Dempster: I really hope Suarez plays
Mansfield captain is a Liverpool fan and can't wait to take on household names to help pay mortgage
When John Dempster went to his first Liverpool game aged 10, they thrashed Tottenham 6-2, with Ian Rush and John Barnes each scoring twice. In 1996, as a present for his 13th birthday, he saw them beat Newcastle 4-3 in a match often cited as the best game in Premier League history, settled in stoppage time by Stan Collymore. Ever since, he has equated Liverpool with special matches and special players.
It is why he is so excited about their visit to Mansfield Town in the FA Cup this afternoon. He and his dad will be among more than 7,500 people at the Blue Square Bet Premier side's One Call Stadium, otherwise known as Field Mill.
Will he see Luis Suarez, the Premier League's man of the moment after four goals in his past two games, or perhaps Daniel Sturridge, just signed from Chelsea for a fee reckoned to be £12 million? Either way, it promises to be memorable. The only downside is that whoever Brendan Rodgers, the visitors' manager, goes with as Liverpool attempt to win a place in the fourth round, Dempster will be marking him.
Now 29, the one-time Scotland Under-21 defender is Mansfield's captain. "I really hope Suarez plays," he said, despite the possibility of personal humiliation. "He is an unbelievable player, one of the best strikers in the world. He can score a goal from nothing. He can make Premier League defenders look silly – so that's something for me to look forward to.
"You can't plan for him. As we've seen in the last couple of games, he can be unplayable sometimes. Whoever plays it will be a strong side, but you want to see the likes of Suarez, household names you see on Match of the Day on a Saturday night."
Steven Gerrard will not be there. The Liverpool captain has been granted a rest after playing in every minute of the Premier League season so far. But with Rodgers still short of options up front and Sturridge unlikely to play a full match, Suarez may still be involved.
Mansfield, then in the Third Division, last met Liverpool in a League Cup tie in 1970, when they lost a replay at Anfield after a 0-0 draw at home in which they had a goal controversially disallowed. The previous year they had knocked out West Ham – Moore, Hurst, Peters et al – in the FA Cup, when 21,000 crammed into their ground, fans hanging from trees and sitting on rooftops.
Relegated from the Football League in 2008, Mansfield were Blue Square Bet Premier play-off semi-finalists last year and are in contention again. Dempster, who spent three months at Field Mill on loan last season, joined them on a one-year deal in July, having been released by Crawley Town. Football at his level, he says, is about "playing for your mortgage".
"I'm not one of those who says that players in the Premier League get paid too much," he said. "If somebody wants to pay you £150,000 a week you'd be a fool not to take it. So I say good luck to them.
"You look at figures like that and you can't get your head around them," he added. "At this level you are fighting for your next contract, so you can pay your bills and pay your mortgage. Cup games like this one are just a treat really."
Not that he has dismissed the possibility of winning this afternoon. Four years ago, he and the giant Exodus Geohaghon, his central-defensive partner, were in the Kettering team that threatened to derail Fulham in the fourth round until the Premier League team scored three times in the last 13 minutes, winning 4-2.
"They brought on Danny Murphy and Bobby Zamora and that changed the game," Dempster said. "Realistically, it is going to be a difficult afternoon for us. But if we prepare properly, the small chance that there is for us becomes a little bit bigger.
"We have players who can score goals, and we are quite a physical side, all big lads. Exodus has a long throw and we work hard at set-pieces – that's one of our strengths.
"And the pitch is quite boggy with the weather we have had," he explained. "We'll get the odd chance and if we can take one, it could be interesting."
Kettering, in fact, is Dempster's home town. The family moved from Scotland, settling in Corby, because the steel industry offered work. His father, Ian, hails from Muirkirk, a former mining village in Ayrshire, which is also, as it happens, why they support Liverpool.
"Muirkirk is the neighbouring village to Glenbuck, where Bill Shankly came from," Dempster said. "My dad wrote letters to Shanks, fan mail really, because of what he had achieved. He still has the replies. That's why he followed Liverpool."
Blue day for Reds: Worcester defeat brought in Shankly
It is 54 years since Liverpool lost to non-League opposition in the FA Cup, and while their 2-1 defeat by Worcester City was the most embarrassing in the club's history it helped usher in the years of glory.
Liverpool were in Division Two (now the Championship) and drifting when they were drawn away to the Southern League part-timers. Bad weather meant the match took place on a Thursday afternoon in freezing fog on a rutted, muddy pitch which Worcester fans helped cover with more than 10 tons of salt to prevent it becoming frozen.
Liverpool, including the England international Alan A'Court, Jimmy Melia, who would lead Brighton to the FA Cup final in 1983, and Ronnie Moran, later a celebrated member of the club's Boot Room, conceded a comical goal after 10 minutes.
Worcester, skippered by Roy Paul, who had led Manchester City to FA Cup success three years earlier, went 2-0 up after a Dick White own goal. Geoff Twentyman, later a noted chief scout at Liverpool, scored a disputed penalty but Worcester hung on. The defeat left Phil Taylor a lame-duck manager. Later in the year Liverpool hired Bill Shankly; the rest is legend.
Mansfield Town v Liverpool is live on ESPN, kick-off 4pm
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