x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Teenage kicks that never matured

Rooney is 23, the same age at which Wayne Harrison was forced out of football after 23 football related operations. Wayne who? Let's go back to March 1985 when the telephone rang in the Oldham Athletic manager Joe Royle's office at Boundary Park.

While some Manchester United fans may be growing impatient at Wayne Rooney's continued absence from the team while recovering from the hamstring injury he suffered against Wigan on Jan 14, Sir Alex Ferguson is too wise to rush the man of all talents back into action. Rooney is 23, the same age at which Wayne Harrison was forced out of football after 23 football related operations. Wayne who? Let's go back to March 1985 when the telephone rang in the Oldham Athletic manager Joe Royle's office at Boundary Park. "Hello, Joe? It's Joe Fagan here at Liverpool. About this kid of yours - Wayne Harrison - would you be willing to accept two hundred grand for him?" "Two hundred big ones? You're having a laugh aren't you? "OK then, how about a quarter of a million? "Let me think it over - OK, it's a done deal." So Harrison, a 17-year-old who had played only two Second Division first-team games for Oldham become the world's most expensive teenage footballer (a price tag later acquired by his namesake when he moved to United from Everton four and a half years ago). Like Rooney, Harrison was destined for stardom: England international caps, league championships, FA Cup winner's medals, European Footballer of the Year, who knew what glittering future lay ahead of the young man with the world at his feet? After being allowed to see out the 1984-85 season at Oldham, where he left with five first-team appearances under his slim-waisted belt, Harrison duly reported for duty at Anfield in the company of Graeme Souness, Alan Hansen and Ian Rush under the player-managership of Kenny Dalglish, who had replaced the late Fagan in the aftermath of the Heysel Stadium riots. In the tradition laid down by Bill Shankly, Liverpool did not rush their protege into action, allowing him to mature slowly in the reserves, where his performances were a source of quiet satisfaction to Dalglish. Assiduously protected from the media, Harrison was on the verge of a seat on the substitutes' bench when, in a bizarre accident, he crashed through a greenhouse and, with the local ambulance service on strike at the time, he all but died through loss of blood before the back-up army medics could rush him to hospital. Even so, as a natural goal-scorer blessed with a sublime touch, Harrison was generally regarded as the future King of the Kop in waiting, except that he was kept waiting and waiting and waiting. Fate was not finished with young Harrison: he endured a series of serious injuries - double hernia, cartilage, knee, shoulder - returning from each new operation determined to fulfil his destiny. Then, in the last reserve game of the season against Bradford City in May 1990, he collided with the goalkeeper, shattering the cruciate ligaments in his knee: the damage was irrepairable and it befell to Souness, Dalglish's successor at Anfield, to gently explain the details of the medical prognosis. At 23, and without playing a first-team game for Liverpool after his highly-publicised transfer, Harrison's football career was over. The last time I spoke to Harrison, now 41, he was making deliveries for Robinson's Brewery in his home town of Stockport. "The knee still gives me gyp," he explained. "But I console myself with the thought that nothing in life can ever be as bad again." Some fairytales do not have a happy ending. rphilip@thenational.ae