Driving into Crumlin Rugby Club on Friday night, I was already peeved that my McFlurry had exploded all over the passenger seat of my car. Having nipped into a local convenience store on the way (to buy napkins and such), I was about to leave my vehicle – and head to the venue to wash my hands – when a sleek, black motor pulled up beside me. Not thinking too much of it (and figuring it was just another guest for the night), it was only when the driver came into view, and asked me: ‘Are you coming out?’ that I realised it was none other than Phil Thompson, himself. The man I had come to see that evening. What a precursor to the night! ‘Uh, no, ah… I’m here to see you,’ I replied, sheepishly. Phil – who seemed to grin – then said, ‘Is it alright to park here?’ ‘I think so,’ I replied, gesturing to the empty space next to me. ‘Is it half past seven, it starts?’ I asked. ‘Ah, I’m early,’ replied Phil. I left him to park, and gallantly skipped to the venue, thinking I was in for a fantastic night. I was. For great (and, admittedly, very unlucky reasons).
For those that don’t know – Phil Thompson is a retired English footballer, who played for Liverpool (and under the great Bill Shankly), in the 1970s and 1980s. He also represented the England national football team on 42 occasions. While at Liverpool, he won 7 titles, 1 FA Cup, 2 League Cups, 6 Charity Shields, 3 European Cups, 2 UEFA Cups and the UEFA Super Cup. He is now currently a regular Visiting Fellow at the University of Liverpool, where he teaches on their Football Industries MBA, and appears on the Soccer Saturday panel. During the night, Phil regaled us with numerous stories about his time at Liverpool – including visits to Highbury and Old Trafford – and mentions of fellow ex-pros, including Graeme Souness and Steve Nicol. He also performed a thoroughly entertaining (and informative) Q&A session, where he answered questions about Luis Suárez, Liverpool’s chances under Brendan Rodgers, as well as their prospects for the coming season. As a football fan, the guy absolutely made my night.
He also mentioned his time working alongside Gérard Houllier (where the Reds returned to winning ways – securing the UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup, back in 2001), and his punditry work on Soccer Saturday – alongside Charlie Nicholas (‘still thinks he’s twenty-five’), Matt Le Tissier (‘greedy *******’), Paul Merson, and – of course – the legendary Jeff Stelling. As someone who watches the programme regularly – having this TV personality in front of us, telling us all about his co-presenters – was like having a drink with them all, down the pub. It was a staggering sight.
Phil Thompson was part of an indefatigable defence as a player – featuring alongside the likes of Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson. He also pointed out that Bob Paisley won 3 European Cups in nine years (as opposed to Sir Alex’s two in 26 years, as manager of Manchester United). As a United fan, it hurts to admit this, but it just shows how great the ex-Liverpool manager was (he also won 6 League Championships, 3 League Cups, 6 Charity Shields, 1 UEFA Cup and 1 UEFA Super Cup in those nine years). He was also awarded the Manager of the Year Award a record six times, before retiring in 1983, when he was awarded an OBE. Incredible.
Now – an apology. Luckily, I managed to obtain an autograph from Phil on the night (you should see this below). But it came at a price. I was waiting, patiently – at the start of the night, for the great man to finish talking to another punter – and spotted an opening. Clutching a torn-off piece of paper, Phil eyed me, and said, ‘You’re not coming near me with that paper.’ Confused, I thought he meant he didn’t want to sign something torn off, as the guy before me had given him a Liverpool poster to sign. I asked, ‘Sorry, I’ve got a camera, if that’s better?’ Phil looked puzzled. And then it hit me. Clutched under my arm (and my apologies now, to all Liverpool fans), was a copy of the Glamorgan Gazette and, yes – a copy of You Know What. I almost cried. Cried?! I nearly threw the damn thing across the room. Of all the papers in the world to be holding! Luckily, Phil was alright, and signed my torn-off slip. He later approached me with a thumbs-up, and asked, ‘Got rid of the paper, yet?’ With a thumbs-up back, I replied, ‘Yes, it’s gone.’
So, Phil – if you do read this – my sincere apologies to you, for not leaving the rag in the car (where it belonged), and thanks once again, for a fantastic night! You were right – I should not be reading that paper. I’m already starting to read better quality print, as it is. Thanks for the tip. (And at least I didn’t confuse you for another celebrity. Which somebody else did! That made me feel a whole lot better about myself). Cheers, Phil.
You’ll Never Walk Alone.