THE LIAM INTERVIEW
Liam Rosenior has spoken exclusively to The Incider about his acrimonious departure from Bristol City and the fans' bitterness towards him. He told his side of the story in the fullest and frankest interview he has given and reveals why he decided to quit Ashton Gate and fight the club at a tribunal.
It's hard to believe at the start of last season we launched our first edition with an interview with Liam and sponsored his shirt. He had just broken into the first team squad and optimistic about his future at the club. But sixteen months later, The Incider's Edson met up with Liam and his agent Mike Drew at London 's Victoria Station to discuss where it all went wrong.
Is Liam too big for his boots or simply focussed and ambitious? We want to know what you think after reading the interview. Send your views to firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do you feel about the general anger and bad feeling the Bristol City fans have towards you following the way you left the club?
LR: Strangely enough, most of my friends are Bristol City fans but they can see it from my perspective and are fine with me, because they know my side of the story. It's not a case of it being me versus Bristol City. The fact is, I had an opportunity which may never have come round again and I had to take it.
On The Incider, we ran a competition to see what the fans wanted us to do with your shirt. What did you think of the responses we had to that?
LR: My friends who read your website told me about that so I read the responses you had. To be honest, I found it quite funny and I can understand their feelings from a fan's perspective. I'm a football supporter too. I support Manchester Utd, and I can't understand why any player would want to leave Old Trafford for another club. When you're a fan like the supporters at Ashton Gate who've followed Bristol City all their lives, and you read about this young kid who's portrayed as someone who doesn't want to play for your club and considers himself to be too big for the club as I've been portrayed, then I'm not surprised they're upset.
I totally understand how the supporters feel from what they've read about me, but at the time I couldn't allow myself to get involved in arguing that my personality and character had been wrongly portrayed. I was at Fulham trying to prove that I had what it takes to be a Premiership footballer, so I had to concentrate solely on that and try to ignore what was being said about me, or it would have affected my game and my chances of Fulham taking me on.
I've still got the Incider T-shirt you gave me at home, though. I kept that!
A few days before the pre-season started, it was reported that you would be rejoining Bristol City and training with the club with a view to staying. Then, on the day you were due back, you phoned the club and said you wouldn't be returning. What happened in the days leading up to pre-season training that caused you to change your mind so completely?
LR: What happened was, I knew that there were clubs from higher divisions interested in signing me. However, the clubs that were looking at me, including Fulham, hadn't seen me play in what they considered to be my best position as a right back, so there was nothing concrete from anyone, whereas Bristol City were offering me a contract. So that's the situation I found myself in.
I went away with my girlfriend for two weeks over the summer and we spoke a lot about what my options were, as I was still very unsure of what I wanted to do. I had no problem with Bristol City but, as an out of contract player, I had various options to consider and I wanted time to think about what was best for me.
Having talked it all through, I phoned my agent and told him that I felt it would be best for me to stay at Bristol City and try to push for a first team place with them. So my agent contacted Steve [Lansdown] and passed that information on to him.
There were other issues within the club which I don't want to go in to, in terms of my relationship with certain people at the club, which had left a sour taste in my mouth and all that needed to be discussed if I was going to stay. I had no problem with the manager or any of the coaches, but there were things which had to be resolved if I was going to re-sign with Bristol City .
It was agreed that I would come in to train on the Monday and that I'd talk to Danny [ Wilson ] and Steve after training. We also agreed that nobody would talk to the Press, as I didn't want it getting out that I was talking to Bristol City when other clubs were interested in signing me. I felt it would look disrespectful to City if I came in to talk to them and then chose not to sign.
Anyway, it came to the Sunday before I was due back and I looked on Teletext and saw a quote from the manager which said I had made it clear I wanted to leave and that my chances of playing in the first team had diminished as a result, and I found that very hard to take as it wasn't the situation at all.
I spoke to my parents, my agent and my girlfriend and, bearing in mind what Danny Wilson had said, decided I might be better starting afresh somewhere else, as he had made it clear I wasn't in his plans.
If it was a case of wanting first team games, surely you would have more chance of doing that at Bristol City than at a Premiership club such as Fulham?
LR: But I didn't feel I could go back to a Second Division club who weren't going to play me, which is what the manager had implied, when there were Premiership clubs interested in me. Fulham were great with me and waited for me to make my decision, so I felt it would be better for me to try my luck elsewhere.
As a player, you have to be a bit selfish sometimes and, for me, it was a case of either being a squad player at a Premiership club or being a squad player at a Second Division club.
Not only that, but with the way things have gone, I actually think I have more chance of getting in Fulham's first team than I would have done had I stayed at Bristol City. It sounds ridiculous, but I honestly believe I have more chance with Fulham, playing at right back, than I would have had at Bristol City .
Fulham sold Steve Finnan to Liverpool and have a player on loan from Arsenal playing in that position, so I'm the only signed right back they have on their books and genuinely believe I will play for the first team this season.
I have to wait until the transfer window in January before I can play, but I am certain I can and will play for Fulham this season. The criteria for Fulham taking me on was that I was good enough to push for a place in the first eleven. Fulham don't have a lot of money, despite what people say about Fayed, and they don't sign a player unless they're certain he'll be challenging for a place in the team.
It was agreed at a Football League disciplinary hearing that, due to you receiving your letter indicating Bristol City's intentions to keep you on after the May 17 th cut-off date, you were a free agent. Why, then, did Fulham agree to pay a fee for you rather than go through the appeal process, when they could have signed you for nothing had the appeal found in your favour?
LR: I really don't know. Perhaps Mike [Mike Drew, Liam's agent] could answer that one for you.
MD: It's quite a complicated situation. Fulham didn't actually end up paying money for Liam. It was a laborious process which began with our dispute with Bristol City being heard by the Football Disciplinary Commission and they unhesitatingly ruled in our favour - that Liam was available on a free transfer and made an order that Bristol City should pay the costs.
Surprisingly, Bristol City then decided that they were going to appeal against that ruling. The time between the initial hearing and the appeal was so long, and Fulham had seen enough of Liam to decide they wanted to sign him, that they made a token gesture to Bristol City to cover the legal costs of the case.
Essentially, there never was a £55,000 [the reported transfer fee]. Fulham just made a payment to Bristol City , which Bristol City then exhausted paying a combination of their solicitors' fees and our solicitors' fees.
Obviously, the Football Disciplinary Committee ruling in your favour was based solely on the evidence of the postmark on the letter to Liam being after the date by which he should have received the letter. It seems unusual for someone to look at a postmark on a letter, so what made you check it?
LR: I didn't know anything about it at all. I was totally unaware of the significance of the date on the letter.
MD: To me, it was obvious. I knew when the thing should have been done by and that the letter hadn't been received by the date it should have been. A letter then subsequently arrived at Liam's house with a date on it that was within the allowable time, but the postmark was four or five days later.
As his agent, I pointed out to him what his options were at that stage, as I felt it was the least I could do. Obviously, one of the options was to challenge it as we did, but it was a path fraught with difficulties as, if Liam had lost, he'd have ended up with a bill for all the legal expenses and been back at a club where it was increasingly obvious that life might have been made difficult for him.
There was some anger form the fans that, during the time you were training with Fulham, you were still being paid by Bristol City . How do you feel about that?
LR: I was really upset about it. Obviously, I was training and playing with Fulham, but they weren't allowed to pay me. The only reason Bristol City continued to pay me was to keep hold of my registration. I never asked Bristol City to pay me, it was their decision.
MD: Absolutely right. Liam asked me to contact Bristol City and tell them to stop paying him, as he knew it was causing resentment, but Bristol City had been ordered by the Football League to carry on paying him or they would have forfeited their right to hold his registration.
LR: As I've said, I have friends who support City, and they were telling me that the fact I was still getting paid was causing bad-feeling, which I didn't want to happen. All the while, I was really struggling financially and had to borrow money from my agent and from my family as the cost of living in London is so much higher than in Bristol , and my money from Bristol City wasn't stretching far enough.
Fulham weren't allowed to pay me the higher wages I needed to live here, so all the time I was waiting for the appeal hearing I was slipping further and further into debt.
In a press statement, you said: “ Bristol City said they wanted to keep me but there was nothing in writing for me to consider.” Surely contract negotiations are an ongoing process which start sometime before your existing contract expires. Is it really true that in all that time you were never given anything to consider?
MD: The club made an offer around Christmas time last year and then made an improved offer around March of this year and, after talking to Liam, he made it clear he didn't want to stay at that time, so that was the end of it. One of theses offers was put in writing and, in fairness to Bristol City , Steve Lansdown made it clear that he wanted to keep Liam. But we saw little point in continuing the dialogue at that stage, as Liam had said he didn't want to stay.
LR: But what Steve was saying was totally at odds with what the manager was saying. Danny Wilson never indicated to me that I was part of his plans which, as a player, you need to hear. You want your manager to tell you that you're wanted and needed at a football club, but I was getting totally the opposite from Danny and he clearly didn't want me there.
If you look at the manager's quotes after the LDV Final, he was talking more about other clubs coming in for me than my worth to Bristol City , which isn't what a player wants to hear. It was clear that the Chairman wanted me to stay, as he felt I was a valuable asset at the club, but it was equally obvious that the manager didn't think I was worth much to the playing staff.
In your brief career as a Bristol City first team player, the LDV Final was clearly the highlight. After you performance in that game, did you feel you may have reached a turning point in your career?
LR: Yes, I did, and I was bitterly disappointed not to be in the team the following week against Luton . Not only that, but I didn't even get on the bench. As an eighteen-year-old who's just helped his club to win a trophy, not to even be in the squad the following week was really hard to take.
I know fans talk about loyalty but, as a player, you need to know that the manager wants you and to have good performances rewarded. Yet two days later I found myself playing at Mangotsfield, and we all know what happened there [ Liam was the victim of alleged racial abuse by a Mangotsfield player and was sent off. ]
On another day, I wouldn't have allowed myself to get wound up like that, but it was the whole situation that I found myself in. Having tried my best to do well when I got into the first team and having just played well at The Millennium Stadium, here I was playing against Mangotsfield and no longer in the squad.
It all came to a head, I reacted badly and there are no excuses for that. The red card ruled me out of the play-offs, but I feel if I had been handled differently at that time then things could have been very different for me.
Do you think your feelings about not being given a fair chance to get into the first team at Bristol City are reflected by other young players at the club?
LR: I can't argue with the manager, he's got so much experience, he's a nice guy and I've got a lot of time for him. He's taken an unfancied club up to the Premiership and got City into third position last season, so I really can't say a word against him in that respect.
Having said that, I feel that Bristol City have more talented young players on their books than the majority of Premiership clubs, and while I have a lot of respect and admiration for Danny, last season I was playing up front ahead of Leroy Lita, who had scored 30 plus goals for the reserves, and I couldn't understand that.
I made my league debut against Stockport , in a position I'd never played in before in my life. I started the season as a right back, but I was getting played up front ahead of a proven goal-scorer. It was unbelievable, really. I was getting criticised for my finishing and yet I knew I was a right back and not a striker, so it was frustrating.
If I was to ask the average Bristol City fan what they thought of Liam Rosenior, I imagine they would use words such as “arrogant”, “big-headed”, “thinks he's bigger than the club” and so on. Why do you think people have that perception of you?
LR: In my time at Bristol City , I think I was a totally different character from almost everyone else at the club. Leroy Lita is similar to me in that we're both outgoing, confident young players and I think people can take that the wrong way sometimes.
You know, I wear wrist bands and white boots and I think some people look at that and think I'm a big time Charlie and an arrogant so-and-so or whatever, and I can understand why people look at me and think I'm a poser, but it's just a part of who I am. I want to be different and unique and I think that came across in the LDV Final, when I came on and tried a few things to change the way a dull game was going.
MD: I think it's interesting, from my perspective, to see that the qualities that Liam's mentioned there, which are resented by a lot of people at Bristol City, are the very qualities that are so admired at Fulham, and that seems to me to speak volumes.
LR: Being the way I am is fine when you have the supporters and players on your side, but I think certain players at the club saw me as a bit of a threat, as I was young, confident and not afraid to speak my mind, whether it was to a trainee or a seasoned pro. I think being so outgoing made me into a bit of an outcast and I hope that others don't find it to be the same way for them.
Obviously, your father [Leroy Rosenior] has strong links with Bristol City and may have aspirations of being manager at Ashton Gate one day in the future. Did he advise you? Or was it an awkward situation for him, so he kept his involvement to a minimum?
LR: My dad is used to it. When he was at the club and I was getting in the reserves, there was a lot of resentment from other young players and their parents over the fact that I was doing well. They were saying that I was only playing because my dad was there, so we had all that to contend with.
It's difficult for me because my dad is so well known and respected at Bristol City and, in most people's eyes, I represent what my dad is about, but I'm a totally different character.
My dad obviously gives me the benefit of his experiences, but he leaves me to make up my own decisions as I'm the one who has to live with whatever decision I make. He would never interfere in what I decide to do, but just tells me that if I make a mistake I should learn from it, that's all.
There was a time when your dad wanted to be manager of Bristol City , following his joint managerial role at the club. Is there any possibility that Leroy feels bitter towards the club for not offering him the job at that time, and wanted to use your situation as a chance to get back at the club for the way he feels he was treated?
LR: I don't think any father would want to avenge a perceived injustice against themselves through their son, and they would only want what was right for their son. Whatever my decision had been, my father would be a hundred per cent behind me, and that's the only comment he would ever make on my career.
You have had links with Bristol City for most of your life, both through your father and your own career. Whether the letter was a day late or whatever, is there any part of you that thinks: “Actually, I really owe them something?”
LR: I would never have wanted to leave the way I did. No player wants to leave under a cloud and I'd have loved to leave the way Scott Murray did, with the best wishes of everyone and making the club a decent transfer fee. But, in my circumstances, I had the manager telling the Press there was only a slim chance of me playing for the first team, I was champing at the bit to play and I had Premiership clubs looking at me.
I know it sounds selfish but I had to do what was right for me. It's my career and I have to make a living from football but, having said that, this wasn't about money or status. It was about me wanting to play football and get as far as I can in the game, and from that perspective I felt moving to Fulham was the best thing for me.
Scott Murray left the club while you were still considering your future. Did his departure make you reconsider your situation, and think that maybe there would be an opportunity for to step into his boots?
LR: Yes, it did to some extent but again, the manager had said I wasn't in his plans and that was foremost in my mind, regardless of Scott leaving.
Do you ever regret your decision to leave Bristol City ?
LR: I'm happy with my decision, apart from when it gets to 3 o'clock on a Saturday and I have to sit watching Soccer Saturday instead of playing. I've been back to Ashton Gate a couple of times and I do miss playing there but, from the point of view of my playing career, I think it's the best decision I could have made.
If you could say one thing to the Bristol City fans, after all that's happened, what would it be?
LR: I'd just like to say, “Thanks a lot and thank you for a great season.” I know it was only one season, but the away fans especially were the best. The fans are brilliant and I know Bristol City are a big enough club, with good enough young players to go a long, long way.
Whatever the fans think of me, I have no problem with anyone at Bristol City . Far from it. I want them to be successful. They've been a big part of my life. I have friends there who I want to see progress and, equally, Bristol City is a club I will always be fond of because they've been my club for so long.
I sincerely wish everyone connected with the club all the very best.