John Bishop interview - March 2007

Welcome to Liverpoolfc.tv'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!"

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