Carl with "The Voice"
LFChistory.net recently spent an evening with Mr George Sephton known to Reds as "The Voice of Anfield". George debuted as Liverpool's stadium announcer on the same day as Kevin Keegan made his Liverpool debut against Nottingham Forest on the 14th August 1971. George is now into his 45th consecutive season in the hot-seat and incredibly in all his time he has only missed around six games! George is without a shadow of doubt an absolute legend of a man and has become an essential part of the furniture at Anfield.
Nevertheless, George's job hasn't just consisted of providing the Anfield crowds with pre-match entertainment, announcing goals and informing supporters of the recent goings on surrounding the club. George's experiences range from having a gun pulled on him at three European Cup finals, being announced publically dead, to being caught up directly in the horrific events of Heysel.
As we walked from the Main Stand directors' entrance towards the car park opposite the Arkles pub, I knew already how much he was respected. Stewards, badge sellers and groundstaff would greet him with a simple 'Hi, George' as we walk by. I commented to him that even though you are mainly known by your voice you’re unable to walk down a street without getting physically recognised! George jokingly replied: "It's funny you should say that as it doesn't always work in my favour. A few weeks ago a couple of stewards tried throwing me out of the main stand. I had no option but to use the line, 'Do you know who I am'? to get me out of that one."
How did George Sephton become 'The Voice of Anfield'?
"A bloke called Alan Jackson who used to work for radio Merseyside took over from Stuart Bateman who was famous for first playing "You'll Never Walk Alone" in October 1963. However, Alan was desperate to get his foot on the ladder in Radio. He finally got his lucky break and got a 6 month contract for Manchester Radio. He went to talk to Peter Robinson the club secretary at the time, explaining it was his big break, and told Peter that he would leave his brother in charge who according to Alan was more than capable. He wasn't! He used to play the vinyls at the wrong speed, struggle to pronounce the English names, never mind the foreign ones! One time I remember he even came on the PA as Tommy Smith was about to take a penalty informing a fan that his car is causing an obstruction."
"Anyway, I was there at Anfield for a midweek game in April 1971 and Alan's brother made a massive mistake. I said to my wife: 'I bet I can do better than this fella', and that very night I wrote to Peter Robinson putting my case forward. To my delight I got a reply from him asking him to come and see me."
"The Main Stand was getting refurbished at the time, and just as Kevin Keegan was sat on a bin outside Anfield waiting for this first meeting with Shanks. I did the same, not the same bin but another one further down. To cut a long story short I think I made him realize that I could do a better job. I had no trial run or anything which I thought was strange. Anyway, the next thing I know I was upstairs in the Main Stand gantry as it was known back then."
How many games would you say you have missed in the 45 years you have been in the hot-seat?
"It's hard to say but not many, I would say only about six, for obvious reasons such as weddings, important family events and so on. I must say as I've missed so few games, when I do miss one it doesn't go unnoticed. My kids would get phone calls from their friends attending the match asking them for my well-being, thinking that something bad must of happened, in order to explain my absence."
Not hearing the voice of George Sephton on matchday would be as significant as not hearing "You'll Never Walk Alone", something must be wrong!
"The worst one though was; do you remember Phil Easton [radio DJ in Liverpool]? When he died in 2009, he had a private funeral and then a memorial service around a month after which led straight on to the Cavern for a tribute evening. I had a couple of CDs full of Phil’s favourite music. We went to the memorial service and for a succession of reasons I kept on missing meals, and it got to 9 o' clock. We were now in the Cavern and I remember saying to somebody: 'I'm going outside to get some fresh air'. I passed out as my blood sugar levels got so low from the lack of food. There were three paramedics standing over me, the first thing they thought must have been; middle aged, overweight man, it must have been a heart attack! I was saying to them: 'I'm alright', but they weren't having any of it and told me they would give me the once over and I ended up spending the night in the ITU Broadgreen heart unit."
"All the way there, I was saying to them: 'Look, I’m married to a nurse, I know what a heart attack is supposed to feel like and I haven’t had one, I’m just hungry'. My mate with me then obviously had to phone my wife and I remember him working his way up to: 'George isn’t feeling that well' to, 'We’re in the back of an ambulance'. They woke me up at about 6 o' clock the next morning. To be fair, I had the best treatment and had a 110 percent going over. The doctor comes over to me and said: 'Mr. Sephton you’ll be pleased to know your heart is fine', and I said: 'I know, now can I have my breakfast now PLEASE?'."
"Anyway, the upshot from all this was the worst was still to come. Radio City organised the event at the cavern as Phil Easton used to work for Radio City. The newsreaders in the early hours of the weekend mornings are the office juniors as nobody else can be bothered to get out of bed. So, this fella was reading the news and he announced: "Liverpool stadium announcer George Sephton collapsed at the Cavern last night and was taken away to Broadgreen". And then he said: "Our thoughts are with his family at this time". The following week, as it happened, the club secretary Bryce Morrison suddenly died after returning from a European draw. They had a service at the Cathedral. Anyway, I walked in the Cathedral with my wife and I had about 3 or 4 stewards just turn pure white in front of me, saying: 'You’re dead', and I was like: "No, sorry!'."
George got sacked by Liverpool in 2000 but forgot to tell him!
Being at the club for so long you must have witnessed many changes over the years, did any affect you personally?
"When Phil Easton starting working for the club in August 2000, I didn't actually know. I just turned up at the start of a new season and thought it was going to be business at usual. I went up to start work and found Phil Easton and a sound engineer in my room. I asked him: ''What are you doing here?' and he said: 'I was about to ask you the same question'. Terry Smith on the board at Radio City and Liverpool Football Club had constantly being nagging Peter Robinson for ages to get rid of me and get one of his own lads in. Peter always used to say: 'George does a good job, go away and leave him alone'. When Rick Parry took over from Peter, Terry Smith and Parry signed an agreement with Radio City that Phil Easton would be the new Anfield Stadium announcer. The funny thing was, nobody bothered telling me. Parry was supposed to tell me, but bottled out. Basically Rick Parry had replaced me. I kept my calm and I did know a bit about employment laws and I knew they just couldn't do this. Therefore, in the end the club had to back track and another agreement was put in place that Phil Easton would do anything that was going on downstairs and announce the teams and I would carry on doing what I always did, and that happened by the second game of the season."
Obviously, you must have had plenty of contact with the players throughout the years, have these relationships changed as timed has passed by?
The goal machine that is Aldo with George
"Yes, and this is quite sad if I was being honest. If the entire Liverpool squad walked in here now they wouldn’t have a clue who I was. I've always had good relationships with the players. I'm on first name turns with Kenny Dalglish and I was on holiday in Tenerife with Phil Neal a few months back. In my opinion, the generation of the 1980s was special. If you think about it almost none of them were born on Merseyside, but they all moved here and stayed here. Alan Kennedy is another one I see an awful lot of. When he retired he was at a loose end, not knowing what to do with himself, like many other players. I helped him set up his own soccer school. Phil Thompson is another cracking man. I haven't seen Phil for a while. When I first started he was only 17 and had just signed his apprentice forms. Therefore, I followed Phil all the way throughout his career."
"Someone who I have a lot of time for is Michael Robinson as his attitude was tremendous. Michael was playing for Brighton and when he heard Liverpool were interested in signing him he packed his bags and travelled over to Holland, with no agents or anything. Liverpool were on pre-season at the time and he basically said: 'Here I am, if you want to sign me'. Aldo was another; he told me personally, when he went to meet Peter Robinson in a hotel, he signed the contract without even reading it or asking any questions, he just wanted to play for Liverpool and only wanted to know where the pen was to sign the thing as quickly as possible."
I suppose we now have a long wait until the next Steven Gerrard or Jamie Carragher comes along....
"Yes and the current situation upsets me as we’ve got no sort of Scouse heart in the team. Before I started working for the club, I did my time on the Kop. My family are all Liverpool through and through and my father even had a trial for Liverpool in 1923. I keep telling people passed down stories about my family who have been supporting Liverpool since the turn of the 20th century. Basically, football in Liverpool was simply a religious thing. Catholics stuck up for Everton and Protestants stuck up for Liverpool. In football I’d say that we can use the terms banter, rivalry, and hatred to sum up the opposition. Everton is somewhere in between banter and rivalry and the hatred is saved for Manchester United."
"Now that Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher have gone I literally don’t talk to anybody any more. I was very sad when Pepe Reina left, as we got on like a house on fire. However, I couldn’t say the same about Fernando Torres. I remember the time when Pepe introduced me to him; he looked at me as if I was something he had just trodden in. Stevie was a very quiet and reserved bloke. However, Jamie Carragher still to this day I get on with extremely well and we still do a few dinners and events together."
Did you ever meet the great Billy Liddell?
"I only saw Billy play a few times as he was coming to the end of his career when I started going, he was my dad’s hero. I first met Billy Liddell in 1956; he came to open our church fete. What the younger generations don’t realise is; Billy Liddell is one of the true greats, on par with Steven Gerrard and Kenny Dalglish, not only in ability but in dedication and loyalty to the club as well. I see Ian Callaghan quite a lot as he floats around the lounges at Anfield and I said to him recently that I remembered turning up to Anfield one day, it must have been 1960, and Billy Liddell had been dropped by Shanks for a young boy going by the name of Ian Callaghan. The crowd was going mad. However, Shanks as always was right, as Ian went on to play over 800 games for Liverpool."
You mentioned before you are from the Shankly era, did you have much contact with the great man?
"Oh yes, I met Shanks a few times. I always say, the only sad thing about Shanks is that he didn’t go into politics. Certainly, the country would be in a better state as it is now. You had to speak to him to appreciate how such of a charismatic man he was. I remember once it must have been 1972 or 1973; Leeds were at the top of the league, but we were still in contention and Huddersfield Town were at the bottom of the league. One night we had a youth cup match at Anfield the same time Leeds were playing Huddersfield and I was on the PA. Peter Robinson phoned through during the first half and told me to announce the score as Huddersfield were beating Leeds, a big cheer! Towards the end of the second half Peter Robinson rings through again, Leeds are winning 2-1 so for the interest of fairness you better give that out as well. When I got downstairs after the game the girl on reception looked at me and said: 'Leg it. Shanks is after you', apparently as I announced the Leeds score he was shouting: "Errr... where is he, he’s ruined the atmosphere'! Three days later we had a game at Anfield and who was the first person I bumped into? Shanks! He simply just walked over to me, shook my hand, and said two words: 'Morning, son'. I told Peter Robinson the story later, and he said: 'Don’t worry, he’s like that, he blows up and down'. I said to Peter, 'I wish you had told me that before as I’ve been having kittens for three days'."
You actually worked for UEFA at three European Cup finals
Shankly was coming for George!
"I remember that Shanks was also on my plane going out for the European Cup final in 1981. John Peel the DJ told me that this moment was the greatest moment of his life as he got to carry Shanks’ bag to the hotel. Coming home from that same match I got such a bollocking from my wife, as when we were coming off the plane Bill was carrying his own bag, and she was giving me so much earache all the way home telling me I should have been carrying his bag. Furthermore, I remember on the plane, Shanks was sat four rows behind me on his own. I remember people getting on the plane and seeing the extra seats next to Shanks and just bottled out of sitting next to him."
"That's correct, in Paris 81, Rome 84 and in Heysel 85. As it turns out my mate and I were looking for ways to get to Paris for the European Cup final and I ended up getting a call from Peter Robinson, saying that UEFA wanted me to go there and work for them. When Leeds played Bayern Munich in the European Cup Final in 1975 there was absolute bedlam. Anyway, someone at UEFA had come up with the idea that a familiar voice on the PA would help calm the crowd down in the event of trouble. Therefore, I travelled over to Paris and I was told by Peter Robinson that when I got there the French FA would be looking after me. Anyway, obviously nobody turned up and it was on the day of the game, so when it got to early evening, I started to worry, as I had to be there."
"One of the sponsors of the game, KP Nuts', coach was leaving for the Parc des Princes from my hotel so they very kindly gave me a lift. I thought when I get to the stadium everything would be all alright. Again, it wasn’t. I spent the best part of one hour trying to explain who I was and what I was doing here trying to get into the stadium. A member of the CRS even pulled his gun on me and told me to go away. by a stroke of luck I spotted one of the Liverpool directors going into the ground and I collared him and told him to tell Peter Robinson to come and get me as there was no way they were letting me in. Peter came out calling the French FA for all sorts and gave me an access all areas pass which finally got me into the ground."
"When we got to Rome three years later, I got a phone call from Peter just before the game. He informed me that because of all the hassle I had in Paris, on the afternoon of the game I’d get a taxi up to the team hotel up in the hills of Rome and I would travel back into Rome to the Stadio Olympico on the team bus. I thought that’s brilliant, looking at it from the perspective of a Liverpool fan, it was like a dream come true. So, I did just that and followed the team off the bus and into the dressing room. The players all dumped their stuff and went out to inspect the pitch. At this point an UEFA official confronts me and asks me to show him my pass, which I didn’t have! I tried explaining to him that three years ago some of his lads had messed up. I was wasting my time, he then went away and I was thinking he was going to just confirm my story. At this point Tom Saunders, one of Shanks' men, walked past me, and I told him what was happening. Tom gave me one of his spare tickets for the game and told me: 'If they do decide to chuck you out at least you can see the game'. So, this fella comes back and not alone, with a police officer pointing a gun at me, shouting: "Out, out, out'! Incredibly three years later for the second time in a European Cup final, I found myself outside the stadium unable to get in and work for UEFA on the PA. Again by a stroke of look I bumped into the sponsors’ liaisons officer and ended up swapping the ticket Tom Saunders gave me for one of his access all areas passes which finally got me back into the ground."
“Then we went to Heysel in 1985. This time they managed to get me in ok and actually assigned someone to keep an eye on me. I’d again been given the great opportunity to travel into the stadium on the team bus. I was positioned in the corner of the Juventus terracing and I could see all these Italian fans with black and white scarves covering up their faces dismantling the crush barriers and throwing bricks and bottles. I started to feel quite worried as all this was happening right beneath me. After the disaster happened and the wall collapsed we got a message from UEFA to inform the fans that kick off would be delayed while UEFA had a meeting. A while after a UEFA delegate came to see me and my opposite number from Turin. They had decided to go ahead and play the game but if anyone else runs on the pitch it will be abandoned. My order was to explain this over the PA to the English crowd. I said: 'Don’t be stupid'; he said: 'What you mean'?. I told him: 'If you do that then as soon as someone scores, then what will happen? Someone will run on the pitch'. I’ve seen it happen before at a league cup match between Bury and Manchester City. Bury scored and half of Manchester was on the pitch. This UEFA delegate was starting to get really ratty, I refused again and said: 'I know there are people lying dead out there and if I do that then you’d have a real bloodbath on your hands'.
This guy goes through the same rigmarole as his mate a year earlier; he goes off and comes back with a police officer pointing his gun at me saying: 'You will just do as your told'! I looked at the police officer and his gun and just said: 'No'. At that point team captains Phil Neal and Gaetano Scirea appeared. I told Phil what was being asked of me and he started laying into this guy. The team captains went on the PA instead to try and calm things down and I got a away with that one. When I eventually did go on the PA, the Juventus fans heard an English voice all of a sudden and began to hurl bricks and bottles in my direction. People don’t remember that the Heysel stadium was originally an athletics track. Seb Coe I believe broke the world 800m metres record there and I shaved 15 seconds of it in 1985 getting the hell out of there.”
"After the final whistle went I managed to blag my way on to a coach to the airport. It was a surreal situation as when we got to the airport they drove us directly on to the tarmac and on to the plane. It was insane the plane was overcrowded; people were stood in the alleys and sat on the floor at the front. Somebody tried to do a head count to see who should have been on the plane and who shouldn’t, but it was impossible. There must have been about 30 people on the plane who shouldn’t have been. Can you imagine anything like that happening today? Then the pilot came on informing us that he has been given a slot and he suggested we should take it. We all shouted: 'Yes'! And we took off and that was the end of the 1985 European Cup final as far as I was concerned."
"George is part of the history and tradition of this club
Did you have much contact with Liverpool's most successful manager in the terms of trophies won, Mr. Bob Paisley?
and it would be more reverent if he left than if I left." - Kenny Dalglish
"To be honest I didn’t have that much to do with Bob, I drove him to a couple of dinners. He was a very quiet bloke and I must say he was absolutely adamant he didn’t want the manager’s job. I’ll always remember my mate and I went up to Blackburn for a pre-season friendly in July 1971 just before I started working for the club. We were standing at the back of the paddock leaning against the wall. Bob Paisley and Bill Shankly were sat in front of us and the conversation between the two was extremely peculiar, the weirdest thing ever. It must have gone something like: "Errrr, Bob", "Oohhhhh, Bill', and that was it for the entire 90 minutes. I remember asking myself: 'Is this a discussion about tactics or what the hell is it'?"
Let's move on to Kenny Dalglish...
"As I said before I'm on first name terms with Kenny, sometimes I even all him Ken. I'll always remember when I turned 65, I went out for a meal with my wife, my daughter, my son in law and my grandson. All of a sudden my phone started buzzing and I started receiving a lot of texts saying: 'Isn’t it wonderful what Kenny said about you on the tele'. By this time I’m throwing my food down, desperate to get home. What it was, when Kenny was the manager for the second time Claire Rourke was doing this weekly interview with him for LFC.TV. Her last question was; 'George Sephton turns 65 today, have you got a message for him'? He replied: 'George is part of the history and tradition of this club and it would be more reverent if he left than if I left'. I was watching this on my computer and I called my wife in and I said: 'Just watch this, then take me outside and shoot me now, it doesn’t get any better than this'."
2001 was a great year for Liverpool fans, winning 5 trophies in such a short period.
"I’ll never forget the UEFA Cup final in Dortmund in 2001. Again I was working for UEFA on the PA. Anyway, when the game went to extra time, there was that golden goal rule. Therefore, my job was to get on the PA and inform the crowd that the next team to score wins. After doing that I couldn't get back to my seat as the police were all out in force blocking my access back to where I was sat. Therefore, I had to stand behind the dugout; well I was literally clinging on to the dugout as my knees had gone to gelling with this golden goal thing. In front of me was Phil Thompson, to the right of him was the club doctor and to his left was Gérard Houllier. I looked at Gérard and his face was a funny grey looking colour, it wasn’t white, he just didn't look well. I said to someone: 'If someone doesn’t hurry up and score soon then either me or Gérard will need the club doctor'. Thankfully Gary Mac scored and it was all over. Gérard Houllier was really liked at the club and I've only just found out recently that he would have been on the Kop as a supporter when I was actually working. Gérard was a great manager and a great servant to Liverpool. However, I felt towards the end he sort of lost the plot a little bit, obviously his health wasn’t the greatest at the time either."
Rafa Benítez joined the club in 2004 and within a year we were yet again crowned European Champions.
"Rafa’s heart was always in the right place and he understood the history of the club and what it meant to the supporters and Rafa did the business. However, there were a couple of things I objected to; that thing he had about chasing Gareth Barry until the stage he drove Xabi Alonso away; I'll never be able to get over that. I also don't agree with his treatment of Michael Owen when he wanted to come back to Liverpool from Real Madrid. I agree with what Steven Gerrard recently said about Rafa; never been a good man manager, he was more like a "this is my job and this is your job sort of person."
After Rafa moved on, Roy Hodgson was brought in and this would ultimately turn into being one of, if not, the worst Liverpool managerial disasters in our entire history.
"Roy Hodgson was a mistake; I’m very sorry, nice guy! However, when you turn up to Anfield and start wittering on about your good pal Sir Alex, then that’s it, you're finished before you have even started as far as I'm concerned! A phrase a lot people use when someone comes to Liverpool is "You have to get it", you have to understand the club. Rafa understood, Kenny is a part of it but Roy didn’t have a bloody clue."
What does the future bring for you?
"Just keep on going I suppose for as long as I can. This is my beloved club. The fact that people like yourselves are interested in talking to me, the people I meet keep me going. I walk into the front door of Anfield instead of having to queue up, that is something in itself. My only hope is that I just want to see them win the league one more time before I go to Anfield in the sky."
Interview by Carl Clemente ([email protected]
/ @clemente_carl on Twitter). Special thanks to my younger brother Adrian for his assistance. Copyright - LFChistory.net