Premier League Review - Matchday 7Oct 4
Shaun Turnbull is visibly shaking as he takes a seat inside the Activity For All sports centre in Bootle, Liverpool.
Turnbull has just completed the 170-mile trip down from Sunderland, where he works as a school caretaker. He has been given permission by the headteacher to take today off because, in less than half an hour’s time, he will be meeting Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson as part of BT Sport’s Reunited series in partnership with The Athletic.
The pair have met before multiple times. But even so, Turnbull is anxious the Premier League and European Cup-winning Liverpool captain and 67-cap England international will fail to recognise him. It has been more than 20 years since he coached Henderson, 31, for Fulwell Juniors Under-10s team and the last time he saw the midfielder at all was around 15 years ago.
It is a lot different for Ian Barrigan, who does not have the same concerns when preparing to surprise Trent Alexander-Arnold.
The Liverpool academy scout is the man fabled for discovering Alexander-Arnold who first played for an under-sevens team, Country Park, at the age of six. The two families have remained close ever since and that’s why when Barrigan calmly walks onto the astroturf pitch, the 23-year-old Liverpool and England full-back immediately berates him.
“I can’t believe you keep sneaking into these shoots, you know!” Alexander-Arnold says, looking round as Barrigan and Turnbull approach. “He loves seeing himself on telly, don’t yer.”
Meanwhile, Turnbull is eager to find out if Henderson does indeed recognise him.
“Can you remember us or not?” he asks with caution.
“Of course I can! How are you doing?” Henderson says putting his boyhood coach at ease.
Turnbull proceeds to congratulate Henderson on his playing career, before showing him a picture he has brought with him, wrapping it in a plastic sandwich bag to protect it on the journey here. It is a photo of Henderson, aged around eight or nine, with his Fulwell team-mates. “Can you remember the lads on that, Jordan, or not?”
“That’s Glen, isn’t it?” Henderson asks.
“Yeah, that’s Glen — our Derek’s boy,” Turnbull answers.
“Micky, Stephen, Callum, Dink…” lists Henderson as Alexander-Arnold trots over to have a look.
When asked by The Athletic how it feels to be reunited with one of his first-ever coaches, Henderson is instantly appreciative.
“It is good to see him. Those days when we used to just travel and play football… They are obviously good memories. (Then to Turnbull) You have done a lot for me, and my dad will be over the moon I have met you when I tell him.
“People like Shaun massively helped me in my career at a very early age. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”
When asked to describe who Barrigan is, Alexander-Arnold steers clear of the sort of joke he’d made when his former coach first walked in.
“He was probably the first person that believed in me and gave me the chance to play football… He just gave me everything at a really young age — the opportunity to play, to enjoy myself, to develop and learn and just have fun,” the right-back says.
“He has always been there for me, throughout my career. I’ve seen him around the academy all the time. I know him and his family really well and our families are really close. So it’s a tight bond. It’s a very tight bond.”
“You didn’t think when he was playing for Country Park when he was seven that he’d be the kid to win the league,” Barrigan says. “So we’ve waited 30 years, haven’t we? I didn’t think when we were in the Walton and Kirkdale league he would be the one winning the league the next time we won it. It has been unbelievable.”
Alexander-Arnold arranged for Barrigan and his son to be at the Champions League final win over Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid two years ago. “Madrid is the biggest one for me,” Barrigan, who can remember Alexander-Arnold getting his photo taken with the trophy at the academy in 2005 after the previous time the club won it, explains.
But as is known, the man who is now Liverpool’s first-choice right-back was not a defender in those early days. “(He played) in midfield and you scored all of the goals didn’t you, Trent! Nine, 10 a game.”
“It’s like that in training, isn’t it?” Alexander-Arnold asks his Liverpool team-mate.
Henderson cuts across to ask: “Was he always a bad loser, Ian?”
“Terrible. In fact, what I do now at the academy is always look for kids who are bad losers,” Barrigan laughs.
“The thing is, he never beats us at anything so he is just constantly in a bad mood all of the time,” Henderson says.
“He used to play table tennis when he was younger — I had to get this one in, he will be gutted now — and I beat him, 21-3. So I always say (to people), ‘Have you beat anyone at table tennis who has won the Champions League? I have!’” Barrigan boasts.
“I must have been about seven! I must have been about seven!” Alexander-Arnold protests. “I am a lot better (at losing) now than I was when I was a kid — I used to cry and everything.”
“He used to cry,” Barrigan confirms. “So what we used to do in training if it was getting a bit boring, we used to give away a couple of penalties against him and the next thing there would be murder. His mum would phone after training and say, ‘He hates you (and) he is never playing for you again’.”
When Turnbull is asked if there are any standout memories he has of Henderson, he asks:
“Am I allowed to show you up?”
“Tell them what you want,” the midfielder says.
“We were in a semi-final once and nobody ever beat us,” Turnbull tells. “It was very, very rare (for us to lose)… I can’t remember who we played. It might have been an academy team. I remember it was a penalty shootout… He stepped up and missed. He got really upset to his dad. He did, he got really upset. But we still won the final five or 6-1 and he probably got a couple as well because he was one of those lads who would run box to box — he’s never changed… If I would have told him to go in goal he probably would have. He would play anywhere.”
“Nothing has changed, has it?” Henderson laughs looking at Alexander-Arnold. On his journey to Liverpool, Turnbull got talking to a Sunderland fan who was marvelling at Henderson’s crossing ability.
“Trent doesn’t appreciate that,” Henderson continues. “He never passes to us he just puts the crosses in. You don’t appreciate my crossing do you?”
“I’ve given you a couple of assists though haven’t I,” Alexander-Arnold retorts.
“Yeah, off corners,” Henderson says. “You are not claiming them! After the AC Milan game by the way he said he meant the corner (for my goal).”
“It was the spin on the ball,” Alexander-Arnold argues. “It’s true.”
“You can’t talk about corners (without mentioning Barcelona),” Barrigan interrupts. “He has taken the greatest corner in history.”
“That is the greatest corner, I’ll admit that,” Henderson yields.
Although he is a Newcastle United fan, Turnbull has plenty of fond memories of the Champions League semi-final and final. He has taken great joy in following Henderson’s career with Liverpool and England from afar.
“You should have kept that one quiet,” Alexander-Arnold jokes when it is revealed who Turnbull supports given Henderson is a boyhood Sunderland fan.
“Sorry,” Turnbull responds. “I have seen you at Newcastle a few times. He gets absolutely loads of stick but not off us. To be honest he is a north east lad so he shouldn’t. But it is Newcastle versus Sunderland…
“There are a lot of people who don’t believe us when I say Jordan played for my team. He did like, he did. I phoned my mate and said I am on my way to Liverpool to surprise Jordan Henderson and he didn’t believe us.”
Barrigan displays the same level of awe at the fact Alexander-Arnold went from County Park to international stardom.
“A couple of years ago I walked in JD (Sports) and there was a fifty-foot poster of him. It was a bit of a shock you know what I mean? It is funny when you see the adverts when you think of him as a little kid arguing with everyone, trying to win games. It’s brilliant.”
Once the BT Sport cameras stop rolling the catch-up continues with Henderson and Alexander-Arnold both posing for pictures with Turnbull and signing autographs for his grandchildren. The friends who failed to believe Turnbull when he said he once coached the Liverpool captain will now be proven very, very wrong.