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Football's Forgotten Men

Jay Spearing: The forgotten man of Liverpool's 2012 FA Cup final

4:00 PM MYT 14/05/2022
Jay Spearing
The Reds academy graduate started alongside Jordan Henderson at Wembley a decade ago but their careers have since gone in very different directions

Given their immense success under Jurgen Klopp, it is quite hard to believe Liverpool will be playing in their first FA Cup final for 10 years on Saturday.

The Reds will, of course, be facing Chelsea – just as they did a decade ago – and will be hoping to avoid a repeat of their 2-1 loss to the Blues.

One reasons for the Reds' defeat that day was the absence of key midfielders, with usual starters Charlie Adam and Lucas Leiva ruled out by injury.

Therefore, manager Kenny Dalglish had to name two young English midfielders in the holding roles behind captain Steven Gerrard.

Jordan Henderson and Jay Spearing were charged with protecting the back four on a day which proved pivotal in the careers of both men.

For Henderson, it was his first major final playing in the Liverpool engine room, having been deployed on the right wing in the League Cup victory over Cardiff a few months earlier.

He played 90 minutes at Wembley and impressed, giving him enough confidence in his ability to reject the move to Fulham agreed by new manager Brendan Rodgers that summer, and thus stay at Anfield and grow into the leader for club and country he is today.

It is likely Henderson will start for Jurgen Klopp's men in the 2022 final, and he could become the first Liverpool captain since Gerrard to lift the FA Cup.

For Spearing, however, the 2012 final would be the apex of his Liverpool career, the ending of a chapter, rather than the beginning of a story.

The academy graduate endured a torrid time at Wembley, and would be blamed for both goals.

In the 10th minute, a clearance out of Chelsea's defence was mis-controlled in midfield by Spearing, the loose ball pounced on by Mata, whose clever through ball was raced on to by Ramires and the Brazilian outpaced Jose Enrique before beating Pepe Reina at his near post.

While both Spaniards should have done better, it was Spearing's initial error which allowed Chelsea to counter and score – and, regrettably things did not improve for the youngster after the break.

In the 52nd minute, he was shimmied far too easily by Frank Lampard, who played a trademark slide rule pass to Didier Drogba in the penalty area. T

he Ivorian marksman finished calmly with his left foot inside the far post, for what proved the winning goal.

Dalglish had seen enough, subbing off Spearing two minutes later for Andy Carroll, who almost single-handedly turned the final for Liverpool, scoring one and seeing a stunning Petr Cech save deny him a late equaliser.

Fast-forward 10 years, and while Henderson is back at Wembley with the Reds, Spearing is without a club entirely, the 33-year-old having been released by League Two club Tranmere Rovers.

After Rodgers failed to sell Henderson, he allowed Spearing to move on loan to Bolton on the final day of the 2012 summer transfer window, the deal becoming permanent the following year.

While Spearing played in a couple of Europa League qualifiers at the start of 2012-13 before his move, the FA Cup final was his real finale for his boyhood club.

Born and raised in Wallasey on Merseyside, Spearing was Liverpool through and through.

He joined the academy aged eight, and over a decade rose through the youth ranks to captain the club to FA Youth Cup victory in 2007, showing his determination by recovering from a serious broken leg the year before.

He was promoted to the Reds first team that summer, and would be the only one of the cup winners to make a real impact on the first team.

His team-mates, from first leg goal-scorer Craig Lindfield to second-leg penalty hero Robbie Threlfall, are names now only familiar to the most hardcore Kopites.

Spearing made his Liverpool senior debut as a sub against PSV in the Champions League in December 2008, under the management of Rafael Benitez.

He broke into the first-team picture more regularly under Dalglish in 2010-11, deputising for the injured Gerrard amid hopes he could one day succeed the skipper as Anfield's homegrown hero.

Such were those hopes, Liverpool reportedly turned down signing Aaron Ramsey for £1 million ($1.2m) in 2008 as they already had Spearing.

Benitez also used Spearing off the bench in the 4-0 victory over Real Madrid at Anfield in the Champions League last 16 in March 2009.

"I could hear the crowd singing my name and I couldn't think straight," Spearing said post-match.

However, while Spearing was an effective defensive midfielder – a 5'6'' (1.67 metres) terrier with a biting tackle – he lacked Gerrard's forward drive, eye for a pass or scoring touch. In 55 senior games for Liverpool, he did not score once.

In summer 2011, Dalglish attempted to sign more central midfield creativity with Adam and Henderson, and while Spearing did make 25 appearances across all competitions in 2011-12, there was no momentum to suggest he was on a Gerrard trajectory.

Spearing's personal connections to the club were also an issue, as it left him star-struck to be on the pitch for the team he loved and with players he idolised – yet at a relatively difficult time for them, Liverpool needed more than a fan running their midfield.

"I grew up idolising him," he said of Gerrard in a 2012 interview with the Guardian. "It was my absolute dream to play in the same team as him, so it took me a year or two just to say hello.

"I could hardly look at him, let alone speak, and I think he could tell I was struggling, so he took me to one side and told me not to worry, just to be myself and play my normal game.

"Now I look at him as an idol and a good friend as well, and I can talk to him normally."

Despite this, he was awarded a new contract in May 2011. Director of football Damien Comolli said: "To be fair to him, it's not only what he has done in the last four or five games that triggered the new contract.

"We have been talking for quite a while, independently of what he was doing on the field. But that was confirmation that it was the right thing to do.

"We think he will be part of the future of the club, which is why we rewarded him with a new contract."

Yet as Liverpool finished no higher than sixth in the Premier League during his time as a first team player, Spearing instead became a lightning rod for criticism.

"He is not a Premiership player, let alone a Liverpool player," ex-Reds star Steve McMahon told ESPN in 2011.

Instead, Spearing has had a highly respectable career in the English lower leagues with Bolton, Blackburn, Blackpool and most recently Tranmere – making 32 league appearances for the latter last season, thus making his release quite surprising.

He is also a patron of the Darby Rimmer MND Foundation, founded after his FA Youth Cup winning team-mate Stephen Darby was diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

Crucially, Spearing has absolutely zero regrets about his time at Liverpool, telling GOAL in 2018: "I had Steven Gerrard as my captain, Jamie Carragher behind me and Kenny Dalglish on the sideline. What more could you want?

"When I look back on my career, I can say I did what I dreamed of doing, I played with the players I dreamed of playing with and for the club I dreamed of playing for. Not many can say that, can they?"

Liverpool in 2022 is a very different proposition to that in 2012, as Klopp's men continue to fight for an unprecedented quadruple.

However, none of us know what the future holds – only in 2032 will we be able to look back and see who from this current Reds team were the Hendersons, and who were the Spearings.

You can check in on more of GOAL's Forgotten Men here.