‘Gerrard was a gazelle and Rafa told me to shut up!’ – Former Liverpool defender dreaming of FA Cup return to Anfield

David Raven Steven Gerrard Liverpool

It’s been a while since David Raven’s phone was this hot.

“I thought I was done, to be honest, but suddenly everyone wants to speak to you and hear your stories, find out about your career.

“It’s nice. It’s good for the ego, if nothing else!”

It’s a big weekend for Raven. On Sunday he will captain Marine against Havant and Waterlooville in the FA Cup. Victory will see the minnows, who are based in Crosby and play in the eighth tier of English football, into the draw for the third round, alongside the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and, yes, Raven’s former club Liverpool.

“Imagine it, eh?” he says. “A trip to Anfield or Old Trafford, that’d be nice!”

Marine will go into the game with confidence, having seen off League Two opposition Colchester in the first round. Raven converted his side’s fourth penalty in a dramatic shootout, which was screened live in the UK on the BBC’s iPlayer service.

“I didn’t think I’d be getting that kind of feeling again in football,” he admits. “The journey home was a lively one. We were well-stocked, let me put it like that! Win or lose, we were on the booze.”

Raven credits Marine’s manager, Neil Young, for the tactical plan which secured an unlikely victory, though he has warned his team-mates that Havant and Waterlooville, who play in the National League South, could prove an even tougher test than Colchester did.

“They won’t play side-to-side, nice football,” he says. “It’ll be a fight – but one we will have a right chance in.”

Raven joined Marine in September, having spent the previous two seasons at Warrington Town. His career, though, was made in the professional ranks, where he made more than 400 appearances for the likes of Tranmere, Shrewsbury and, most notably, Carlisle and Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

Born on the Wirral, he was at Tranmere as a schoolboy before being signed by Liverpool at the age of 14. He was a right-back in those days – he plays at centre-half now – and good enough to represent England at youth level, alongside the likes of Wayne Rooney and James Milner.

At Liverpool he was one of a host of young players who were given a handful of first-team opportunities, usually in domestic cup competitions, but never quite trusted with a run of games. Raven played four times for the Reds’ first team under Rafa Benitez, including once in the Premier League, but wonders if he’d have more chances had he been coming through the ranks now.

“It has definitely crossed my mind,” he says. “I look at clubs like Ajax and Feyenoord – if they’re going to blood a young player, they give them 20 or 30 games, to see if they can handle the level. How are you going to know after two or three?”

Raven’s contemporaries at Anfield were the likes of Neil Mellor (22 first-team appearances), John Welsh (10), Darren Potter (17) and Zak Whitbread (7). All would go on to enjoy stellar careers in the professional ranks.

All would feature, too, in Raven’s debut match, a League Cup quarter-final against Tottenham at White Hart Lane.

That ended in a penalty shootout victory too, as it happens;a young Reds side defying the odds to beat a Spurs team which contained the likes of Frederic Kanoute, Jermain Defoe, Michael Carrick, Ledley King and Robbie Keane.

Raven had been down to take the decisive fifth penalty, but didn’t need to once Kanoute had missed his.

“I have a good picture of me making a sliding challenge on Defoe,” he says. “I was nervous beforehand, driving in and seeing the stadium it was like ‘oh s**t, this is happening!’ and it took me 15 or 20 minutes to settle into the game, but I think I grew in confidence.

“I loved everything about it; the noise, the floodlights, 40,000 fans. I’d never had that before. I didn’t want the game to end.”

Raven next featured in the FA Cup, in a dreadful defeat to Burnley. “Benitez was fuming,” he remembers. “He told us ‘you young lads, that’s the last time you’ll play’.”

He did play again, though, making his league debut as a substitute for Sami Hyypia at Southampton a few days after the Burnley debacle.

Six weeks later, he was on the bench in the Champions League away at Bayer Leverkusen, but it was here that he began to suspect his long-term future may lie elsewhere.

“We were 3-0 up on the night and 6-1 up on aggregate,” he remembers. “I’m thinking ‘if ever there was a time to put me on, it’s now’.

“Welshy came on, and then Rafa puts Antonio Nunez, the worst player I’ve ever seen at that level, on at right-back, even though he’s a winger. I knew then really that it wasn’t happening for me.”

Raven holds no bitterness towards Benitez, though he laughs as he remembers one exchange with the Spaniard, which he believes sums up their ‘relationship’.

“I was signing a new contract but nothing had happened for a week or two,” he says. “I wanted to know what was going on, so I went and knocked on his door.

“I went ‘Rafa, about the contract’, and he just goes ‘sign it and shut up!’ That was it, nothing else!

“He must have thought I was going in for a few extra quid, or maybe it was a language thing, but I’ll never forget that. ‘Sign it and shut up!’ To be fair, I did!”

Raven would make one further senior appearance, at Crystal Palace in the League Cup, and went on loan to Tranmere before making the decision to leave Liverpool at the end of the 2005-06 campaign.

“My dad didn’t understand me, but for me it wasn’t that hard a decision,” he says now. “I wanted to play.

“I was still involved with England with the likes of Richard Chaplow, Wayne Routledge, Lee Croft. They had 40 or 50 games under their belt and I had three or four. They were becoming seasoned pros and I felt I was getting left behind. I had a year left on my contract, but I knew I needed to get out if I wanted a professional career. I couldn’t stay in Liverpool’s reserve team forever.”

Raven joined Carlisle, where he would spend four seasons and become something of a cult hero.

“We should have gone up to the Championship one year 2007-08,” he says. “We lost to Leeds in the play-off semis, but we had a good team that year. It was a missed opportunity for the club.”

After a hip injury which almost forced him to retire at 24, and spells at Shrewsbury and Tranmere, Raven had briefly considered a career as a plumber before moving to Inverness Caledonian Thistle in 2012.

He loved it in Scotland. “I began to feel like a footballer again,” he says. “We were playing big games against the likes of Celtic, Rangers, Hearts. We were competing for cups and playing in Europe. It was great.”

Raven scored the winner against Celtic – Virgil van Dijk’s Celtic, no less – at Hampden Park in the Scottish Cup semi-final in 2015, but missed the final due to a calf injury. Inverness beat Falkirk to secure the biggest trophy of their 26-year existence.

“I had my moment in the semi-final,” Raven smiles. “That was the pinnacle of my career. It beats playing for Liverpool. The feelings I had that day eclipsed anything.

“I remember walking out for the second half at Hampden and the Celtic fans were singing You’ll Never Walk Alone with their scarves up. Wow.

“I made a little mental note to myself, sort of like ‘remember this moment’, you know? Take a second. Sometimes these things can pass you by, but that moment didn’t.”

He would recommend Scotland to any young footballer looking to forge a career in the professional game. “The exposure is great,” he says. “It was the best time of my career, for sure.”

Raven keeps a close eye on events north of the border now, of course, given the work his former Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard is doing at Rangers.

“I’m desperate for them to win the league and stop Celtic doing the 10-in-a-row,” he says. “Nothing against Celtic, but just because it’s Stevie. What a job he’s doing.

“He’s the best player I played with by a mile. I was blown away by how good he was in training. It was like ‘how does he do that?!’ He was a joke.

“I remember a mate of mine at Tranmere, Martin Devaney. He’d been at Barnsley when they beat Liverpool in the FA Cup at Anfield in 2008, and he used to tell a story about Gerrard coming on as sub that day.

“He said he was like a gazelle. I loved that. That’s a great description of him, the way he moves across the ground. How are you meant to keep up with him? He was just phenomenal.”

For now, though, Raven is happy to look forward instead of back. Marine are in the spotlight this weekend, and so is he.

Source : goal.com