When Rob Jones made his Liverpool debut, aged just 19, he was tasked with marking an emerging talent called Ryan Giggs; at Old Trafford; just 48 hours after signing from fourth division Crewe Alexandra. He did so with flying colours.
Robbed is the story of Jones’ elevation to first-team player at Liverpool, his boyhood club, to eventual early retirement at the age of just 27. He and Giggs’ careers could not have been more contrasting – while Giggs is a still a Man United regular, Jones has been retired 13 years. Without injuries plaguing his career though, the story would be much different – an England regular and one of the best all round full-backs in Europe.
You could say that Jones’ story is a sad one, with a strong case of ‘what could have been’, but this book is filled with funny stories – starting with the opening foreword from Robbie Fowler.
We interview the co-author of the book and former Liverpool FC journalist, Paul Hassall.
Q & A WITH PAUL HASSALL, CO-AUTHOR OF ROBBED: My Liverpool Life – The Rob Jones story
Q. Paul, firstly, tell us a little about the book?
In a nutshell, it is Rob’s life in his own words with some interesting contributions from a select group of big name stars. I suppose you could describe it as a ‘book’ of two halves. The first part focuses on his rise from fourth division Crewe to becoming a Liverpool regular, an FA Cup winner and an England international – all within his first season at Anfield.
However, the fairytale eventually turned sour and the closing chapters looks at how injury curtailed his career at the age of just 27. It was particularly interesting to hear Rob’s thoughts on Gerard Houllier, how Steve McManaman and his Real Madrid teammates dragged him out of the doldrums, as well as his hugely successful nursery business. He’s got a fantastic lifestyle nowadays and spends a lot of his time flying around the world as part of Liverpool’s legends team.
Q. This is the first book you’ve ghost written, how did you find the experience?
It was fantastic. I’ve known Rob for a number of years after doing the odd interview with him. One day I asked him if he’s ever considered writing a book about his career. We met up, had a chat about it and a lot of work later the result is finally here. Establishing a friendship with a guy you grew up watching from the stands is brilliant and I also got to interview some greats along the way. Macca, Robbie Fowler, Graeme Souness and Carra were all more than happy to offer their time. Man United may be fierce rivals but they were brilliant helping me to get Ryan Giggs to contribute too. There’s also a piece with Dario Gradi who oversaw Rob’s development at Crewe. It just shows how highly these people think of him – both as a player and a person.
Q. In the forewords from Macca and Fowler we hear some funny stories of their time with ‘Trigger’ – were there any other stories that couldn’t be published?
Yes – but everyone has stories they talk about with their mates that they wouldn’t necessarily want published! There was nothing outrageous – just lots of funny anecdotes. There were a couple of amusing tales from Rob himself that I ended up leaving out as they disrupted the overall flow of the book.
Q. What is your favourite part in the book?
I like the bits that aren’t common knowledge. How Rob met his wife is a great story and his adventures in Madrid with Macca and the Galacticos are very funny too. I also the like underlying theme of how LFC is part of his family’s way of life, from his granddad Bill – a former Liverpool player in his own right – to his son Declan.
Q. Do you have any plans for more books in the future?
I’ve always wanted to write books relating to football – particularly LFC – and it would great to carry that on. I’ve contributed to a few in the past and written several official souvenir specials such as Fowler!, Carra, 30 years of European champions etc. My aim is to do more at some point in the future.
Q. Obviously Liverpool is a passion of yours. Tell us a little about your LFC supporting days.
I started to understand what it means to support Liverpool in the late 80s and was privileged enough to watch what is arguably the best attacking side we’ve had. My favourite player as a kid was John Barnes. He was one of the best footballers on the planet at that point. Robbie Fowler then stole that mantle in the mid-90s. He was phenomenal in a superb side that should have won the title. It’s a real travesty they failed to achieve the success their talent deserved.
In terms of my favourite matches; both Champions League semi finals against Chelsea at Anfield were incredible. But I don’t think Istanbul – and the crazy way I got there with my dad – will ever be surpassed.
Q. You used to work for the official LFC website, how was that and do you have any memorable experiences from your time as part of the club’s Digital Media team?
I was at LFC mag at first and that was probably the highlight of six to seven years working closely with the club. In my opinion, there was something very special about that period between 2004 and 2007. At the website there was less freedom in terms of the writing, but covering press conferences and matches week in, week out was a great buzz. One of my favourites was our 1-0 win in the San Siro against Inter Milan. That’s a magnificent stadium.
I got to travel all over the world as an LFC reporter, but the pick of the bunch was a trip to the Caribbean with the U18s. I’m still trying to work out how I got paid and owed days in lieu for going there!
Like I say, I had some wonderful times but if I have one regret, it would be just missing out on covering what would have been a crazy CL final against Man Utd in Moscow. We had to fill in our accreditation early so it almost felt like we were already on our way. Sadly we didn’t make it past Chelsea in the semi-finals on that occasion. That was gutting.
Q. You’ve written a few articles for FourFourTwo magazine recently including one that focused on Rodolfo Borrell and his role developing a young Lionel Messi. You also watched a lot of the young lads at our academy during your time at LFC. How pleasing is it to see so many graduating to the first team now?
It’s brilliant to see kids being given a chance. I think Rodolfo Borrell is the one who deserves most of the praise. Speak to any of the lads coming through and they will always bring up Rodo’s influence. His track record at Barcelona says it all. He manages to find something extra in every player he comes into contact with. There’s no way the likes of Jon Flanagan would have made the first-team set-up without Rodolfo – and they’d openly admit that themselves.
Q. Who is your tip for the next academy player to make the step up to the first team?
I’d love to see Conor Coady make it as you won’t meet a nicer, more down-to-earth lad. Long-term I could see him as a centre back but the problem he has is that LFC have a wealth of talent in that area. We’ll have to see if he makes the step up.
It’s hard to say who will break through next as some players fail to push on despite being the pick of the bunch at a younger level. Sometimes it’s obvious and I think Raheem Sterling was always going to be a star. Suso is a great talent if his attitude remains right and Andre Wisdom has it all to be a top-class centre back in the future.
The kids now featuring under Brendan Rodgers were all part of the U18 side a few years back. I’m not surprised to see that a lot of them are staking a claim to be involved as it was a particularly strong group that came through together. The only thing that has surprised me is that Jack Robinson hasn’t made a decent impact yet. I expected him to emerge as the solution to our left-back problems.
[sws_grey_box box_size="600"] Robbed is currently available to buy exclusively from www.robjonesbook.co.uk but should be available from other retail outlets soon. [/sws_grey_box]