Sports Melwood is staying Red! Liverpool legends Carragher and Fowler explain plans for club's iconic former training ground
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Robbie Fowler will never forget the first time he visited Melwood.
“I was 10 years old,” he tells Goal. “We used to come on Tuesdays and Thursdays to train. I’d get two buses, the No.26 and the No.12, and I’d get dropped off on Melwood Drive.
“It was the floodlights for me. I’d see them and the heart would start racing that little bit faster, you know?”
Jamie Carragher, too, remembers his first visit.
“I played five-a-side between the famous boards,” he says, referring to the ‘sweat box’ brought in by the great Bill Shankly in the 1960s. Those boards, like so many of the players who played between them, would become part of Liverpool folklore.
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Fowler and Carragher certainly did, and now these two Anfield legends are teaming up to ensure that Melwood, the Reds’ training ground for close to 70 years, will remain an integral part of the city’s footballing community.
Liverpool moved out of the facility last November, taking up residence in their new £50 million ($70m) AXA Training Centre at Kirkby, five miles up the road.
The site, which was redeveloped in the 1950s and again, significantly, in 2001, has been bought by Torus, a housing and regeneration group which has plans for a “landmark mixed-use housing scheme” which they say will deliver “affordable, sustainable, multi-generational living and enduring community connections.”
Those community connections will certainly be strengthened by last Friday’s announcement, when it was confirmed that Fowler and Carragher, two of Melwood’s great success stories, would be coming on board to preserve its legacy.
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There will still be houses built on the land, but the newly-merged Fowler-Carragher Academy will take ownership of the existing Melwood building, which will now host a college offering elite sporting and educational opportunities to youngsters across the city region.
“We’d been talking for a while about amalgamating what we’ve got in terms of our academies,” says Fowler. “Obviously Carra has had huge success in the north end of the city, and our college [The Fowler Education and Football Academy] has been very successful in the south side, so we felt that by combining the two we could give so much to the people of this city.
“After that, it was about finding an environment where we could progress that.”
The Melwood opportunity arose a while back. Fowler, whose academy has previously been based at Wavertree Sports Park in the south of the city, was on board immediately. Carragher would soon follow, the ideal partner.
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Former Olympians Beth Tweddle and Steve Smith have joined the party. They will host gymnastic and swimming hubs from the college, with a focus on grass-roots participation and engagement.
“What we have here is an opportunity to put our name and our expertise into something for future generations,” Fowler says. “It’s not all about football, it’s about getting people into the right frame of mind to further themselves as adults, through sport and through education.
“We’ve had many, many helping hands along the way. We’ve been quite lucky to have been educated here in the football side of things, but now we’re putting our name to a place that is steeped in tradition and history, that can educate people beyond football. It’s fantastic, it really is.”
Carragher agrees: “We are both really passionate about the city as much as the football club, if not more, and the fact we can be involved in something which goes beyond our football careers is appealing.
“When I stopped playing, I always wanted to make sure I was remembered for more than just ‘oh he used to play for Liverpool 20 years ago’. You’ve still got a long life and you want to do things, achieve things, help people.
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“This can be a huge part, and you do want to be remembered for something like this, that you kept Melwood going as part of a team. People have memories of a football club, and whether you live in Liverpool or you support Liverpool from all over the world, the feeling of knowing that Melwood is still going and that it still has some kind of connection with football, it just makes you feel good, doesn’t it?”
When we speak, we are sat in what used to be the first-team canteen, overlooking the training pitches. Just up the corridor is the old managers’ office, where Shankly, Bob Paisley, Kenny Dalglish, Jurgen Klopp and the rest would plan Liverpool’s assault. The pitches outside have hosted some of the greats of the game, from Roger Hunt to Mohamed Salah, from Dalglish to Luis Suarez, Graeme Souness to Steven Gerrard.
What are Fowler and Carragher’s abiding memories of the place, then?
Both smile. Fowler remembers a rainbow flick, Neymar-style, past Xabi Alonso in a training session - “It was the only lap of honour I ever did, I think!” he laughs - while Carragher chuckles as he recalls the day he ‘borrowed’ team-mate David Thompson’s Audi.
“Thommo was the first one to pass his driving test when we were all 17,” he says. “I was taking lessons, so he let me have a go of his Audi Quattro and I couldn’t quite get the hang of the clutch.
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“Let’s just say I ended up on the Under-18s pitch causing a bit of damage. It was called Mini-Wembley before I ended up on it!”
Fowler grins as he recalls his early years in the first team, and in particular some of the treatment dished out to YTS players.
“You’d never get away with it now,” he says. “But back then if a young kid was cheeky to a senior player or started getting a bit cocky, they’d end up paying the price.
“I remember a lad Grego, Neil Gregory, giving David James a bit of lip and he got the treatment. Jamo just picked him up, folded him in half and stuffed him in a bin! Imagine that now. He could have broken his back!”
Carragher finishes by revealing that there is likely to be some kind of tribute to one of Liverpool’s all-time greats, when the plans for the college are eventually finalised.
Ronnie Moran was, in every sense, ‘Mr Liverpool’, serving the club as player, coach, physio, caretaker manager and just about everything in between across five trophy-filled decades. Even after his retirement in 1998, he was still a Melwood regular.
When he passed away in 2017, Phil Thompson, the former Reds captain, urged the club to name their new training complex after him. That didn’t happen, but Fowler and Carragher intend to ensure Moran will forever be associated with the place he loved the most.
“The first thing I think of with Melwood is Ronnie Moran,” Carragher says. “And yes, it’s probably an idea for us here to have a little something dedicated to him, whether it’s one of the rooms or a little something outside in remembrance of Ronnie.
“He was a huge figure for all of us, he was there at the start with Bill Shankly, and he couldn’t stay away from the place even when he moved on. I always picture him running round the outside, doing laps while we were training.
“He’ll always be associated with this place.”
So too, will Fowler and Carragher. Liverpool may have moved on, but Melwood will be staying red, thanks to two of the city's true greats.
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