Tetchy players? It’s always been like that.

Published: Monday, 26 September 2022

It made me laugh listening to Graeme Souness rip into Jack Grealish last week. Well - laugh and disappoint almost in equal measure. 

We’ve spoken of Souness in a previous blog recently. I mentioned that I know what pushes his buttons. For example - ‘modern players’, as he describes them, drive him mad. What was it he said about them? That’s it. They’re ‘molly-coddled’. That’s what made me laugh. The bit that disappointed me was that Grealish later said he didn’t understand Souness’s problem with him. When I saw that I tweeted ‘that’s the problem Jack’. The problem is that he doesn’t know. He should know. I’ll get back to that.

I text Graeme a couple of times after he’d made his views known. ‘Agreed’ I said. He came back blazing about ‘modern players’ saying how they were all a protected breed. ‘Agreed’ I replied again. Adding ‘it’s always been like that’. I didn’t get an answer this time! 

But it has. Players have alway reacted badly to criticism. Always. I reminded him of the time Kenny Dalglish pulled me when I was a radio reporter on Merseyside.

In a report on a Liverpool pre-season friendly at Wrexham, I’d said ‘Dalglish scored Liverpool’s third with a rare headed goal’. That was it. Nothing too much to get angry about there surely?

Not for most people anyway.

But Kenny didn’t like it. I can still see him coming up the tunnel that led to the dressing rooms and boot room at Anfield. ‘Rare headed goal’ he said as he made a bee-line for me. ‘Rare headed goal? What about the header at….’ And he went on to reel off half a dozen he’d got in the last 100 years. 😂. King Kenny didn’t miss anything. He never did. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve taken late-night calls from him, when he managed at Liverpool and Blackburn, and he’d vent into the small hours about a throw had gone against him - or that a ball that been out before it was crossed and the opposition had scored. I’m exaggerating a tad, but it was always about something simple that had gone unseen and the worst part was that he was always right!

Souness once said to me that he’d had a thousand arguments with Kenny during the time they roomed together at Liverpool. ‘I didn’t win one’ he would say, making the point that Kenny was stubborn and impossible to shift once he’d made his mind up. I once told Kenny this and quick as a flash he came back at me saying ‘well he wasn’t very good at arguing then was he?’ 😂. Souness was right - you couldn’t shift him. You still can’t.

Except I was right about his heading prowess! It just didn’t feel like it at the time. I was a 20-year-old baby making my way and I knew I’d upset him. It was an awful feeling.

But it was a different time. It was kept in-house. No-one needed to know about it. For the most part reporters and players got on in those days. We’d all drink together. I was always with Ray Clemence, who presented a show for us on Radio City, which led to us spending a lot of time together. Clem was smart. ‘Never get caught with a pint glass in your hand’ he would say. ‘You can drink as many halves as you like’. Brilliant! This, of course, was in an era before beer came in bottles.

He got me into trouble with Phil Thompson. Well - him and Dalglish. Clem was conducting an interview with Kenny for his programme, when Thommo bowled in on us, and stuck his finger up Kenny’s nose - trying to disrupt the conversation. It was standard practice around Anfield when the players saw an interview being done.

Clem hated talking to Kenny because he was so sharp and would often make a fool of him. Clem - with the mic in his hand - described the scene on tape ‘and as we speak Phil Thompson has come in and stuck his finger up Kenny’s nose’. ‘Aye’ said Kenny, quick as a flash. ‘And he could pick his own with a boxing glove on’. We pissed ourselves. ‘If you put that in the show you’re barred’ barked Thompson. Of course I did. It was funny. Thommo was as good as his word. He banned me - and he was captain at the time. It hurt.

There was also the occasion when the Merseyside mafia got it. The mafia were the regional reporters for the national newspapers. They were Chris James (Mirror) Colin Wood (Mail) John Keith (Express) Mike Ellis (Sun) and Matt D’Arcy (Star).

The boys were joined at the hip. No-one wrote a story that the others didn’t have. That way nobody got into trouble. I’ve know them file each other’s copy - for different reasons - at different times!

On this occasion Liverpool were having a shocking pre-season. They were always bad pre-season because they didn’t care much about those games, but this time it was really bad. They were getting beaten everywhere. Chances were being missed and they were conceding far too many.  The boys ran stories suggesting that the era of dominance was over. I think it was the Mirror that headlined a piece ‘The Empire crumbles’ in big bold type. That put James in the sights of the squad.

When the season started Liverpool blitzed everything put in front of them. This sparked an angry response from the dressing room for James and the other guys. The players sent them a card - signed by them all - with the inscription ‘The Empire strikes back. Fuck off’. 😂😂 Graeme was one of them.

Different times. You couldn’t put that on Twitter today could you? And you couldn’t talk about it. Can you imagine the storm it would cause? But it makes my point that players have always been tetchy.

There’s certainly more opinions passed these days. Reporters used to write about what they saw on match days, not pieces expressing what they believe they should’ve seen and how a hapless coach had got it all wrong. Imagine what sort of response would follow from Graeme’s dressing room in those circumstances.

Reporters today are all self appointed experts - myself included! Employers want opinions that make for good sound bites. They love to count re-tweets, clicks and visits. They’re more important now than programmes!

But to get back to Grealish. What doesn’t he understand about Graeme’s criticism? It’s simple. He’s done nothing since joining City. No. That’s unfair - he scored an important goal at West Ham at the back end of last season in a 2-2 draw. City had been 2-down. If they’d lost the title would’ve gone to Liverpool for sure.

Not much for £100m is it? Villa secured the sale of the century when they sold Grealish. I’ve always said - wrong team. Grealish slows things down - holds onto the ball too long. That was Graeme’s point. That’s why he spends half a game on his arse. He doesn’t see things quickly enough.

What no-one has asked yet is why Guardiola didn’t know that. £100m? For a player that he says ‘doesn’t need to make assists or score goals’. Who is he kidding? What is Grealish on the pitch for then? Guardiola might as well play me. I’d give them fuck all as well.

Guardiola is often spoken of as a ‘genius’. He’s not. He’s good, but he’s also been lucky to have coached three big teams - where he’s always inherited good players. He’s wasted millions at City. Yes - he’s delivered trophies - significantly, not the big one - but so he should’ve done with the money he’s had.

Meanwhile Souness has said he’ll go on a night out with Grealish so they can kiss and make up. ‘But he’s paying’ said Souness. I told you he doesn’t like putting his hand in his pocket. 😂.