Leroy and Liam Rosenior: 'People think I'm lying when I say I wouldn't be bothered if Liam wasn't a footballer. But he's my son. As long as he's happy, I don't mind what he does...'

Leroy Rosenior used to be a footballer and now manages Brentford. His son Liam is a rising young star at Fulham. The two joined Glenn Moore for a cup of coffee and talked about pushy sporting fathers, the time when Leroy was Liam's boss and the racism they have both encountered as players
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"People have their family business, sons grow up to do what their father did, and so have I." The way Liam Rosenior tells it, it is the most natural thing in the world for him to have followed his father, Leroy, into the football business.

If only it were that simple. Liam has benefited from inheriting his father's genes and, probably, his name. But, he points out, being the son of the father has not always been an advantage. Nor, insists Leroy, did he get much of a familial leg-up.

Liam now plays in the Premiership at Fulham, while Leroy manages nearby Brentford in League One. But they have twice shared a club. At Bristol City, as Liam came through the youth system, Leroy was working his way up the coaching hierarchy. Then Leroy, when managing Torquay, signed Liam on loan.

"At Bristol City I was involved in the Under-21s and he was at the academy," Leroy remembers, "but Torquay was difficult. I was manager and I brought him in for three months. There were problems. It did put pressure on our relationship but we came through it. People think you are biased because he is your son. They're right and I'm not ashamed of that. But I made sure I brought him in for football reasons. He helped us to get promotion and did fantastically well. The supporters wanted him back, but I couldn't get him."

Except for the time his father dropped him at Torquay - after which he did not talk to his dad for two days, tricky given they were sharing a house - Liam found it harder at Bristol. "When you are trying to make it, you have other young players saying, 'You're getting favouritism because your dad is a coach'. There would be parents complaining I was moving up quicker than their children because of it. I found that hard because I was young and not confident enough to deal with it. I had a lot of problems, with players trying to cause fights, doing things to my boots and so on. I look back and think it was jealousy. I had to overcome that and it made me a lot stronger mentally.

"When I went to Torquay I knew I was good enough to be there. I took a step back down to play at Torquay. People said, 'Oh, he's failed at Fulham, he's not going to make it.' I wanted to prove people wrong and that was a major stage to do that. I'm grateful to my dad for giving me that chance. I learnt more in three months there than anywhere else. At Torquay there was no assistant manager - just my dad, the physio and the physio's dog. We didn't have any training equipment, no indoor facilities. The training pitch was a cabbage patch and if it rained too hard we worked on the beach."

When Liam was born, in July 1984, Leroy was seven weeks short of his 20th birthday and playing for Fulham, the first of three spells he would have at the club. Which makes our meeting place, The Café at the Cottage, a coffee bar tucked into the corner of Fulham's listed Stevenage Road stand, highly appropriate.

It is soon clear the pair are comfortable in one another's company and Leroy is a fond parent but not, like so many sporting fathers, an overbearing one. He rarely watches Liam play live. "It's not about me," he says. "I like to keep my distance and let him call me and tell me about it."

Not that there was any choice when Leroy was at Torquay. "I tried to get down there when I could but it's a long way," says Liam. "Now I see a lot more of dad, which is great, especially as he now has a baby girl [Millie] so I can get to know her. My brother, Darren, was already living by Griffin Park so we all meet up as I drag my fiancée along to watch Brentford whenever I can."

Darren plays rugby union for Rosslyn Park. "He was a more natural footballer than me," says Liam of Darren. "I think he was looking for his own identity," says Leroy. "I'm proud of him doing what he wants to do."

By the time Liam began to appreciate his father's profession Leroy had moved on, via QPR and Fulham again, to West Ham. "When I was at school, kids used to say, 'I saw your dad on the television'," says Liam. "That was when I became aware he was in the public eye. It didn't really affect my childhood, except for making me want to play football. I'd get the occasional West Ham fan at school saying to me, 'My dad says your dad played well', or, more often [he adds with a chuckle, and a sideways look at Leroy], 'My dad says your dad played rubbish.' But apart from that I had nice childhood.

"I was never under any pressure to be a footballer. Schoolwork always came first. Mum and dad always impressed upon me I should do my schoolwork and get good grades whether I became a footballer or not because my dad was injured at a young age. Dad didn't coach me. I had to do it for myself. That helped me get where I am. It had to come from me."

"When Liam was very young I realised the best thing was to take a back seat," says Leroy. "I used to go and watch him play. There would be parents screaming at their kids and Liam would look at me all the time for guidance. I would say, 'Go and play, because you can play.' You see too many young kids put under pressure to be successful and do everything right.

"I would always stand 30 or 40 yards behind the other parents, sneak in, sneak out. I would only watch to make sure he was all right. I didn't coach him as such. I'd just give bits of advice."

"People think I'm lying when I say I wouldn't be bothered if Liam wasn't a footballer," adds Leroy, "but the bottom line is he is my son. I'm proud of him but as long as he is happy doing what he is doing I don't mind what it is."

"Dad is the main influence in my career," Liam says. "Not because he was always telling me what to do, but through his presence and that he had done it before. Kids have role models; my dad was mine."

Even now, say both of them, Leroy only offers advice when Liam asks for it. "It is always me phoning him," says Liam. "He doesn't ring up and say, 'I saw you do this in that match - what were you thinking?' That's not the way our relationship is. He lets me get on with things and if I ever need him he's there. My dad will never go out of his way to push me and I think that is the way it should be."

It is an interesting contrast with the Lampards. Frank Jnr was much more overtly coached by Frank Snr. This was not a problem when they were working together at West Ham, but at Chelsea Frank Jnr would look to the bench and see Claudio Ranieri give him one instruction, then see his father in the tier above indicating something else.

Rosenior Snr knew the business had its drawbacks. A degenerative knee injury forced him to retire in his late twenties and he played in pain for much of his career with the final five years being "absolute agony". Rosenior, who walks with a limp, adds: "I would have fluid drained off my knee every Friday, about half a milk bottle, and cortisone injections. I was told it would be all right. You wouldn't do it now. People say I should have a plastic knee, and I'm sure I'll need one at some point, but I get by."

"Dad would sleep through Sunday," interjects Liam. Hampered by injury, Rosenior Snr moved on to Bristol City, then in the First Division [Championship]. There he partnered Andy Cole, later a Fulham team-mate of Liam's. His penultimate League start, in the final game of the 1992-93, is Liam's most memorable recollection of seeing his father play.

"Me and Darren were mascots and dad scored a hat-trick," says Liam. "It was my first experience of being on the pitch, seeing the crowds and taking it all in. It gave me goosebumps. To come off and then see my dad score a hat-trick was unbelievable. I loved wearing the kit and being out there."

That match was against the club Leroy now manages. He, Peterborough's Keith Alexander, and Macclesfield's new recruit Paul Ince, are the only non-white managers in the professional game. "I've been told a lot of people are hanging their hat on me to do well but I can only concentrate on doing well for myself and hope," says Leroy. "I feel a responsibility to myself to be a success, and on the back of that a responsibility to black managers.

"I knew if I wanted to be successful I would have to take a long route. I'm doing OK. I would like to manage England. I think it is a realistic ambition."

Given Brentford's lowly position in League One, an inevitable result of necessary cost-cutting under the new fan-run administration, such a dream may seem improbable, but Steve McClaren started as Oxford United's youth coach. "He wasn't black," says Rosenior pointedly, when the comparison is put to him.

"Black players are now playing right through the leagues, which is great, but they are not managing," he says. "Football management reflects attitudes in businesses generally. Give people an opportunity and judge them on their work.

"Racism is not just calling people 'black this' or 'black that', it is an attitude. People think just because there is not the verbal abuse, there is no more racism but there is. The ones to watch are the intelligent ones who don't say anything to your face but want to keep black people down."

It is no surprise to hear Leroy say that in his time as a player racist abuse was "part of being a player, you had to take it on the chin or give up playing". It is a surprise to hear Liam say he has encountered racist abuse from an opponent. "It was when I was a young player at Bristol City. I didn't respond very well and I was sent off." As Leroy concludes: "We still have a long way to go."

The Roseniors hail from Sierra Leone, and towards the end of his career Leroy played for the international team. "When I got there, there was this red carpet, it turned out to be for me. That night in the hotel people were bringing gifts, saying, 'Thank you for playing'. It turned out they had followed my career."

Sierra Leone is a troubled country and Liam notes he has only been able to visit once - "twice", interrupts Leroy, "you went as a baby". Liam adds: "I'm proud of where my dad's side of the family came from and I hope people like me and my dad, Nigel Reo-Coker and Carlton Cole can be role models and show people there, there are people from their heritage doing well." His ambition, however, is to play for England and he continues to hope for a recall to the Under-21s for this summer's European Championship finals.

Given his form this season - he is ever-present for Fulham - he should have a good chance. "I'm really happy the manager [Chris Coleman] has backed me. I think my performances have been good but I have a lot of improving to do. Every game I learn and I put those lessons into practice. I want to be seen as a world-class right-back in five, six years."

Today Fulham host Everton while Brentford go to Nottingham Forest. But both have half an eye on next week's FA Cup first round, and the prospect of Brentford progressing to draw Fulham in the third round.

"That would be nice," says Leroy, "I'd tell my players to hoof Liam up in the air."

"I'd be straight on the phone to the manager because I've seen Brentford a lot," Liam responds.

And the rest of the family? "I think my mum and brother would support me," says Liam with a smile.

It's a family affair: Fathers and sons who ply their trade in the football business

* THE CLEMENCES Ray Clemence is employed as a goalkeeping coach with the England national team while his son Stephen, a midfielder, currently represents the Championship team Birmingham City.

* THE FERGUSONS Sir Alex Ferguson has two sons who have followed him into the world of football. Darren plays in midfield for League Two side Wrexham, while his brother Jason is a football agent.

* THE SHERINGHAMS Teddy Sheringham, the 40-year-old England international striker, plies his trade for the Premiership side West Ham United. His 18-year-old son Charlie is in the first-team squad at Crystal Palace.

* THE STRACHANS The former Scotland and Manchester United player Gordon Strachan is now the manager of Celtic. Meanwhile his son, Gavin, is a midfielder who plays for the League Two side Hartlepool.

* THE BRUCES Steve Bruce, a former centre-back at Manchester United, and his son Alex both work in the Championship, but for different clubs. Alex, who is also a centre-back, plays for Ipswich Town, whereas his father manages Birmingham City.

* THE TODDS The former England international Colin Todd is the manager of the Championship side Bradford City, while his son Andy, a centre-back, plays in the Premiership for Blackburn Rovers.

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