Sunday Express feature - Can men and women ever be just good friends?

Jimmy says...
“I’ve never told anyone this before, but many of the decisions that have defined my life have been made because I had a crush. Why did I take A-level politics? Because I fancied Rebecca Vasiliou and she was taking it.
Why didn’t I let the lad who supported the same football team as me move into my flat? Because I fancied the girl who viewed it after him, even though she didn’t like football.
Why did I take home a depressed, arthritic, bulimic cat from the rescue centre? Yep – because I fancied the cat-loving receptionist at work and thought it would impress her. It probably serves me right that she ended up weeing on my bed. The cat, not the receptionist. She never got anywhere near my bed.
None of these women knew it, but the reason I became their friend wasn’t because they were nice or funny, but because deep down I wanted to share a packet of Love Hearts with them. I honestly can’t remember ever going out of my way to develop and sustain a friendship with a girl – outside of friendship groups – unless there has been some kind of attraction. And neither have any of the male friends I asked.
There’s always an agenda. It sounds shallow – but that’s how we men think. To prove it, I conducted a scientifically watertight poll of my male Twitter followers, asking them if they were more likely to develop friendships with women they found attractive. Eleven replied. All said yes. That’s 100 per cent, so I’m speaking for my gender – or at least 11 of them.
Plus newsreader Jon Snow, who recently admitted to thinking about sex every time he meets a woman. I know, I didn’t want those mental images in my head, either. Which is probably how most of my female friends feel reading this. The fact I may have had an agenda when I met them doesn’t mean all I’m thinking about when we’re together is sex – and in time, attraction fades a little.
Still, if they suggested a bit of lights-out Pilates, I wouldn’t say no. And the impact on our friendship would be the last thing I’d be worrying about. I think for men, sex and attraction will always trump friendship. After reading all this, you might be wondering whether the only reason I wrote a book with Laura is because I wanted to, you know... No.
Laura and I were on the same course at uni. I got to know her as part of a friendship group. For once, there was no agenda. Who knows what my motives might have been if I’d met her under different circumstances – if it had been just the two of us?
The fact men always have an agenda means friendships often don’t last once the possibility of sleeping with someone is no longer there. Like when I told Rebecca Vasiliou I loved her. In a text message. We haven’t spoken since her polite reply saying she had never thought of me that way. Of course, there are cases where women have ulterior motives.
Like in When Harry Met Sally. In these cases, there are only two ways it can go: they can drift apart, it all being too painful, or they can be like Harry and Sally and live happily ever after. That’s why there are so many TV shows and films about this subject: because the simple truth is that, unless they’re part of a bigger group, men and women can’t be ‘just friends’.
“A wise man once posed the question: ‘How can you simply be friends with someone when every time you look at them, you’re thinking about how much more you really want?’ Oh no, hang on. It wasn’t a wise man. It was Dawson Leery, in an episode of Dawson’s Creek. Angsty, over-analytical whiner that he was.
Of course, men and women can be just good friends without sex getting in the way – whether it’s doing it or just thinking about doing it.I understand why strangers ask if there’s anything between me and Jimmy. While our relationship is pretty unambiguous to anyone who knows us, people who have only heard of us because we’ve written a love story about two best friends naturally wonder if it’s autobiographical. It’s not.
Jimmy and I met at university and remain part of the same friendship group that formed there. We got on, so we became friends. There was no agenda or conscious decision behind it. As with romantic relationships, I don’t have an actual checklist when it comes to making friends, yet they all have certain traits in common: they’re funny, loyal, kind and fun.
It’s not like I have a ‘type’, though – they have plenty of differences. There are non-drinkers and there are those who habitually lie to the doctor about their weekly intake of alcohol. Some listen to house music, some prefer Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. Most of them don’t have a penis, but many of them do. Why is that the thing that makes the friendship doomed to fail?
I love them all, but I don’t plan on sleeping with any of them. It’s easy to see why there’s scepticism. There are plenty of cultural reference points to back up the argument that it’s either all or nothing. Harry and Sally ended up together. In Friends, Ross and Rachel were ‘lobsters’ for life. In This Life, Anna and Miles hated each other because they loved each other.
But this is the real world, and I refuse to believe we’re so primal that we can’t get close to the opposite sex without accidentally sleeping with each other. Or at least without one of us trying to. Don’t get me wrong: it’s lovely when there’s a crossover – my best romantic relationships have been with friends. No matter how much I fancy a guy, it’s not going anywhere unless we also have a laugh, so my subconscious checklist for a relationship must be similar to that for a friend.
Ultimately, I want to marry a man who becomes my best friend – but that doesn’t mean I want to marry my man friends. That said, sometimes a male/female friendship is destined for failure. Often, one will have feelings for the other, and in those instances it is hard to be just mates. Unrequited love is no fun for anyone. In fact, it can be positively masochistic when it’s you they confide in.
You find yourself sitting in a coffee shop, offering relationship advice to the person you’re in love with so they can successfully impress someone that isn’t you. If that’s your friendship, get out of there. Friends – whether they’re the same or opposite sex – should be a positive force in your life. But if it’s a friendship that brings you happiness, fun, support, or any of the other values you look for in a buddy then don’t overanalyse yourself out of it.
They might not be someone you want to sleep with, but when friendship happens organically, and without agenda, then it’s probably because it’s someone who belongs in your life.”

One L of a Testing Time

This article - in which I re-take my driving test to see if the local area really is one of the toughest places in the country to pass - featured in the Spenborough Guardian in December 2005.

"THERE are very few drivers who would re-pass their test without some kind of professional tuition," claims instructor Martin Day.

Before I can prove him wrong, we set off on a little practice run, and I explain that I earned my licence eight years ago over in Cleethorpes.

"What's going on with your hands?" interrupts my makeshift examiner.

Apparently they should never grip below quarter to/past.

My right hand clearly can't tell the time, and as for my left... "Don't drive with your hand on the gear-stick, son."

We both laugh, but Martin's eyes roll like spare tyres.

The 53-year-old had four students pass last week, so who better to explain why 69 per cent of learners fail in Heckmondwike?

"The roads are crap," he says. "It's really busy, the surfaces are bad and the system is very old. But you've also got fancy new bits like Junction 27.

"You go to North Wales and it's a lot easier because the surfaces are lovely and the markings are good."

Martin points to similarly low pass-rates in neighbouring Leeds, Huddersfield and Wakefield.

"The examiners are not harsh," he insists.

"If you present a pupil and they're good enough, they'll pass. If you drive well on the day, they can't do anything else but pass you – there's no fix."

It's time to find out for myself. Having completed the cockpit drill (shut the door, check my hair) we set off from Bath Road.

But before the blink of an indicator I earn my first fault – dodgy clutch control. (For the record, I'm allowed 15 of those.)

Not used to driving without music, I tell him to bang on a few tunes. (Strictly forbidden under normal circumstances.)

But what's on his CD player? Tony Christie!

Now, in true journalistic fashion, I planned to leave the result until the last paragraph to keep you reading.

But the narrative goes belly-up off Jeremy Lane, where a straight road disguised as an unmarked junction gets me in a tiz. I slow down and am awarded an automatic fail.


The reverse parallel park goes smoothly enough ("Your control is atrocious, Jimmy") and as we slip through avenues and alleyways, I set about a damage-limitation exercise.

Is this the way to Amarillo? I ask, to lighten the mood. No, it's Gomersal, Martin replies.

Which is where I incur the first of four speeding faults passing Hill Top.

Is this notorious blackspot partly responsible for the low pass rate, I wonder?

"It's a busy junction, you have to grasp at opportunities – but anyone who has been put in for their test should be able to cope with it," says Martin.

And what about the Gildersome roundabout? Isn't that deemed the most dangerous junction in West Yorkshire?

"Okay, it can be intimidating – there won't be many test centres with a set of roundabouts like that.

"You have to be on your toes. But can you honestly say you're a good driver if you can't negotiate a roundabout?"

In that case, I suggest, I must be a good driver, having escaped without a bump or scratch worth mentioning.

"You're worse than my wife," says Martin, "and she's shocking."

At the Smithies traffic lights I slip into the wrong lane, stop too close to the car in front then jump an amber light. Martin is seeing red.

When I unwittingly cut a corner on to Leeds Old Road – incurring another automatic fail – he bawls that I'm "like a bloody racing driver."

The ordeal is being recorded by a unique in-car camera, so, like his students, I can go home and re-live the session. It gives a new meaning to the phrase car-crash TV.

Ticking off another minor for "tailgating", my instructor quizzes me on stopping distances at 20mph.

"I don't know," I say, "I never drive at 20mph."

Oh well, nearly done; just a couple more disasters to go, including starting my reverse round a corner in fourth gear.

To be fair, I am still flustered at having to pull over sharply for an ambulance (and Martin's claim that he's never tempted to jump on the paramedics' tail to skip through traffic).

As we reach the test centre, Martin prophesises that anyone who passes in Heckmondwike is a good driver.

Six automatic fails and more faults (17 minors) than Wimbledon means I am in no position to comment.

"Don't take this the wrong way, Jimmy, but you're driving as if you shouldn't have a licence."

How can I take that the wrong way, Martin?

Boys in the Hood

This article featured in the Spenborough Guardian in June 2005 and formed part of the submission which earned the Yorkshire Feature Writer of the Year award of the same year.

TEENAGER Danny Missin is a target. Wherever he goes, glaring eyes follow. Suspicion stalks him like a shadow.

The reason: like millions of British youngsters, he is hooked on hoodies.

"People don't talk to us – we just get dead eyes. Dads usher their kids away from us in the street and neighbours who used to say 'hi' to me just completely blank me," says Danny.

He and his mates feel they are blamed for anything and everything that goes wrong in the village of Scholes. Barely a night goes by without a tete-a-tete with the local bobby.

Shopping in the Co-op the other day, an elderly woman confronted the 17-year-old and tried to pull his hood down.

"I can honestly say I feel like lashing out, but that's what they want," he says.

"I didn't buy this hoody because I wanted to rob a granny, I bought it because my favourite basketball player was on it.

"Hoodies don't make people, people make hoodies."

Danny's black Michael Jordan hoody cost £50, bought with wages earned as a trainee hairdresser.

It's the same one he intends to wear when he starts coaching a basketball team at one of Cleckheaton's middle schools in September.

But none of this helps him when he's walking round the Foldings Estate, where he is treated in the same way as a teddy boy clad with drain pipes would have been in the Fifties, or a skinhead in bovver boots in the Seventies.

Eighteen-year-old Michael Burn, whose face is often obscured by a white Carlotti hoody, gets the same treatment.

"This is our generation and this is what we wear to fit in," he says. "Some people feel comfy in suits, some people in baggies, some in stripy jumpers and some in hoodies. It doesn't make me a thug."

Danny concurs: "People who like heavy metal wear make-up - I listen to hip-hop and wear a hoody. There is good and bad in every group."

The anti-hood agenda has been fuelled by the national press, who lauded the decision to ban hooded tops at the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and his deputy John Prescott just about managed to jump on the bandwagon before it careered out of control, but not everyone is on board.

Amanda Allard, of the children's charity NCH, believes it is important not to confuse fashion with behaviour.

"People wear hooded tops to be cool, not to be intimidating," she says.

"If you demonise them then you feed on people's fears about teenagers."

For Michael, the answer is for adults to start working with youths, not against them.

Youth clubs organised in Scholes in the past have been ruined by an unruly element, the same few who wreak havoc across Foldings and the centre of the village every night.

Michael's solution would be for Kirklees to convert the old Co-op building into a young people's centre. It has stood empty for years, attracting far more vandalism than potential tenants, and its development would rid the village of its biggest eyesore.

He wants the council to give it a lick of paint. Maybe provide a pool table or a dart board.

If they had somewhere they could call their own, Michael says, teenagers would look after it and keep themselves out of trouble.

"We used to have football nets up at the park but all of a sudden last year the council took them down and we don't know why. There is a little basketball court but it's full of glass. What are we supposed to do? Nobody has come and asked us what we want. They won't give us a chance."

Michael's mum Christine, who works at the local chippie, is backing him all the way.

"Not all the kids around here are bad – they're always all right with me," says the 42-year-old. "The old Co-op would make a lovely youth club. We adults have money and something to do of an evening but these kids haven't got two bob to rub together so they just hang around.

"We need to give them a chance and stop stereotyping them. I used to live in Bradford and we had barbies and parties with the kids and they loved us.

"All they want is for the police and the residents to give them a bit of trust."

Paul Hunter interview - 2005

Interview with the late Paul Hunter published in the Batley News during his remission from cancer. Tragically he suffered a relapse and died just months later.

Three weeks ago he was lying in a hospital bed undergoing chemotherapy but on Thursday snooker hero Paul Hunter was back at the table for an exhibition match in his home town of Batley. In an exclusive interview at The Frontier, he tells reporter Jimmy Rice about his battle with cancer, his comeback and becoming a dad...

He cannot feel his hands and feet. A chronic ringing in his ears nags at him like an easy black that hit the jaw.

These are just some of the lingering symptoms plaguing Paul Hunter, now in remission after his cancer hell.

"You kind of need to feel your hands in this game," says Paul, who turned 27 last week.

"But even if you're not playing well, it's nice to be back to normality. I'd rather be playing snooker than laid up having chemo."

Cancerous cysts were discovered in Paul's colon back in March.

After confiding in his childhood idol, snooker legend Jimmy White, he decided to compete in the World Championships before undergoing treatment through the summer.

"Jimmy was one of the first people I told when I found out," reveals Paul. "We were out in China and he just told me not to worry too much. He was my childhood hero and he's been through testicular cancer, so I respect what he has to say."

Though Paul has lived in Upper Batley for three and a half years, his mum and dad still reside in Moortown, Leeds, where he grew up and learned his trade under the watchful eye of former World Champion Joe Johnson.

The Hunter clan will get a little bit bigger on December 27, when his wife Lindsey is due to give birth to their first child.

It's a prospect the father-to-be describes as 'incredible' and one which served as motivation during three months' chemotherapy at St James's Hospital in Leeds.

"I've got a great family behind me - they've been fantastic in helping me through this," says Paul.

The gruelling treatment was successful, but he is still under doctors' supervision and faces regular blood tests.

Another side effect of the chemo is the loss of his trademark golden locks, which combined with boyish good looks to earn him the nickname Beckham of the Baize.

Over the last few years Paul has become one of the game's most recognisable faces. Since making his professional debut in 1995, he has won three Masters titles and joined the likes of Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Hendry in the world's top five.

In 2001 he hit the headlines when, trailing at the interval in the Masters final, he romped to victory after being 'rejuvenated' by his then fiancé Lindsey.

Now a household name in the UK and abroad, the cueist has been overwhelmed by the response to his comeback. He received thousands of letters before his return to action in the German Open two weeks ago.

"All the German fans gave me little presents and I had a tear in my eye when they gave me a standing ovation," says Paul, who first picked up a cue aged seven.

"Obviously the Grand Prix in Preston last week was the big one, being my first ranking tournament back. It was nice to see all the snooker lads. They all came up to me, shook my hand and said it was nice to see me back. They couldn't believe I was back so soon, and Willie Thorne said some nice things in commentary too."

Paul reached the last 16 in Germany, a tournament he won a year ago, yet fell at the first hurdle in Preston. But he was more than happy to step in for Jimmy White when his good pal had to pull out of a £5,000 exhibition match against Ian McCulloch at The Frontier.

With his home crowd behind him, Paul polished off an impressive 102 break on his way to a 5-3 victory over one of his top 16 rivals.

"I've not done a lot of practice," he says. "Eight hours the other day and two yesterday. I'm obviously not back to full fitness but I'm here and I'm trying my best.

"I'm taking Snooker just as seriously but I suppose I'm looking at life differently now. None of us are here for very long and you've got to live life to the full and have fun every day."

I want to know...about John Arne Riise

Interview with footballer John Arne Riise during the Steven Gerrard Foundation golf trophy in Portugal.

John Arne Riise has taken his seat for an interview with but our cameras are not yet rolling.

The 30-year-old is wearing a white cap and a good lathering of suntan lotion, necessary precautions at this time of year in the Algarve, where celebrities and footballers are competing in the Steven Gerrard Foundation golf tournament.

There isn't a cloud in the sky and the prevailing silence is broken only by the metallic ping of club on ball and the occasional whine of a golf buggy. But serenity is about to be interrupted.

The tune is instantly familiar to any Liverpool fan. The words are too. You'd probably even recognise the singer. It is DJ Spoony who begins wailing the Kop's adaptation of Bruce Channel's Hey Baby, the one which enquires how Riise scored THAT goal. Another golfer joins in and soon Ginge (as his former teammates call him) is singing and clapping along, his face smothered by glee.

In that moment it becomes apparent how fondly he remembers Liverpool fans and his seven years on Merseyside, and over the next half an hour this feeling and his disappointment at leaving will be alluded to in almost every one of his answers.

"I do miss the city and the fans," says Riise, speaking a few weeks before completing a move from Roma to Fulham. "When I left (in 2008) I was sad, I was disappointed - not only at Rafa (Benitez), at that time, but also with myself because I didn't do as much as I could have done to stay longer.

"When you've been somewhere for seven years you get so comfy. I was too happy with my position and I didn't work as hard as I could. I was too settled, I didn't think I had to work that hard. I regret that now - hopefully I won't regret it too much.

"I didn't want to go. I had a chat with Benitez. He said to me straight out that next year he was going to buy another left-back and my future was not there. It was quite straightforward and I respected that he was honest and told me so I could sort things out, because there was no way I could have stayed there another year and not played.

"He spent so much money on Andrea Dossena and I knew he was going to give him a lot of chances, even though I thought I was a better player than him.

"I don't think there have been many left-backs to replace me since then. Not many have adapted to the English game and last season there was (Paul) Konchesky and I don't think he played."

It is a decade since a 20-year-old Riise arrived on Merseyside from Monaco for a fee of approximately £4million tasked with improving a team that had just won a treble.

"I was a young lad at the time and nobody expected anything," he recalls. "It's harder when you go to a club and everyone expects you to play good. So I just went there with no pressure and just trying to do my stuff.

"I wanted to be respected for who I was. So in the first running session, I was the fittest player there, so I ran the most. And I tackled straight away because I wanted to be respected. And it worked. Both Steven Gerrard and Danny Murphy told me that's the reason I got into the group so quick because I worked so hard."

With his new teammates won over, Riise was about to find acceptance among the patrons of Anfield.

Contrary to popular belief, it was a strike at Goodison in September 2001 when he turned Steve Watson that first prompted Kopites to ask how he scored THAT goal - though an unstoppable free-kick against Manchester United six weeks later ensured it was sung with greater fervour.

"I didn't know that it was my song. It's hard to hear sometimes when the fans are singing because it's so loud and the accent is different," says Riise.

"After the game they told me that so many people were singing this song about me and it just gave me this tremendous will to give something back, so I hope I did. There aren't many people who get their own song, especially at Liverpool.

"I think it (the Man Utd free-kick) was the best goal I ever scored - definitely the most important one in my career with Liverpool because it got me into the hearts of the Liverpool fans and it proved I could do stuff.

"It's been mentioned a few times after as well."

Ten years on from all this, having written his own little chapter in Liverpool history, Riise is back in English football having signed for Fulham, where he'll work under Martin Jol. His first opportunity to join the London club came prior to Liverpool displaying their interest in the summer of 2001.

"I was very close to signing for Fulham but Gerard Houllier called my agent and said he wanted me," remembers Riise, who was invited for a tour of Anfield with Houllier and his assistant Phil Thompson.

"It was quite an easy choice when I saw the stadium and I knew the reputation of the club. Gerard taught me a lot and he gave me the confidence to play. He gave me another chance if I got something wrong, so I have a lot to thank him for."

Without Houllier's intervention, Riise's career would have taken a very different path - but the full-back is philosophical when he looks back on the Frenchman's departure from Anfield in 2004.

For Riise, the heart surgery which prompted an enforced sabbatical in 2001-02 was the beginning of the end of Houllier's reign.

"After he got sick things changed a little bit," says the 96-time Norway international. "At first it was quite a shock (when he came back for the Roma match in 2002) because he had changed so much during his illness, body-wise.

"I think it took him a while to get back to his normal self because after what he had gone through he had to take it slowly.

"I think every club needs a change sometimes and it was good for Liverpool. I didn't want him to go because I was happy with him but the club needed a change."

While Houllier was reputed to have a close, almost fatherly relationship with his players, Benitez is sometimes portrayed - rightly or wrongly - as a colder presence in the dressing room.

So what differences did Riise notice?

"It was quite similar, actually," he says. "He (Benitez) was very powerful, a very strong person and we won some trophies under him. He gave me the best trophy I could win as a club footballer, the Champions League, so he's a manager I'll never say anything bad about."

Winning a fifth European Cup had been inconceivable at the start of Benitez's first season in charge, even more so when results started going badly in the group stages, but an unforgettable victory over Olympiacos teed up a last 16 clash with Bayer Leverkusen. Juventus were next to be dispatched, stunned into submission early doors at Anfield. Then it was Chelsea, and in the words of Riise, no one expected Liverpool to prevail.

"I remember the official putting six minutes on the clock and it was the longest six minutes in the world," he recalls.

"The atmosphere was unbelievable. I was down in my underpants after the game because I gave everything to the fans. That night will never be forgotten and in the dressing room it was crazy."

A model pro on and off the pitch, Riise was a favourite among journalists during his Anfield years because a/ he always turned up early, and b/ he usually had something interesting to say.

Today is no different, and the defender is happy to go wherever our questions take him. But it is only when the events of May 25, 2005 are mentioned that he becomes restless in his chair.

"I was thinking of going home after that first half, it was horrible" says Riise, when asked about his mindset after goals from Paolo Maldini and Hernan Crespo (2) gave AC Milan a 3-0 lead.

"I don't think we played that badly, they just scored with every chance they had."

What occurred in the Liverpool dressing room during the 15-minute interval has been the subject to speculation and wonder ever since, even inspiring a full-length feature film.

Two questions often arise. The first is what Benitez said to his troops.

"He changed the system a little bit, changed a couple of players and he told us to listen to the fans," says Riise. "We started listening to the singing then, because we didn't before the game.

"He just told us to get that first goal and it can't get any worse. If you lose 3-0 or 6-0 it's the same thing so just play.

"At the end of Benitez talking we could hear the fans singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone' and that gave everyone a boost. We went out there fired up and trying to get that first goal as soon as possible."

The second question often put to those who were present in the guts of the Ataturk Stadium is whether, as legend would have it, the Milan players were celebrating.

"I didn't speak Italian then but I do now and there were a few people saying that this game was over, which was obvious because they were winning 3-0 and playing so good," reports Riise.

"But the game wasn't over, and it was very nice to beat them after we saw that.

"That's something special about Liverpool, you never give up."

Riise played his part in the comeback by providing the cross for Steven Gerrard's headed goal which made it 3-1. He then volunteered to take a penalty after 120 minutes of sporting theatre failed to establish a winner.

"Coming to penalties I was quite confident we were going to win it," says Riise, who by this stage was Liverpool's No.6, having worn No.18 through the Houllier era.

"I had cramp before the penalty and I was thinking of blasting it but I was scared of getting my cramp back. I didn't notice Dida had gone the same side for every penalty before me. I think I hit it quite well but he just got a hand on it.

"Stevie (Gerrard) came up and gave me a clap on the back. At that time you think the worst but it didn't take long to turn to happiness."

Happiness is surely underplaying it, especially as in his next answer Riise describes that evening in Turkey as the best night of his footballing life - although incredibly he has never watched the game back.

Within a year of Istanbul, Ginge and his teammates were in another final and again it proved to be a Did that just happen? occasion as Gerrard inspired another miraculous turnaround before penalties decided the destination of the 2006 FA Cup.

"I was the first one to go up to Benitez to tell him I wanted to take a penalty," explains Riise, who averaged just under 50 games a season in his time with the Reds.

"There was no doubt about what I was going to do this time.

"They (his teammates) didn't say anything. Nothing. I was just thinking about kicking that ball as hard as I could so, even if the keeper got to it, it would have been a goal."

Riise's theory proved correct and he could now add the FA Cup to his CV alongside the League Cup (2003), Champions League and Super Cup (2001 and 2005).

This list of honours is impressive enough to cope with a European Cup final defeat to AC Milan in 2007, but little did the defender know that he was about to enter his final campaign in L4.

It may never be known exactly why Benitez decided to invest in a new left-back but a costly own-goal during another Champions League semi-final with Chelsea in 2008 may well have sealed Riise's fate. It's a night he thinks about a lot.

"One second of bad judgement killed me," he says. "I was thinking about kicking it with my right foot or getting it away with a header. It skidded off my head and went into the top corner. It was a great goal but too bad it was in the wrong end.

"There and then I was very, very much down.

"It was a difficult three or four days. People come up and clap you on the back and say don't worry but how often do you end up in a Champions league final? I knew I had let the team down, the fans down and I had let myself down. I was not a person to talk to for the next three or four days.

"I regret doing it because I let so many people down and I think we could have won it that year. But I learnt from it and I grew from it and I'm a better person and player now."

Benitez had yet to reveal his intentions in the transfer market, but it was at this point Riise knew he was fighting for his Anfield future.

"I never thought I would be leaving at the end of the season but obviously after that own goal I scored against Chelsea I knew the pressure was going to be on," he says.

"I thought, 'Next season, I'm going to have to really step it up.'"

But next season never happened, at least not for Riise and Liverpool. As stated, he respected Benitez's honesty at the time, though he was distressed at not being given the opportunity to bid farewell to the Kop nor play the two games required to reach 350 for the club.

Though he is now at Fulham, the thought of joining another English club didn't appeal to Riise in 2008 and he signed for Serie A side Roma.

"At that point I couldn't go to another English club because I loved Liverpool so much and I didn't want to compete with them," he says.

With just one year remaining on his contract in the Italian capital, Riise decided to return to the English game this summer following months of speculation which even included rumours of a possible return to Liverpool.

He admits to being 'glad' at hearing such tittle tattle and that 'you can never say never' - though any prospect of a second coming now seems to be gone.

So how would the man himself like to be remembered by Liverpool fans?

"How? Not that own goal, that's for sure," he laughs. "I think as a guy who came and gave 110 per cent no matter what, a nice guy, loyal and never gave up. I tried to prove I was good enough and I hope I did that."

With the interview complete, all that's left is to ask Riise for another rendition of THAT song - this time with the cameras switched on.

"No, no, no!" he says. "I'll have to come back and score a goal at Anfield, then you might hear it, but I'm not singing on TV. I might later tonight though!"

John Bishop interview - March 2007

Welcome to's Celebrity Kop Club, a unique band of Reds who've risen to fame with hope in their hearts and a Liver Bird on their chests...

"Will Rafa be reading this?" queries John Bishop when asked his age at the start of his Celebrity Kop Club interview. Somewhere, deep down beneath his jocular exterior, he still hopes the call will come, still believes he could be the next Stevie G.

"If Rafa reads the website, I'm 22."

Okay, we'll come back to that.

Joking aside, Bishop was a fair footballer in his day, whenever that was. He played for Southport and Runcorn, mostly in the Northern Premier League, though he did grace the Vauxhall Conference a couple of times.

The pinnacle of his career came the day he marked Jamie Redknapp.

"I played against Liverpool Reserves in a tournament one year. They'd just signed Redknapp, and McManaman was playing as well. Mike Hooper was in goal. We well beat them, and all the time I couldn't help looking at Jamie and thinking: my left leg weighs more than you. He did alright in the end though, didn't he?"

The flipside to playing semi-professional football is you're usually busy come Saturday afternoon, meaning you rarely get to the match. It's a problem he reacquainted himself with when he became a full-time comedian.

"There's loads of fans on the circuit," reveals Bishop, who tends to steer clear of footy on stage lest he divide the audience.

"Alan Davies is a big Arsenal fan; Russell Brand is a West Ham supporter. But again, it's difficult in this profession to follow your team because you're always working at weekends."

Having said all this, the one-time sales director is on the waiting list for a season ticket and is more of a match-goer now than at any time during his 35-year affiliation with the club.

His love for the Reds began in the early Seventies, back when Kevin Keegan was in his pomp.

"My dad fed me, so there was no chance of being anything other than a Red," recalls the joker, whose childhood years were split between Runcorn and Winsford.

"Everyone loved Keegan but I liked John Toshack as well. He was like the John Wayne of football – the strong and silent type. There was always something happening around him but he never seemed to move."

Through the years there have been many highs, though for Bishop nothing compares to the moment he stood near the front of the Kop and shouted 'miss' as Chelsea's Eidur Gudjohnsen prepared to pull the trigger.

"Us getting to the Champions League final was all down to me," he proclaims, before revealing that, ironically, his own footballing nadir came just three weeks later during that famous night in Istanbul.

"I had a ticket sorted but then I had to fly to America with the medical company I worked for. I desperately tried to get from where I was to Istanbul but just couldn't do it. The best I could manage was getting home to England to watch it.

"So, I gave my ticket to a pal and about 20 minutes before kick-off walked into my house to see all my mates who'd gone had invited their wives and kids round to mine to watch it. I'm just sat there, phone bleeping with messages, little girls doing cartwheels in front of the telly, thinking: What am I doing here?

"I honestly would say the disappointment of not going probably took me about 12 months to get over."

Just in time for Cardiff, then, and this time he did make it.

"I got a phone call from the comic Willie Miller saying the FA were trying to get people to host hospitality lounges. He said me, him, Rushy and Alan Kennedy would go down, do our 15 minutes, then watch the game.

"Anyway we got into the ground and were walking round all the boxes. We walked past Rick Parry's bit, so I thought: great, we're in the Liverpool end.

"So we went into the FA box and all the curtains were closed because they were serving wine. Come kick-off we opened the curtains, walked on to the balcony and were in the bloody West Ham end!

"There's no way I could have pretended, so I went back in the hospitality lounge, grabbed a load of sweets and food, and gave it out to all the West Ham fans so they wouldn't hit me."

Bishop would probably have been able to handle himself if the banter had got out of hand, mind, having enjoyed a spell as a bouncer in a previous life. (He retired after a melee with a gang of soldiers who wanted to dance in a Jersey nightclub on a Sunday – it's illegal, apparently.)

"To be fair, I don't ever get any stick at games," says the funnyman.

"I went to the FA Cup game against Arsenal after Christmas and was doing panto at the time. The show was finishing just before the game and the next one was starting just after the game, which meant I could go, but only if I wore my panto outfit.

"I was stood in the Kop with thigh-length boots on, a massive flowing shirt and a big studded belt. If anyone was ever going to say anything it was then but no one said frig all."

Being a famous fan pays dividends in a number of ways. For starters, it's easier to get tickets. He's also been asked to do private gigs for the England squad ("I got them all to sign a piece of paper for my kids with 'John Bishop is a better player than me' written on the top").

Then there's the invites to play in charity matches.

One such game organised by the late Emlyn Hughes saw him take to the field with Anfield royalty Ian Rush, John Barnes, Phil Neal and Roy Evans.

"I went up for a header against Roy and got the ball. When we both landed he said: good header, son. That'll do for me!"

Nowadays, he's also on the after-dinner circuit with a clutch of former players – and he reckons a few of them could make it as comedians themselves.

"You see them in a different light," he ponders. "I have to say, Ronnie Whelan is very funny. You just have to look at him and he's funny."

As well as a renowned comic, Bishop is a proud father to three young sons (who he has brought up to be Reds) and a dedicated husband to wife Melanie (who he's converted).

"She was a City fan," he says. "But when I took her to Anfield, she said to me that, having heard You'll Never Walk Alone, she couldn't support anyone else but us.

"We live in Manchester now, and when we won the Champions League I sent my kids to school with banners, and the great thing was they had taxi drivers and everyone beeping and waving at them. There's more goodwill than you think."

No interview with John Bishop would be complete without mention of his famous lookalike – Liverpool's number 23, Jamie Carragher.

Carra was at the Royal Court to see him perform on Sunday having been introduced by John Aldridge a while back.

"I've told him the story of how I'd been mistaken for him at Rawhide in town," says Bishop. "Someone came up and asked me for an autograph, so I started writing: To Gary and Angela.

"I asked if they wanted me to put anything else and they told me to just sign it Jamie Carragher. I couldn't go back at this point so I just put Jamie - I didn't know how to spell Carragher!

"I met his brother once, and I actually look more like Jamie than his brother does. I look at him, then me, then my son, and I just think that if anything goes wrong, I'll send the CSA round to Jamie's house and say: Look at him, he's clearly the dad!"

With the interview nearly complete, there's only one issue left to clear up. So come on John, how old are you?

"Okay, I've just turned 40. But listen, there's always a chance. I'm quicker than Pellegrino - I wouldn't even have to take my jeans off!"

Prisoner of war interview

Part two of an interview with Japanese prisoner of war Alfred Peterson published in the Spenborough Guardian in 2005.

TORTURE, starvation and exhaustion were the only realities for POWs as they built the Burma-Thailand railway.

"It was perpetual hunger unless you got malaria," remembers Alfred, who caught the disease 12 times.

"For the first day you shivered like hell. The next you'd have a very high temperature. By the fourth day it started to go down and on the fifth you were back at work.

"All that time you couldn't eat, you were not hungry."

The Allied prisoners – 60,000 in total – had no idea how long they would be held captive.

"It kept on and on," explains Alfred.

"I knew a 45-year-old man with a wife and children. One day he told me that his family were well cared for and he'd had a good life. He said he didn't know why he was carrying on putting himself through this pain.

"The next morning he was dead."

More than 16,000 died in the year it took to build the railway, but Alfred never lost hope.

"I was always looking for that day of freedom. I was a virgin and there was no way I was going to die a prisoner having not sampled the pleasures of life. Plus I had a brother to look after."

As a medic, he avoided the near-constant torture endured by those laying the tracks, but faint white scars on the 80-year-old's legs are a daily reminder of the beatings he took.

"It was part of my everyday work. I got bayoneted. They'd lash out with whatever they had – a hammer, a stick or a bamboo shoot."

Working in the hospital camp had other advantages, says Alfred.

"There were no bandages but I had these tablets called MMB693. If I crushed them I could make a paste which would seal a wound. I had private patients from the cook house. They'd pay me with a rissole and some fresh veg, which I‘d share with my brother."

The railway was finished in October 1943, giving the Japanese a route towards India ready for a planned invasion. Alfred's troop, F-Force, then marched across Thailand to a POW camp at Kanchanaburi.

He remembers the toilets being trenches 5ft deep.

"Once, I saw one fella fall in – he was covered in excrement and asked me to pull him out. I told him there was no chance, but I did go and get his friends."

In December 1943, F-Force headed back to Singapore, Alfred's homeland.

For the first time since falling into enemy hands, he and his brother William parted during the final leg of the journey.

"We boarded different trains thinking we'd have a better chance of seeing our mother. We missed her and our sisters so much – we just wanted to tell our mama we were alive."

Alfred arrived in Changi, Singapore, without seeing his mum, and would have to wait to be reunited with his brother, who was taken to a different camp. Having spent the best part of a year in the same tattered shorts, the starving prisoners had become a banquet for parasites.

"We were taken to hospital, de-loused and issued with clean clothes.

"I went to bed but couldn't sleep because I wasn't used to a mattress – it was too soft and I was sweating cobs. I got up and put my blanket on the floor and slept. The next morning I woke up and saw everyone else had done the same."

He and 20 others were sent from Changi to Kranji to prepare a site for a hospital.

"I remember there were cats all over the place in Kranji, so we'd eat them. They tasted so beautiful to us – like rabbit. After we'd prepared the site, there wasn't a single cat left," recalls Alfred.

Three months elapsed before he was back with his brother. William was brought to Changi for treatment, his foot paralysed by beri-beri due to lack of fresh food.

How the brothers envied POWs working in the Japanese cook house, a shade of colour back in their cheeks. Eventually, Alfred got the job.

"It meant I was on Japanese time – 15 hours a day – but I didn't care. I could eat the food and trade on the black market."

One day he was presented with a golden opportunity.

He explains: "Only the Japanese Commandant had a key for the cook house, but one time he left it on the table.

"I saw my chance and printed it into a piece of soap. My friend Ronnie Hant knew some engineers who got a copy made – it cost us tobacco and food. When we tried it, it actually worked. After that, we would sneak into the cook house at three or four in the morning and smuggle out sugar and flour.

"All I had to wear was a G-string but it's amazing what you can hide in one of those!"

Once, he was caught out when a Chinese cook was found trading a pair of socks and revealed Alfred as his source. What followed was one of his darkest moments in captivity.

"I was dragged out of bed in only my G-string. I got a beating and then had to bow to a Japanese sergeant called Yoskaro. Then another beating and I had to bow again – I could take the beating, it was the bowing that did me. To this day I will not bow to anyone."

For the next 10 days he was locked in a cage barely big enough for his 5ft 7ins frame.

"They would not let me sit down, even at night. I was on half rations and there was nothing I could do to stop the mosquitoes eating me."

Afterwards, Alfred maintained that the only way to survive was to take chances: "Those who took a risk were the ones that lived and got out."

Days turned into weeks, weeks into months. As the war in Europe ended, the Japanese fought on. Alfred could never count the number of friends he'd watched die, but the events which stole his youth did not break him.

On August 6 1945, the Americans dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, putting an end to the war.

The prisoners had a tiny radio kept hidden from the Japanese by three or four entrusted men.

"They would report back to our commanding officer but everything had to be censored. Could you imagine our reaction if we'd have known they'd dropped the bomb? We'd have cheered like hell and the Japs would have had us."

It wasn't until after the Japanese surrender nine days later that Alfred heard what had happened.

The Allied soldiers stayed under enemy control for another two weeks, though the guards became lame ducks.

He was allowed to see his mother, and using his key to the Japanese cook house – this time in broad daylight – he took her a huge hamper of food.

"I got out of the camp and made a bee-line for home – it was 12 miles. I was over this world to see her and my sisters."

Alfred didn't take the immediate discharge he was offered and a month later was told he could go anywhere in the world. He chose England, seeing it as a holiday. And so after a month or more at sea, he and Ronnie Hant docked at Liverpool, then made their way to barracks in Crookham.

It was during five days' leave that he first visited Bradford with three-and-a-half-years' back-pay in his pocket - and he had the time of his life. In fact he enjoyed the city so much that it was the only place he wanted to settle upon his discharge in 1946. By then his brother had arrived with the merchant navy – and they were joined by their mother and sisters four years later.

In 1949, Private Alfred Peterson was awarded the BEM. He also earned two medals and two stars.

Marrying his first wife Irene in 1948, they had three children before separating in 1955.

Alfred met his second spouse Jackie while working as a credit controller at the Provident Financial Group, where typically he helped to start a union.

They had a child and settled in Scholes eight years ago.

Just before moving, the couple were invited to the Queen's Garden Party – but Alfred refused.

"I have nothing against the Queen, but I could not face bowing to her or anyone."

The indignity inflicted by Yoskaro remains more than a memory, though the sergeant was later sentenced to four years in jail for war crimes.

To this day, Alfred won't allow anything Japanese into his home.

Looking back, he believes he would not have survived much longer as a POW: "The Japs had ordered all prisoners to be killed. If the bombs hadn't been dropped, we would all have been dead. It saved far more than it took.

"People talk about all those the bomb killed, but they should remember all my friends who were tortured and died."

In October, Alfred and Jackie go back to Singapore thanks to the National Lottery Heroes Return programme.

It's not the first time he has returned to his homeland – but at 80 years old it could be his last.

"The first time we went back was in 1984 and it had completely changed. We saw the gravestones of friends – they were all so young, all in their twenties."

The couple plan to visit the Kranji cemetery, where all the British and Australian POWs are buried.

The trip won't do anything to stop the nightmares which haunt him – nothing could. Some things can never be forgotten.

Thierry Henry interview - November 2008

In an exclusive interview with to celebrate Steven Gerrard week, Thierry Henry reveals all about their close friendship and why his dream of playing alongside the Reds skipper could never come true.

Thierry Henry had been in England less than a month when he paid his first visit to Anfield in August 1999.

A stunning goal from Robbie Fowler helped Liverpool to a 2-0 win on the day, but it was the performance of another Scouser that caught the eye of Arsenal's new striker. One born in Huyton, not Toxteth.

As Dermot Gallagher blew the final whistle and both sides sloped down the tunnel, Henry tapped teammate Partick Vieira on the shoulder and asked, "Who was that kid in midfield?"

"Steven Gerrard," replied his countryman. "He's going to be a brilliant player."

Over the next few years Henry and Gerrard would learn a lot more about one another as each set about writing his name in Premier League history.

It wasn't long before a mutual respect prompted an exchange of phone numbers, and from there a friendship blossomed.

Before Henry left Arsenal for the Nou Camp, there were even rumours that Gerrard tried to woo him to Merseyside.

Here the French ace reveals all about that conversation and assesses how history will judge his mate...

You played against Steven so many times. Is there an occasion that stands out?
There are so many. Whenever you play Liverpool you know you have to get him out of the game. If not, it's all over for you. He's a midfielder and if you look at all the important goals he's scored - well I can't even think of a striker in the world who has scored as many important goals, never mind a midfielder. How many times has he done it in the dying seconds of a game? I am trying to think of a striker now who does it - there aren't any. Think about it.

Tell us about your friendship. How close did you become?
Yes, really close. I played against Liverpool and Stevie G so many times, and when you appreciate a player so much and see them at every game, you talk. I always told him how much I admired him and he said the same to me. We exchanged numbers and kept in touch from there.

And do you still speak these days now you're at Barcelona?
We haven't spoken for a little while. I think the last time was at the beginning of the season. I'll text him and he'll reply very quickly.

Is it right the pair of you talked about you coming to Liverpool when you were leaving Arsenal?
Well, it was mentioned but it would have been difficult for me to go to another Premier League club after Arsenal. We talked about it but nothing was in it, really. It was just us talking about our wishes.

Maybe you could come back to the Premier League one day...
No, I really don't think so. In life you can never say never, right; but right now I really don't think so.

How much would you have liked to have played with him?
Oh, so much, so much. That's normal - I would have liked to have played with some others too, but he is an inspiration. He reminds me of Patrick Vieira in that he doesn't talk too much. He just does what he does. He inspires Liverpool without talking. I find it a disgrace that he didn't win European Football of the Year in 2005 after Istanbul. For me, he is one of the best ever.

How do they compare - Steven and Patrick?
They are different types of player. Patrick was a holding midfielder who also had the ability to go and score goals. Stevie G is someone who plays with the ball. He goes to put his name on the scoresheet every game. It is difficult to compare the two: it's like comparing Paul Scholes and Roy Keane. They are both great players but they don't do the same thing on the pitch.

Where does Steven rank in world football in your opinion?
For me, and I have always said this, he will be regarded as one of the greatest midfielders ever when he finishes his career. No doubt. Okay, he doesn't do the showboating thing. That doesn't matter. The guy is always putting his foot in, always scoring and doing what he has to do to make his team win. That is what football is all about. He is the guy who makes Liverpool spark.

What, for you, is his biggest attribute on the pitch?
Ah, where do you begin? Maybe I would say that when he needs to put his foot in, he does it. Look at Istanbul. He needed to go play at right-back and so he did it. And he did it well. He will put his head on the line and go to places other players won't. I don't know of a single word that describes Stevie G. Even if he is not playing at his best, you know you can count on him.

You don't get many players who play for their hometown club for 10 years, do you?
Well, it happens more in England than in other countries. There is a thing in England where people want to play for their hometown team and be the local hero - be like the people they used to look up to. But it is amazing what Stevie has done and is doing. It's not like he has relaxed for all this time. He has been everywhere for 10 years: putting his foot in, scoring goals, passing and being committed to his club. No one can ever doubt his commitment to Liverpool. He, for me, is Liverpool.