MARK Hayhurst is a centre half.

As a centre half myself, and with maybe my best playing days behind me, it’s a rare treat in life to meet someone who shares the centre half’s peculiar view of the park – of seeing the play unfold, and of figuring out the most elegant way to both break up their play, and help build your own.

Mark is a classy footballer. In the year or so I’ve played with and against him, I’ve never seen him hoof it. And it’s much the same with his writing really – it’s about as elegant as it gets. Mark is quite the wordsmith when it comes to football (and cricket, lest I forget); however, his talents extend far beyond the sporting realm. He also happens to be an award winning writer, director and producer. Oh, and he’s a Red – in fact, some of you might know him by his online nomme de plume on RAWK: Yorkykopite.

Mark filled me in on his experiences as a Red, his hopes for the season, and last but not least his latest work, which airs on BBC2 at 9pm next Sunday.


So Mark, what got you started as a Liverpool fan?

It was 1970-71 season. I was 9, footy-mad, and went with my dad to watch Huddersfield Town every home game. When Liverpool came to Leeds Road it was amazing. The team itself wasn’t particularly good – Shanks was still constructing his second great side. The match wasn’t much cop either (0-0 I think). But the travelling Kop was something else. It seemed so different and exotic – the songs, the voices, everything. I think I came out of that game a Liverpool supporter. Certainly by the time the Reds played Everton in the semi at Old Trafford I was fully signed up – a therefore had to go through the first heart-break when Arsenal beat us in the Cup Final….. courtesy of a Charlie George fluke (that’s how partisan I had become). The following season I saw Liverpool at Town again and also at Old Trafford and Elland Road – both within striking distance of home. My introduction to Anfield came at start of the ’72 season when my dad broke our Colwyn Bay holiday to take me to the opener v Man City and the night match v Man Utd just 3 days later. I see from Liverweb that both games had crowds of 56,000. The night match, in particular, was an astonishing atmosphere. It was an unbelievable experience to be there. Even at 11 years-old you can sense your life changing on occasions like this.

So how long was it before you were a regular on the Kop?

Not long after that. I was Anny Road until 1975-76 season when I started going with a couple of pals. That was the season I first went on the Kop. It took another 18 months of growing before I could actually say I managed to see a proper game of footy from the Kop. In fact I don’t think I saw a corner being taken down at the Kop end for 2 whole seasons. Those who were there will know what I mean. Brilliant days though. I still think the Kop has never come near to the 76-77 season for atmosphere. St Etienne obviously, but not just St Etienne. Wasn’t the capacity reduced the following year? It’s still the best terrace in world football though. Clearly.

You’re a lucky man. It was a full 8 years later when I first made it to Anfield, and I’ve never been a regular – not even close. Is it even possible to describe the impact the Kop has on you, a young buck in his formative years? In terms of football and of life, I mean?

Aye but you’re a bit younger than me Roy.

I’m not a religious bloke. I wasn’t born into a family that ever went to church. I’ve never sung in a choir. The Labour party was one ‘church’ for us but with all the will in the world it’s hard to get spiritually transported at a ward meeting of the local Labour party. Footy was different though. It’s a joyful thing to play and it’s a joyful thing to watch. So Anfield – and particularly the Kop – became my church and congregation. There’s very few times in life that you give yourself over to the mass. On the whole that’s a good thing. We’ve all seen where ‘mass feeling’ can get you in politics – trailing blindly behind some clever demagogue probably. But on the Kop it was different. There was always a wisecrack to release the tension for one thing. But on those big days especially – the Derby, the Manchester games, the Leeds games – you felt part of something massive. It’s easy to talk bollocks about that end of the ground (we’ve all seen that famous Panorama report from ’64) but there’s no doubt in my mind that when it got going on those big days the old Kop became something over and above every single person who was standing on it. You couldn’t help but feel its power and be swept up by it. And of course that sticks with you forever, which is why old Kopites bore the life out of anyone willing to listen to them now.

It sounds incredible from where I’m sat, having never experienced it. How long did the adventure last before your talents swept you away to Londonshire?

Londonshire via Oxfordshire. I was playing more football than watching it in the ’80s, though I’d always get up to Liverpool for about 10 home games a season. It was easy to do at that time of course. You could just turn up and pay at the gate. I loved footy in the 80s. As a Liverpool supporter it was impossible not to. I played for quite a long time in a team whose players came from around the world and whose coach was French-Algerian – and he always wanted us to ‘play like Liverpool’. I think we sometimes forget how predominant we were in that decade – not just in winning trophies, but in producing a style of football that was seen to be cutting edge. A style that others wanted to emulate. You know this Roy, because you’ve often talked about Sacchi at Milan taking stuff from Anfield and using it in the Italian league. It’s a pity that so many football fans are ‘skywashed’ because the ’80s is often stupidly portrayed as a lost decade in football terms. It wasn’t. It was a time of tremendous innovation.

Very true, and we’re only really seeing the level that those two sides reached emulated now. Would you credit the French-Algerian coach with your own, dare I say, typically Liverpudlian style on the park? It’s clear, both in your writing and in the way you play the game, that you favour the traditional Liverpool approach to the centre back position.

That’s very kind of you Roy. Keep feeding my delusion. The players I tended to watch – I mean really watch – in the 80s teams were Thompson, Hansen and Lawrenson. I had eyes for Kenny too. Who didn’t? But I would watch what Hansen was doing off the ball and try and work out why he was rarely flustered on it. No one ever does video highlights of central defenders so you pretty much have to work it out yourself at the game. You did then anyway. The coach I mentioned believed that central defenders had a responsibility to initiate moves from the back and that it ought to be their goal to isolate at least one attacker when you made a pass. You know, pass square if you really have to. But look first to find your central midfielder and take out the centre forward when you make that pass. He also had a phrase for centre-backs (which I now use myself) which seemed to me to be pure Liverpool. He said ‘if you don’t like the picture in front of you, then change it’. What he meant was if you can’t see a player to pass to then move quickly with the ball at your feet and develop another angle of vision – someone will suddenly appear in loads of space. And they do! It’s my beef with Jamie Carragher. He’s been a brilliant blocker and a strong physical presence at the back for us. But he can’t move with the ball. He never could. He’ll roll it with his studs and hop about a bit, but he can’t change direction and he can’t ‘change the picture’. That makes life difficult for everyone else. Imagine if we had another Danny Agger in the team!

I’m glad you mentioned that, because only last week I was talking about exactly that. The context was Villas-Boas – did you see the Telegraph interviewHe acknowledges Van Gaal and the Ajax/Barca process of stepping up to make the extra number in midfield, but (in a similar way to you) he encapsulates it nicely in the phrase “provoking the opponent with the ball”. It’s a fascinating read, because it illustrates how Iberian coaching is trying to systematise something we did innately when we were at our peak: changing the picture, and provoking the opponent with the ball. Ideally that should apply throughout the side – would you say that’s one of the keys that set Liverpool aside during the 80s?

Daniel Agger

Daniel Agger, comfortable on the ball.

I hadn’t seen that. I guess some people will be immediately put off because he uses technical language to make his points. But what he says is good. ‘Provoking with the ball’ requires the provoker to be comfortable on the ball of course. That’s especially true of a centre-back because if you lose it no one will be there to rescue you. Therefore you can’t take the risks that a centre-forward can. That’s obvious. At the same time you have three advantages that a striker doesn’t have. You have more time on the ball and therefore you can plan ahead better. You can see the whole play in front of you. And you have opponents who generally don’t take tackling very seriously. Some forwards do (Ian Rush did and Kevin Davies does – and on Saturday Luis Suarez did) but at all levels of the game you generally get strikers who don’t believe it’s their responsibility to tackle and intercept. Many of them don’t know how to do it properly. That does make it easier for the centre back who takes the creative side of the game seriously. I think again of Agger. He beats men easily – and, in part, it’s because the men he’s beating have an half-arsed or unschooled approach to winning possession. These players are not only easy to ‘provoke’. They seem to be quite easy to isolate as well. Liverpool in the 80s? The fancy language wasn’t around. But both Hansen and Lawrenson were superb at enticing opponents on to them and opening up space for the Liverpool midfield. They didn’t mind being put under pressure because they had the skills to change their minds quickly and make last-second decisions. And with the younger Hansen, certainly, if no opponent came to close him down he’d simply keep moving forward with the ball into the empty space they left. With such beautiful balance too. A great sight. I still miss it.

I think we all miss it, or we ought to at least. He talks a good game, Villas-Boas, but it’s a shame to see him later in the same interview almost shirk responsibility for a fully progressive approach within the English game. He says Barca’s 4-3-3 “wouldn’t work in England, because of the higher risk of losing the ball”. That belief’s endemic within our domestic game really, isn’t it? Do you think the modern football coach has been, as a rule, succumbed to paralysis by analysis on this front? Is the (admittedly healthy) fear of losing the ball preventing us from exploiting fully what we can do when we have it ourselves?

That was his poker face wasn’t it? I thought he might be bull-shitting there. And as he pointed out Mourinho played an aggressive 4-3-3 in his first season when Duff and Robben were on the flanks. It can be done if you have a fit and mobile team. We couldn’t do it at the moment though because we can’t play a high line which is obviously a requirement if your wide men are playing more in attack.

A lot of British coaches actually do believe they sometimes play 4-3-3. I’ve probably told you this one before Roy but when Mascherano was at West Ham he used to joke to a pal that Pardew had one team talk: “We start 4-3-3 and if it gets tough we’ll go 4-5-1.” I don’t think Mascher was used to that level of unsophistication from a coach.

But it’s direct and largely counter-attacking football that, isn’t it? I’m talking more about the reluctance to impose a more fluid game full stop, with the aim of monopolising possession against every side you face. Mourinho’s early Chelsea side were sometimes criticised for being overly controlling in that respect, weren’t they? If a player took excessive risks in possession, they found themselves sidelined. It’s obviously something we also saw levelled at Rafa.

Do you think our players and management were ever that worried about the risks involved or the capacity for those left behind the ball to cope when we lost it? We were more preoccupied with what we were going to do with it next, weren’t we?

That’s probably true. I think one of the reasons why ‘wingers’ are often played on the ‘wrong’ flank today is because when they lose the ball (as wingers inevitably do) they at least lose it on the ‘right side’ of the ball. They are less cut adrift from play than the winger who has tried to take a defender on the outside and failed. There are some nice signs under Kenny though. We have more players getting beyond the ball than we ever did under Hodgson and Houllier – and I’d say Rafa as well. We have players attacking the box now whereas before there seemed to be an invisible line beyond which certain kinds of player weren’t allowed to roam. Remember the song and dance that Rafa performed when Mascherano went in search of a winner at Anfield against…..I want to say Derby County? He hit the byline and pulled a ball back from which we scored. Well, come on. A lot of us remember McMahon and Molby and even Redknapp and Whelan. It was part of their job description to get into those positions if we were chasing points. It wasn’t remarkable.

That’s true – it echoes young Sean Devine’s point about “our Xabi” and his evil twin “Mad Xabi” who turned out for his country. One player seldom, if ever, got ahead of the ball when our play developed, whereas with Spain, it was a pretty regular feature. As you say, it’s become a feature of our play under Kenny, at least in certain games. Do you think we’ve recruited with that in mind? What do you make of our summer acquisitions?

I can’t say I was screaming for us to get Charlie Adam or Jordan Henderson, but that’s often the way isn’t it? I can’t say I was screaming for Shanks to get Ray Kennedy either and Ray turned out to be one of the greatest Liverpool players of all time. Downing is different. I’d been educated years ago by a Boro mate to look at Downing as an intelligent footballer. He was good then but he’s better now. We certainly got a better deal than Man Utd. Downing will open up areas of the pitch that will remain forever closed to Ashley Young. Luis Enrique’s a good buy as well. If Fabio wasn’t made out of porcelain we probably wouldn’t need the new lad. But, sadly, Fabio will always spend more time in slippers than boots. As for Adam, he’s clearly got vision and self-confidence and at Blackpool he got used to taking on responsibility. Is he mobile enough? Is he fit enough? Those would be the worries. For the moment central midfield remains Lucas Leiva plus AN Other. Let’s see if Charlie can step up. Henderson – I’m at a loss. It’s such a lot of money for a player who is barely out of the youth team. He’s so raw. He hasn’t been taught how to tackle or how to close down space. Playing on the right on Saturday he had no idea of how to work defensively with the full back. There was an awful lot of pointing which is always a bad sign. But maybe I’m being picky. If the lad’s intelligent he’ll surely develop his game under Kenny. He’s clearly dedicated and willing to learn. We know that for sure.

What about or striking options? Any cause for concern there? And if you could take control of Kenny’s head for the Arsenal game on Saturday, what would your starting line up be?

The bench looked a bit short of firepower on Saturday didn’t it? I’ll be happy if we can offload Ngog. He isn’t brave enough for the Premier League. He seems to have no appetite for putting his body between the defender and the ball. He must be a joy to mark. But then we’re left with a problem because youth players like Adam Morgan and Michael Ngoo can’t be expected to step up for at least a couple of years. I listened to the lads on the podcast talking about getting a player like Forlan on a two-year contract. Someone made a smart comparison with Karl Heinz Riedle. If that happened we’d be singing (I think Suarez would be too).

Arsenal on Saturday? Same team, presuming Johnson and Skrtel are still unfit. Maybe Maxi in for Henderson and Aquilani on the bench. I don’t think we’ll see Aquilani again though, do you?

I harboured feint hopes of our signing young Goodwillie from Dundee United over the summer (with largely nostalgic motives), but there were rumours of us sniffing around players of that ilk – Shane Long, Nolan Roux – young lads with raw pace and a high work rate who were capable of leading the line and linking play, you know? It’ll be interesting to see who comes in and goes out during the coming weeks. Aquilani? It doesn’t look like he’ll stay. If he does I’ll lose a bet and you’ll see me lining up every Tuesday in a Liverpool shirt bearing his name.

What are your hopes for the season then? Think we’ll win anything silvery?

Goodwillie would be great for the Kop choristers – especially playing alongside Long. And if Aquilani stays I’ll probably join you. (The Alonso shirt’s getting a bit worn out these days). Maybe Frankie Worthington’s blood pressure has come down now. We could get him. He can’t be any slower than Dirk. This season, I’m hopeful, but I generally am at the start of a new season. It’s an entitlement for a Liverpool fan isn’t it? It comes with the estate. Any team with Suarez in it has got to have a chance of winning silverware. We have top players in Gerrard, Lucas, Agger, Johnson and Reina too. And our kids look as good as anybody’s. Both Flanagan and Robinson are exciting prospects and, who knows, we might be treated to the sight of Raheem Sterling at some point. Not Pacheco though, sadly, who will be a fine player one day, though probably not at Anfield. I suppose the biggest worry is creativity. Who will give us the divine spark if Suarez gets injured?

I guess the answer to that is ‘hopefully Gerrard’ as things stand. Maybe Aquilani will stay and confound them all though eh?

Last question then – tell us about “The Man Who Crossed Hitler”.

BBC Drama - The Man Who Crossed Hitler

Ed Stoppard and Ian Hart in Mark Hayhurst's 'The Man Who Crossed Hitler'

It’s a 90 minute drama I wrote and produced for BBC 2, which shows this Sunday night. It’s a true story about a young Jewish lawyer called Hans Litten who summoned Hitler to appear as a witness in Berlin criminal trial two years before he came to power.

The trial was about a murderous Stormtrooper raid on a left-wing social club – a pretty common event by this time since the Nazis were using the Brownshirts to bring terror to what had traditionally been a left-wing city. Litten was basically fed up with prosecuting the Brownshirt small fry and decided that the Nazi leader himself should appear at the trial in order to account personally for the violence of his followers. He had a political aim which was to associate Hitler with criminality and force the German middle classes to confront the fact that they were voting for a thug. And he had a legal one – which was to get Hitler to perjure himself.

It’s an amazing story I think, and not one that is at all well known. Ed Stoppard plays Hans Litten and Ian Hart plays Hitler. Hart’s is a superb performance I think. He’s a great actor. He’s an Evertonian of course, so we’ll forgive him that (though there’s something consoling in the thought that Hitler is now also an Evertonian by extension – a little keener on Europe unfortunately).

There’s a documentary that goes with it too which I literally finished a few days ago. This tells the story of what happened to the young lawyer – and thousands of other political prisoners – after the Nazis seized power. I shouldn’t give the game away completely, but in order to film it I went to Sonnenburg, Lichtenburg and Dachau concentration camps. Lichtenberg, in particular, blew my mind. It basically hasn’t changed since 1945 – just become more ruinous.

Litten was a hero, there’s no doubt about that. He identified the fascist threat early and he tried to do something about it. But like human-rights lawyers today in places like Iran, China and Zimbabwe he paid an unbelievably heavy price. Anyway, watch it Roy – it’s on the following Saturday, also BBC 2.

The Man Who Crossed Hitler airs on BBC2 on Sunday at 9pm.