Steve Nicol Highlights ‘Magic’ Merseyside Derbies Among Fondest Memories of Liverpool Career


Steve Nicol Highlights 'Magic' Merseyside Derbies Among Fondest Memories of Liverpool CareerAs the 30th anniversary of his debut for the club passed last month, Steve Nicol took time to reminisce about his Anfield years, revealing a few secrets about phone calls with Kenny Dalglish and how the team prepared for the 1984 European Cup final.

Spotted by Geoff Twentyman, who watched the youngster "five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten times and nobody knew," at Ayr United, the £300,000 deal struck with the Scottish club for his services was among Bob Paisley's most prudent moves.

Nicol would go on to repay the Reds with 468 appearances and 46 goals, collecting a European Cup, four championship medals and three FA Cups during his 14 years representing the club.

Growing up in Troon, a traditional golf town, the young Nicol was fascinated instead by football. "Everybody knows Troon for the golf," the Scot explained to LFC TV. "But football, as far as I can remember, is the only thing that's ever mattered and I've ever done."

His commitment was initially rewarded with a part-time contract at Ayr, where he would spend two seasons. Extra employment was required to make ends meet, with Nicol trying his hand at various jobs, with differing fortune. "I was probably the worst builder's labourer you've ever seen in your life," he confessed.

By the age of 19, however, building sites would become a distant memory as the European champions travelled north of the border searching for a defender to replace Phil Neal.

Nicol, unaware at the time that the Reds were scouting him, revealed: "I heard of Liverpool's interest probably two nights before I signed. I was pretty much told what the contract was and I was like, 'No problem'.

"I think Bob signed me to play right-back to replace Phil Neal. I think they were probably fortunate that I could play in other positions, which I'm sure they didn't know until they tried me out."

In keeping with the Liverpool way, the teen would spend the majority of his first two seasons at Anfield in the reserves, punctuated by a debut on August 31 1982, against Birmingham City.

That didn't stop the aspiring Nicol from casting a hopeful glance at the first team, though. He said: "Initially, the one big thing not just for me but everybody in the reserves was looking at the first-team training over the other side of Melwood — that's where you wanted to be. I always remember thinking, 'I want to be over there.'"

Soon he would be. Joe Fagan's appointment as Liverpool manager in 1983 would herald the beginning of Nicol's regular position in the starting line-up. "I didn't feel part of the furniture until just after Joe Fagan took over, that preseason. When Joe took over, I felt I should be playing.

"I think he played me left midfield to start with because he knew I wanted to be in the team and probably didn't want me to go anywhere, which I wouldn't have done anyway."

Nicol featured on 38 occasions for the Reds during the 1983-84 campaign, running a gamut of emotions as he found his feet. Injury ruled him out of the Milk Cup triumph over Everton, but two months later he was introduced as a substitute during the European Cup showpiece against Roma.

Describing the team's preparation for the match in Italy, Nicol said: "The build-up we had is absolutely nothing like any team in the world has today. We went to Israel for three or four days, chilled out, had a few beers, sat in the sun.

"I think we came back home for a couple of days and then went to the final. We had a great group, the team spirit was second to none. I didn't think I would play but I figured I would be getting on."

Selected to take the first penalty in the shoot-out following a 1-1 draw, because in training before the match he was 'the only one that scored', Nicol missed. But disappointment quickly turned to joy as the Reds lifted their fourth European Cup title.

A year later, friend and colleague Kenny Dalglish became the boss, a decision that Nicol took in his typically calm stride: "He phoned me up and said, 'I'm the manager now, you've got one chance to say what you want and after that, you do as you're told.'

"From the minute I went to Liverpool, he was as respected as anybody and whenever he told you anything, you listened. We knew he wouldn't stand for any nonsense."

Under King Kenny, the Reds would engage in consistent battle with Merseyside rivals Everton during the 1980s, emerging with a league and cup double in 1985-86. Nicol recalled the meetings with the Blues fondly.

"I don't half miss battling with them," the 50-year-old remembered. "Getting rattled into Peter Reid and knocking Graeme Sharp around, it was great. I loved to play football but loved to compete as well. They were a great side but the fact that both teams liked a fight as well was magic."

Many supporters cite Dalglish's crop of 1987-88, of which Nicol was a member, as Liverpool's finest in recent memory, but the defender was reluctant to overlook the side he first encountered when discussing the Reds' greatest.

"Because the team I started in had Neal, Graeme Souness, Ray Kennedy, Alan Kennedy, Sammy Lee, Phil Thompson, Alan Hansen, if I was to say yes, I would kind of feel disrespectful.

"That team played a different type of football. The team played in Europe the way it did every Saturday — keeping the ball. The later team was about getting forward, getting after people, taking people on, making quick passes and scoring goals.

"It was a totally different style of play, with the same premise but everything was done at a faster pace. Which made it great fun. We worked hard but we got the rewards."

Nicol remained a stalwart in the starting XI at Anfield until 1994, but time was catching up with him and his spell with the Reds ended in January 1995, when he joined Notts County.

"I got old, fat and slow!" he laughed. "You lose a yard, you can't do the things that you used to do. I was fortunate that I could play centre-back and use my brains to cover things up. It comes to us all. It's the worst moment in a player's career because you don't know what's wrong. It's just something that happens to everybody."

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