Age in 2005: 24
Premier League Clubs: Liverpool (2002-2007), Blackburn (2007-2009), Aston Villa (2009-2013)
Position: Left back
Before making an appearance for Liverpool, Stephen Warnock had already spent much of his young career out on loan. Fans of Bradford and Coventry were treated to a combined total of 56 appearances from ‘The Warlock’, where he even scored more than three goals (four).
On his return to Liverpool in 2004, his first-team debut came against Grazer AK, meaning Stephen Warnock has more Champions League appearances than you.
(Above: Warnock graciously poses for a photo with some fans.)
In the 2005/06 season, he started pulling on the Liverpool shirt with more regularity. Unfortunately, he always had to haul a Liverpool bib or training jumper over the top of it almost immediately, in order to avoid anybody confusing him with someone actually playing. His role as backup to John Arne Riise kept him out of the first time somewhat consistently. John Arne Riise didn’t get injured, he just injured others.
After scoring his only Liverpool goal, the vital fourth in a 5-1 win over Fulham, Warnock felt it was time to depart his boyhood club. Every news source focusing on sport in the Blackburn area was now occasionally reporting a groundbreaking rumour: Warnock may be on his way to Ewood Park, with fellow ‘Prem Classic’ Lucas Neill going the other way. Half of this happened; Lucas Neill ended up at ‘next best thing’ specialists West Ham instead.
The deal was reported as being worth an ‘undisclosed fee of £1.5m’, and Warnock quickly made his debut in Lancashire. A second appearance for his new club saw Blackburn take on Sheffield United, a game they won 2-1. Bryan Robson was sacked from Bramall Lane two weeks later, and many have suggested that Warnock was spurred on by a desire to get one over Sheffield United, who had had sacked his much younger brother Neil just the season before.
(Above: Stephen confusing himself for fellow Prem Classic Shefki Kuqi.)
After 88 somewhat uninspiring appearances for Blackburn, Warnock was on the move again. This time, he was reunited with Gerard Houllier at Aston Villa in August 2009 for a reported £8m – yes, eight. This was not the happy renewing of vows it had promised to be though, as Warnock was inexplicably training with the reserves by December.
Houllier was promptly sacked from Villa (probably nothing to do with his treatment of Warnock) and Alex McLeish took over. He offered Stephen ‘a clean slate’, which Warnock returned to the Scotsman and simply asked if he could have a bit more game time. He made 34 appearances in the 2011-12 season, but once McLeish too moved on, Paul Lambert dropped the left-back once more.
But above everything else, Stephen Warnock will be remembered for his bravery. When Liverpool took on Chelsea in a 2005/06 Premier League match, the Sky Sports coverage cut to a shot of Rafa Benitez looking concerned and focused on the bench. Behind him, one of the Premier League’s most courageous acts of comic genius was taking place.
(Above: Stephen sweating profusely in an attempt to impress Gerard Houllier.)
Stephen – on the bench, of course – appears to be focusing on something in his lap while players around him giggle. He then reaches across to Norwegian lunatic John Arne Riise (a man who once kicked a ball so hard that it broke Alan Smith’s leg), appearing to offer him a piece of gum. But as Riise takes the piece in his hand, he comes to the swift realisation that it has all been a magnificent rouse at his expense: the gum wrapper is empty. Cue uncontrollable laughter from what looks like Steve Finnan.
Warnock made 212 appearances for Premier League clubs. His career is perhaps not the most decorated, but he did turn out twice for England, coming on as a substitute for Wayne Bridge in the 84th minute of a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago. So just re-read that sentence, and remember it every time you feel sad about England’s 2018 World Cup performance.
Where is he now?
Doing his coaching badges alongside fellow Kop legend Jay Spearing. Will we see him manage alongside little brother Neil one day?
What did he say?
“When I was younger I couldn’t stand David Beckham… But when I got to play with him I realised he was just a normal man.”