Harkness fights for his place

Brian Beard of "90 Minutes"

For a player who almost left Anfield for First Division Southend last season, Steve Harkness is doing all right thank you very much. From a fringe player - loaned to Huddersfield and Southend in recent seasons - he's become an integral part of the Liverpool side that's made such a storming start.

Add the fact that his efforts at the end of last season have earned him a new contract and that he's keeping a World Cup international left-back out of the Liverpool team, and it's easy to see that the sun is definitely shining on the 24-year-old.

So what happened to change his fortunes?

"At the end of last season I got into the side and proved myself to the manager. He told me I'd played well and had caused him to see me in a different light," he explains.

"I think until then he wasn't sure that I was up to Liverpool's standard, but I think I proved I was. In the back of my mind I knew there was a place for me to play for."

It would certainly have been a lot easier for Steve, after seven years at Liverpool, to go elsewhere - especially as he never played more than a handful of consecutive games in the first team. Yet his pride and confidence in his own ability wouldn't let him.

"I could have gone to a lower division and got regular first-team football, but after being at Anfield so long I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it here, and I think I have. If you put together the games I played at the end of last season and those at the start of this, I think they add up to twice as many consecutive ones as I'd ever had."

The former Carlisle player is quick to pay special tribute to Reds' old boys Sammy Lee and Phil Thompson, who helped him whenever doubts crept in about his ability.

"They were really good and they kept me going by telling me I did have the ability," he stresses. "I might have doubted it had they not kept me going with their encouragement."

There have been times at Liverpool when there were three or four players, some of them internationals, ahead of him for the left back slot: David Burrows, Julian Dicks, Steve Staunton and Stig Bjornebye. That's some list to battle your way through.

"Sometimes I would be in the A-team and wondering what I was doing there when I could have been playing in someone's first team," recalls Harkness. "I thought, 'I don't need this'. There were times when I was on the verge of packing it in but I had a change of luck and one last chance to prove myself, and I grabbed it."

Harkness impressed while on loan at Southend last season and Liverpool told him that if the Shrimpers came up with the right fee he would be free to go. But in the end the club couldn't raise the fee Liverpool wanted and Steve returned to Anfield."

"I just plugged away and then got my break," he says. "To begin with, playing in the first team was just a case of doing well in the hope that another club would come along, but in the end I did so well I ended up staying. Now after more than a dozen games I feel it's going to take something special to shift me."

Unrecognisable from the player of a year ago, is Harkness simply a better player or are there other reasons why last season's squad number has now established himself as a first-choice left-back?

"I think it's down to confidence," he says. "A year ago I think I was probably just the same player, getting four or five games, but being scared to make a mistake and not trying things because of that fear. But now I feel I can express myself and that's the main difference."
Harkness also points out that when Roy Evans took over from Graeme Souness, the new manager promised everyone a fair chance, from scratch. He took Evans at his word.

"I think the Gaffer wanted me to prove to him that I had what it takes to be a first-team regular. He told me he always knew I had the ability but doubted whether I had enough for the Liverpool first team as a regular. He told me it would be easier for me if I dropped to a lower level but he also said if he sold me he would probably regret it."

The patience and determination of Steve Harkness has paid off, with the tangible reward of a new, three-year contract, which will take him, in 1998, to a 10-year testimonial.

"The contract and the money side of things that the club offered reassured me that the manager was behind me - and that I had made the right decision to stay and fight to prove myself," he smiles. And also, of course, that Roy Evans had made the right decision not to sell him to his old mate Ronnie Whelan down on the Essex coast.

As for Bjornebye, anyone want to buy a Norwegian left-back?

Copyright - 90 Minutes

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