Roy never thought this day would come

Roy never thought this day would come

This article by me was first published on http://www.thisisanfield.com

Friends and family of beleaguered England boss Roy Hodgson (67) will tonight hold a round the clock vigil for the national team ‘supremo’,  after it emerged he is at the centre of a row over a rare gaffe. The news follows reports that the self styled ‘King Roy’ has been forced to acknowledge that he made a mistake.

The F.A. is yet to issue an official statement, but an unnamed source has appealed for the Hodgson’s to allowed time and space to come to terms with the disaster, and made it clear that there would be no immediate moves to oust the England boss.

Residents of the small village of Owlville, Croyden have greeted the news with a sense of shock and bewilderment. A woman named locally as Beryl, a regular at the ‘Gala Bingo’ frequented by Roy’s wife Sheila, spoke of her dismay.

“Roy is a lovely man,” she said “I live just across the street. He always waves a cheery hello as he drives off to his office each morning. We are all in shock. This is such a quiet neighbourhood, and to think something like this can happen here, well it’s just awful.”

Another man, who agreed to speak on the promise of anonymity, expressed his complete disbelief. “We all know, because Roy tells us, that the man is always right. The fact that it now appears he got something so terribly wrong makes me question my entire world view.”

So what actually happened? The facts remain sketchy, and there has been a wall of silence surrounding the Hodgson family home until now, but at last some of his closest advisors are finally breaking ranks. Last night a man I met in a bar, claiming to be Hodgson’s agent, told me that the incident had happened in early summer.

“Roy had got home late following an England training session,” the man explained “he was tired and his body ached from the exertion. His wife immediately asked him to go into the garden and prune the rose bushes. They were growing wild and Sheila is very house-proud. The last things she wanted was for their garden to let the side down.

“Roy told her he was tired, and probably wouldn’t be able to do the rose patch justice, but I want to make it clear that at no time did he refuse to do the garden”. It now appears that he probably should have, because what happened next was nothing short of disaster.

His agent continued, “It appears that tired and confused, and worn out by the pressure of carrying the hopes and aspirations of the England squad on his shoulders, Roy made a catastrophic human error. Instead of pulling up the weeds he inadvertently destroyed Sheila’s prize azaleas.

The awful truth sinks in

The awful truth sinks in

Even Sheila admits she probably should have let him rest for a couple of days, but hindsight is twenty-twenty.” The incident, according to Hodgson’s ‘agent’ has place a great deal of strain on the couple, with Roy failing to wake Sheila up with her usual morning coffee ever since. For her part Hodgson’s wife is said to be beside herself with guilt over the incident.

Professor Cyril Bodgitt of popular science website nobodysperfect.com feels that Sheila need not beat herself up too much over the incident. “There isn’t much evidence that you can’t do the garden immediately after a training session,” said Bodgitt (88) pointing out that in his day everybody was tired and it didn’t stop them doing the garden.

Attempts by the Hodgson camp to prove that somehow Liverpool’s poor start to the season may have played a role in the gardening disaster have proved fruitless. It appears that no Liverpool F.C. employees were anywhere near Croyden at the time.

Brendan Rodgers, lamented the issue at a specially convened press conference at Melwood. “Okay look, we have searched our souls, I have fought for my life to explain and to justify, but I can’t,” Said the Ulsterman. “We are left with the uncomfortable, but inescapable truth that Roy was wrong. Okay.”

A shocked Harry Redknapp added his voice to growing calls for calm after the news broke. Speaking from the driver’s window of his car, the QPR boss said, “Roy’s a triffic bloke.”

What next for Roy Hodgson? What next for a grieving nation, who’s whole belief system, has been so cruelly shattered? After all, if such a pinnacle of perfection can be found to be so wantonly lacking, what hope is there for the rest of us?

However, we need not fear as sources, high up in Roy’s inner circle, have confirmed to me – It was actually all Sheila’s fault anyway.

Team Spirit

Team Spirit

This article by me was first published on http://www.thisisanfield.com

My daughter has a habit of asking me searching questions. You know the kind, the ones where intuitively the answer seems obvious, but you just can’t find the words to do it justice. It was after the Ludogorets game and she just couldn’t get her head round why I was buzzing at the late drama that had unfolded at Anfield. I wanted to tell her about the highs and the lows, about the incredible bond I feel with the team, about the history of the club, and about how drama is a byword for Liverpool Football Club. I wanted to explain that all of that had been crystalised in that one perfect moment, as the ball nestled in the back of the net in the dying embers of the game.

I obviously spent too long trying to formulate an answer, because she was immediately onto the next. “Dad, do you think the Loch Ness monster is real?” Well yes, obviously, but that’s for a different column. To those who don’t get footy, the way we feel about it seems ridiculous. There are, after all, far more important things going on in the world. Why do we invest so much energy, passion and, lets face it cash, into a bloody game?

All I know is that I couldn’t have been more despondent as I made my way to the game on Saturday. The agony of the Derby, and the last second Jagielka thunderbolt, still lingered and I couldn’t even think about the abject display in Switzerland. We were facing a ‘must win’ tie against a team in form. Worse still they were the most adept in the league at scoring from set pieces. I wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence.

It got worse in the pub as I overheard conversations about relegation zones, and fearful conversations about Madrid drubbings, and other apocalyptic type scenarios. Like I say, Liverpool is synonymous with drama. So, you can imagine that I wasn’t in the most upbeat of moods when I finally took my seat on the Kop. It may have been my imagination, but even the ‘You’ll never walk alone’ seemed flat.

The first half had done little to lift the mood, until Adam Lallana put the reds in front right on the stroke of half time. It was a great time to score, yet you sensed there was still a long way to go. Much of the first half had been uninspiring. Rodgers has spoken of the Liverpool shirt being a heavy one, and Ricky Lambert looked like his was lead lined. I desperately want it to work out for Ricky, but he looks like he is struggling with the pressure of playing for his boyhood club. This is a player who scored fifteen goals for Southampton last year. If he can regain a little of that for us, we may yet see a fairy tale ending for him.

Ricky toiling against the Baggies

Ricky toiling against the Baggies

We did see a faint glimpse, as he latched on to a neat through-ball from Skrtel. His first touch was sublime, but the shot was easily dealt with by Foster. As was the case against Everton, Liverpool were doing a decent job, until they reached the final third. The final ball was lacking and the finishing poor. The reds had managed just two shots on target. In truth it was all too easy for West Brom and they would have felt they deserved more going into half time.

From my vantage point our goal looked magical and Match of the Day confirmed I was right. Adam Lallana has been one of the few positives about our season so far, and it was good to see the goal meant as much to him as it did to us. Then came the second half, and usual piece of trade mark madness we have become accustomed to, and this time I’m not solely referring to the defending.

From over one hundred yards away, my fellow Kopites and I felt that Lovren had fouled the player outside the box. “He dived right in there,” said the lad next to me. Inexplicably Michael Oliver and his Linesman, who were much closer than us, awarded a penalty. I’ve watched it since, and it was a very poor decision. Another penalty decision had gone against us. The sense of ‘here we go again’ was palpable.

The Kop wilted and to my shame, I lost belief. We are so anaemic up front, I just couldn’t see us getting a second. Fortunately Brendan and the team had other ideas. Rahem Sterling found himself in the box, there were shouts of handball. I joined in the way you do, even though you saw nothing. Then he looked to have been fouled, I shouted penalty, this time with more conviction. Of course we weren’t getting one.

Sterling had laboured through the game thus far. This is a player who, at nineteen, looks like he is carrying the weight of the team on his shoulders. He badly needs a break in my opinion. However, against West Brom, he added one more tool to his belt. Great players can have bad games, and then in an instant they make one telling contribution that makes up for the mediocrity. Raheem went down, he could have stayed there and appealed in vain for the penalty. It would have only resulted in yet another hard luck tale for the Kop, and added to the growing sense of despondency around the club. Instead he got straight up and squared it to the magnificent Henderson, who confidently beat Foster.

I’ve seen his celebration since, and there is no denying this lads passion and drive. He is a future captain of our club. The remainder of the game was not without nerves. We are Liverpool after all. You can never rule out more drama. Enter Brendan Rodgers. In my opinion the boss has taken some undeserved stick from a vocal minority of late. Against the Baggies he got things spot on in that second half. First bringing on Johnson for Manquillo. I’ve been impressed with the loanee, but he was toiling a bit yesterday. The introduction of Johnson mad a difference, and he actually looked sharp and started to influence things.

Rodgers tactical masterstroke

Rodgers tactical masterstroke

Then came a master stroke. Rodgers took off Coutinho and sent on Lucas. My initial thoughts were that he was looking to shut up shop. Lucas alongside Gerrard hasn’t worked in my opinion, with both trying to do the same job, and usually getting it wrong. There was a sense of unease at the move. We needn’t have worried, It soon became clear that Brendan had something else in mind.

The addition of Lucas, this time, released Gerrard to get further forward and join in the attack. The benefits were immediate and suddenly the Baggies defence had something else to worry about. Even Balotelli seemed to benefit from addition of the skipper to the forward line. Stevie still has a lot to offer in an advanced role, and let’s hope Rodger has seen that.

Oliver somehow found it in his heart to grant us a little more drama, inexplicably finding four minutes of stoppage time, but the reds saw it out. After the gloom of the Derby and the despondency of Basel, once again all was right with the world. That’s why I follow Liverpool, because they can take me on a slalom of emotions like nothing else in life. From the gut wrenching to the glorious. It’s like a bad romance. I wasn’t speaking to them last week, but now they’ve brought back that loving feeling. How long will it last.

Supporters of SOS on the Kop

Supporters of SOS on the Kop

This article by me was first published on http://www.lfcdaytrippers.com

Football fans are in revolt. In recent months we have witnessed marches, petitions and campaigns on social media. The game we love is no longer affordable for many of us. Ian Ayre recently gave a speech on ‘how to run a football club effectively’. Everton fans will find out what that means at this seasons derby, paying more than fifty quid to sit in the Anfield Road end.

When I was a kid, It never occurred to me that football had anything to do with politics. I spent my adolescent years in Liverpool, a city perpetually under attack from national government, so I was political. I joined the Labour Party, supported Militant and campaigned against the Poll Tax. Football, though, was a place to escape from all that. It was a place where dreams came true, and, at least in this arena, my city often triumphed. Footy was my favourite waste of time.

A string of stadium disasters, and a botched attempt to introduce ID cards for football supporters, put paid to all of that. Even in my last refuge from the real world, I had become the ‘enemy within’. Class politics was evident everywhere. Football fans always with indifference for much of my life, now we were viewed with contempt.

The post Taylor stadiums brought safer conditions, and multi-billion pound TV deals have seen cash flooding into the game. When I was a kid you never knew who your media moguls and captains of industry supported. Now we know Piers Morgan and Alan Sugar are a pair of cringe-worthy Arsenal and Spurs supporters. Football is the new rock and roll. It’s fashionable to be a fan, you only have to look at the VIP section of the directors box, in the main stand, to know that.

Surely, with the rich and famous on board, we can all sit back and enjoy a golden era of supporting our clubs, right? Well not quite. Liverpool supporters know, more than most, that along with the millionaire sunshine, there’s going to be a bit of rain sometime. Hicks and Gillette dragged our club to the brink of extinction in their quest for profit. They left a bitter legacy, but they also spawned another political movement, Spirit of Shankly (formerly Sons of Shankly).

Some would have you believe this organisation is a clique of hard-line Scouse supporters, who hate ‘out of towners’, and love causing trouble. For the former Fernando Torres of finance, Christian Cecil Purslow, they were a remnant of the old Militant tradition. He famously branded them the ‘Sons of Strikers.’ Could there be a more class laden statement than that? The reality is that Spirit of Shankly was and, albeit to a lesser degree, still is, a mass movement.

Far from being a local affair, they have branches throughout the country and supporters internationally. They are of course political. Why wouldn’t they be? The game is all about politics after all. Are they militant? Some will be, so what if they are? A hero of mine back in the day, was an MP who refused to pay an unjust tax, and went to jail. The late Terry Fields was once asked, “are you a militant?” He replied that he was, but added a definition. “A militant is just a moderate who got off his knees.”

Spirit of Shankly, Among others, played a key role in ridding the club of the two American hucksters. Without them, who knows where we would be. John Henry even admitted as much in the early days of the takeover. However, I get the impression that the relationship between the club and the Union has cooled somewhat since those heady days. All attempts at communication from SOS are brushed aside by the club. For the club, you sense, it’s a case of ‘who will rid us of these troublesome priests?’

Liverpool have established a supporters committee. They would prefer to channel all communication with supporters through this group. For its part the committee is made up of supporters who care passionately about their club. But, should they be the only conduit to the hierarchy? I’d argue there are many voices within the clubs fan-base, SOS are one, and they should be heard alongside the committee.

The committee may well have challenged the club on many issues, such as pricing, but the outcome of this is lamentable. The current pricing policy at Anfield is light years away from affordable for many of us.That’s why Spirit of Shankly continue to speak for me.

In the shadow of Shankly, but would the great man recognise the club?

In the shadow of Shankly, but would the great man recognise the club today?

Ian Ayre, argues that the club are doing all they can to make football affordable for fans. The club, according to him, is a business. Their budget, he says, is set for the next twelve months. There is no more cash in the till for fans. The measly sum of two hundred thousand pounds, set aside to help make away support affordable, will have to do. O.K. Ian, well what about next year? Why not budget for more, next season.

Ayre’s response to the current ‘affordable football’ campaign is nothing but a brush off and, for me, it stinks. The Liverpool I grew up supporting was special. there was an iconic bond between club and supporter. At times it bordered on the mystical. Together we were greater than the sum of our parts. Sadly, for us, our club now seems to be disappearing over the horizon,and there are attempts to marginalise the ‘troublesome priests’. This is a huge mistake. When you are irritated by your critics, Ian,  it usually means they are right.

It is time for Ian Ayre to recognise that there are other voices out there. They are angry and loud, but that’s only because they care. There are buisnesses out there who would kill to have ‘customers’ as passionate about their ‘product’ as that. They would harness them, listen to them, and do all their power to ensure that they continued to be ‘repeat customers’. That the club don’t do this, in the case of SOS and their constituency, leads me to assume that their support is taken for granted. After all, for most supporters, you can’t switch your club allegiance, in the same way you can with a power provider.

Liverpool Football Club is, in my opinion, making a huge mistake. They are missing a golden opportunity to do something unique, to be the first in England to put supporters at the core of it’s business. In doing so they would enhance their reputation globally. Imagine if going to Anfield was within reach for the majority. What if students, the unemployed and the low paid could afford a ticket? Just close your eyes and dream about a day, when I could afford to take all four of my kids to the game. What a world that would be.

The depressing thing is that it is all possible. There are vast riches in the game, there is no need to milk the supporters. yet our club continues to bleed us dry. Bill Shankly never advocated the overthrow of  capitalism. However, he did talk of a socialism, that was all about everybody sharing in the spoils of success. As far as I can see, his vision didn’t involve emptying our pockets in the process.

Half a century on we are still told the club is a ‘family’, yet many of us are being priced out of it. Surely it is time for them to reconnect with the old ethos, that saw this club rise to to the pinnacle of European football. Surely it is time to embrace the Spirit of Shankly.

Penalty Kings

Penalty Kings

This article by me was first published on http://www.thiisisanfield.com

Rival fans branded us ‘Penalypool’ for all of last season. Strangely, to me, they meant it as an insult, or at least as a way of diminishing our achievements. Of course, those attacks reached hilarious proportions, when we were awarded three penalties in the same game against United at Old Trafford. The fact that it was Mark Clattenburg, who pointed to the spot, only served to fuel the conspiracy theorists claims.

What our critics fail to realise, is that you have to get in, or sometimes barely inside, the opposition box to win a penalty. Then you have to score the damn thing. People who claim the Reds were only successful last time out because of the unusually high number of penalties they won, ignore the fact that many of those penalties were very high pressure situations.

Take Gerrard’s winner against Fulham, as a case in point. What must have been going through his mind, as he stepped up to dispatch the spot kick? His legs must have felt like lead weights, his thoughts scrambled and fragmented. If he misses, the title is gone. If he scores, then there was every chance the Holy Grail would be coming to Anfield. To maintain composure, and score, under those circumstances, takes incredible skill.

The same was true against Ludogorets in our Champions League opener. Here we add the fact that the team had just conceded seconds earlier, after leading. The game was almost up, and Liverpool were staring at a draw that would seem like a defeat. Again the skipper showed he had ice in his veins, and the unerring skill to put the ball away.

So is there anything particularly special about Liverpool and penalties? Or, is it all just sour grapes and bitterness? History suggests that, actually, when it comes to penalty shootouts, our club seems to have, either been leading a charmed life, or has this skill honed to fine art.

We have actually maintained our superiority in this area for forty years.  Last night, as the players raced from the centre circle, to embrace Simon Mignolet, they were probably unaware that this was the 12th time in 14 penalty shootouts, since 1974, that Liverpool had been victorious. Think about how many times the squad, or the manager have changed in that time, and you can’t help but be impressed, at how we have maintained that record.

What a remarkable achievement. How can we explain this? Does the team practice penalties? Do our penalty takers have unique qualities, that separate them from their counterparts? Are we just jammy, as the Blues and Mancs would suggest? Whatever it is, you can be sure they would like to get their hands on it, as would every England manager in the last half century.

Far from being a source of embarrassment, our superiority, in the field of the penalty shootout, is something to marvel at. We are leaders in this area. The German national team are rightfully proud of their prowess from the spot. We should be too.

Alonso levels from the spot in Istanbul

Alonso levels from the spot in Istanbul

Top three Liverpool penalty shootouts of the last forty years

Number One: Istanbul 2005

For the sheer importance of the result, Istanbul will always eclipse all other penalty shootouts for me. The reds hadn’t won a European Cup since 1984. We had stood on the brink of annihilation, and had clawed our way back. Then with legs like liquorice, and tired minds, the boys lifted themselves one last time, to vanquish Milan from 12 yards out. It was the stuff of legend, and will be forever more.

Number Two: Rome 1984

This was Liverpool’s fourth European Cup final. By this stage Reds like me were becoming a bit spoilt. We, or at least I, kind of took success for granted. Of course we were in the final, and why wouldn’t we be, we were Liverpool. However, there was an edge to this. This was Rome, and we were up against Roma, on their home turf. It was a tight game, and when it went to penalties my heart sank.

Would our lads have the nerve to see this out, in the Italians own backyard? When Stevie Nicol missed the first, it felt like our fate was sealed. What Grobbelaar did on the line that night, would later inspire Dudek in Istanbul. The sight of the utterly mad Barney Rubble, doing the craziest celebration ever, after tucking away the winning penalty, will live with me forever.

Number Three: Anfield 2014

This will be controversial. Let’s face it the game, in terms of importance, doesn’t rank highly in the grand scheme of things. A League Cup game, in the early rounds, can hardly compete with a cup final, like say the 2006 Stevie Gerrard Cup Final. I could have gone for sentiment. I took my son to his first cup final against Cardiff, at Wembley in 2012. The look on his face when Gerrard, the other one, missed the last spot kick brought a tear to my eye. Sometimes you can miss the truly remarkable, by focussing on your own narrow perspective.

That’s why for me, what happened last night, has to rank as one of the greatest penalty duels in the last forty years. Regardless of what was at stake, the sheer drama, tension and skill on show, deserves to be recognised. It was like a great rally at Wimbledon. As each of our penalties went in, you prayed that ‘Boro would miss the next. They didn’t, and the pressure was straight back on. I was sick with nerves, and the sense of relief, at the end, was every bit as palpable as any of our cup final victories.

 

Agger dediactes a goal against Blackburn to the 96

Agger dediactes a goal against Blackburn to the 96

Given Daniel Agger’s track record with injuries, this piece could just as easily be titled ‘The accidental hero’. That would have been harsh, given his talent and loyalty. The ‘YNWA’ tattoo on his knuckles, and steadfast refusal to sign for Liverpool’s rivals, endeared him to the Kop, and ensured him folk hero, if not legendary, status. Liverpool have now confirmed a cut price move to Agger’s boyhood club Bronby.

Agger, signed by Rafa Benitez in 2006 for the relatively modest fee of £6 million, is one of Liverpool’s most experienced players. At 29 he still has lots to offer. However, he is also one of the clubs highest earners, meaning they are unlikely to be too keen on having him warm the bench this season. To be fair, Daniel will justifiably argue that a player of his quality deserves to be playing football on a regular basis.

Alas it is regular football that has proved depressingly illusive for the Dane. Since he joined eight years ago, Agger’s career has been hampered by injury. He has managed 232 appearances for the club, a figure that should be far higher, given his talent.

Agger’s ability to bring the ball out of defence reminded Reds, of  certain vintage, of Alan Hansen. He was also fierce in the tackle, as a certain Fernando Torres found to his cost. He also possessed a fierce shot, and his screamers against West Ham and Blackburn Rovers will live long in the memory. Then there was the pile driver against Chelsea, in the 2007 Champions League, semi-final, second leg, at Anfield. This was a goal that set Liverpool en-route to their second final in three years.

Perhaps, in years to come, he will be viewed as a legend by the majority of fans. He has certainly embraced the spirit, history and ethos of the club. He has scored important goals and made crucial tackles. However, Agger’s quietness and reluctance to step into the limelight, mean he would probably be uncomfortable with such a status. Who can remember the uncomfortable interview he gave to Claire Rourke, on the clubs channel? It was an awkward affair, and it was painfully obvious that the defender would rather be anywhere else, than in front of that camera.

It’s an endearing quality. Football is an industry filled with egos bigger than Steve Bruce’s head. However, I can’t help wondering if this reluctance to be the star is significant. When Jamie Carragher hung up his boots at the end of the 2013-14 season, the club was crying out for a domineering centre back to fill his boots. Carragher was perhaps one of the most vocal defenders in the game. He constantly harangued his team mates and wasn’t afraid to mix it up when necessary. His clash with Alvaro Arbeloa has long since entered Liverpool folk-lore.

Agger, as one of the clubs longest serving defenders, could and should have been the natural successor. He has the footballing brain to organise the back four, he could be fierce in the tackle when needed, and he had he also possessed a goal threat from set pieces and distance. However, I will always wonder whether it was an inability to be the main man at Liverpool, that prevented him from taking that step.

Agger will return to Denmark a true Bronby legend. They are getting a player of the highest calibre, with vast experience at the highest level. I, and all Liverpool fans will be hoping that he achieves the success he deserves. Good luck Daniel. You will never walk alone, but you already knew that.

 

 

Reds line up for Dortmund friendly

Reds line up for Dortmund friendly

This article by me was first published on This is Anfield website

When we I was asked who I’d most like Liverpool to get in the Champions League draw last Thursday, I could have chosen one of the Spanish giants. I could have talked of wanting to see Ronaldo, Messi or even Luis Suarez’ return to Anfield. I could even have made up some stuff about wanting to see Liverpool tested at the highest level of the competition. I could, but I won’t.

Firstly, what a wonderful place to be – choosing your opponent, from a list of Europe’s elite, is a dream come true. Scratch that, we are one of Europe’s elite this season. Take a moment to savour that.

Why Dortmund? It’s not just that they sing You’ll Never Walk Alone. Imagine a night under the floodlights. Just close your eyes and you’ll hear all four corners of the ground belting it out in full cosmopolitan glory. Soak up the German accents, mixed with the Scouse and the Irish, among others. It’s a heady brew and it would make for a magical night. That’s not it though.

Historical Romance

I’m afraid it’s romance for me. It could have been any German team to be honest. You see, when Shanks was making his dream of world domination a reality, I was discovering my first love. I first became properly aware of how special the club were, through their exploits in Europe. I was six when the Reds won their first European trophy.

They beat a team with a weird name (at least it was weird to a six year old Liverpudlian) and lifted the UEFA cup for the first time. It was team that inspired the best banner ever created. It was Borussia Monchengladbach and Joey Jones was munching them.

We met them again in ’77 and I was starting to believe we were the only two clubs in Europe. That was an unbelievable night. I wasn’t one of the supporters on the legendary trains. I watched it on the telly with my whole family, all crammed into a tiny living room.

The next day in school the playground was buzzing. The teachers knew they would get nothing out of us. One of them, in what I now consider a stroke of genius, asked us to write a story. “Imagine you are a player on the team bus coming home from the final”, she said. “Now write about how you feel.” You could hear a pin drop in that classroom, as pencils swept across pages. Unforgettable.

We went on to dominate the continent after that night, but it all got started against a German side. There was a strange feeling of symmetry for me in 2001. We had returned to the big-time after a long absence. We may have face Spanish opposition in that final, but it was in Dortmund. It would have been only be fitting, if German opposition had graced our latest come-back. Oh well we’ll have to make do with Madrid instead.

Ian Ayre

Ian Ayre

This article by me was first published on The Anfield Index website

Ian Ayre sat across from me. A vast expanse of desk separated us. Outside, the Liver Birds eavesdropped on our conversation and inside, a portrait of Shankly lecturing his troops, in a Spartan Anfield dressing room, hung on the wall. Ayre began by outlining details of his, often tortuous, negotiations with Seville for Alberto Moreno, while he nonchalantly carved another notch in the solid oak finish. It was the eighth mark he had gouged this window, but, judging by the look of grim determination in his eyes, it surely wouldn’t be the last.

This was a man on the brink of a remarkable redemption, yet you sensed that fear of failure still haunts him. This is hardly surprising, given the fall out from the summer 2012 transfer window. I hesitated to reminded Ian of our first meeting in the September that year. When I did, I found he was surprisingly philosophical, pointing out that he had used the whole experience to drive him on to bigger and better things. “You learn far more from your failures, than you ever do from your victories,” he said, as he chugged on a ‘Gurkha Black Dragon.’ The aroma filled the room and I stifled the urge to cough.

We chatted for a while about that day, two years ago, when our paths first crossed. I suspect it will live long in both our memories. I’d received a call from my editor the day before. He told me there was an opportunity to interview the then Managing Director of Liverpool Football Club. Ayre had wanted to set the record straight after a disastrous transfer window and my boss wanted his best man on the job. Of course I was flattered, but also a little apprehensive. The last thing I wanted to be was another media mouthpiece for the club. I’d seen what happened to others. We all know who they are.

I have to say the address I was given, a converted maisonette in Deysbrook, West Derby, perplexed me a little at the time. Maybe, I reasoned, he wanted to meet me at some community outreach project. The club had many of them on the go back then. I had no idea it was his home.

Summer was giving way to autumn, but the air was still filled with the buzz of flies. As I got out of my car a group of kids stopped what they were doing and watched me, as I struggled to climb over the urine-soaked couch on the front lawn. They laughed hysterically as I tripped over the rusty Lambretta, strewn across the path. It was a far cry from the Harley Davidson Ayre had once cherished. Eventually, dignity barely intact, I made it to the front door.

I composed myself and rang the bell. I’m not sure what disturbed me most: the Mazerati chime; the egg stains on the Kimono; the look of utter demoralization on his face. He beckoned me in. The Ayre’s may have lost their luxury lifestyle, but they had lost none of their graces. Ian’s wife offered me a slice of arctic roll and a cup of Mellow Birds. I politely accepted. His was truly a tale of woe and, as he relayed his troubles to me, I was aware that something wasn’t quite right. It took me a few moments to realize what it was.

Gone was his thick nasal Scouse brogue, so reminiscent of 60′s Liverpool and specifically the Beatles. It had been replaced by  the sound of plums and public schools. I struggled on, trying to ignore it, as he told me of the kicking he had received from Rodgers, following the collapse of the Dempsey deal, but I just couldn’t. I had to ask, but before I got a word out he interrupted me. “I know what you are going to say old boy,” he said. “It’s the accent isn’t it?”

I had to confess it was somewhat distracting. He explained that when he joined the club in 2007, George Gillett had felt he needed to sound more ‘Liverpoodlian.’ We both laughed as Ayre continued to explain. “George felt, and to be fair Tom agreed, that a Beatlesesque accent would appeal more to the US and Far East markets. I thought it sounded ridiculous, but I figured that if Michael Angelis ever go fed up doing ‘Thomas the Tank Engine,’ it wouldn’t be a bad gig to fall back on, especially if the Liverpool job went tits up. Now I am stuck with it, at least in public.”

This was all in the past though. The man sat before me in Chapel Street was a  far different prospect than the dejected figure I met that day in Deysbrook. This was a man flushed with success and confidence. He had dropped each of Brendan’s first choice targets (except Sanchez) into his lap, carving out multi-million pound deals with the same finesse he used to slice that jammy desert all those months ago. I asked him if all this meant that the wolves had left his door and that’s when his face darkened once again. The ghost of interviews past reared its head and fear returned to his eyes.

“You never think that,” he said. “Never allow complacency to suckle at the teat of hubris.” I wasn’t quite sure where this was going, and to be honest I felt a little bit queasy, but I sipped nervously from the Macallan ’46 he had poured me and pushed aside the mental images. He went on.  ”You’re only as good as your last deal. Yes I’m riding high now, but one bad deal and I’m right back in that rat infested hole.” There was fear in his voice now. He gestures to the corner behind me. “Why do you think I keep that monstrosity over there?”

I turned my head and instantly recognised the smell. It had plagued me since I entered the office and it had only been partially masked by the cigar smoke. Now I realised, it was coming from the couch. Ayre’s voice went up an octave, “do you really believe I would keep that piss soaked sofa, if I really believed I was home and dry.” He explained that he kept the piece of furniture to remind him that, at any moment, all his reclaimed riches could be taken from him just as they were before.

Once more I was filled with an overriding sense of pity. This was no way to live. Yet here he was permanently perched on that transfer tightrope. On one side there was fame and acclaim, on the other an abyss, and all the while in the middle there was fear and loathing. I asked if he ever felt like throwing in the towel. ‘Never,” he said. “I am a fan and this club means just as much to me as it does to any supporter.”

I nodded. “Yes, I see where you are coming from,” I said, before adding “and there’s the seven figure salary too. That must help.” Reluctantly he agreed. My time with Ian was coming to an end and I needed something to finish off the article. Ideally, I was after a transfer scoop, but a pearl of wisdom, or a message to the readers would suffice. Would there be a ninth signing? As expected he trotted out cliché’s about deals being right for the club. I was just about to switch off the recorder and bid him goodbye, when, with tears glossing his eyes, he gave me my final tag-line.

“I will deliver that ninth signing and it will be a marquee. Why? I’ll tell you why. It’s because I’m never going back to that pissy couch, or that rusty Lambretta. That’s why!”

(Disclaimer: This is not actually real. Your sanity is at risk if you believe a single word. The part about his accent is true.)