IT WAS late May, 2005. Just days later, Liverpool would pull of the impossible, beat AC Milan and all become stars . . . no, legends.
Here I was, though, on my way up the garden path of a modest Crosby home to meet a gentleman who, despite playing over 300 games and winning a League title for the Reds, wouldn’t be comfortable with such hyperbole.
Laurie Hughes, a Scouser (his mum and dad owned a chippy in Wavertree) who joined Liverpool at the end of the war and played for them at centre-half until 1957, died this week, and I have nothing but fond memories of my afternoon with him.
I was putting together my book, in which 12 players talked about their favourite game for the club. Among them were Ian St John, Phil Neal, John Barnes and Jamie Carragher – but I was keen on talking to someone about the team built by George Kay in the post-war years.
Laurie was perfect. “I don’t know how much I remember,” he laughed as he showed me into his living room. He needn’t have worried – I was there for hours wallowing in his anecdotes, enthusiasm and wit.
His father was an Evertonian, and hoped his son would end up at Goodison.
“The day I told him I was off to Anfield, there was a bit of tension in the Hughes household,” said Laurie, though the £10 signing-on fee seemed to help.
“I didn’t see a penny of that,’ he laughed. “My dad’s reasoning for having that off me was, ‘I brought you into this world, son. You owe me!’”
Laurie’s favourite game was a win at Wolves in 1947 that helped clinch a fifth title for Liverpool. He walked back from the kitchen armed with another cup of tea, his eyes lighting up as he reminisced about that sunny day in the Midlands.
“Wolves were clear favourites,” Laurie recalled. “They had a fine team, had beaten us at Anfield and a crowd of over 50,000 passionately filled their stadium.”
Kay’s Liverpool, though, were well drilled and crammed with talent. Jack Balmer, Bill Jones, Albert Stubbins and Billy Liddell were a match for anyone and even Wolves greats Billy Wright and Stan Cullis couldn’t prevent a 2-1 away win.
Laurie never stopped smiling as he looked back on his time in red. “I loved every minute of it, but then again who wouldn’t? I worked with the likes of Bob Paisley and battled against greats such as Nat Lofthouse.”
Conversation soon turned to the modern game. “I like the look of this boy Wayne Rooney,” he said. “He’s like Nat, looks like he can mix it.”
Would he like to have played now? “The money would have been nice, but I wouldn’t change my team-mates for the world. My years at Liverpool were the greatest of my life.”
I asked how he fancied the Reds’ chances in Istanbul. With a glint in his eye, he smiled. “They’re going to do it, lad. I can feel it.”