Roy Evans; former youth player, first-team player, kit washer, physio, coach, reserve manager and finally the manager of Liverpool Football Club. Roy to this day remains the most successful English manager in the Premier League winning 82 of his 172 games and while in charge Liverpool scored 280 goals. Moreover, during his 35 years at the club 29 of our 41 major honours were won including 13 league titles and the European Cup four times.
Although, it is impossible to cover 35 years of history in one interview we gave it a good go! I'd like to thank Roy and his son, Stephen, for making this wonderful interview possible.
Roy, you were a boyhood red. How did your love affair with Liverpool Football Club begin?
When I was about nine, around 1957, my dad would leave me in the Boys' Pen and he would go into the Kop. Billy Liddell, Tony Rowley and Jimmy Melia were knocking the goals in back then and the Reds were still in the 2nd Division. However, there was still a great atmosphere inside a packed Anfield. There must have been around 40,000 going back then. I played for Bootle Boys and also represented the Lancashire Boys with Joe Royle. I played a lot further up the pitch back then, in the midfield positions. I then went on to play for England Schoolboys, where scouts from the top clubs would come to watch us. I ended up receiving offers from Chelsea, Everton, Bolton and Liverpool. My dad told me to go with my heart and to be honest; Liverpool was the only club I ever wanted to play for. I entered the youth set up under the guidance of Tom Bush. There were three youth teams back then; A, B and C, however, I don't think I ever played for the C team!
You signed professional forms the day after your 17th birthday on 5th October 1965...
That's right and Shanks was involved when I actually signed along with my dad which was nice. The younger lads such as myself used to get to know Shanks as he would get dressed in the away dressing room at Anfield with us all before we got on the bus to Melwood. I remember Shanks being a very factual man, he used to state facts; 'Ehhh son, today is going to be a beautiful day', and I would realise it was pissing down with rain outside. Nevertheless, because Shanks said it, we believed it!
You then played in the reserves for around five years.
We won everything; we won the Central League championship I don’t know how many times! Joe Fagan was the boss. He was like a father figure to the lads and kept us on the straight and narrow. We all knew when Joe was pissed off. Ronnie and Bill were different, they were more vocal, but when Joe had to speak to one of the lads, they knew they had done something wrong. I learnt a lot off Joe. He had great man management skills, ones which I later employed myself when I was the manager.
Your debut for the first team came at Anfield on Monday 16th March, 1970, against Sheffield Wednesday. The Reds won 3-0; you filled in for the great Geoff Strong who was injured.
I don't remember much about my debut and to be honest, I wouldn't have been able to tell you it was on a Monday night, that's for sure! I remember Ray Clemence was in goal who I must add was and still is my best friend in football. I was just pleased to be picked for a "Bill Shankly football team" and have the honour to represent the team I supported since I was a boy and play a alongside some of Liverpool's greats of all time; Ron Yeats, Ian Callaghan, Tommy Smith among others.
‘This boy Evans has the heart and guts to become another Gerry Byrne,’ Bill Shankly told the press after Roy's debut.
You went on to play for the first team another eight times before Alec Lindsey cemented the left back spot. You were then loaned out to The Philadelphia Atoms in 1973.
The coach from Philadelphia Atoms, Al Miller, came over to Melwood looking for players. He chose me from Liverpool and another lad from Everton. Bob said it would be a great opportunity for me as my first-team chances were limited as there were better players in my position. We went over for four months and had a great time; I even got married during the same week. We ended up winning the league and becoming the first rookie team to win a national championship in the USA in any sport. I still go over to Philadelphia every five years for a reunion to see the lads who we still have left.
Training with Tommy Smith, Alun Evans and Larry Lloyd
You returned to Anfield and made two more appearances for the first team in the December of 1973 against Manchester United at Anfield and Burnley at Turf Moor. Bob Paisley took over from Shanks in 1974 and offered you a position as reserve team coach; you were only 25...
I had to think about it for a while. As you said, I was still only 25 and could have continued my playing career for a few more years. However, that would have meant moving away from Liverpool again after just coming back from America. I had long chats with Joe Fagan, Tommy Smith, Bob and Ronnie whose advice was really helpful. I decided to accept the role and never really looked back nor regretted having ended my playing career so early.
I was given full control of the reserve team, unless, of course Bob wanted to give a first-team player, coming back from injury, a run out. This was great as unlike the current under 21 set up, the lads would get inspired by playing alongside some of the best players in Europe. In them days you mostly learnt your trade from players older than yourself.
Roy welcomed to the training setup
I had no training in my new role; I just learnt my trade as a manager on the job with some great colleagues around me. Bill never understood the concept of coaching badges anyway. I remember after Ian St John retired, Shanks found out he was going to do his badges. Shanks told him before he left: 'Tell them fuck all, son'!
Probably the most successful player I brought through from my reserve team was my friend Sammy Lee who went on to win four league titles and two European Cups with Liverpool and ended up having a successful coaching career with us as well.
You were on the bench throughout the 70s and 80s working with some of the greatest Liverpool teams of all time. From 1973-1991 Liverpool didn't finish outside top 2, apart from 1981, but that season, of course, we won the European Cup and the League Cup!
Back then, the club was run solely as a football club, or better still, a family. Things were kept simple and the success of the club was only measured on the football pitch. This was thanks to people such as John Smith, Peter Robinson and then David Moores who ran the club in the right way. Another person I must mention whose contribution to the success of Liverpool and whose work often goes unnoticed is Geoff Twentyman. Geoff became Shankly's chief scout at Anfield in 1967 and was the model professional in every sense of the word. His talent-spotting became almost legendary on Merseyside, unearthing some of the game's real giants like Ian Rush, Phil Neal and Alan Hansen. Geoff also worked under Bob, Joe and Kenny before leaving his post after 19 years in 1986.
In them days, it was all about us and never about the opposition, we didn't fear anyone, the Liverpool way was the only way! Bill had his way of playing and built the club on his great philosophy; Bob sort of just took over the momentum and was completely the opposite to Bill, a shy man who on some occasions wasn't able to get his words out.
The lads would always conduct themselves as professionals and never bring any problems on to the pitch. In any walk of life there will always be people who get on better with certain people than others. That happened at Liverpool too, notably between Emlyn Hughes and Tommy Smith. There was an obvious clash of personalities with them two off the pitch, but like I said they would never bring them onto the field. The great Ray Kennedy would help out in these situations as he was a great listener with a top class attitude.
We managed the players well and never let them get carried away with their success. I remember when Ronnie Moran use to hand out the medals to the players on the first day back from summer. There was never any presentation or anything. He just made them think it was their job to be doing this and nothing big was ever made of it. Ronnie would just say something like: 'This doesn't mean anything now, same again next season, lad'.
What was it like for you being a member of the famous Bootroom?
All the important talking was done in the Bootroom. Whenever I wasn't involved with the reserves I used to get invited along with the first team and vice a versa, when the first team weren't in action Bob, Joe and Ronnie would come down to watch my lads. They would never interfere during the game and any advice was given to me in the Bootroom, usually on a Friday night and nearly always over a bottle of Bell's whisky that Bob had won for being manager of the month. We would discuss what had happened over the week and I would get asked about the progress of my players with regards to if they were ready for the first team or not. Bob would also give me the freedom to comment on what I thought could be improved regarding the first team as well. Our conversations were always in good spirit, never critical, just helping each other out as friends.
Also back then the least ranked coach used to have the responsibility of being the physio, nothing like it is these days though, I used to just run on with the magic sponge. I would also have to take the kit home for my wife to wash. We did originally take them to a dry cleaners, but the kits used to come back with a shirt missing here and there, and of course in them days we didn't have a new kit for every match. We only had five home kits and five away kits for the whole season. So everything in them days, again, was kept close in house, like one big family.
It was then your turn, on the 31st January 1994, after being at the club for 31 years to become the manager of Liverpool Football Club.
When Graeme parted company with the club, the chairman, Mr. Moores phoned me up and invited me around to his house. I didn't know what to expect, he was either going to offer me the job or give me the sack. Thankfully, it wasn't the latter. I obviously, said yes straight away and there was no mention of money or contracts or anything.
On the way home in the car I thought to myself; what have I got myself into! To be honest I had never really thought about being the manager before, because I would never be looking for someone else's job. It was now my time to implement everything I had learnt from Joe, Bill and Bob. I had great coaches around me, in Ronnie, Doug Livermore, Sammy Lee and Chris Lawler and I brought in Hugh McAuley to work in the youth set up.
You were never a manager who seemed to have any problems with the press and more importantly the fans.
I did it just like Joe did it. Obviously you can't tell them everything. However, I always tried to tell them the truth, well the truth they wanted to know, if that makes sense! You had to be careful with them. The same press boys who traveled on the planes with us to European matches could be the same ones slaughtering you on the back pages a week later. But I understand that was their job, not that i agreed with everything they wrote of course.
Regarding the fans you could never kid Liverpool fans, they are too intelligent. I would be honest with them and never try to make excuses. One fan said to me once after a defeat: 'Roy, you shouldn't have picked that team mate,' and I responded: 'Well, I wouldn't have picked it, knowing we were going to get beat 3-0'.
Also in your era the 'footballer' in general was changing. Players started to have more power and lose the respect of their managers, coaches and even their clubs. Is that a fair comment, Roy?
That didn't happen at Liverpool, we had a great set of lads here and if anything the social life they had helped keep the togetherness of the team and didn't affect the performance on the pitch. We had a no drink rule after Wednesday when the team was announced and the lads respected that. The players started doing bits and pieces, adverts, modelling and so on, but as I said it wouldn't affect their discipline. I remember we used to go to Tommy Smith's pubs; the Castle Court and the Castle gate for a couple of pints altogether after the games.
I learnt not to force players on to you and I wanted to be approachable just like Joe was. I wanted the players to have the confidence to tell me anything they wanted. I always told them if they had something to say to just say it and nothing would offend me, just like Peter Robinson used to tell me. However, at the end of the day, I was the manager and had the final word.
You signed 21 players during your time as manager. Mark Gayle was the first and Vegard Heggem your last. How was it done under you? Obviously there was none of this transfer committee nonsense.
No, there was none of that, obviously the club had a scouting network in place and any player the board was interested in signing I would always go and see play and have the final word. If any club is going to sign a player the manager should really go and see them play himself.
I really wanted to sign Teddy Sheringham from Spurs, but the board wasn’t keen, they thought he was too old and preferred bringing in younger players. They were wrong on this occasion as Teddy went on to play over a 100 times for Man Utd and won the treble with them. However, that's football and as a manager you can't always sign who you want.
One player I do regret signing was Sean Dundee, he was terrible on and off the pitch. He didn't take any notice of me, did what he wanted and lacked discipline. He certainly shouldn't have joined Liverpool.
My biggest signing was Stan Collymore for £8.5m, a British transfer record at the time. For the first 18 months he was fantastic, him and Robbie Fowler were firing them in off all cylinders. However, I failed to persuade him to move to Liverpool as he was living 80 miles away in Cannock. This meant he was late or even missed training which unsettled the other players slightly. In the end we sold him to Aston Villa which was the best decision for both parties.
The only regret I have as manager of Liverpool Football Club was not winning the Premier League. We came close in 1997, but in the end it wasn't meant to be. We suffered a couple of home defeats towards the end of the season most notably to Coventry City, which sent us off track. Looking back now that would be my only regret during the 35 years I spent at the club.
Then Houllier came along...
Back in them days only the top two clubs used to qualify for the European Cup from the English League. Therefore, the club was finding ways to get back into Europe's elite competition. Principally, the role they were looking for was a Director of football. They approached John Toshack at first, as not only did he understand Liverpool Football Club but also he had experience in Europe, where he won La Liga with Real Madrid and the Spanish Cup with Real Sociedad. John, therefore, was considered the best man for the role; however he declined, as he was only really interested in being number one.
Anyway, I went away on holiday and I found out that the club had been to meet Gérard on their own without me. Basically, when I went back, they explained to me what would be happening and as it was sold to me as being in the club's best interests I went along with the joint partnership.
What do you think went wrong?
Well, problems started when players weren't sure who to approach. Some were coming to me, mainly the English lads for certain things such as; why weren't they playing and other players would approach Gérard regarding other issues. In a nutshell, they didn't really know what was going on! The club was never going to sack Gérard after just hiring him, so I held my hands up and resigned, again, in the best interests of the club. After I resigned, Gérard came up to me and said: 'I knew this would happen, but I didn't think it would be this soon'.
I totally cut myself off from the club for around a year and a half, until one day I was sat at home and thought to myself, why should I? This is my club since I was a kid, so I started to get more involved again. Despite this, when I returned to the club I use to let them know I was going to be attending a game, they would just send me a standard match ticket. I'd then look up to see who was in the executive boxes and there would be a former player who was only there for around five years, with his wife and kids, and there I was with 35 years of service to the club in the stands. I never complained or anything, it wasn't in my nature.
Robbie Fowler has a priceless story that in many ways reflects Houllier's and Evans' joint managership
When Gérard Houllier and Roy Evans were joint managers we went every year to Norway. We’d played this Norwegian team. After the game we go upstairs, get changed and all come down the lift in our jeans, shirts and jackets. Gérard Houllier is by the front door and he says: 'Where are you all going?' 'We always go out for a drink.’ 'Not tonight,' he said. Next minute there was a "Bing!" The lift opened and it was Roy Evans in his suit. ‘We’re with him,’ and we go out."
George Sephton told me a few weeks back that he hoped Carra and Stevie would have done the same as yourself, Bob and Ronnie did and stay on at Liverpool joining the coaching staff.
Carra's decision to retire was his own but he should've been persuaded to stay on as a coach, Steven definitely had another season left in him. Both were massive characters and big voices in the changing room and maybe this intimidated Brendan a little. When I was manager, I wanted all my players to have bigger personalities than me, they were the players and this would go on to show on the pitch. Believe me there are no better personalities to have around than Steven and Jamie.
Liverpool fans belief again after the arrival of Jürgen Klopp, what have you made of the German so far?
So far so good, but he will have to adapt his training methods from the one he had in Germany to allow his players to cope with the hectic schedule of the Premier League. We always tried to be clever in training, not wanting to overdo it. Us as staff adapted and varied the players training schedule appropriately. Whenever we could give them two days off instead of one, we would.
I preferred the old system of any age reserve football. As I said before the younger players were then able to learn from the first team and also take part in games with players who were older than themselves. We used to have mixed teams in training, which were very beneficial. Again, in football you don't learn from your managers but from your peers.
Klopp certainly has the right attitude regarding making it a priority for the fans to start enjoy watching football again and for the players to enjoy playing as well. I find that really important, as when I was manager; no matter what I said to the players beforehand, the last thing I would always say would be; 'Go out and enjoy yourselves'! It would be an FA Cup semi-final and the players would look at me and think: 'Ok then, Roy'!
So far I've been impressed by Jürgen's man-management. He always defends his players and takes the blame when things haven't gone to plan. Something which I did as well. It's good to protect your players but when the results aren't going well it's important that they take their share of the responsibility. It's far too easy for players to hide behind the manager when things don't go well these days.
What you think of the current running of the club in general? If we lose our Scouse heart we will just be like any other club.
I think we all know that football clubs are all businesses these days, run by businessmen in search of maximizing profits from the clubs name. Liverpool is not now run like it was, as a big family with the emphasis always being on football.
Recently, I was saddened by the fact that no official club representative attended Gerry Byrne's funeral. After everything the '65 team did for the club. It's as if nobody is bothered these days, it's hard enough to get a signed shirt for the charity events some of the ex-players and myself are involved in.
In the past people were treated with a lot more dignity, Mike Marsh was another one who I feel sorry for. A great lad who loves the club and to be sent on his way like that was very disappointing.
Anyway, like I've said, so far so good from Jürgen Klopp and let's hope he continues to instill the great traditional elements into Liverpool that made us the great club we once were.
Interview conducted by Carl Clemente ([email protected]
/ @clemente_carl on Twitter). Special thanks to my good friend Robert Clubley for his assistance. Copyright - LFChistory.net