My mum had a cupboard full of brand new left shoes and worn out right ones until Dave Bessell taught me to kick with both feet

9th December 2005 at 00:00
Portrait by Brian Harris

All the kids at Ranworth Square junior school thought the world of Dave Bessell. He was a gentle man with blond curly hair; always smiling, always encouraging and he never shouted at us. He taught religious studies, but his passion was football and he was the first person to introduce me to any kind of soccer training.

We had a good school team and Dave got us to stay behind after school for shooting practice. I spent hours kicking a ball against the old bomb shelters. In the summer months I played football morning, noon and night, kicking out the toes in my shoes so hard I needed a new pair every week or 10 days. My mum had a cupboard full of brand new left shoes and worn out right ones until Dave Bessell taught me to kick with both feet.

At eight years old I was an all-round sportsman, good at anything to do with synchronisation and timing. I was the city high jump champion, swam for Liverpool and played cricket to a good standard. But football was my big love and in my first season in the school team we won the league and got to the cup final. Every young kid in Liverpool wants to be a footballer and Dave Bessell offered us organisation, structured training and coaching.

The head, Dave Mackay, was also a big influence on my future career because he was the person who encouraged me to go to Quarry Bank high school when I passed the 11-plus. John Lennon had left just as I joined the school but his reputation was well established. The Beatles phenomenon was starting to take off and a lot of school textbooks with Lennon's name in them suddenly went missing.

Mr Mackay thought it was the best school for me because of its reputation for being good at sport as well as getting top academic results. He was a man of few words and a lot of smiles. He smoked a pipe and was tall and dignified. We all lived in fear of him, for no great reason, because he certainly wasn't a tyrant. Mr Mackay was the secretary of Liverpool boys'

football team and he tipped off the team's manager, Tom Saunders, to watch me play, with the result that I became the first high school pupil to represent Liverpool boys.

At 14 I was training twice a week with Liverpool boys, playing twice a week with them and for the school and swimming for the city. I was also opening bowler and batsman for the Quarry Bank cricket team. Eventually I had to make a choice between football and swimming - and soccer won hands down.

One day I arrived home to find a Manchester United scout waiting for me in one room and an Everton scout in another. Scouts from Aston Villa and Chelsea had also, unknown to me, been watching me play. I was a big lad for my age who could kick with both feet, head the ball and had a good leap. I played for Lancashire boys and was selected to captain the North v South in the England boys' trial, but the school insisted I play for them instead.

That was what prompted me to leave school early and join Everton full-time.

I was middle-stream academically. I wasn't going to get straight As or go to Oxford or anything like that, and my parents supported my decision. The teachers at Quarry Bank were disappointed and tried to talk me into staying on, especially Arthur Emmett, the head of sport, who hoped I'd play cricket for England. But football was my number one priority and I left school with no qualifications at all. I took a couple of O-levels at night school, but by then my head was turned and very little studying was done.

My ambition had always been to be a professional footballer. Even my essays were often about football. I had a terrific education and enjoyed school.

It was a big risk to walk away, but once I knew professional clubs wanted me, my mind was set on kicking a ball for a living.

Football manager Joe Royle was talking to Pamela Coleman

The story so far

1949 Born Liverpool

1954-60 Attends Ranworth Square junior school, Liverpool

1960-64 Quarry Bank high school

1964 Joins Everton football club

1966 Becomes youngest Everton player

1970 First of six England caps

1974-77 Plays for Manchester City

1977-80 Plays for Bristol City

1980-82 Plays for Norwich City

1981 Named Player of the Year

1982 Becomes manager of Oldham Athletic

1994 Becomes manager of Everton, who win the 1995 FA Cup

1998 Becomes manager of Manchester City

2002 onwards Manager of Ipswich Town

September 2005 Publication of Joe Royle, the autobiography (BBCBooks, Pounds 16.99)

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