With Gerard Houllier’s Liverpool cruising 2–0 up against an out of sorts Blackburn Rovers side, and the clock ticking into the last minute, a fresh-faced youth player joins the fold. His name wasn’t even on the back of the official programme that day, such was his lowly position in the LFC pecking order, but over the next 18 years he would go about ensuring it was etched in Liverpool folklore…
“It seems a long time ago when I see the pictures, but your career flies by in a flash. It’s a whirlwind, the seasons and the years go by so quickly. When I look back at 1998, and making my debut, a boy in a man’s shirt, going into a man’s game, it doesn’t look like me. To sit here so many years later, retired and to think about that seems strange.
“I remember certain things very clearly. It was one of the proudest days of my life. The dream growing up was always to pull on that shirt for Liverpool, and to play in front of all them supporters at Anfield. To actually get there, to experience it, was a very very special day, and parts of it are still very vivid in my mind.
“Growing up I used to stand on the terraces and watch players like John Barnes and Peter Beardsley, who were right at the back end of a very successful period at Liverpool. They were two heroes of mine, in amongst the likes of John Aldridge, Steve McMahon, Ronnie Whelan, Alan Hansen, and then before that I was watching tapes of players like Kenny.
“These were the heroes I grew up with, but when I got close to the first team I was very, very lucky. I had the likes of Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Jamie Redknapp, Jamie Carragher and Michael Owen, who had all broken through before me. All of those players really went out of their way to put their arm around me and to look after me. They helped me settle in, and grow into a regular within Liverpool’s first team.
“I didn’t really think about being a captain in the younger years. The more I got settled, the more games I played, then it sort of became an added dream and an added ambition. It was a bit of a shock how early I got it, to be honest. At 23 years of age I thought I was a bit young at the time, I was still learning, and still developing, but it was obviously a huge moment for me and one of the best days of my life. To be the captain of Liverpool is a very privileged position.
“I like to think I have an interesting story in terms of a journey since my debut, the highs and the lows, the good and the bad. I’ve had millions of snippets and one-liners, all kinds of chats with different people who have helped me, but I always remember something that my Dad said to me when I was at a very young age, which was “This game, football, you get out of it what you put in”, and I think that’s something that’s so true.
“If you commit to football, and you sacrifice, you become dedicated; there are some really, really incredible experiences to be had as a footballer. You don’t really realise when you’re in the bubble and you’re playing week in, week out, what a privilege it is to be a professional footballer. My advice to anyone still playing would be to cherish it.”
This originally appeared in Issue 009 of MUNDIAL Magazine. For more interviews with footballers, ’90s footballing miscellany and exclusive content, subscribe to our quarterly print magazine and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.