out on qualifying for the World Cup Finals in Mexico. Jack Charlton took over the management of the national side, after Hand was left the position – the Irish F.A perhaps sensing a change of manager might do them the world of good.
The following season, Beglin experienced one of the worst leg breaks ever from a late tackle during the Merseyside derby in February 1987. Everton’s right back Gary Stevens went in too high and too late on the Irishman, receiving much criticism from many quarters over his challenge. Bob Paisley – the man who had brought him to Liverpool – was in the crowd that day, and even he claimed it was the worst leg break he had seen in all his years in football. Liverpool captain, the Scottish International Alan Hansen, said of Stevens’ tackle, “It was a mile high and an hour late”. Ireland were on the verge of qualifying for the final stages of a tournament for the first time in their history – the 1988 European Championships in Germany. The chances of Beglin’s participation in this was now going to be very, very, slim bordering on zero. Obviously this was a huge disappointment for the defender.
Beglin would only begin to return to action eighteen months later after much rehabilitation and physiotherapy. Sadly, he suffered a severe cartilage injury during a reserve comeback game in October 1988, which effectively signalled the beginning of the end of his playing career. The following close season he transferred to Leeds United, and despite only making limited appearances assisted in helping the Yorkshire club win the Second Division championship and promotion back into the First Division. As it gradually was obvious Beglin was no longer the player he was, he had short loan spells at Blackburn Rovers and Plymouth Argyle. Come the summer of 1991, the defender had to accept the sad inevitable, and hung up his boots once and for all – at the young age age of twenty-seven. Unlike Clough and Thomas, Beglin moved into the media giving expert analysis on BBC Radio Five commentaries, before moving to ITV to do same on live televised matches. Beglin’s familiar Irish brogue can currently be heard on some games console football titles, giving his forth-right opinion on people’s ‘virtual’ playing ability and management style.