I have been wondering whether to share this topic in the forum for a few weeks now, just because I didn't know where to start with it. The whole point of this thread is to enlighten the small amount (and I mean small amount) of Rawkites on here who are unfamiliar with the way the academy used to operate and the way it has been operating in the past few years. This post is going to be at a youth level and not first team level due to my own personal experience, which is where the idea for this post came from. So please allow me to explain.
I've been playing football since I was 3 years old. I joined SSC Whiston when I was 4 years old and football became my life. My dad is an avid Liverpool fan and passed that wonderful tradition on to me. He took me to games, bought me kits, videos,posters etc.. Just like 95% of kids in Liverpool, I wanted to be a professional footballer more than anything, and would give anything to do it. So I practiced everyday, most of my coaching came from my dad (who represented his country, Libya, at U21 level) before moving to Liverpool when he was 20.
Anyways, I started to stand out as a player and got noticed a few times. We had a great Junior team at SSC and the only trouble we would come up against was when we played Whiston Juniors (ring a bell? stevie's junior team). They were a great team, and when we played them 5-6 scouts would turn up to watch every time. We played Whiston in the spring cup in 1996 and the sidelines were packed with people. I was 9 years old and loved playing football and I managed to have a cracking game. we won 3-2 and I bagged a free Kick and scored form a corner ( I meant it, Honest
After the game my dad came up to me and told me that he had been talking to a few scouts and had obviously picked Liverpool from the bunch, and told me they wanted me to train with them. It was unbelievable, and to this day I can remember that moment. So the day came when I would go to the academy. My dad and I turned up at Melwood 1 hour early, we pulled in and parked and just sat there taking it all in. After about 20 mins we saw other kids turning up and started walking towards the astroturf that was there at the time at the far end of the pitches. When training was about to start there must have been at least 28 kids there. All for one age group. So training went on, I can't remember the details, The only thing I can remember from that session was the amount of parents crowding around Steve Heighway, who was walking round watching all of the sessions that were going on.
My experience of the academy was a memorable one. We trained twice a week and everytime I turned up I'd be in awe of the surroundings. I remember we had two squads at the time, because there were so many kids there. There were kids there who seemed like part of the furniture. The coaches knew them well, The parents were in on all the jokes and never missed a chance to have a talk to the coaches, especially Steve Heighway. The training, as far as I remember was lots of ballwork, much different to the turn up, run round the pitch once and then have a game for an hour that I was used to. The staff were very friendly, they would always say hello and generally seemed pleased to be there. The facilities, even then were much better than I'd ever seen before. I'd played, at that time, on lots and lots of pitches around Liverpool and I couldn't believe the amount of grass that was on the pitch at Melwood. They had groundsmen on it all the time, and they would never miss a chance to tell you to get off it if you strayed on. The long path towards the astroturf was always ample opportunity to knock a long ball on to the pitches just so you could go and get it. We weren't treated to the lavish lifestyle of the first team, so we wore our own clothes to train in and our own boots. I remember one kid, who was constantly in trouble (because he was a bitter). He turned up to Melwood with an Everton top on. Steve Heighway happened to walk round the corner as we were all walking towards the pitch. He glanced at the kid, ran over to him and told him to get it off or go home. We trained at night, so we never got to see the first team train. They kept us very much separate and we weren't allowed special treatment, because we weren't professionals, we were just kids with a chance.
Steve Heighway was very much the centre of it all. He spoke with the parents, oversaw the coaching sessions, handled the games and was the big figure around Melwood. Everyone seemed to want a piece of him. The parents were always going out of their way to promote their kids and so on.I still hold to this day that alot of becoming a pro is who you know, not how good you are. Case in point Christian Poulsen
. At this stage, it really was just all the face of Liverpool that you saw. We did alot of small sided games and patterns of play, the real top of the line stuff that I had never seen before and was mesmerised by.
I was at the academy for 2 years, until I was 11 and then I remember vividly, the 2 coaches that we had at the time invited around 15 of us into a room. They told us that they had to trim their squad because they were forming one team and entering the youth leagues and that unfortunately we were not part of the plans anymore. So my Liverpool dream was over. As I look back on it now, I remember fondly the time that I spent there. I often think if I had been more mature would I have tried harder. Melwood was a phenomenal experience. For a kid, who loved everything about LFC it was a dream come true.
My second experience of the academy came a few years ago when I was 20. I was at Edgehill University doing my degree in sports science, and that fateful end of 3rd year came when I had to do my dissertation. My head lecturer at Edgehill, Graham Smith, is a youth coach and scout at Everton and has been for years. Anyway, the fella is an absolute legend, and dead easy to work with. So i thought, while I'm doing my dissertation, I could use his contacts to get what I need to get a good mark. I had a meeting with him, and he suggested I do it on Education in young professional footballers. He told me that Liverpool was the place to go to for that kind of information, because their programme for youth players was really good. What I had planned to do was compare a Liverpool's education system to a championship club and write my dissertation on the differences. So I chose Tranmere as my championship team (who Graham also put me in contact with).
So I travelled to Kirkby academy to have a meeting with one of the fellas at Liverpool, who oversees the tutoring of the youth players. Think his name was Dave. So he spent an hour telling me about what the lads get up to during the day. He said that they come in around 9, eat breakfast, train for 2 hours and then they go to school. The schooling is provided on the grounds of the academy, by the tutors and covers things like coaching, English language, and some science. He said the qualification they would come out with would be an NVQ in coaching. He made it clear that alot of the lads consider themselves professional footballers already, and are above these sorts of things, so a massive emphasis is placed on learning. The discipline level is high, with lads not being allowed to play if they were not performing in the classroom. After that he gave me a tour of the academy. The facilities are second to none. Some of the stuff I saw was unbelievable. They account for everything. The gym shits all over David LLoyd and JJB and then with the addition of the physio rooms and all of that equipment it's an athletes dream. The pitches are class aswell. As someone who's played on many a shit pitch, you become a turf management specialist and stop to appreciate an amazing pitch when you see one. There is such a winning tradition placed at the academy and it seemed as if they have it drilled into them that this club is everything and you are nothing without it. You will fight for this club, because it will not let you down. It's a business run by fans, who more than anything want it to succeed, making sure they give 100% every day they are there
So from the academy at Melwood to the Academy at Kirkby, I realised that we are a club on the move. We were always at the top and we are making every effort to get back there. There seems such a good work ethic in both places, everyone understands who they work for and they run like clockwork. It's the epitomy of doing a job that you love, just because of the name you are associated with. I obviously haven't been for a few years, not since my dissertation, but I can only assume that we are continuing to grow and develop.
This was just a brief summary of my experience, plus a small amount of info on the experiences that young pros go through. The love I have for this club is unending and I am just glad that I had the chance to be part of something so special. Even if it was only for a brief period of my life.
Make no mistake these are exciting times at Liverpool FC and the club is in a better position than it has been in a long time. Long may it continue!