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ROB JONES the scenes. “I was shy for ages,” he admits. “I’d watched them from the Kop, John Barnes and all that, and suddenly you’re with them – it was weird being on the other side.
“There was a two-week break after the Man United game for the internationals and then it was my first game at Anfield which was another nerve-wracking experience. But it was a good experience, too and thank God I’ve done it.
“I was trying to stay focused, I knew I had a job to do and things went right for me. I liked to get forward and I was fast. With Crewe, it was very tight, people were at you all the time, but when I moved up to the Premier League the pitches were much bigger, there was more space and Anfield was like a carpet – at Gresty Road there were bobbles everywhere! It suited me.
“I don’t know what the lads were thinking about a young kid from the Fourth Division coming in but after five or six games I think they realised I had some ability and wasn’t a bad signing. That was the October and by the February I was playing for England – another big step up.
“I had played for England U18s but I was never sure I’d play for a top team. It’s all about taking your opportunities, that game at Old Trafford could have gone the other way – what would have happened if I had cocked things up? You just never know in football.”
Jones made 243 appearances for the Reds in his eight years at Anfield, a figure that would have been much higher had it not been for a string of serious injuries culminating in the patellar tendonitis (also known as jumper’s knee) that forced his retirement at just 27.
“If I had an injury it was a big injury,” reflected Jones. “I never suffered with hamstrings or calf strains, thigh strains, anything like that and I had a couple of seasons without injury.”
Shin splints put paid to Jones’s chances of playing in the 1992 European Championships and his England curse reared its head again four years later after the FA Cup final defeat to Manchester United (the ‘cream suit’ final – the clobber being David James’s fault, according to Jones).
“I’d had back trouble for a while but scans hadn’t picked anything up,” he said. “We played Man United in the FA Cup final and I was in agony
THE RIGHT STUFF: Rob Jones never let England down at right back
Birthplace: Wrexham, Wales »»
Games at LFC: 243 »»
Honours: FA Cup 1992, » » League Cup 1995
International caps: 8 » »
Liverpool debut: October 6, » » 1991.
Last appearance: April 25, » » 1998
Source: LFChistory.net for the whole match. I went to a specialist and I had a series of scans which showed I had been playing for around 10 months with a stress fracture in my back. I was out of Euro 96 and couldn’t do anything for five months, I was literally away from the club.”
But it was Jones’s knee that eventually forced him to hang up his boots.
“I had the injury for 18 months – every time I came back it would go again and I was playing through the pain barrier all the time. I’d had six operations. Owen Hargreaves has the same problem and Ronaldo was out for two years with it. He came back but it was never the same for him.”
Jones’s knee injury led to a falling out with Gerard Houllier who, after the short-lived joint-manager role with Roy Evans, had taken control of the club in the twilight of the defender’s career.
“We never hit it off from day one,” recalled Jones.
“He wanted to show he was in control and with some of the rules I think he wanted to just piss everyone off and say ‘I’m the boss’. He was given too much power, he took over the club.
“He brought in a strict teacher style, the atmosphere went right down. He brought all these rules in and some of them were fair enough – you’ve got to be into training on time, I don’t think I was ever late, but other things – he banned mobiles in the training ground. Ok, have them turned off in the changing rooms but when you come out I can’t see anything wrong.
NATIONAL SERVICE: Jones (left) with fellow Reds Collymore, McManaman and Redknapp into depression, I don’t think I did but I was down. It was hard to know what to do.”
minutes each way and you can really just stand there and do a bit of passing so the knee is fine!
“There was one occasion he told the press I was acting, that I needed to get out of the treatment room and just train on my knee. He told the press it was in my mind. As soon as that happened that was it for me – my knee was bad, as if I wanted to stay in the treatment room.”
With his time at Liverpool over, Jones joined West Ham on a non-contract basis with the carrot of a deal if he could impress boss Harry Redknapp.
But Jones admits he knew he was fighting a losing battle to revive his career and it wasn’t long later, in 1999, he was advised to call it a day.
“Day one at West Ham my knee was like a balloon,” said Jones. “I played in an Inter Toto match away in Norway and Harry told me to have my knee looked at again.
Jones was offered the chance to link up with former team-mate Mark Wright, who was managing non-league Southport.
But he admitted it didn’t appeal and that, coupled with medical advice and complications over insurance on his knee, meant he decided to walk away from the game completely.
“I didn’t even watch Liverpool for a couple of years”, said Jones.
“It was hard going to watch thinking ‘I should still be out there’. I didn’t even watch games on the telly. People used to ask me to go on panels on Sky
‘It was hard going to watch thinking ‘I should still be out there’. I didn’t even watch games on the telly’
“The surgeon said it’s just tearing away, there’s no hope, you won’t be able to train every day and it won’t hold up to the Premier League.
“You never expect those words: ‘That’s it’ – you always think there will be some miracle operation. I was gutted, I was 27. It’s supposed to be the peak of your career.”
Jones admits the sudden change in lifestyle – from going to training and matches to facing daytime television – was hard to take.
“One minute you’re in the changing rooms having a banter with the lads and going to training every morning then it just stops,” he said. “You wake up, you come downstairs and you can have a laugh with your wife but it’s not the same, is it? A lot of players go but I used to say, ‘Listen, to be honest, I wouldn’t know who is playing’.”
Rob’s wife, Sue, gave him the necessary kick up the backside and in 2001 they launched the Kids Academy Nursery Group and the company has gone from strength to strength.
They are now looking to expand into care homes for children with learning difficulties.
Jones has also rediscovered his love for football, although he says after running his own soccer school for a while he has no desire to return in a professional capacity. “With my son Declan growing up I started going to the match again and I enjoy it now, he said. “I also play for the Liverpool Legends. The games are only 35
“It doesn’t whet my appetite though, that’s gone now, I tried a bit of coaching, it wasn’t for me.”
No Rob Jones interview would complete without the mention of his goals record – or rather lack of it.
Despite being an attack-minded fullback with a decent shot, Rob never got off the mark at Liverpool – something he is reminded of to this day.
“Fans always say to me, ‘I used to put a pound on you – you lost me so much money!’
“I was so close so many times, and I got the opportunities to score the goals. I must admit I cocked some of those chances right up but I hit the post a couple of times, crossbar and I remember one, Man City away and I just had no luck. Ian Rush had a shot, it hit the keeper, and it came to me five yards out and I slid in to knock it in and a City player come in and he sat on it – on the line – it just wouldn’t go in!
“I never had the luck but a big thing for me was getting forward and creating chances for other people. It would have been nice to get one, though!”
Jones though, who boasts FA Cup and League Cup winners’ medals, has no regrets over his career and admits he now looks back proudly at his time at Liverpool.
He adds: “I’ve watched a few games from when I was playing on LFC TV recently and I was talking about it with Jason McAteer and Steve McManaman. The football was attacking, fast, it was exciting. I achieved quite a lot in a short space of time and I’m proud of that.”