SEP 01] THE STUART LINNELL
I Saw Kirkland Exit
Regardless of what happens on the
pitch between now and the end of May, an event I witnessed at
Highfield Road could turn out to be one of the most significant
actions ever taken by Coventry City Football Club.
I was at a meeting with a group
of the club’s younger players, offering them advice on how to
make the best of the media opportunities that will come their
way, when our meeting was interrupted by the arrival of the
manager, Gordon Strachan.
Apologising to me for the
intrusion, Gordon asked Chris Kirkland to leave the meeting. It
was the moment when the England Under-21 International
goalkeeper was told that Liverpool had made an offer for him
that the Sky Blues had accepted because of the club’s parlous
I made a quick and, as it turned
out, accurate assumption about what was going on and my
reporter’s instincts were to contact broadcasters and others
that I work for as a freelance. I could have made a substantial
amount in what we call “tip-off” fees that afternoon.
However, the unwritten rules
prevented me from doing so. I was privy to what happened because
I was there by arrangement with the club and it would have been
wrong to take advantage of that situation. Sometimes you have to
sit on your hands, do nothing and simply make a mental note for
later. It can be tough keeping things to yourself when your
natural inclination and training is to – literally –
broadcast the news, but there are times when you have no choice.
The manager took Kirkland to see
Chairman Bryan Richardson who spelt out the details of the
transfer proposal to him. Kirkland could have said “no”, and
I fully believe reports that quote him as saying that he gave
serious thought to what he would be leaving behind in Coventry.
As is widely known now, Kirkland
has been a Liverpool fan since he was a boy, but I also know
that he holds Coventry City in great affection and has
tremendous respect for the club that gave him the opportunity to
prove himself as the outstanding young English ‘keeper of his
He particularly regards Steve
Ogrizovic in high esteem and looks on him as a mentor, and it
will not be lost on those who know their Sky Blues history that
Oggy spent some time at Liverpool before moving to Highfield
Road. He made European appearances for the Anfield club, even
though he was, for the most part, the main understudy to Ray
Many have noted the many
similarities in style and performance of Kirkland and Ogrizovic
and I believe that Kirkland will go on to achieve even more in
the game than Oggy. That, I can assure you, is praise indeed,
because in my book Oggy was without doubt the best uncapped
‘keeper I have seen.
He deserved international honours,
and only missed them because of the presence through his career
of the likes of Clemence, Shilton and Seaman and, I am
convinced, because he played for “unfashionable” Coventry
rather than one of the so-called bigger clubs.
Assuming Kirkland gets more of a
first-team chance at Liverpool than Oggy did, his move should
provide him with the platform to secure international
recognition at the highest level. If he gets his chance, he will
be the regular England goalkeeper in time for the 2004 World
So, his departure from Coventry
will be very significant. For him, as an individual, and for his
hopes and ambitions. For Coventry City football club, who can
make their bank manager happier for a while at least, but must
now look to the future on the pitch somewhat less certainly than
if Kirkland had stayed. And for Magnus Hedman, who was set to
join Everton but now has the chance to reclaim his first team
place with Coventry City, if he decides to stay.
The Swedish press have quoted
Hedman as saying that he knew the Kirkland deal was on two weeks
ago. I doubt that Magnus said that, because I don’t believe it
was the case.
Liverpool have regularly
expressed interest in Kirkland and may well have asked about his
availability two weeks ago, but it was the strong likelihood
that their bid to sign Polish star Jerzy Dudek would collapse
that prompted them to back up their enquiry with an amount of
money that the Sky Blues could not ignore.
In the event, Dudek and Kirkland
both signed, leaving Liverpool with an embarrassment of
goalkeeping riches with more than one departure from Anfield due
shortly as a result.
And as Chris Kikland starts the
next phase of his young but burgeoning career, the Sky Blues
prepare to take on Grimsby without him. They will also be
without the suspended Lee Hughes, and even though skipper John
Eustace should return, I understand that Julian Joachim will not
be risked yet. His debut remains on ice because of the ankle
injury picked up pre-season that is taking a worryingly long
time to heal.
There’s talk of a fans “red
card” protest at Highfield Road on Saturday after the
disappointing early results. Those organising it say the protest
will be aimed at Gordon Strachan and Bryan Richardson. I just
hope that it doesn’t backfire on the pitch.
Whatever you think of the current
management, whatever you think of the individual players, it’s
our team out there wearing Sky Blue.
Please make sure they know you
are backing them.