Heighway '77 revisited

Simon O'Hagan meets the Liverpool old boy helping to shape Anfield's future
Click to follow
The Independent Online
With his distinctive shank of brown hair and a moustache that owed even more to the fashion of the day, Steve Heighway, BA, was very much the student prince of the Liverpool team of the 1970s - a dashing, spindly-legged winger who flitted past defenders and supplied the crosses for John Toshack and Kevin Keegan.

Nineteen years after playing for the last Liverpool team to meet Manchester United in an FA Cup final, when United won 2-1, Heighway is established at Anfield as the director of youth development - one of the few remaining links with the club's first golden age. Perhaps understandably given his commitment to the club's future, Heighway is reluctant to look back.

"I don't remember very much about the '77 final," he said from behind his desk at the Liverpool training ground on Friday, not sounding as if he especially wanted to. "We didn't play particularly well, but nor did United as I recall. They were scrappy goals. But without wishing to sound blase about it, there were so many big games in those days.

"What I do remember is what a great spirit there was in that team. Even though we'd lost, the atmosphere on the train home was fantastic because we'd already won the League and four days later we had the European Cup final against Borussia Monchengladbach." That was won 3-1 by Liverpool with one of the best performances in the cup's history.

Heighway is now 48. The hair is a distinguished grey, the eyes a piercing blue, and in his cream denims and lumberjack shirt he remains as unfootball- like as he was in 1970 when, at the age of 22, he turned up at Anfield having completed a degree in economics and politics at Warwick University. Graduates in football, nearly always known as The Prof, were as much of a novelty then as they are in 1996, yet for a while Liverpool had two of them - Heighway and another winger, Brian Hall.

In 11 seasons at Liverpool, Heighway won two European Cup winners' medals, four League championship medals, four League Cup winners' medals, a Uefa Cup winners' medal and an FA Cup winners' medal. Having done it all and more, he retired when he was 33, though in this case that meant a couple of years playing for the Minnesota Kicks in the North American Soccer League. He then coached in America for six years - in Florida and with the United States national under-19 team. It was Kenny Dalglish who eight years ago invited him to return to Liverpool, and with Heighway's two children wanting to go to university in England, the time was right.

"There had always been a youth policy at Liverpool, but I think it fair to say that there was a re-emphasis on it when I came back," Heighway said. "The club has been much more aware in recent years of the need to invest in its own players, in terms of staff, facilities and finance. We've taken the view that young players have to be developed, but that is very much the way the Football Association sees it too, and we've done a lot of work with them to try to encourage all clubs to adopt this approach."

Much is made of the development of young players at Manchester United, and they remain market leaders in this, as in so many aspects of the game. But the presence of Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman, not just in the Liverpool team but in the England team as well, is an indication of the strides that have been taken under Heighway. Another product of the scheme, Dominic Matteo, is hovering on the fringes of the first team.

"We're pleased that all those lads have done well," Heighway said. "But I would never claim any responsibility for their success. They've had to do it themselves. What we have done is create an environment in which to learn." To Heighway, teaching football is only part of the business. "People are reluctant to set standards these days, but that's what we try to do here - standards of behaviour towards each other and towards the opposition. We're teaching them to be decent people first and good footballers second. The hope is they carry it on at senior level."

The signs from last week are that they probably will. A Heighway team schooled in the Liverpool tradition of passing and movement contested the first leg of the FA Youth Cup final against West Ham and came away from Upton Park with a 2-0 win. It was an even better result in the light of the absence of their 16-year-old striker Michael Owen, who was busy scoring goals for England in a Uefa junior tournament in Austria. That still left room for others to shine, notably Jamie Carragher (in a role unfamiliar to him in central defence) and Mark Quinn (midfield).

Heighway was not completely satisfied with the performance. "We were very nervous, understandably, but so were West Ham. We can play a lot better than that." For Heighway, that is where there is the potential for satisfaction in his job - in taking young players and seeing them improve before his eyes.

"I could have gone into management with senior sides, but I made a conscious decision not to a long time ago," he said. "You have to do what's consistent with your own personality, and I think the stress at the highest level would have made the game less enjoyable for me. This is an important job and, what's more, the club thinks it's an important job. That's what matters."

Where are the class of Wembley '77 now?


1 Ray Clemence. 47. Manager of Barnet since January 1994, having previously been joint-manager with Doug Livermore at Tottenham, where he ended his playing career.

2 Phil Neal. 45. Become player-manager of Bolton Wanderers in 1985 and then managed Coventry as well as working alongside Graham Taylor as England coach. Recently returned to management at Cardiff City.

3 Joey Jones. 40. Former Welsh international, moved to Wrexham in 1978, then Chelsea and Huddersfield before returning to Wrexham, where he now coaches.

4 Tommy Smith. 51. Fearsome defender who switched to Swansea in 1978, ending his career at the favourite retirement club of ex-Liverpool players. Back on Merseyside, he is an outspoken commentator on radio and in print.

5 Ray Kennedy. 44. Also joined Swansea, in 1982, before returning to native North-east to join Hartlepool. Continues to fight the ravages of Parkinson's Disease and recently published an account of his illness.

6 Emlyn Hughes. 48. "Crazy Horse" joined Wolves in 1979 and then played for Rotherham, where he was player-manager, Hull City, Swansea and Mansfield Town. A former England captain, he enhanced his popularity through BBC's A Question of Sport. Now living in Sheffield and keeping a somewhat lower profile.

7 Kevin Keegan. 45. Manager of Newcastle since February 1992, having come out of retirement to Spain. Left Liverpool for SV Hamburg in 1977 before making comebacks in England with Southampton and Newcastle.

8 Jimmy Case. 41. Has struggled against the odds in charge of Brighton, his first port of call as a player after leaving Anfield in 1981. Then played for Southampton, Bournemouth, Halifax and Sittingbourne before Liam Brady invited him to resume League career.

9 Steve Heighway. 48.

10 David Johnson. 44. Left Anfield in 1982, rejoined Everton and then played for Manchester City, Preston and Tulsa Roughnecks. Now back in Liverpool, he works in insurance.

11 Terry McDermott. 44. Another who returned to a former club when he left Anfield for Newcastle in 1982. Now Keegan's No 2.

Manchester United

1 Alex Stepney. 51. Left United in 1978 for Dallas Tornado. Today runs a van hire firm in Rochdale and coaches Manchester City's goalkeepers.

2 Jimmy Nicholl. 40. Went to Sunderland from Old Trafford in 1982 and later Toronto Blizzard, West Bromwich and Rangers before managing Raith Rovers. Recently took over from Mick McCarthy at Millwall.

3 Arthur Albiston. 38. Only 19 in 1977, stayed with United until 1988, after which played for West Bromwich, Chesterfield, Dundee, Chester City and Halifax. Now coaches under-15s at United's school of excellence.

4 Sammy McIlroy. 41. Northern Ireland international left United for Stoke in 1982 and had spells in Sweden and Austria as well as with Manchester City, Bury and Preston. Now in charge of Vauxhall Conference side Macclesfield and due at Wembley on 19 May for FA Trophy final against Northwich Victoria.

5 Brian Greenhoff. 43. Younger of the two brothers, joined Leeds in 1979 and played in Finland between two spells at Rochdale. Had a spell as a publican but today sells sports equipment for a Rochdale firm.

6 Martin Buchan. 47. Scottish international played for Oldham and managed Burnley. Has established management career with Puma UK and regularly entertains at Old Trafford.

7 Steve Coppell. 40. Remains technical director at Crystal Palace, where he was formerly manager. Hoped to run in London Marathon until suffered serious knee injury.

8 Jimmy Greenhoff. 50. Moved to Crewe in 1980, then to Toronto Blizzard before returning to Port Vale. Coached; managed Rochdale. Works in wallpaper warehouse in Alsager, Cheshire, after insurance business collapsed.

9 Stuart Pearson. 46. Joined West Ham in 1979 and later had coaching jobs at West Bromwich and Bradford City, where he was assistant to Frank Stapleton. Works as a match summariser for local radio in Manchester.

10 Lou Macari. 46. Stayed with United until 1984 before managing at Swindon, West Ham, Birmingham and Stoke (twice).

11 Gordon Hill. 42. Moved to Derby in 1978, then QPR. Also played in Finland, Holland and North America, where he ran soccer school. Now runs promotions business in Cheshire.