Jürgen Klopp’s reaction to The Anfield Wrap’s documentary and other times footballers have restored fans faith in them…


I’VE never been a fan of pre-season friendlies.

I can only think of a handful I’ve attended over the years. I’d rather Reds who can’t make many games fill the stands than me.

I’ve only seen the goals over the past week or so. Darwin Nunez is doing well, isn’t he?

The undoubted highlight of the recent tour was watching Jürgen Klopp thank our own Craig Hannan along with the numerous talented people who worked on the magnificent five-part documentary bearing his name. He was genuinely touched that people should take time out to produce something so special for him and his family.

It’s the biggest compliment you can pay a manager. Think about it from his perspective. You take up a job in a different country with an incredible amount of pressure attached to it. A few short years later a bunch of fans are interviewing your old mates, many of whom you’ve not seen for years and presenting it to you as a record of your own magnificence.

I mean, even the hardiest soul would leak a tear at that.

Before this looks like schmaltzy self-congratulation, I should say that I didn’t play the slightest part in it. You can tell, I think. I know many of the people involved, though, and it didn’t surprise me for a second when I saw its quality and insight. Their talent and dedication are astonishing and I’m proud to call them my friends. Maybe they should remake Being Liverpool. Actually, let’s not go there.

I have, however, met several footballers over the course of numerous decades since I witnessed my first ever game. (The 1974 World Cup final. No pre-season friendlies here. Glory hunting all the way.) Some accidental, some planned and all interesting in one way or another.

Craig Johnston once stopped a BT van from reversing into me in the old Main Stand car park. A few years later and in the same area, Barry Venison advised me to ‘get your fucking arm out of my car’ when I poked an autograph book through the passenger window.

As for managers, my mates and I once had a long conversation with former Barnsley manager Danny Wilson when we were on a 92-club tour in honour of Ray Kennedy. He left a meeting to come out to talk about the great man.

On the other hand, Ian ‘Olly’ Holloway once tore a strip off me in front of a press conference when I pointedly ignored the charming flannel, he was giving those gathered to steer the conversation about the dullest 0-0 draw I’ve ever seen and asked if it was time that his Millwall side might try winning a game once in a while. He didn’t take that well.

Not that I’m a journalist, though for one summer I freelanced for The Times. My first game was Brentford v Brighton. A top-flight fixture nowadays but both were mid-table Championship at the time.

I’d sat in the press room next to John Salako who was there for Sky before kick-off. We sat through the lunchtime game — Arsenal v Man City — and he tried gamely to engage me in conversation about the match. I was freaked out by the whole thing and replied only in monosyllables.

After that game I got to ask my first ever question to a proper manager. Sami Hyypia. No pressure there then. I coughed a few times and asked if he subbed Lewis Dunk because the ref should have shown him a red card instead of a yellow. He replied that it was a yellow and gave me that smile he used to give to refs when he was booked. A ‘nah, you got that wrong but you’re not a bad lad’ grin. It was a red, though. John Salako said the same.

Others? I once walked across the Kemlyn car park with Philipe Coutinho shortly before the 2015 League Cup final. I didn’t mean to. It just sort of happened. We fell into step and I’m fairly sure he thought I was about to mug him.

I decided that starting a conversation with the sore-backed Brazilian would have made him feel even worse so I peeled away in the wrong direction and wished him well for Sunday. ‘Thanks,’ he squeaked in relief. I wish I’d advised him not to take any penalties at the weekend.

I often wonder what the players make of occasions like that. Do they become your mates for a minute or hide behind a minder? I suppose it comes down to personality. I met Jamie Carragher once and he spoke to me like we were old mates to such an extent that I wondered if we had a shared history that I’d forgotten all about.

On the other hand, Steven Gerrard once nodded to me in a corridor with an expression that looked like he was about to check his pockets for weapons.

And do you say hello if you see them in unusual settings or do you leave them alone?

In the mid-90s I bumped into Craig Johnston again in a London pub. Keen to catch up after our van dodging experience, I went over and said hello. Surprisingly, he couldn’t remember a thing about it. After a few sentences he said ‘Anyway …’ to indicate that our conversation was at an end. I got the hint and, a little hurt, slumped off.

Three hours later he had his arm around me, singing You’ll Never Walk Alone to anyone who wanted to listen and a good few who didn’t. Skippy and I were best mates for about 20 minutes.

Horses for courses, I suppose.

Access to players is much more controlled these days so there’s no chance of shouting to Sammy Lee from the top of the 86 bus outside Lewis’s (I was 12) or asking former Everton skipper Mick Lyons who he was when he signed autographs in the street. (I was five that time. My Blue dad was furious with me.)

I’ve had the odd ex-Red ‘like’ my stuff here and few others who have made it clear that they really don’t. I’ve always thought that they’re oblivious to our noise. I would never have pictured Jürgen watching the documentary but I’m glad he has. Kenny Dalglish got a film made about him so a long documentary is only fair.

I like it when they talk back to us. Engage with us. It makes a difference.

But as for pre-season games, I have to say that I’ve no idea who Liverpool play next and I’m OK with that.

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