Local Liverpool fans on ‘Kop’ of the world at Rodgers appointment

BRENDAN Rodgers can count on the full support of Liverpool supporters in the Ballymena area as he embarks on his new job at Anfield.

Rodgers maintains strong links with the Ballymena area through a large extended family in the town, right throughout the Braid valley down to his native Carnlough and family and friends, along with the local footballing fraternity, have joined forces to wish him well as he embarks on one of the most prestigious jobs in world club football.

His appointment completes a remarkable journey from the park pitches of Ballymena to one of football’s most iconic venues.

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And few people will be more eager for the local man to do well than the borough’s sizeable Reds following, which includes the Bill Shankly Ballymena Liverpool Supporters’ Club.

The Ladysmith Arms-based club has around 50 members on its books and makes around four club outings to Anfield each season.

For club chairman James McCloy and his family, however, it’s not uncommon for him to make the trip to see his heroes 15 or 16 times a season.

“People say Brendan’s appointment is a gamble, but any managerial appointment is a gamble,” James told Times Sport.

“If people think the club is taking a risk, then I’m glad they’re taking it on Brendan Rodgers.

“Nothing is ever certain in football and I guess we’ll know a lot better in six months’ time.

“I think everyone has watched and admired Brendan’s progress with Swansea, getting them up into the Premier League and then keeping them there, but he already will know better than anybody, the expectation level at Swansea is completely different to Liverpool.

“One thing is certain, I never thought I would see the day that I would personally know some of the cousins and family members of the Liverpool manager - you wouldn’t have got that with Rafa Benitez!” laughed James.

“He seems a very intelligent and well spoken fella, who comes across well in public - that was an area that Liverpool were criticised for last year.

“Hopefully when we’re over this season we’ll get the chance to meet him - I would love to have a yarn with him - and I’m sure he would appreciate seeing some Liverpool fans from his home town,” added James.

Local football coach Shay Hamill, who worked with Rodgers as part of Arthur McClean’s coaching team at the Northern Ireland Milk Cup, has maintained contact with him over the years.

“’Fudgie’ is a wonderful fella and he deserves all the success he has achieved.

“He was home a few months back and I had a great chat with him about the technical side of the game.

“He was always very focused. Even back in the Milk Cup days, when other young fellas were asking if they could go out or go up the town, Brendan just concentrated on his football.

“Liverpool Football Club is a worldwide brand and for Brendan to be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Bill Shankly and Kenny Dalglish is amazing,” added Shay.

Mayor of Ballymena, Councillor Hubert Nicholl, who follows the fortunes of Liverpool from afar, said: “Liverpool would be my team so I’m doubly delighthed that the new manager is a man with strong Ballymena connections.

“He has done brilliantly to get such a big job at such a young age but that is an advatnage as he brings some new ideas.

“I’ve been to Liverpool, the city, on a number of occasions but unfortunately it has never been at a time when Liverpool have been playing a match so now might be the ideal time to change that!” added Hubert.

* The Ballymena Times’ website article on Rodgers’ appointment, featuring interviews with some of his former teachers and coaches caught the eye of Liverpool FC’s official TV channel, who conducted a live telephone article with Sports Editor Stephen Alexander about local reaction to his appointment. See the article online at www.ballymenatimes.com