Irons' mettle test is double-edged reward

Huddersfield's stand-in captain is benefiting from a summer move and relishing the chance to settle scores against Liverpool
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Steve Bruce, the Huddersfield Town manager, had a knowing and mischievous look as he popped his head round the door to speak to Kenny Irons. "Are you a Liverpool fan then, Kenny?" he asked before ducking away, chuckling to himself.

Steve Bruce, the Huddersfield Town manager, had a knowing and mischievous look as he popped his head round the door to speak to Kenny Irons. "Are you a Liverpool fan then, Kenny?" he asked before ducking away, chuckling to himself.

Kenny Irons can categorically be described as not a Liverpool fan. However, he is not one of those Evertonians who will drive a mile out of his way to avoid passing Anfield - "I take my mum shopping sometimes and have to go by their ground" - but suffice to say he would prefer not to watch Granada Soccer Night if Gerard Houllier's team have won that day.

Which will make this Sunday a day of emotional extremes for Irons. Win or lose he will have to watch Liverpool, because Huddersfield Town have been drawn against them in the third round of the FA Cup. Indeed as stand-in captain for the First Division side he will have a pivotal part to play in the outcome. To succeed will be delicious, to fail... well, perhaps the family cat ought to be taking a holiday.

"I'm a massive Everton fan," he said. "I used to go everywhere watching them. Trevor Steven was my favourite player, but in the Eighties they were strong everywhere. A fantastic side.

"And it's fair to say I like to see Everton win and Liverpool lose because it makes it a better household from my point of view. All my family are Evertonians. My uncle has never set foot in Anfield, he hates them that much."

Irons, 29, has been to Anfield, playing there aged 11 in a seven-a-side and in reserve games for Tranmere Rovers, a club he joined as a teenager. It seemed he would be that rare item, a one-team player, but in the summer Steve Bruce made a move for him and £450,000 later he now leads the First Division leaders.

It was Bruce and what he represents rather than Huddersfield who swayed the deal and it is clear the manager and captain have a good relationship, as the banter proved. "I played against him when he played for Sheffield United," Irons said with just a hint of relish. "I think I skipped past him once or twice and, of course, I have to tell him that."

He has skipped past a few others, too, this season. No one would describe him as a lighteningly quick player but, at 29, he lets his brain and experience do the running and no one has done more for Huddersfield's cause this season. Which is why Bruce made him captain when Chris Lucketti broke his leg.

So well did Irons play against promotion rivals, Manchester City, that the Manchester Evening News, which does not normally notice anyone not wearing a City-blue shirt, positively purred about him recently and against Wimbledon in the Worthington Cup he was voted man of the match.

For a man who had been with one club and someone who has lived in Liverpool all his life, he has discovered that a change can be beneficial. "It was a wrench leaving Tranmere in some ways but it didn't worry me," he said. "Sometimes you think you're there for life but things arrive in football. You need new challenges, and you can get bored doing the same things with the same people. It's the same with any job, but they've accepted me straight away and made me feel at home here."

As he was speaking, Irons' nose was bleeding, the outcome of an accidental knock in training. The image fitted nicely with the battered and knowing old professional he is, a man looking for last hurrahs before he gets to his 30s. Losing to Wimbledon in the Worthington Cup had cut off one opportunity, now he has others.

"We had the better chances," he said ruminating over the Wimbledon game. "We were denied a penalty late on and it wouldn't have been an injustice if we had won. But playing Wimbledon is very different to playing Liverpool, long ball as opposed to keeping it on the floor and passing. They're both Premiership sides but will be totally different tests.

"Sometimes people say there's not that much difference between the First and the Premier Divisions but we know there is. They're getting stronger and every year teams who get promoted are getting relegated the next season. It's a big step up and Liverpool will take some beating."

Then he thought about the prospect of the upset and a slight smile came to his face. "I've got a few friends who are season ticket holders who go home and away and they think we might do it," he said. "These are genuine lads who don't go around just criticising and they say Liverpool aren't playing that well. They've got a few injuries and as we're at home we've got a chance."

But even the arch Evertonian in him could not blind Irons to the true priorities and getting promotion would be worth far more than even beating the old enemy. "We're doing very well but I'd like to be in the same position come Easter," he said. "Beating Manchester City helped a great deal because if they'd won they'd have been eight points clear and that would have taken a lot of getting back.

"Everyone wants to play in the Premiership. It would be lovely in the future to tell my kids, 'I played in that league for one season'. Hopefully it will be with this club."

If it is, or even if there is a replay this time, he will be heading for Anfield, not just for a reserve or a junior game but for a full-blown contest, which will provoke just a little excitement in the Irons family. Maybe even his uncle could be persuaded to go.