Craig Noone sits reservedly across the table in a no-frills, grey-on-grey full tracksuit, weary from a long day out on the pitch under the beating sun. When asked if he’s ready to begin, he replies in the affirmative in his usual softly-spoken manner, though the thick Scouse accent is impossible to miss.
Born in the Merseyside town of Kirkby, just six miles (9km) north-east of Liverpool, Noone was brought up on the stories and memories of those indomitable Reds of the 70s and 80s who’d probably preceded his full comprehension and appreciation by a mere handful of years (the lad was born in ’87).
Surely the dream of every Scouse boy and girl, Noone was picked up early in his childhood by Liverpool, playing for his beloved Reds from around nine years of age until about 12, when he was cut from the academy, as per the ruthless nature of English football development systems.
“It did hurt but I used it as motivation really to try and kick on,” the now 32-year-old says, “I was quite slight and small to be honest and everyone was growing up above me so that was difficult.”
Picked up by various other academies during different spells throughout his adolescence, Noone would go on to pick up a trade – roofing, in his case – instead of progressing through secondary education. It was a tough gig as an 18-year-old, with the Englishman explaining, “[I’d be] working from, say, seven or eight in the morning right up until four or five o’clock and then I’d go train in the evening.
“It was hard but I think it grounded me.”
The ex-Premier League winger has quite an infamous story up his sleeve from his time roofing houses back in Merseyside. It begins as inconspicuously as any other, really:
“One morning the boss picked me up at 7am as he always done and he said, ‘You’re gonna like who we’re working with today.’”
The Scouser remembers his ears perking up at the statement, but admits he was expecting something along the lines of a training ground or smaller local football stadium.
“We got to this big house – this mansion-type thing, if you like – and I was quizzing him, ‘Who’s house is it?’”
Well go on then, Craig.
“It was 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon when Gerrard had finished training and pulled up into his house."
That’s Gerrard of the Steven-variety, by the way.
“I was a bit starstruck to be honest.”
Bloody hell Nooney, we would be too.
He ended up working on Stevie G’s roof for a couple of weeks, by his own estimate, and would end up facing his boyhood idol on the field not too long after that:
“Within the next year or so, I was playing against him in the FA Cup which was a bit surreal.”
We’ve skipped too far ahead, though.
Noone’s big breakthrough actually came whilst he was still roofing houses, when he was scouted whilst playing for his local non-league side with his mates by now-English Football League mainstays, Plymouth Argyle.
“I always believed I was going to be a professional,” he explains adamantly.
The winger had always indisputably possessed his fair share of talent, and that additional self-belief, optimism and persistence ended up paying off when Argyle swooped in to pick him up on a two-year contract:
“I went from working on a building site and playing semi-professional non-league – that was on the Friday – and then on the Monday I was signing a contract to be a professional footballer so it was like a dream come true really.”
From a roofie to a professional footballer within the space of a single weekend. Not bad if you ask us.
Back to that FA Cup game though.
Noone was playing for Brighton at the time, and when asked how it felt to play against his boyhood club, could initially only bring himself to describe it in one word:
“Especially at Anfield it was a bit surreal to be honest, walking out to You’ll Never Walk Alone and walking out in [front of] the main stand and looking at the Kop.”
The surrealness dissipated pretty quickly for Noone and the Seagulls from there; 6-1 was the final scoreline, with three of Liverpool’s half-dozen being Brighton own-goals.
Noone himself was substituted onto the pitch to replace Will Buckley at the commencement of the second half, but our little Scouse winger couldn’t provide the spark his Seagulls needed. In fact, he almost made the situation worse, fouling Liverpool icon Dirk Kuyt in the area to concede a penalty, which a certain Uruguayan lad by the name of Luis Suarez stepped up to take but failed to convert.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for Noone though; Gerrard rounded up his teammates after the game to sign his iconic #8 shirt, giving it to his former-roof tiler and thus making the day of a lifelong Reds fan.
The two remain in contact to this day.