Boot room legacy safe in Evans' hands; FA CUP FINAL COUNTDOWN: Old values have given Liverpool a new lease of life as they prepare for trip to Wembley

Phil Shaw talks to the Liverpool manager who has restored the club's fortunes with tried and trusted methods
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The Independent Online
Within the corporate empire that is Liverpool Football Club, the co-operative ethos not only survives but will be an important factor in Roy Evans' preparations for the FA Cup final against Manchester United. The boot room is dead, long live the boot room.

The very term is synonymous with the tracksuited visionaries who built Liverpool into a modern power which, for two decades, left United trailing. The room itself has an aura second only to The Kop among Anfield landmarks, and far greater mystique.

It was, by the manager's admission, "nothing special to look at", a spartan den in a passage beneath the main stand. Lining the walls, on racks, was the footwear from which its name came. Decor amounted to the odd saucy calendar (it was a male preserve), the smell of toast mingled with the whiff of polish, and the only light came from a single bulb.

Yet inside this "scruffy little cubby hole", as Evans affectionately remembers it, principles were established which helped Liverpool to domestic and European dominance. Pass, move and possession on the pitch, unity of purpose off it.

The bricks and mortar have long since given way to a carpeted press lounge following the relocation of the backroom operation to Melwood, a suburban training complex near the Brookside set. But the concept of the boot room is thriving again.

It endures in the both the people Evans has gathered around him and the values they uphold. Foremost among those are continuity, consultation and - in contrast with the more patriarchal set-up at Old Trafford - collective responsibility.

The first of those ideals was what led Liverpool to offer Evans his first managerial post in January 1994. After the slow-burning fuse of Kenny Dalglish's final months and the turmoil of Graeme Souness' reign, a return to the practice of promoting from within was seen as the best way to restore stability and success.

The 47-year-old Evans came to Anfield as a schoolboy left-back. In the summer of '74, when Bob Paisley was settling into the manager's chair vacated by Bill Shankly, he retired at 25 to join the coaching staff. The popular perception is that Paisley and his own successor, Joe Fagan, were already part of a thriving think tank presided over by Shankly.

"The boot room wasn't so much Shanks's thing," Evans explained. "He popped in and out, but it really took off when Bob took over. He and Joe, as well as myself, Ronnie Moran, Reuben Bennett and John Bennison, would sit down and discuss transfers, tactics, whatever.

"But it was more than a talking shop. It wasn't a place where we just nodded - there were some big arguments and bust-ups in there - but somewhere where things got sorted out.''

Tea was always brewing. Visiting managers would be invited in for a drop of something harder. The idea, legend has it, was to loosen their tongues about players in whom Liverpool had an interest.

Shankly's role in boot room history may have been overstated. However, his all-for-one, one-for-all mentality, the legacy of his childhood in a Scottish mining community, also came naturally to Paisley, who had a similar background in County Durham.

"There was no back-stabbing and no one ever wanted anyone else's job," Evans recalled. "Work was the all-important thing, not 'how can I improve my standing?' From the moment we hung our coats in the boot room in the morning, we were all pulling together for Liverpool.

"Everyone was equal and allowed an opinion. Bob and Joe never thought they were top dogs: they were working men. But there was real wisdom in there. Tom Saunders (a headmaster who became director of youth development) once said that in his first few years he didn't say a word. He thought the best thing he could do was listen.''

Players seldom strayed through its door. That has not stopped several from adding to the mythology. Ian Rush's autobiography claimed that the pre-season fitness schedule was taken "to the letter" from a routine handed down by Shankly. Phil Neal, who saw himself as Fagan's successor, called the training regime "rigid" and argued that the fabled continuity was no more than conservatism.

Again the insider's version differs. "Bob and Joe laid down a routine for pre-season which, to a reasonable degree, we still adhere to," Evans said. "But it's not right to say it's rigid. We decide what's best after taking into account things like the weather. We're actually very flexible.''

Some former players have claimed that the boot room were obsessed with dossiers and diaries. Evans' staff still fill in a daily ledger, detailing who trained and who was injured. He views the routine as pooling information on which to base decisions rather than pointless bureaucracy.

Mark Lawrenson felt that the boot room's influence waned after Dalglish succeeded Fagan. As player-manager, Lawrenson said, Dalglish was "one of the boys" in the morning, being put through his paces by Evans and Moran. After lunch, "he was boss and they did as he said".

Dalglish, who was unsurprisingly better acquainted with dressing-room ways, took the unprecedented step of sacking two stalwarts, reserve coach Chris Lawler and chief scout Geoff Twentyman, to bring in his own men. Souness dispensed with Lawler's replacement, Phil Thompson, but the upheaval did not halt Liverpool's steady decline.

The elevation of Evans, who has Paisley's equable temperament and footballing acumen, was designed to restore harmony. This season's tilt at the Premiership title and run to Wembley suggest it was a progressive choice as well as a nod to the past.

Evans' team behind the team are steeped in Liverpudlian lore. Ron Yeats, the captain Shankly called "my colossus", is chief scout. Sammy Lee takes the reserves. Steve Heighway holds Saunders' old brief.

Moran, the first-team coach, has devoted his working life, now in its 45th year, to a club he joined (like Evans) as a teenaged left-back. Bruce Grobbelaar once likened them to a detective double act, with Evans the "good, sympathetic cop" and "Bugsy" Moran "the hard man".

Evans' assistant, Doug Livermore, had dual qualifications for the new boot room. "We wanted someone with experience outside of Liverpool. Doug had worked with Terry (Venables) and Peter Shreeves at Tottenham. But he also had the Anfield connection - we played together in Shanks's time.''

In devising a strategy to unpick United, Evans will consult everyone from Livermore to the youth coach, Hugh McAuley, a fellow Bootle boy and Shankly apprentice. He will also canvass the people who must put it into practice, like John Barnes, whom he regards as a manager in the making. "I go round on a daily basis so I can consider every option, but the final decision is mine.''

These days, Evans revealed, the hard talking is done in a store room at the training ground. "The Melwood store room" may not have quite the same ring as the Anfield boot room, yet its members could soon be pouring their cuppa from the Cup itself.

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