To the match-going football fan, a team may, on occasion, appear to be just 11 players out on the field and a manager cutting a lonely figure in the technical area. Without giving further thought, an entire club can seemingly be boiled down to these 12 souls.
However, the players on the pitch and the manager on the touchline are just the clockface. They are, undoubtedly, the main event of the piece; they are why thousands of supporters line the stands week in week out in normal times.
Yet, they are just the visible part of something much greater. As the hands tick round and draw our attention, it is the turning cogs which are unseen behind the clockface which keep them effortlessly turning.
Should these cogs stall or stutter, then it will be seen on the face of the clock. In football, these hidden cogs are the club’s backroom staff. The coaches, dieticians, physiotherapists, board members, grounds people, media staff and many others. They are the cogs which keep the hands turning.
These behind-the-scenes staff members work tirelessly throughout the week with the sole focus of having the team ready for a Saturday afternoon. Then, once the players cross the white line, there is little influence they can have on the ensuing 90 minutes.
One of those cogs which has kept many a clockface turning during his time in the game is veteran physiotherapist Ian Liversedge. In December of next year, he will have spent 40 years working in the beautiful game.
Over that time, physiotherapy has come on leaps and bounds through the development of sport science – something which Liversedge has witnessed first-hand during his career.
Speaking exclusively to The Football Pink, he said: “My dad was a sports journalist – Stan Liversedge – he was assistant sports editor of The People in Manchester.
“So, I was brought up around footballers. Footballers were regular visitors to our house. In those days, journalism was a bit different to what it is now. So, I had a football background, right from an early age.
“Obviously, I wanted to play. Everybody wants to play, everybody fancies themselves as a player.
“I played football and I was a failed footballer really. I played at Everton and Blackpool, then I went and played non-league and always had an interest in sports injuries.
“To be honest, in those days, if you got injured you were treated by somebody who wasn’t qualified really. They’d just run on with a bucket and sponge.
“There were qualified physios but not many of them worked in football. So, if I got injured, I went to see qualified physios and I thought, ‘I could do this, it’s quite interesting this’.”
So, in 1979, Ian began his journey into the world of physiotherapy by studying it at the University of Salford. It was shortly after this time where club physios began to transform from the ‘bucket and sponge man’ to what we see today.
Liversedge would see this transformation in football physiotherapy as he lived and worked through it. In fact, the now-Tranmere Rovers physio was one of the first of the cogs that would become an integral part of today’s backroom teams.
He explained: “I was one of the early physios, you know. There had been physios. When I was at Everton, they had a qualified physio but he used to wear a white coat – it was like hospital. I was one of the originals.
“When I started at Newcastle United, I was kit man, physio, fitness coach and dietician. I had to go and organise all the meals when we stayed over. I took some of the training – the fitness side of it.
“We had to pack the kit, me and the first-team coach had to pack the kit on a Friday. So, I was four jobs rolled into one. Now, it’s two people for each of those jobs in many cases.”
During the final year of Liversedge’s studies at the University of Salford, Ian cut his teeth by helping the club he is currently employed by from the December of 1981 to the summer of the following year.
However, the Birkenhead club could not afford to hire Ian in a full-time position at the end of the season, so, with the advice of Rovers’ then-manager Bryan Hamilton, Liversedge pursued opportunities elsewhere.
That would see the newly-qualified physiotherapist land his first full-time physio position with the Toon during the summer of ’82.
Later in that same summer of Liversedge’s arrival, there would be another arrival in the North East. This time, though, it was from the South coast as the Magpies secured the services of Kevin Keegan from Southampton – a time which Ian remembers fondly.
He said: “I went in July 1982 to Newcastle and I started on the Tuesday and they said, ‘Bring your passport because we’re going to Madeira on a pre-season tour on Friday.’
“So, I drove all the way up there, got myself into some digs, took my passport, went to Madeira on the Friday on the pre-season tour and the manager – Arthur Cox – he didn’t turn up to Madeira. So, I asked the assistant manager, I said, ‘Where’s Arthur?’
“He said, ‘Ah, he’s signing Keegan on, what a load of crap.’ Anyway, while we were in Madeira, Kevin Keegan signed for Newcastle United.
“When we went back, we flew back to Newcastle and drove to St. James’ Park into the car park there, it was absolutely hammered. I’ve never seen so many fans. Keegan mania started.
“I’d just started my first job in football as a physio, so, what an introduction that was. Two years I spent there. We got promotion into Division One – but that was full-on.
“It was full, full-on. It’s like it is now in the Premier League, it’s a full-on job. Except the difference is, now, there’s three or four of them doing it, I was the only one doing it.”
Ian’s two full-on years at Newcastle, following his spell with Tranmere, would stand the physio in the perfect stead for a career in football which has spanned almost 40 years.
Liversedge would leave the Toon for Oldham Athletic in 1984 and remain at Boundary Park until the mid-90s. During this period, under the stewardship of the legendary Joe Royle, Latics enjoyed their heyday and several moments in the sun.
In 1990, the club reached the semi-final of the FA Cup and the final of the League Cup. A year later they were promoted to Division One with a last-minute goal on the final day of the season. Another term on from that and Oldham became one of the founding members of the Premier League.
Athletic and Liversedge would enjoy top-flight football for another two years before their zenith had been reached and a decline, which some would argue has not yet halted, began.
Royle departed and, shortly after, so too did Ian. However, from the mid-80s to the mid-90s Latics encompassed the ethos of well-oiled cogs working in unison to keep the clockface successfully ticking.
Oldham were by no means the most fashionable of clocks, but their imperious tick captured the acclaim of the nation.
Following his departure from Boundary Park, Liversedge would work for clubs such as Manchester United, Stoke City, Burnley and Huddersfield Town. Almost 40 years on from the beginning of his journey, Ian finds himself having come full circle by being Tranmere Rovers’ current club physio.
However, while football can present extreme highs, it can also do the exact opposite. Something which Liversedge suffered at the end of the 2019/20 League One season, with Tranmere being relegated on a points-per-game basis after the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ian explained: “Relegation is not nice. This relegation is not like a normal relegation, they’ve relegated us. To be honest, we would have got out of it.
“We were quite confident that we would have got out of it – we’d built a team. We had a horrendous injury list with up to 12 players out at one time; not with simple injuries either, with serious ones.
“So, last season was very harrowing, but relegation isn’t nice. I got relegated at Oldham and I got relegated at Stoke and now I’ve been relegated at Tranmere.”
After a career in the game, Liversedge was keen to pay homage to the unseen work of backroom staff. Without their unison in whichever walk of the game they work in, he believes that any success would be impossible.
“The backroom staff, they all pull together. You have to have a really good relationship with your backroom staff. If you have one bad apple, it ruins everything. Especially at the lower levels, you all need to sing off the same hymn sheet,” Liversedge stated.
“You can’t be successful without it, it wouldn’t happen. Luckily I’ve had more success than I’ve had failure in football.
“I think I’ve had eight or nine promotions, but you don’t get those promotions if you’re not a team. You’re a team on the pitch and you’re a team off the pitch.
“They’ve got to be in harmony as well. If the team on the pitch is at loggerheads with the team off the pitch, then the players won’t play for you. You’re all in it together and the lower down you go, the more important that is.”
So, to the match-going fan that only sees the 11 players on the pitch, plus the manager in the technical area, and not the hours on the training pitch, in the medical room, in the gym or wherever it may be – perhaps the whirr of the cogs should be just as appreciated as the tick of the clock.