December 22nd: Former Liverpool striker Neil Mellor played 22 times for Liverpool. In the latest piece for the TBT Advent Calendar, Neil takes a look back at his Liverpool memories, and also has a message to give to all the club’s supporters.
When I was asked to write this article for The Bib Theorists, I must admit was a little bit gutted to find out that I had only played 22 times for Liverpool, I always thought it was more and wish it would have been. It may well have been too had it not been for injuries and for me being sent out on loan.
One thing nobody can take away from me and something I’m truly grateful for is to be able to say that I played for Liverpool Football Club and that I have scored for Liverpool Football Club in front of a packed Kop. This has given me unforgettable memories that will last a lifetime, and ones that my young kids have been told about plenty of times already!
I signed for Liverpool aged 16, and after a slow start hampered by injury, I was soon banging the goals in and I ended up scoring nine goals in a youth cup campaign that sadly ended on penalties in the semi-final.
My first-team debut came at Anfield against Ipswich Town on December 4th 2002 in a League Cup tie. Before the game, the then manager Gerard Houllier trusted me enough to tell me and the team that I was on penalty taking duty should we get one.
I won one in the second half but before I had chance to get the ball, a certain El Hadji Diouf had got to it before me and said he was taking it! I thought he was joking! He wasn’t and I wasn’t going to cause a scene with a senior player while I was on debut so I showed him respect. As we were a goal down and because the club had spent so much money on him, I guess he felt that he had to try and justify his price tag and by bullying me off that penalty, he had the chance to go someway to doing that by scoring a goal. He did score but still, he never got anywhere close to showing us why he cost that much money and I never got to get a vital and memorable goal on debut!
Under Rafa Benitez I had two incredible moments from a personal point of view, moments that many fans remember me for. Firstly, in November 2004 I scored against the then champions Arsenal, who were nicknamed the Invincibles having gone unbeaten the entire season before. My goal was a winning goal in the last minute in front of the Kop! A proper Roy of the Rovers moment for me that people still remember and remind me where they were when it went in. I must admit, I love the fact the fans still remember it and enjoyed it as much as I did.
The second moment was more important if not quite as emphatic. To make an instant impact as a substitute by scoring after being on the pitch for just two minutes against Olympiakos to set up the possibility of us qualifying from the group stages was very special. To then be involved in Stevie’s stunning goal and to realise we had done it and actually qualified from the group having been right up against it with 45 minutes left to play will go down as another major personal achievement.
Obviously at the time we weren’t to know the importance of the Olympiakos victory but when we lifted the Champions League trophy in Istanbul for the fifth time in the club’s history, it was brilliant to know that we had all played our part in the success of getting Liverpool to the greatest ever European Cup final ever.
Sadly, injury ended my time at Liverpool and I went on to enjoy a decent career with Preston North End, West Ham United, Wigan Athletic and Sheffield Wednesday. However injury put an end to my career at the age of 29 whilst I was playing at Preston and I was obviously devastated when I realised my dream was over but I couldn’t change what had happened.
I’m just grateful to have fulfilled my dream. I have created lots of amazing memories and had the chance to play professional football for several clubs, and not many people get to say they have represented one of the biggest and best clubs in the world, but I can.
Since retiring, I have moved into the media side of the game and can be found in various different press rooms up and down the country working for LFCTV, Radio City and SKY SPORTS, something that I very much enjoy doing.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for all the support they’ve given me, both during my career and since it ended. I’d also wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a healthy and successful New Year.
YNWA – NEIL MELLOR #33
Oh and hopefully Champions League qualification will be a fantastic belated Christmas present for us all this season!