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Resident on America’s east coast for the past 23 years, Steve Nicol’s broadcasting work with ESPN doesn’t encompass much coverage of Scottish football.
YouTube was his port of call when Liverpool moved to sign Calvin Ramsay. And what he saw on his screen proved startling.
‘Christ, I’m looking at myself here,’ Nicol laughingly recalls to Sportsmail. ‘He’s getting the ball at full-back and dribbling past people. He runs with the ball a lot. Right away, it reminded me of me!’
Calvin Ramsey admits it will be weird to be team-mates with Mo Salah and Andy Robertson
Nicol means when he was 19, a year older than Ramsay, and playing for Ayr United.
He soon changed. A £300,000 agreement took him from First Division football at Somerset Park to the reigning European champions. Pass it and move was the mantra there.
Nicol was initially signed by Liverpool as understudy to Phil Neal, England’s right-back. Now, 41 years on, Ramsay is heading south to learn from Trent Alexander-Arnold.
The initial £4.5million fee is a record sale for Aberdeen but will be a solid-gold bargain if Ramsay can achieve even a fraction of what Nicol did. Four league winner’s medals, three from the FA Cup and one European Cup. Thirteen years, 468 appearances and 46 goals.
His story is pertinent for more than a shared nationality. Success wasn’t instant. Nicol had to learn and grow.
Also, while Ramsay admits it’s going to be ‘weird’ walking into the dressing-room and realising Alexander-Arnold, Mo Salah and Andy Robertson are actually his team-mates, Nicol was in beside Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Alan Hansen. This trio of Scottish kings soon made him welcome — in their own way.
The 18-year-old defender has moved south to learn from Trent Alexander-Arnold
‘The first time I went in I was changing next to Kenny and two over was big Al (Hansen),’ says Nicol.
‘The fact they were a lot of Scottish guys there, I’m going to say they looked after me — but by looking after me, I mean they wound the c**p out of me relentlessly!
‘I kind of felt at home straight away because of that. That squad of players, as great as they were, European champions, everyone was together.
‘Although there were remorseless wind-ups, it wasn’t done to hurt anyone, it was just all in fun.
‘If they didn’t take the p*** out of you, then they didn’t like you or didn’t trust you.
‘They made it easy for me. And when I look at this Liverpool squad now, they look really together, too. No doubt Robbo will be the first one that will look after Ramsay, so I expect it just to be the same.
‘Once you feel at home, once you get that first training session out of the way, it takes away all the preconceived notions you might have of what to do, what to say, what people are like.’
The initial £4.5million fee for Ramsey is a record sale for Aberdeen
Not everything is the same across the decades. Ramsay was aware of Liverpool’s interest for months before the deal was sealed. Not so Nicol.
‘I knew nothing about it,’ he says. ‘I went into training (with Ayr) on the Tuesday night. George Caldwell, who was assistant to Willie McLean at the time, asked me to come and wait in the manager’s office with him.
‘So we sat there for ten minutes and then Willie came in. He told me they’d accepted an offer from Liverpool and that was it.
‘I got in his car, we drove to my house, got my gear and then we went down to Manchester on the Tuesday night.’
Then there are the two managers. Jurgen Klopp is renowned as one of football’s premier orators, a master of motivating through language. But what was Nicol’s first meeting with the late, great Bob Paisley like?
‘Interesting…,’ chuckles Nicol. ‘A man of few words. I didn’t really have a conversation with him. Willie and I went in to sign on the Thursday. We were basically in the players’ lounge, where they would have their lunch.
‘It’s hard to describe. When I say few words I mean next to no words. It was kind of awkward. We’re just sitting there — me, Willie and Bob. Every so often someone would walk in. Willie would go: “He’s a great player”. And Bob would agree.’
Did the suddenness of the move not scramble Nicol’s head?
‘Nah,’ he says. ‘I’m kinda like that. I don’t overthink anything. I just got on with it.’
He did. Slowly but surely, drawing on the encouragement of the coaches when his role