Stephen Warnock on Premier League World

premier league world show #43

10th april 2019

My dad used to take me and my brother to the everton game when we were younger and something just didn’t quite click with me. i had a neighbour down the street who had a ticket for the kop, asked me if i wanted to go. and stood on the kop and that was it just fell in love it, singing all songs stood swaying. i remember the atmosphere more than anything. i was more obsessed with what was going on around me in the kop, and how they were singing and the songs they were singing. and that was what made me fall in love with liverpool.

I got bad injuries, broke my leg a few times when i was coming through. i was coming back and they had offered me a professional contract and then i broke my leg again three games later and i thought this is just a nightmare. just before i went down for the operation the surgeon said, listen you might never play football again. when i came round, he just said i’ve never given myself a ten out of ten before but this is a ten out of ten he said, you’ll play again, i can guarantee that. the next day rick parry and steve heighway came in with a three-year contract and said we back you, we believe in you and that meant the world to me to get back to thank them for putting that trust in me.

Gerard houllier left and rafa benitez came in and i remember getting a call my agent ‘he wants you to stay, thinks you’ve had a great season last year’, and i was thinking he’s just been valencia manager, how does he know about me and suddenly i got a boost from that.

The way the rooming list used to work at liverpool was, so the two goal keepers would always room together, the left back and the left midfielder would room together, so you knew the team the night before the game. so i was in with luis garcia so i thought i’m playing tomorrow. about half 10 right lights out, go to sleep. luis garcia had other things to do, he was on skype to his family back home till 1 o’clock in the morning and i’m up thinking, ‘it’s the biggest game of my life tomorrow, i want to just go to sleep’ and i didn’t know how to tell him because he was a senior player at the time, he had just come in – a big money signing. i remember waking up the next morning thinking i’m not ready for this game and i got subbed at half time, i played ok but just not to my full potential.

I still remember it to this day and it was just so loud and you walk out to you’ll never walk alone, and just the roar that comes up and if i’d have played one game for liverpool that would have been enough for me.

For me that was everything though because growing up like, standing on the kop and the noise it makes when you score, and i think you can see from the celebration, how much it meant to me.

We would have a squad list up of eighteen players who had made the squad, i had got into that squad. i started ringing everyone, i’ve made the squad, get your flights booked, and things like that, and about two or three hours later i just got a phone call from the assistant manager, we’ve made a mistake on the squad list, you weren’t meant to be in it. i thought it was a bit cowardly not for the manager to make that phone call, it was the biggest night in liverpool’s history in recent years and the biggest, arguably the biggest night of and game of my career, because it’s not often you make a champion’s league final.

There was a swap deal going on between myself and lucas neill. on the last day of the transfer window my agent had rang me and said, right we’re on our way, met him at the service station and we got a phone call from liverpool just saying deal’s off, rafa doesn’t want you to go. i came in the next day, sat in the treatment room and he just said what are you doing here, he thought i’d gone. he knew he wasn’t getting lucas neill but he thought i’d left anyway. so i got on the phone to my agent and said make the deal happen in january, get it done, because again i knew i wasn’t wanted, so that was why it was so easy for me to leave.

It was probably one of the easiest decisions i had to make. the quality of players that we had in that blackburn team was just incredible. the likes of tugay, benni mccarthy, brad friedel, ryan nelson, brett emerton, i mean these are all international players and a very strong team.

One of my ex-team mates at youth level, paul harrison, lost family members at hillsborough. i remember just walking from the halfway line with the wreath down towards the kop and the kop suddenly sort of rose onto its feet and they were all applauding. i just had tears running down my face because i knew what it meant to the fans and i knew what it meant to the football club. it’s still one of the proudest moments of my career. it was one of those moments i will never forget.

Mark hughes said to me, he said you need to get fitter and you need to start running forward more, i’ve seen it in you, i know you can do it because i had played on the wing for liverpool. and he just said i want you to overlap as much as you can, get forward, and suddenly i found myself in the box more often than not.

It was a massive decision to leave blackburn, it was the hardest decision of my career but it was one that was sort of pushed by england ambitions. going to such a huge club, they had the likes of james milner, ashley young, luke young, heskey, agbonlahor, when you’re looking through it we had a big core of english squad members within the team. we needed a good team spirit, we needed the players to stick together and we did that, and it was great.

Gary mcallister just came and said ‘kenny’s rang up - he wants you on loan with a view to signing you for liverpool’. ‘i’ll do anything it takes, i’ll take a wage cut, anything, just make it happen’, and it never came to fruition, which was very difficult to take at that moment in time because to go back there and i knew i was at a better level than when i’d left the club and i felt i had a lot to prove. villa turned around and were quite awkward about it in the end where they wanted a loan fee. they tried to make it difficult for me to go back there. and it fell through.

I was football obsessed, i loved going in every day to train and trained hard every day. the worry was that the days would be empty but since i’ve sort of come away from it and gone into the media side of things it’s given me another drive, it’s given me another passion and something to look forward to every week.

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