Liverpool coaches never walk alone

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

“You’ll Never Walk Alone” was a beautiful song introduced to the world in the 1945 hit musical “Carousel” by Rodgers and Hammerstein. But it was in 1963 when the British Invasion pop band Gerry and the Pacemakers recorded the song, took the single to No. 1 for four weeks in the UK charts and turned the ballad into an anthem for the Liverpool Football Club.

Today, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” welcomes the Liverpool team to the pitch over the public address system in every home game at the fabled 45,276-seat Anfield Stadium. The words “You’ll Never Walk Alone” are found in the Liverpool team crest and at Anfield’s Shankly Gate. When Liverpool was struck by arena tragedies that left over 100 fans dead in two separate crowd rushes in Sheffield in 1985 and Brussels in 1989, the anthem kept the English spirit alive.

Two Liverpool coaches were recently in town to conduct a series of football clinics for children and coaches in a visit coordinated by Standard Chartered Bank, the Liverpool FC, the UK Embassy and the Dream Big Pilipinas Football Association. And of course, they spoke about the inspiring song. It was actually an appropriate anthem for their trip to the Philippines as they stayed with over 200 students and coaches and 85 less privileged children under Manila’s sweltering heat conditions to share their knowledge of the world’s most popular sport on the pitches of the British School at the Fort and La Salle Greenhills.

“The song embodies the Liverpool spirit,” said Philip Oliver, a 25-year-old UEFA B license coach and the Liverpool FC International Football Academy lead coach. “We’re a family club and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is a song that means we’re one, united family.” Colin Wilson, 26, said whenever he hears the song played at the Anfield Stadium, it’s a surreal feeling. “They play the song when the team comes out,” said the honors degree graduate of Coach Education and Participation Development. “It’s a beautiful reminder that our players don’t play for themselves, that they play for our team, for our fans.”

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While Oliver and Wilson demonstrated technical drills during the clinics, they also explained what is known as the Liverpool Way philosophy. “It isn’t just about the game we love,” said Oliver. “It’s also about lifeskills off the pitch. The four elements of the Liverpool Way are ambition, commitment, dignity and unity. It’s about hard work. When we lose, we carry on and commit to do better next time.”

Wilson said the Filipino’s natural lack of size isn’t a hindrance in football. “We’ve heard how basketball is very popular in the Philippines but there’s a reason why football is the world’s most popular sport,” said Wilson. “There are a lot of encouraging signs we’ve seen in Philippine football during our short visit – the work ethic, willingness to learn, the desire to get better. We believe that in promoting football, the game will sell itself. It’s not a problem if players in the provinces play on dirt pitches. The key is to have the hunger to play, no matter if the pitches aren’t immaculate, even if there’s no grass. In Brazil and many other countries, stars are born in dirt pitches which are often the breeding grounds of future footballers. We introduced the game to some streetkids in Manila and they couldn’t stop playing. We’ve noticed more and more Asians playing in Europe, Koreans and Japanese among them. That also is a good sign. Any sport needs role models to inspire the kids to play. We know about Neil Etheridge, the Fullham keeper, and surely he’s a massive inspiration to Filipino kids.”

Oliver said he’s aware of the Azkals’ progress up the FIFA standings. “They’re developing the right way,” he said. “For Colin and I, we get a lot of gratification training coaches and kids. Coaches pass on the right message to kids and that’s important. We like training kids because we want them to live their dreams, to become leaders. Football is a fun and team game. It’s a universal sport. Whether you’re coaching in the elite level or kids for recreation, the fundamentals are the same, the values are as relevant.”

For Oliver and Wilson, visiting Manila was more a climate than a culture shock. They’ve been coaching mainly in Europe so the trip to Asia was something new. Among the countries they’ve conducted clinics in are Sweden, Norway, Greece, Denmark, Ireland and Gran Canaria in Spain. “We’ll be working clinics somewhere in Europe when the World Cup begins in Brazil,” said Wilson. “I’ll probably be in Sweden and Phil, in Norway. We hope to find a place where we can watch the matches on TV. We’re proud of the English captain Steven Gerrard who plays for Liverpool. It’s a privilege to work for a club with the history and reputation of the Liverpool FC. My ambition is to really develop as a coach and become a more prominent fixture at the academy.”

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Oliver said his dream is to someday meet his hero Manny Pacquiao. “I love Manny, he’s my hero,” he said. “I really admire him, for what he’s done for his country, for his discipline in training. When he knocked out Ricky Hatton, it was bittersweet because Ricky is English but Manny was like three levels above in terms of fighting skills. I think there’s no better role model for Filipino athletes than Manny. I watch all his fights on TV.”

Standard Chartered Bank has been a major sponsor of the Liverpool FC since 2010-11. Mahendra Gursahani, Standard Chartered Philippines’ CEO, said the bank’s commitment to the Philippines is beyond business. “We also have a strong determination to give back to the communities and this value we share with the Liverpool FC,” he said. “Through football, we also get the opportunity to transform the community by helping disadvantaged children discover new capabilities and build on values and discipline.”

British Ambassador Asif Ahmad said, “football knows no social boundaries and anyone can play … all you need is a big heart and enjoy being in a team.” Dream Big Pilipinas founder E. J. Qua Hiansen said, “we believe that football can be used as a transformational tool in community building, football teaches values and develops character while offering a positive outlet for less privileged children.”

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