One minute he’s the darling of the Kop who hugs a teenager with the brio to invade the modern sanctity of a Premier League pitch. Fast forward just 24 hours and Mohammed Salah is lumped in with the rest; another overpaid footballer; a “horrible man” with “too much money”, according to one observer, while the striker prefers to stare and fiddle with his phone rather than engage with more young fans (and autograph pests) at his car window in Liverpool traffic.
If he’s not exactly in hot water over a potential driving misdemeanour (Liverpool intervened to reduce the temperature to tepid by voluntarily involving police) his ignorance is a tiny, temporary dent in his halo. But, a goal at Crystal Palace a nd if it isn’t already, the story is next week’s fish and chip paper.
A couple of things did strike me though over these two contrasting scenarios. When he smiles and embraces that Liverpool kid – unmistakably a little Scouser in that all-black labelled coat, kecks and trab garb – on the hallowed turf, he’s at work, relaxed and content in a happy working environment.
After training the next day and stuck behind the wheel, he probably just wants his dinner. Plenty of times, I see mates while driving home but the most they’re getting is a wave – if they’re lucky – when the tea is on.
Yeah, he probably does have too much money, but try telling that to the chosen few who have risen, or should we say striven, to the apex of that enormous football iceberg. And, I don’t think you have to be a committed Liverpudlian to realise Salah isn’t an awful guy. He just loves his footy, his family and his God – oh and his phone, but not necessarily in that order.
Part of the whole issue with fans wanting a piece of modern day heroes is access. They exist in an over-the-top security vacuum which actually grates on the paying customer, not to mention to a love-struck supporter.
If the post-war period, before the abolition of the maximum wage, meant you could meet your star player on the bus to the game seems incredulous now, then even into the 1980s you could still get a piece of the action.
For those too young to hang out in that vintage Liverpool era at the social Reds’ favourite Saturday night haunts (The “Conti” and The Holiday Inn, to name just a couple), you could scamper onto the pitch at full-time and give your favourite player a congratulatory pat on the head.
I’m convinced national sales of the Snorkel Parka went crazy after hordes of Liverpool scallies were seen on Match of the Day clambering on the sweaty backs of Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness or Phil Neal. Some lads took it better than others, but to a man they all legged it to the dressing rooms on the last peep of the ref’s whistle. No offence was taken because an innocent teenage dart onto the pitch wasn’t punishable with a banning order or enough moral opprobrium to last a lifetime.
They do say, never meet your heroes. I wouldn’t go that far but tread carefully. Pick your moment.
A few of us collared an under-pressure, post-heart ordeal Gerard Houllier for a photo after a pre-season friendly at Fleetwood. His traumatised face and his plea to “take it quickly, pleeaaasee!” still haunt me to this day. We loved Gerard but still wonder if our clumsy intrusion was another tiny step towards his eventual breakdown.
I’ve met Kenny a few times. The thing with the King is this. Everything is a joke to him, even if it’s not funny, even if you’re not meant to get it. But, he means well and he always smiles.
With a few notable exceptions, mainly Londoners in those dreadful early 90s and Hodgson times, Liverpool players have been sound with me. Honourable mention must be made of Mark Wright (1992 Cup-winning skip) who kept me talking life and footy so long at the Grand National that he caused a row between me and my Mrs. And similar warmth to John Barnes who once educated me for an hour on a flight home from Dubai while standing in his socks.
As I say, choose your moment carefully, even if means getting a whiff of Digger’s feet.
And stop knocking on Egyptian fellas’ electric windows.