The iconic Nick Tanner thought he’d struck gold when he made his debut for Bristol Rovers, his hometown club. But life was to get better for the fresh faced 20-year-old who was setting off on a memorable football journey.
The Pirates mainly employed Tanner as a midfielder and after passing 100 appearances he was spotted by Liverpool chief scout Ron Yeats, who had been watching striker Gary Penrice at Rovers.
Yeats felt Tanner was better suited at the back and with a whole host of established defenders ahead of him the youngster had to bide his time in the reserves whilst learning his new trade. Tanner made his debut against Manchester City in 1989 and made another three appearances that season.
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The following season was spent mostly on the bench. He said: “There was a change in fortune after Graeme Souness took over the hot seat. Gary Gillespie had joined Celtic and Alan Hansen had retired after a glittering career.
"It was an opportunity for me to push my claim. I missed the first two games but things really took off for me after that. I played 32 of the remaining games that season.
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"I also made my goal scoring mark for the Reds, and what a moment it was – I scored in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. There was no goal line technology then and the Everton lads furiously protested that the ball hadn’t crossed the line.
"I was relieved that the ref saw it our way and awarded the goal.” On that note Tanner wants to talk about the greatest goal he’s seen scored at Anfield. “It was undeniably the own goal I scored against Luton," he laughs.
Graeme Souness’ reign at Anfield saw the record breaking Liverpool team lapse into a period from which the Reds have failed to win a single league title. The horrors of Hillsborough were fresh in the mind and the club and the city were still in shock.
In the week of the Hillsborough memorial and with the inquests taking place Tanner recollects those dark days. “It was such a tragic day to be associated with and what makes things worse is justice is being served and the truth is only finally being unmasked all these years later, which is shameful. My thoughts are with the families during always, especially during this time.”
When you talk to a former Red it's hard not to ask them to single out the best footballer they played alongside. Tanner is unequivocal: "John Barnes was magic. I can't say anything more than that. In terms of sheer ability he was just on another planet."
As a rugged defender at Anfield, Tanner played in a period where hard men ruled the football roost. Intimidation and physical presence was a regular feature and the tough stopper came up against a few who weren’t shy in introducing opponents to their boot studs.
Tanner’s number one is the old king of The Den and the man nicknamed Warlock by Millwall fans. "For me it has to be Terry Hurlock in his Brentord days,” he reminisces. “I was at Bristol Rovers at the time. Hurlock was a tank and many a player was relieved when he travelled north of the border to play for Rangers in the Scottish Premiership."
I asked him about the best player he’d played against and again the answer was swift; “Eric Cantona. He scored three for Leeds against us in the Charity Shield and we got him that transfer to Manchester United. The rest is history."
Tanner's career ended in his 20s following persistent injuries and he remains fondly remembered in Liverpool. “A back problem forced me to retire just when I thought I was making positive career inroads.
"It was a major blow but I have great memories of my time at Anfield. I cost the club a mere £20,000 and always gave 100 percent.
"It’s good to hear from fans, many hold good memories of me. I had great times there. Mike Marsh is my best mate and Bruce Grobelaar’s mad cap antics make him my ultimate football funny guy.”
Tanner achieved not one, but two boyhood dreams during his playing career: "I supported Bristol Rovers so that was extraordinary.
"Liverpool were the best team in the country and it was very special to sign for them. Not many people can say that. I’m really happy with what I have achieved in my career."
Tanner is involved in various ventures and is happy to talk about his exciting plans. “I want to start pushing myself much more. Having sat back, watched and helped other people progress its time I looked after number one for a change. I’m doing work with various media; from co-commentary to match analysis.
“I enjoy being involved and will look to extend spread my wings a bit more. I am also interested in continuing my event management with Global Sporting Ventures (GSV), a sports management consultancy specialising in a number of areas by bringing the world of business and sport together.
"I share a vision with GSV in that I believe in connecting the right people and offering the best products and services generates success and, in effect more opportunities.
“It’s something I have done all my life and feel that this role is a natural fit in that I always go for maximum exposure for clients and help create platforms to attract new audiences and enhance reputations.I’m also looking at getting footgolf started in a big way in Bristol via the Kendleshire Golf Club so watch this space for exciting announcements.
Tanner is a multi-talented man and I ask if he would like to coach or manage. “I actually did plenty of managing and coaching when I first retired a while back.
"It was at non-league level and I produced many young players who have gone on to make a decent living from the game. Phillip Walsh is now at Bath City. He went on to play for Dagenham and Redbridge.
“It gave me great pride watching them fly the nest and go on to better things. I’ve also scouted at league level and believe I have got a great eye for a young player, but the game seems to be a job for the boys now I’m afraid. It’s not what you know it’s who you know unfortunately.”
Liverpool fans: what memories do you have of Nick Tanner? Let us know below!
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