Phil Thompson - Kirkby lad who gave his all

You lifted the European cup as captain, but a couple of months later you were no longer captain

I lifted the European Cup in May and then come turn of the year, Bob Paisley took the captaincy off me and gave the captaincy to Graeme Souness. I was absolutely devastated. Bruce Grobbelaar had just come to the club and Ray Clemence had moved on. We've had a great understanding. It was the most difficult time I'd had as a player. Bob thought the captaincy was part of it. In fairness he had a point. I took all the responsibility on my own shoulders. Everytime there was a goal being conceded I wouldn't allow anybody else to take the blame. It was my fault. He said I was placing too much pressure on myself. I was disappointed because I felt Graeme Souness in the background was pushing for the captaincy himself.

After hearing about his loss of captaincy to Souness from everybody else than Bob, Tommo decided to confront Bob about it in the manager's office.

I asked Bob, 'Who's going to be the new captain?' Bob said: 'Well, I'm not...' I said: 'It's Graeme Souness, I know it anyways.' Bob choked on his words, which I was disappointed by. It had the desired effect. It gave me a huge boost in my esteem to prove Bob wrong. At that point we were 18 points behind in the 12th place in the League and we went on to win the League. 

Who said about you: "We always joke, that if Tommo hadn’t been a professional footballer he could have been a male nurse. Between you and me, he just about passes out at the sight of blood, even when it’s not his own!"

That's Ronnie Moran. He's always said it as whenever I've seen blood, I go: 'Oh, no!' Even if another player was cut. I would go over and 'Ohhhh!!' He would snap at me: 'Tommo!', because he knew what I was like. I was probably better with me own blood than anybody else's.

He also said about you: "I still remember Tommo’s first morning with us when he arrived with a batch of other kids. Sometimes you can instantly spot players who are going to make it all the way to the top. You could see it in him right away. His attitude was right, he was positive and he wanted to win. He was the Liverpool prototype, who did the right things without being prodded along all the time. You don’t make them, they make themselves."

Ronnie was my mentor and he was very very hard at times, but it was the Liverpool way. He accepted the criticism, he accepted the tough times because he could see the end vision. He pushed me and pushed me. Ronnie was fantastic with me. I played in the B-team with Ronnie, I played in the A-team with him, I played in the reserves with him and then we moved on to the first team. He was a tough demanding coach. We could win 5-0 on a Saturday and on the Monday morning we'd go in and Ronnie Moran would be barking out the orders. Everybody says: 'Are you never happy?' It was the right thing to do. You didn't rest on your laurels.  You've won the League championship. You get bugger all for last season. That's gone, that's finished.

When Joe Fagan took over as manager at Liverpool that signalled the beginning of the end for you as a player.

It's Liverpool Football Club. You have to make to make tough decisions. You learn that when you become a manager and a coach. I believe Joe got big decisions wrong. Graeme Souness had left and I had been playing in center midfield for six months in the reserves and doing it very successfully. The year Graeme left there was a big hole in and nobody could fill it. It came to an European game away in Poland [vs Lech Poznan]. Joe had said: 'Phil will play and do the business.' Come the game, shock horror! All the other players thought I was going to be playing. And Joe left me out on the bench. His words many years later were that if he had brought me back into the team and then had to leave me out again it would damage me as a person. He'd hurt me again to leave me out.

It doesn't really make sense, does it?

It doesn't make sense. You go with what's best at the time. It had already hurt.

The other thing with Joe was the European Cup Final in '84. 17 players went over there to Rome. Dave Hodgson had had knee injuries and groin injuries. He could hardly train. When you were players I wouldn't have said to the staff: 'He's got an injury'. It wasn't like that. When the team was picked and the subs were picked I was the 17th man so I wasn't going to be involved which I was extremely disappointed in.

Worse was to come when we came out of the hotel to get on the team bus. As I stepped on to the stairs to get on the bus Joe Fagan put his arm around me and said: 'You can't come on the bus.' I was absolutely devastated. I had a lump in my throat. I was on the verge of crying. I had to walk along the side of the bus and all the players were looking at me, wondering what's going on. 'Where are you going?' I had to go on the other bus and sit next to Paul Walsh who had been signed four days before. My wife was asking what had happened. I couldn't even speak. I was so upset. I could never forgive Joe. He had to make a decision to leave me out. No problem, I have plenty of time for that, but that showed a lack of respect. I was the senior member of the squad. The players were furious.

"I regard Phil as one of the best possible examples of a true professional. His greatest asset as a player is his ability to read the game, he showed that gift even as a teenager. He is not the biggest man physically for his role in defence but his football brain is outstanding." – Bob Paisley 

Next week: part 2 of our exclusive interview with Phil Thompson where he talks about his and Houllier's legacy at the club, tackles the Anelka decision, discusses the failure of Diao, Diouf and Cheyrou and reflects on the players that got away... 

Interview by Arnie ([email protected]) and SF Gutt. - Copyright -


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