Ahead of fans in England returning to stadiums, Arsenal legend Ian Wright sat down with Liverpool star Trent Alexander-Arnold to discuss his earliest memories of football, meeting Steven Gerrard for the first time, his drive to become the best, and what it feels like to play without fans in stadiums.
Ian Wright: Where did your love of football start and how old were you?
Trent Alexander-Arnold: I think it was my big brother [Tyler] and I remember being like 4 or 5. He had gone down to the local astro’s and there were little training groups going on for like under 7’s, under 8’s on a Saturday morning. I remember being stood on the fence and I used to cry every time, but they said I was too young to play!
IW: You’ve spoken about the influence of your brothers before but just tell me a little about what it was like in your house growing up?
TAA: It was mental – if you say this to anyone who’s not been part of football they're going to think you're crazy. We played football all the time. It was nonstop. Any time of the day -- apart from school – we'd play football. If it was raining we'd go inside and do the same in the hallway with two doorways. One would use the front door and one would use the dining room door as they were opposite to each other, and you had to score with a pair of socks or a ball, whatever.
IW: What were your earliest memories of football on TV?
TAA: I remember growing up, I was a Rooney fan. He was obviously a local lad but he had the hype at the time. I must have been about 5 or 6 when he’d broken into the first team. He was doing crazy things like ‘that’ goal against Arsenal. I remember watching Henry as well. My mum always says that I used to watch loads of Match of Day – video tapes of old matches from the 70’s, 80's, 90’s.
IW: Who was the player you idolised most growing up?
TAA: Gerrard. He was everything to me. When I was growing up I just wanted to be him, no other way about it. I wanted to live how he lived, I wanted to play how he played, I wanted to kick a ball how he did. I’d walk down the road and I see an empty bottle and I’d run up and strike it, and shout ‘Gerrard!’. To be fair I think a lot of kids in the city were doing the same thing!
IW: What was it like when you met Stevie for the first time?
TAA: There was a Champions League game and he was suspended. At that time I played for Liverpool and they gave us complimentary tickets – I think it was me, my brother and my mum who went. Before the game we all went to the players’ lounge and then he walks in and I don’t think I've ever felt that feeling. You know when you don't think someone’s human? You've built them up so much you don't even feel like they're a real person...you just crumble! We got a picture and stuff like that. He was amazing with us and it’s a day that I'll never ever forget.
IW: How did you become the player you are today? What do you think set you apart?
TAA: Just playing all the time. I never intentionally practised when I was really young but the more you play it’s the old statement of 10,000 hours. I'm there thinking I want to play as much football as I can, and I've done that for my whole life. I've always found the competitive side of it more beneficial – so if I want to work on long range passing I’ll turn it into a competition because that's how I get the best out of myself. So I’ll say to someone “bet you can't do this, let me see what you can do?” [like with Jesse Lingard & the crossbar challenge] Even now I’ll grab a teammate after training and I’ll be striking a ball with different techniques.
IW: Tell me a bit more about those Anfield nights? I remember all I wanted to do growing up was play at Anfield!
TAA: I'm telling you there’s something in the stadium, like spiritual. It’s just something in the atmosphere, you can feel the history, you can feel [the force], yeah. The Barca game was obviously amazing but that City game [Champions League in 2018], I've never felt like that. The only negative about those nights is you can't speak to your centre back as you can't even hear them. You're screaming at the top of your lungs, and they can't hear you! You're trying to tell them “Your shoulder, watch your shoulder” but they can't hear you. That’s the only negative but it’s a positive really.
IW: What was it like to play without fans?
TAA: It’s difficult because you don't realise how much fans influence game plans, like with momentum and the sounds you can hear… I miss the fans so much. It feels empty without them. Even though you know they're watching at home and they're all over the world tuning in, it's not the same without them. Football’s not the same. Obviously times are hard and stuff like that but it's the world we live in right now. I miss the route into the stadium, all the fans there, tens of thousands waiting to greet us every single game. No matter what there's at least ten thousand fans just waiting to watch the bus come into the stadium, it's crazy.
IW: What was it like to win the league this year after all those years waiting?
TAA: I was just sat there in the living room with my mum, I was on the couch and she was on the other couch and we weren't even speaking. We were just watching TV and it just hit me what I was about to do and how much it actually meant. After Chelsea beat City it was massive and we celebrated it and that, but it never really sinks until you get your medal and the trophy. It’s probably a bit cliché but it’s like a family. The way the club is as a whole is just so special... There's been tough days over the 30 years, dark days and really emotional days. You think back to how close we've come to winning the league and how hard it’s been on the fans. But they have always been there and there's always been that support no matter what position we find ourselves. I think as a Liverpool player and being a Liverpool fan, you understand that it was the league that everyone wanted.
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