'I felt a sense of belonging but it was right to leave Reds'

Saturday 07 Mar 2015
David Thompson was a favourite at both Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers

On Sunday Liverpool welcome Blackburn Rovers to Anfield in an FA Cup tie for the first time in 15 years.

Watching from the stands will be David Thompson, who played for the Reds that night as they went down 1-0 to the side from the division below.

Two years later, with Rovers back in the Premier League, Thompson was making a name for himself at Ewood Park.

Liverpool v Blackburn Rovers

The FA Cup
Sixth Round Proper
4pm, Sunday 8 March 2015
Anfield, Liverpool
Winners receive £360,000 from FA Prize Fund
Live on BT Sport

Though he will be glued to this weekend’s Cup quarter-final tie, he is hoping he will soon be back in the game he was forced to quit in 2007.

Thompson, known for his creative and tenacious style of play, saw a promising career that had taken him from Liverpool to Bolton, via Coventry, Blackburn, Wigan and Portsmouth, ended by a persistent knee injury just after his 30th birthday.

And the Birkenhead-born former midfielder then turned his back on football while he came to terms with life after playing.

“My decision to retire really wrecked my head,” Thompson admitted. “It was not something I wanted to do but I was forced to do.

“I felt like I was a bit bitter towards anyone who could run properly, so I spent time at home. I stepped away and in hindsight that was the wrong choice for me.

“I felt a bit embarrassed by the way my career had gone. I became an average player once that injury struck me. I was working twice as hard in the gym, putting in so much effort without the results.

David Thompson

David Thompson joined Liverpool as a nine-year-old

“I changed my game, and became a conductor – everything came through me instead of being someone who was looked upon to go and create. I was getting the ball and looking for the creator.

“I just thought, I’m not letting anyone down, but you’ve probably got a youngster in the reserves who could do what I’m doing.”

However, Thompson’s period out of the game gave him time to think and to ponder, and soon the passion that made him a favourite with fans wherever he played was back.

“I got really bored and my hunger and desire returned,” he told TheFA.com. “I got my UEFA B and A coaching licences and have spent time in clubs up and down the country.

David Thompson

'Thommo' moved to Blackburn from Coventry in 2002

“I’ve not been employed anywhere, though I could have been, I’ve not taken any of the opportunities. I’ve only been coaching so I could take a look at things and see how it’s done, and it’s not something I enjoy doing.

“But I love managing; I love the tactics of the game, team shape, looking at players, motivating players."

Thompson continued: “The reason I retired is because I was in that bubble as a footballer and it wasn’t a good place for me to be at that time. 

"To step out into the real world, have to fend for yourself and to see what it was like, you have to deal with new situations. Some of the situations I’ve had to deal with in the last five years have stood me in good stead to be a good manager.

“I have been applying for jobs over the last 12 months and hopefully sooner or later one will come up.  

David Thompson

The Rovers midfielder against former Reds team-mate Steven Gerrard

"I feel I’ve got so much to give and so much to offer. I thought there was a certain level I needed to be at, but if I have to go anywhere to prove myself, I will.”

Thompson grew up at Liverpool, joining his boyhood club as a nine-year-old and within a decade he had made his debut for the first-team.

He played over 50 times from 1996 until his move to Coventry City four years later, and also won caps for England at Under-21s level. He was sad to finally leave the club he loved, but it was ultimately the right decision.

“I loved my time at Liverpool, I loved that club and it was a club that I had been with all my life - I felt a real sense of belonging,” said the 37-year-old.

Nathan Blake scored the winner in 2000


“I always knew I was good enough to play for the first-team. I came through with Carra [Jamie Carragher], Michael Owen, Stevie G - Danny Murphy was there too, so there was a good English heart.

“I never really clicked with Gerard Houllier and I was put out on the right-hand side and I just couldn’t show how good I was.

“I didn’t want to leave Liverpool but felt I had to to prove myself. When I did go I started to show what I could do.

“The spell I had a Coventry enabled me to grow as a player because I played in several different positions.

“I played up front, on the right, in midfield and in behind, and I would never have got that opportunity at Liverpool to develop so quickly."

After impressing as a regular with the Sky Blues, he signed for Blackburn in 2002 and it was his form in Lancashire that earned him an England senior call-up in October 2002.

Though he did not end up getting on the pitch in the two games against Slovakia and Macedonia, with an established midfield including David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes in front of him, he says that international recognition was down to him enjoying playing under Graeme Souness at Ewood Park.

David Thompson

An England call-up came in 2002

“I was playing really well at the time, I was influencing games, I was scoring goals, getting assists and having a real contribution to my team and we were playing well.

“I felt like, even though I wasn’t playing in my favoured position, I was more comfortable on the left-hand side for Blackburn, which was enabling me to enjoy my football.

“Graeme Souness was a fantastic man, a fantastic manager and I listen to him on the telly now and his expertise is second to none.

“The guy gave me so much confidence to go and play and I really did enjoy it.

“Getting into the England squad was recognition of my hard work. Maybe it was a pat on the back and proof that I did make the right decision to leave Liverpool.

David Thompson

Thompson battles with Xabi Alonso

“The unfortunate thing was, when I was hitting my peak again, an injury struck to rob me of my potential.”

Nowadays Thompson has to make do with watching games, rather than playing. And while he continues his hunt for his first chance in management, he keeps his eye in as a spectator and pundit.

Sunday’s meeting between his two old clubs will mirror The FA Cup tie in 2000 – that was settled by Nathan Blake’s late winner – as Championship Blackburn once again head to Anfield as underdogs.

Having been on the wrong end of a Cup shock, Thompson does not wish to make any predictions but believes, with the form Brendan Rodgers’ side are currently enjoying, it will be a tough ask for the visitors with a place at Wembley on the table.

“It was a weird result in 2000 – I remember being in the changing room afterwards thinking ‘how have we just lost that?’," he recalls.

“Teams seem to get inspired in The FA Cup, especially when they come to Anfield.

David Thompson

Thompson felt 'a sense of belonging' at Anfield

“Blackburn have some good players and the one I think will be a handful is [Rudy] Gestede up front, he’s an awkward character, wins every header and will be difficult to cope with.

“They are also difficult to beat and Gary Bowyer has got them playing some really nice football and has been very good for them.

“It will be hard for them because Liverpool are playing so well, and have great players themselves.

“[Philippe] Coutinho has impressed me most. The guy is phenomenal and this season he is coming good. He’s relaxed that bit more and he’s developing so quickly – he could easily become proven world-class.

“He’s become so important to Liverpool over the past three months, he’s really stepped up to the plate and is maturing and developing as a player.”

Thompson added: “But it’s not to say an upset can’t be achieved. This one is going to be very interesting and I’m not hanging my hat on anyone.”

And as Thompson knows only too well, football is far from predictable.

By Jamie Bradbury FA Editor