Dave's Mersey memories

AT 18 David West had the world of soccer fame and fortune at his dazzling feet when he achieved every schoolboy footballer's dream.

Liverpool greats like Dalglish, Souness, Thompson and Hanson suddenly became the new team-mates of the kid from Dorchester Town, and his new playground, the stadiums of Anfield, Feyenoord and Athletico Madrid, were a world away from the Magpies old Avenue pitch where his exciting wing play had catapulted him to the fringe of stardom.

Within weeks of arriving at Anfield he was tackling Dutch legend Johan Cruyff in front of 65,000 fans in Holland after being picked for a pre-season tour ahead of England international Phil Thompson - now holding the Red's managerial reins as Gerard Houllier recuperates.

But fame was a fickle friend to the tall, fair-haired youngster who was the envy of all the wannabe Ian Rushes he left behind in his adopted home town of Weymouth when he joined the Reds for £15,000 in the Spring of 1983.

Perhaps it all happened too quickly for West, who graduated through Westwey Dynamoes, Weymouth Youth, the Bournemouth FC Academy and the Magpies impressive youth set-up of the early 80s, then on into the England Under-18 squad and was getting his first taste of men's football with Dorchester YMCA only a year before his headline-making transfer.

For after his initial spell under the Anfield spotlight in which he was on the bench for just a couple of First Division games, he was sent to serve his apprenticeship in the comparative backwater of the Central League.

He became so disillusioned he asked to go out on loan to get first team football - a request he now acknowledges was "a big mistake". Liverpool manager Joe Fagan - successor to Bob Paisley for whom West had been the last signing before stepping out of the limelight - didn't take too kindly to his impatience.

He showed him the door, Dorchester missed out on the £100,000 they could have pocketed if he had established himself as an international, and West began a swift downward spiral that was just as dramatic as his rise.

A little over three years after his Anfield debut - a reserve game against Bury in which Paisley saw him score after just five minutes - he was back in the non-league game with Cheltenham via a trial at Bristol City and a season helping Stuart Morgan stave off Division Four relegation at Torquay.

Nearly 20 years on, family-man West admits he seldom talks about his brief taste of soccer's highlife as he goes about his job as the manager at the St Thomas Street branch of Estate agents Palmer Snell, a career he has now been in for 13 years.

"Sometimes I might go to view a house and someone says `Weren't you a footballer' and then if they ask me more I am happy to chat about it. But I certainly don't make a point of going around telling people that I once played for Liverpool," he said.

Looking back he says he hasn't got too many regrets. "Football gave me some fantastic experiences and one of the highlights must be the game against Feyenoord," he said.

"I suppose if I have one regret it is that I didn't perhaps have the mental toughness required to dig deep when things weren't going right at Liverpool and get myself back in the first team after a brilliant first season there.

"I had proved in that first year that I had the ability, but I was young and naïve and didn't know how to respond when the going got tough and in those days at a club like Liverpool you were very much left to your own devices in the reserves.

"Things probably started to go wrong at Liverpool when I was mentally and physically tired out at the end of my first season as a full-time player.

"I was picked for an end-of-season tour with the senior squad to South Africa and I honestly didn't want to go because I felt I needed a break.

"I was in the side which beat Tottenham over there 5-1 and then played the whole game against the Swaziland national team. "But we then had only a short break before returning for pre-season training and when I went back I was still very drained and never really played for Liverpool at my best again.

"I just needed someone who would talk to me and give me encouragement because going back to the days when Stuart Bell was my manager that was always what I responded to most. I suppose today with team psycologists and the like I would probably get it now at Liverpool."

West admits that after leaving Anfield he made some decisions that with the benefit of hindsight were bad ones.

"I shouldn't have gone to Bristol City because they already had a well-established left-sided player and then I turned down the chance to go to Hull City in the Second Division because I didn't want to go back up north

"After Torquay released me I had a trial with a Belgium league side and they offered me a contract on very good money - about £400 a week compared with the £200 plus bonuses I had been on when I left Liverpool - and I was going abroad until Cheltenham manager John Murphy offered me a three-year deal and I took it because I wanted to stay in England."

West was driving back to Cheltenham from Weymouth in December 1986 when he suffered the blow that really put paid to his hopes of resurrecting his league career.

"Just outside Dorchester I was involved in a head-on collision with a milk tanker that was on the wrong side of the road and I was very lucky to come out of it alive," he recalled.

"I woke up in hospital with a badly broken arm, broken foot and chest and head injuries and I probably never really recovered from that. I was always very nervous about taking knocks after that and wasn't really a physical player anyway."

There followed spells back at Dorchester, where it all began, Bashley and Fareham before West decided at the age of 27 that his other blossoming career in the house selling business should be his main goal.

He occasionally goes back to Liverpool and keeps in touch with former Reds' defender Jim Beglin who now commentates for BBC Five Live. Next month he's planning to give young son Jamie, 5, - a Reds fan of course - a first taste of the magical Anfield atmosphere he experienced when they watch the Premiership clash with Middlesborough.

"My first season in Dorchester's Southern League team and my first year at Liverpool were my most enjoyable when I didn't have a care in the world," he said.

"It was a very exciting time and it all happened so quickly. Things went unbelieveably well for me. I had no fear and I had a lot of confidence and wasn't motivated by money.

"I wasn't worried about who they were and who I was playing with, I just concentrated on playing football.

"It was a fantastic experience and I was amazed at how easy it was to play at that level of football. I had quite a lot of time on the ball and the Liverpool system was pass and go and when you got the ball there were always so many options."

Now he has just one piece of advice to pass on to local youngsters who find themselves being courted by soccer's big boys. "Don't think you've made it just because you are given a contract or get signed up for their academy - it's only just the start of it and it gets tougher all the time.

"You still have a lot to do to establish yourself and your chances of succeeding are not only down to footballing ability as I found out."

© Liverpool Echo 2001

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