"Personal Favourites XI" by Dave Usher
Before I start, it’s important to stress that none of these selections are based on ability. I need to get that in now, and no doubt I’ll mention it a few more times during the piece just to re-enforce the point as there are bound to be some of you shaking your head and saying ‘how the hell has X got in there ahead of Y’. It’s because I’m picking my favourite ever players, and my favourite players are very rarely the best players, although there are one or two exceptions.
There’s no Kenny Dalglish because he wasn’t one of my personal favourite players. It doesn’t mean I didn’t love him or don’t acknowledge his greatness, or that if I was picking my greatest ever side he wouldn’t be in it. I’m sure he’d be the first name on many of your team-sheets if you were picking a side full of your favourite players, but I don’t roll that way. Steven Gerrard isn’t in there either, although he was very close. The thing is, I’ve always rooted for the underdog, I mean at one point Mike Marsh was my favourite player until that tool Souness sent him to West Ham. To make it worse, David Burrows was another favourite of mine and he was also shipped off to the Hammers by Souness in part ex for that fat waster Julian Dicks. That wasn’t a good day for me, I remember it as though it was yesterday. I was on a work placement in college at the time, and when I heard that news I just fucked off home in disgust. Anyway, without further ado, here we go.
Goalkeeper: The toughest decision I had to make, as I’ve never really taken much of a shine to any of our keepers. Nothing personal, but what kind of weirdo has a goalkeeper as their favourite player? Wannabe keepers, that’s who. Certainly not me, my only reason for going in goal is my appalling lack of fitness that means occasionally I need to go in just to avoid having a heart attack.
When I was a kid I liked Brucie because he used to tell us the score when we asked him. He wasn’t like regular keepers, he was interesting. But then I got a bit older and I remember him complaining about his wages and it pissed me off. I never really forgave him for that. Mike Hooper always seemed like a bit of a weirdo to me, one thing stands out about him was something I read in the programme when he’d not been here that long. One of the other players (can’t remember who, might have been Jocky) commented how Hooper would go nuts if anyone touched him when he came out to claim a cross in training. That made me think he was a bit of a wrong un. A bird watcher who quit football to become a club doorman in Newcastle, he’s clearly a bit of an oddball isn’t he?
So I’ve gone for Jerzy Dudek, partly because of Istanbul, and partly because when he first came here he was boss. That first season he had here was the best I’ve seen from any keeper since I’ve been watching us, he was just ace, which makes what happened to him after that really difficult to fathom. If I had to pick a favourite keeper it’d have to be him, but I never had the same kind of affection for him that I had for most of the other players I’m about to pick, because he’s a keeper and like I say, only nutjobs have keepers as their favourite players.
Right back: Almost went with Rob Jones as he was always a favourite of mine despite costing me a fortune in 1st goalscorer bets at the bookies. The problem was I needed to get Mike Marsh in the side and as I was spoilt for choice with midfielders I’ve slotted Marshy in at right back. I used to watch Marsh in the reserves which is why I always had an affinity with him. When I first started going to reserve games, he’d just arrived from Kirkby Town and was forming an exciting partnership with John Durnin. When Durnin left and was replaced by Wayne Harrison, Marsh struck up a great understanding with him and they were like the Dalglish and Rush of the Central League. He made his debut under Kenny as a striker, but eventually moved back into midfield and made his real breakthrough under Souness.
I always remember Souness commenting that if someone were to come and watch the team training, they’d think Marsh was the best player at the club. Given that Barnes and Molby were here, that was high praise indeed, which makes it all the more galling that not long afterwards Souness got shut of him to West Ham. Marshy is back at the club now of course as a coach, and he’s probably still of the best in training every day as he’s a proper little footballer.
Left back: Toss up between David Burrows and Steve Harkness. I remember when we signed ‘Bugsy’ from West Brom. I’d never heard of him, they were the good old days when there weren’t so many games on TV and we didn’t know every other team’s squadlist inside out. It just wouldn’t happen now, unless we bought someone from Norwich or Southampton as no-one knows the majority of their players. I always liked Burrows even though he was only ever decent. The best thing about him was his tackling, he’d just fly into challenges and it was dead funny to watch. One memory that stands out is when a few players were tussling for the ball and no-one seemed to be able to come away with it. Next thing Burrows just went hurtling into the mass of bodies, and emerged from the pile with the ball to huge cheers from the crowd. He ended up at Everton though, and that took a bit of the shine off him for me.
So I’m picking Harkness. The last time I had a replica shirt with a player’s name on it, I had number 12 ‘Harkness’ on it. True story that. It will probably come as a surprise to many of you, but he was at Liverpool for close to ten years. I always wondered if he’d never suffered that broken leg if he’d have established himself here. Probably not, but at the time he got that injury he was playing great and I was proper gutted for him. I still hate John Salako to this day.
Centre backs: The one player who makes this team that would also have a shot at the best of all time XI is Jamie Carragher. I watched him in the youth team back in 1996 and it’s mad to think that 17 years later I was still watching him. He was everything I’d want in a Liverpool player. It will be a long, long time before we ever see his type again. In fact, we probably never will.
Alongside him I’m going for Stephane Henchoz. He was never as good as big Sami, but how could you not love Steph and his rosey cheeks? Two minutes into the game he was blowing for tugs and looked like he’d ran a marathon whilst carrying Neil Ruddock on his back. He was just an out and out defender, he had no attacking intent in his entire body, he just lived for protecting his goal and repelling attacks.
His song was boss too, if it hadn’t have been he may have missed out to Torben Piechnik, who also had a great song. He was crap, I’m not suggesting otherwise, but I always liked him because he always stayed behind to applaud the fans after games and seemed like he knew how lucky he was to be here. He must have known he wasn’t very good, but he did his best and seemed like a good guy. But the thing I liked best about him was the ‘Teddy Bear’s picnic’ song and the bounce that accompanied it. I can’t pick him just based on that though, so the ‘Henchman’ it is.
Right midfield: Easy one this, Craig Johnston. Watching him charging around the pitch at 100mph and never letting up for a second is one the most enduring images I have of watching us in the 80s, he’s my arl fellas all time favourite player and he’d make my top five too. I still love Craig Johnston now, I saw an interview with him on LFCTV recently and he broke down in tears a couple of times, choked me right up it did. Every team should have a Craig Johnson. I loved the Anfield Rap too. What a guy.
Centre midfield: Two from five here. The five were Steven Gerrard, Steve McMahon, Jan Molby, Xabi Alonso and Davie Thompson. In the end I went for Xabi and Little Thommo. There’s not a day goes by I don’t miss Alonso and I live in (forlorn) hope that one day he’ll return. A great player and like Carra, exactly the kind of character I’d want in a Liverpool shirt. A proper mans man too, just look at that beard. He simply had to be in there.
Same with Davie Thommo. I loved that mad little bastard. The very first time I saw him play he was sent off in a youth cup game. It wasn’t really his fault, a Sheffield United lad tried to headbutt him so Thommo lamped him. He was surrounded by half of their team wanting to rip his head off, and there he was in the middle of the mob throwing roundhouses like the Tasmanian Devil. That was Thommo, he had a short fuse and he wouldn’t be pushed around. He wouldn’t take a back step from anybody and whilst that was one of his strengths, it was also a weakness and it cost him his Liverpool career when he fell foul of Gerard Houllier after one red card too many.
He was a class player though, skilful, hard working and tenacious. Remember that backheel nutmeg he did at the Stadium of Light to set up a goal against Sunderland? Brilliant. He also scored a late Kop end winner against Chelsea. I was gutted when he left, he should have spent his entire career with us like Carragher and Gerrard have.
Left midfield: Patrik Berger, la la la la la la…. What a sexy bastard, we all loved Paddy didn’t we? Great hair, great left foot, just a proper dashing, suave looking bastard. Over 20,000 turned up to his debut in a reserve game, and the start he made to his Liverpool career has probably never been matched by anybody, it was sensational. Things went south for him under Roy Evans, but Houllier loved him and Paddy was reborn under the Frenchman before injuries began to slow him down. The best left foot I’ve ever seen, he was just absolute quality.
One day me and my mate Chris were at the Academy when Paddy pulled up with his missus and his son little Patrik. His good lady was obviously pretty damn fine, but when they got out of the car we only had eyes for Paddy. You know that scene in Wayne’s World when Garth is eyeing up that girl in the diner, and everything is in slow motion and ‘Dream Weaver’ is playing in his head? That’s what this was like, as Paddy stepped out of his 4x4, hair gently blowing in the breeze, with his bronzed skin and his white teeth shining. “Damn, Paddy is looking hot” we both commented at the same time, barely even noticing his lovely blonde wife. Two straight lads, ignoring a stunning blonde to comment on how hot her husband was looking? It’s difficult to explain that one away, but any of you would have reacted the same way in his presence. So handsome is Paddy that it actually offends me that my wife doesn’t think he’s all that. What the hell is wrong with her?
Strikers: Completely spoilt for choice here as being a striker myself I’ve always favoured our frontmen. It’s probably why I’ve never given much of a shit about keepers. For many, the names Rush, Dalglish and Fowler would spring to mind when discussing their favourite strikers. For me, it’s Paul Walsh, John Aldridge, Titi Camara, Milan Baros, Peter Crouch and Neil Mellor. Suarez is pushing them too, I absolutely fucking love Luis.
The two I’m picking though are Walsh and Mellor. Walsh is my all time favourite player, my hero as a kid so he was an automatic choice whilst Mellor’s goal against Arsenal is my favourite ever Anfield moment. I’d followed his Liverpool career more or less from the start. An ugly ducking when he first broke into the under 19 set up, he blossomed in his second year at that level, suddenly started scoring and then never stopped. I was doing the reserve reports for the Post & Echo back then and went all around the country watching them. ‘The Boy Mellor’ scored over 50 goals in one season at youth and reserve level, and I must have been there for most of them. He also did an interview for TLW around that time so he kind of became our boy.
When he scored that winner against Arsenal I can’t even describe how incredible that feeling was. Steve Hunter’s legendary commentary on LFCTV that day summed up how I felt. I knew how much it meant to Steve because we’d been travelling companions on all of those trips around the country watching the reserves. Travelling up to Newcastle or Middlesbrough on a freezing February night and seeing Mellor scoring for fun, it makes it extra special when he does it for the first team. It was tough leaving out Baros, but three into two doesn’t go unfortunately so Milan has to settle for a place on the bench.