“Gerrard and then Klopp – not a bad start to the season, is it?”
Ryan Lowe grins as he contemplates what lies ahead. While the rest of the country enjoys World Cup fever, he is gearing up for the biggest challenges of his career.
Lowe is a Scouser, a lifelong Liverpool supporter. He was on the club’s books as a teenager but left at 15, dropping into the local non-League scene before forging a distinguished career as a lower-league goalscorer. He played for nine clubs, made more than 700 Football League appearances, and scored more than 200 goals.
Now, he’s the manager of Bury, the League Two side that will face Gerrard’s Rangers and Klopp’s Liverpool in the next week.
“A privilege!” he tells Goal as we sit down on a gloriously sunny day at Bury’s Carrington training ground. Before we arrive, Lowe has spent the morning going over set-piece routines ahead of an in-house friendly against Sheffield Wednesday. “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail,” he smiles.
On Friday, Bury will become Gerrard’s first opponents as a proper, senior manager. A bumper crowd is expected at Ibrox for the game, despite the lure of Brazil vs Belgium on television.
For Lowe, it will be a special night. He and Gerrard are friends, going back more than 20 years. Now, for a couple of hours, they are in opposition.
“It’ll be a bit weird, but in a good way!” he smiles. “I’ve known Stevie for a long time, initially through a friend of mine who was at Liverpool’s Academy with him. Then when I joined Shrewsbury [in 2000] one of his best mates, Ian Dunbavin, was there and Stevie made sure he looked after me. I actually lived with Bavo for a bit, so obviously I got to know Stevie more.
“I’ve been on holiday with him, I was at his wedding, I’ve followed him all over the world watching him and his amazing career. Now I’ll be in the opposite dugout, it’s a bit surreal but I’m looking forward to it.”
Lowe recalls the only other time he crossed paths with Gerrard professionally, a pre-season friendly for Crewe against Liverpool in 2006.
“He did me!” he laughs. “I remember coming short to receive the ball, and he smashed into the back of me. I turned around and he just looked at me and said ‘just letting you know I’m there, Lowey!’ I’ve actually got a photo of the two of us together from that game, which he signed for me. It’s a great memory from my career.
“Even though he was a friend, he’s always been a big inspiration for me. As I say I followed him up and down the country with Liverpool, I was there in Istanbul celebrating with him in the hotel afterwards, I was there for his England debut at the old Wembley back in 2000. I’m older than him, but he’s been an idol, the way he applies himself, the way he lives his life. He’s a top, top pro and a top, top lad.”
Lowe laughs as he tells us about an interview he conducted with a Scottish newspaper recently.
“They asked me what advice I had for Stevie!” he says. “Imagine that? Me giving Stevie advice about football!
“Look, I’ve got no doubt that he’ll go and do what he wants to do. Look at what he’s achieved in his career. That epitomises who he is as a person, for me. If he can bring any of what he had as a player to his managerial career, he’ll be a big success.
“For Bury, it’s great that we get the chance to go up there and pit our wits against his side. I can’t thank Rangers enough, Stevie, Mark Allen the director of football, and Owen Brown who put me in touch with Mark. We’re really looking forward to it.”
If Ibrox in front of 40,000 will be an experience, then what follows will be one of the proudest days of Lowe’s life. A week on Saturday, Liverpool visit Bury’s Energy Check Stadium. For a boyhood Red, who travelled with his son to watch their Champions League final defeat back in May, it is the biggest game imaginable.
“For me, they’re the best club in the world,” he says. “They’re the club I’ve supported all my life, and it’ll be a pleasure to welcome them to Bury. Again, I can’t thank them enough for agreeing to come down. We’ll treat them with the respect they deserve, hopefully give them a good game and, in an ideal world, it’ll be the start of a relationship between the clubs.
“Liverpool trained here a few years ago before they played Manchester United in a Europa League game, so it’s good that we can have those kind of interactions with them.
“I never played a competitive game against them, which was a regret of mine. I remember one year I left Crewe to go to Chester, and Crewe got Liverpool in the League Cup at Anfield! I actually watched the game with Stevie in his box. My coach here at Bury, Steven Schumacher, played in the game and I was so jealous. So to have them coming here now, that’s just as important for me.
“For Jurgen to bring his full-strength squad to Bury; his new signings, Adam Lallana, James Milner, top players, it is a great chance for us as a club to show what we’re about. We’ll try and make it competitive, but we’ll conduct ourselves in the right way. There’ll be no ridiculous challenges flying in or getting at the referee. It’s a friendly at the end of the day.”
A chance, too, perhaps to pick Klopp’s brain for a few minutes – and to get one of those famous bear-hugs?
“It’ll be me hugging him, I think!” Lowe laughs. “I’m a huge fan of Klopp, as every Liverpool fan is. I’m in awe of every Liverpool manager, they’re my heroes, and it’s the same with Jurgen – maybe even more because of his personality and his humour.
“I’ll enjoy the day. It’d be great if he could come in the office and have a bottle of water, or a bottle of beer if he wants, and we can have a chat. If I can spend five minutes or 50 minutes with him, it’ll be a great learning experience for me.”
This will be Lowe’s first full season as a manager, but he has already learnt plenty during a six-month caretaker spell last term. It ended in disappointment, with Bury relegated from League One back in May, but a summer re-build has taken place and he is confident now that he can get the club moving in the right direction.
“I learned so much last season,” he says. “A lot of it was what not to do, if I’m honest.
“I had a four-year plan when I felt I was coming to the end of my career, working towards eventually becoming a manager. And then within six months I was in the hot-seat! I’ve had to learn fast, but it is what it is. I’ve just had my UEFA A-Licence signed off and I’m ready to get stuck right in now.”
So Gerrard and then Klopp. Rangers and then Liverpool. Not the worst week Bury will ever have.
“A dream come true mate,” Lowe smiles. “A dream come true.”