For he’s a jolly good fellow, for he’s a jolly good fellow! Yes, it’s a special day for for one James Robert Case, who hits the big 6-0 today. It doesn’t seem that long ago when Jimmy was a 39 year old, plying his trade as a footballer at Brighton & Hove Albion.
Here is a superb interview by Harry Pratt from Matchday magazine (March 1994) all about his return to the Goldstone Ground:
Jimmy Case is completing his 20th season in the professional game. Yet he retains the enthusiasm and dedication more readily associated with a teenage trainee.
That has been the Case way throughout a career that has taken him from the mighty heights of Liverpool to the lower regions of non-League football with Sittingbourne.
Despite being 39, Case was still the target for Liam Brady when he took over as manager of struggling Brighton towards the end of last year.
Brady saw Case as the perfect player-coach as he began the difficult task of arresting Brighton’s dramatic plunge into the Second Division relegation area.
For Case, who after a nomadic 12 months had suddenly found himself playing in the Beazer Homes Premier Division with Sittingbourne, Brady’s job offer was a Godsend.
‘I think Liam reckoned Brighton were light in midfield and while talking among friends my name cropped up,’ says Liverpool-born Case.
‘I had no hesitation in accepting. I still have the appetite for the game and want to continue playing for as long as possible.
‘I had only come across Liam a few times before coming to Brighton. But I knew all about his footballing ability. I used to play against him, but we never came too close together. Liam was not keen on crunching tackles!
‘But seriously, he had tremendous vision and superb passing ability that few have matched. The main difficulty was getting the bail off him.’
Case was the complete midfielder in his prime when he graced the all-conquering Liverpool team of the 1970s. Tenacious in the tackle and a quality passer, his blistering shot and a willingness to run himself into the ground made him a vital component of Bob Paisley’s team.
His first professional season at Anfield was 1973-74, and in the next eight years Case won virtually very club honour in the game – four League Championships, three European Cups, one UEFA Cup and one League Cup. The only things missing from his collection was an FA Cup winners’ medal he scored in the 2-1 defeat by Manchester United in the 1977 Final – and an England cap.
In today’s era he would surely have been an England regular. But he was unfortunate that in his heyday there was an abundance of skilful midfielders banging on the England door – Hoddle, Brooking and McDermott, to name a few.
His time at Liverpool ended in 1981 when he joined Brighton, then in the First Division. Case’s presence was instrumental in one of the club’s most progressive periods that culminated in them reaching the 1983 FA Cup Final. Once again it was Manchester United who denied him that elusive winners’ medal as the Seagulls crashed 4-0 in a replay. However, reaching Wembley detracted from Brighton’s League form and they were relegated at the end of the season.
‘That was a great time,’ recalls Case of the Cup run. ‘It was nice to know that the success I had enjoyed with Liverpool could still continue somewhere else.’
By 1985, Case was on the road again as he moved along the south coast to Southampton, where he was to remain for six years. He followed that with brief spells with Bournemouth, Halifax and Wrexham.
‘Bournemouth released me because they had severe financial problems and had to let go players out of contract,’ explains Case.
‘After that I had half a season with Halifax before Wrexham boss Brian Flynn came in for me. That was only to help them out until the end of the season.’
Many in Case’s position would have decided the time had come to call it a day. But underlining his determination to continue, Case spent last summer keeping in trim by playing in Perth, Australia.
Not the most likely setting, and Case admits the standard of football left a lot to be desired. ‘When I came back,’ he says, ‘I found that I was off the footballing map in England as the papers had reported that my
mnva to Australia was permanent.’
While looking for a new club, Case was far from idle as he worked as a scout for Wrexham. Yet, at 39, Case struggled to secure long-term employment and admits: ‘A lot of clubs looked at my age and were not prepared to offer me more than a one-season contract.
‘But that has never really bothered me. For the last nine years I’ve been on one-year contracts with all my clubs, and that includes six years at Southampton.
‘I’ve always believed that it’s up to me to prove I’m worth keeping on. If I play to my ability then I have no fears.’
Brady clearly believes Case is still good enough for first-team football and that judgement was proved fight as Brighton’s form picked up immediately after his arrival with a four-game unbeaten run that eased relegation worries.
Playing in a deep central midfield role, Case’s main task is to help the team play as a cohesive unit. He is no longer charging all over the pitch, but more involved in picking up possession and then initiating the flowing football that is Brady’s trademark.
The new style introduced by Brady is already paying dividends with attendances at the Goldstone Ground increasing significantly. Crowds of over 10,000 when they are at the wrong end of the table indicate Brighton’s potential for top-flight football.
‘We’re looking to play football,’ Case says, ‘and that has attracted new support. But results are equally important because at the end of the day fans are always going to judge their club by their League position – it’s a thin line. The main aim for this season is to pull clear of relegation and stabilise our position which will give us something to build upon.’
Brighton’s future, despite crippling financial problems, is now considerably brighter.
Highly-rated Irish Under-21 central defender Paul McCarthy (above) has signed a new contract, as has striker Kurt Nogan.
‘The outlook is rosier. Paul and Kurt have seen the light and that has given everyone here greater confidence with regards to the future,’ says Case.
Such was the popularity of Case that a crowd 15,645 came to see his testimonial match between Brighton and Liverpool in October 1994. He finally retired in November 1995 following a neck injury in a reserve match. Then, two weeks, later, he became the manager of Brighton & Hove Albion, following Liam Brady’s resignation. It certainly was the impossible job, especially for a new boss.
Although it ended unhappily with the sack in 1996, Albion fans’ memories of Case are mainly of the happy kind, as indicated by the showing of his extraordinary FA Cup Semi-Final free-kick of 1983 before each Brighton match at the Amex, for supporters old and new to enjoy. Happy birthday, Jim.