Most people would consider playing reserve football on a wet night in Rotherham a bit of a chore. But not Phil Charnock. The young Liverpool midfielder considers Pontins League action as a means of progression to the first team, which is where he intends to play before the end of next season. Phil has made two official senior appearances, against Appollon Limassol in the 1992/93 Cup Winners' Cup and Chesterfield in the Coca-Cola Cup two games later. And he wants there to be many more. "I reckon reserve team football is a stepping stone. If you play well there on a regular basis then the manager will have faith in putting you in the first team." Injuries have partly hindered the progress of the 20-year-old from Halsall, who travelled with the first team to Hillsborough recently. "I haven't had injury problems this season. I feel I can still progress and I think I can make it into the first team. I'm desperate to do that. All I'm concentrating on now is trying to get into the squad."
Charnock, a midfielder with a sweet left foot, seems to have been on the Anfield scene for ages. Well, he has. Since the age of 12, in fact. He doesn't quite qualify for a testimonial, but it's been a long learning process for the young man who used to stand on the Kop and was brought to the club by Roy Evans. Phil said: "I used to play for Rufford in the Sunday League and Roy's son, Stephen, used to play in goal for us. One season we got to the cup final, Roy came to watch and he invited me down to the School of Excellence at Liverpool. He should know all about me! I'm learning every day. Steve Heighway taught me in the School of Excellence and he was also there when I signed YTS. But all the staff have helped me. I just have to keep plugging away in the reserves and take my chance if I get it."
Charnock believes his brief experience of first team football will stand him in good stead for next time - even though he's still not sure what his best position is! "I've been playing left-back lately, but I don't mind playing left of centre in midfield. I'll play anywhere to get into the first team. I suppose if I'm going to get a chance, left-back is where I've got the best chance, although I'm not saying anyone has done badly there." And on those two senior appearances he added: "I was surprised to get a game against Limassol. I think we were about 5-0 up and when Graeme Souness told me to get on I was a bit shocked, but I was made up. There wasn't so much pressure on me and it was a good experience. If I had played well against Chesterfield - I went off at half-time - then I probably would have got another game. As it happened I didn't get much of the ball that night, and my place was taken for the next match."
Phil admits he is spurred on by the likes of Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler and Dominic Matteo, who have established themselves on the top-flight scene. And he hopes to be given a new contract when his present one expires at the end of the season. "If I've not broken through after a couple more seasons then I'll start thinking about the situation, because at 22 I'll need to be playing first team football. I don't feel under pressure. I know what I'm capable of doing; it's just a question of doing it more regularly. If I can get some consistency then hopefully I'll get a chance. There aren't many people playing badly at the moment so I'll just have to be patient."