Haunted hotels, Lafferty's keys and RVW in disguise - life as City's player liaison
- Credit: Denise Bradley
From worries about haunted hotel rooms, to rescuing car keys late at night and meeting disguised new signings, Phil Lythgoe has seen it all in his role as player liaison officer at Norwich City.
He’s the man that Canaries stars turn to when they have a problem in their personal life, helping new players in particular to get set up after arriving in Norfolk.
The 61-year-old joined the club’s commercial staff in 2006 but when Chris Hughton arrived as manager in 2012 and was shocked that City had never had a player liaison officer, it was Lythgoe who was identified as the man for the job.
He explains: “I’m the go-to man for players and, as it turns out now, staff because if someone wants something they’ll be told ‘speak to Phil’.
“Because I’ve been at the club in my previous role with the advertising team, you speak to local companies and businesses, I know quite a few people from my football days as well, so I’m sort of seen to be the go-to man if anybody wants anything.
“But mainly my job is just to look after the players outside of football, so that all they need to do is concentrate on keeping fit, training and playing matches.”
The son of former striker Derrick Lythgoe, who scored 29 goals in 74 games for Norwich between 1958 and 1962, he scored once in 11 games for City himself as a winger in the late 1970s having been signed up at 14 years old after being recommended by his PE teacher at Sprowston Junior School.
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Also having stints at Oxford United and Bristol Rovers, Lythgoe was a well respected player locally in the 1980s and early 90s, playing for clubs including Gorleston, Lowestoft and Wroxham, also running football coaching schools in Dereham.
Transfer windows are the busiest time in his current role, bringing new players to the Lotus Training Centre or Carrow Road, who are often flying in from overseas with lots of baggage and family with them.
His first airport pick-up was rather memorable though, as former chief executive David McNally sent him on a discreet mission to Heathrow Airport in early 2013.
The player he was meeting was Sporting Lisbon striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who had flown in from Portugal with his partner for talks ahead of his eventual £8.5million move – which was announced in March before going through during the summer transfer window.
However, with other clubs interested, the Canaries were keen to keep the arrival under wraps.
“David McNally rang me and said he’d had Ricky’s agent on and he couldn’t find me,” Lythgoe recalls. “Then all of a sudden there’s a tap on the shoulder and he had a big army hat on pulled down low, a big grey coat pulled up, so all I could see were his eyes!
“He said ‘it’s me, Phil, it’s Ricky’ and I said ‘how am I supposed to recognise you!’. Then we had the drive up to Norwich and they were a great couple, a great lad, Ricky.
“So I thought, I’d better do some research the next time you’ve got somebody flying in who you don’t really know!”
Lythgoe was giving supporters an idea about his role for City’s recently launched All In Yellow official podcast.
From tales of Steven Naismith laying on the backseat of his car to avoid TV cameras at the gates of Colney in January 2016, to sneaking Nathan Redmond into Carrow Road under a blanket, he provides genuine behind-the-scenes insight.
City try to ensure that Lythgoe doesn’t get taken advantage of by demanding players, who are often used to the luxury of being able to afford to have most things done for them. Former City skipper Russell Martin was a particular ally.
“Russell Martin, as most people know, is an absolutely top guy – and would back me up and help me out if I got in a bit of trouble with some of the players, or if some of the players were doing stuff that was a little bit over the line,” Lythgoe said.
“Russ would say ‘why are you doing that? He can do that’ and I’d say I’d told them three or four times, and he’d just say to leave it with him and he’d go off to have a word. We’ve had some great lads over the years.”
Sometimes that means saying no to demanding players - but occasionally it can also make for some funny stories.
Lythgoe recalls how 2014 signing Joseph Yobo had refused to stay at a local hotel, after a spooky feeling when previously staying there with Everton which had convinced him it was haunted.
While he also laughs about a story involving lively Northern Ireland international Kyle Lafferty, who was stuck at Luton Airport after flying in from Glasgow, as he’d left his car keys in Scotland.
“I’ve had one or two things with a guy called Kyle Lafferty! He’s a different sort of player to look after,” Lythgoe jokes. “You’ve got 26 or 27 players and they’re all different. Some of them do not need anything, you give them a phone number and a name and that’s it, they will sort themselves out.
“Some players need a lot of stuff doing for them. Kyle’s great, he’s great to have around the training ground, he is the ‘mad Irishman’ as they say but it was all good fun. He’s got up to all sorts of stuff, that guy.”
Lafferty asked Lythgoe to retrieve his spare keys and send them down to the airport with a trusted taxi driver.
He continues: “I drove to the house that Kyle was renting, the taxi driver’s there, I unlocked the door and the alarms went off!
“I realised I didn’t know the code and he hadn’t told me the alarm was on. All of a sudden all the neighbours’ curtains are twitching, thinking what’s going on and there’s me and this other bloke who look like we’re breaking into Kyle Lafferty’s house.”
After getting hold of Lafferty to get the code to disarm the alarm, the mission was nearly complete: “So I thought ‘where are his spare keys’ and he had a Porsche, a real big car, a very expensive car, and underneath this light switch he had just hammered a tack into the wall and this spare set to a £90,000 car were just hanging there!”
Lafferty got back in time for training the next morning.
Lythgoe also admits that his job has been made a great deal easier in the last 18 months, thanks to the new facilities and refurbishment of the training ground at Colney.
“That helps enormously because when you’re showing a player around the training ground, that’s his office,” Lythgoe continues. “Most have been to the stadium or played there, but the training ground is where they do their day-to-day stuff.
“So when you bring a player up here now it’s fantastic. We signed Josip Drmic, a full Switzerland international and played in the Bundesliga. It’s not worked out for him here but as soon as he walked into the gym he said ‘wow, this is absolutely fantastic’.
“When I first came up here it was full or Portakabins and everything has just ramped up a level, the facilities are fantastic – and I had the same conversation with Jordan Hugill.
“He came for a chat with Stuart Webber, I walked him around and he said ‘this is better than West Ham’ and they’re in the Premier League.”
- You can watch the full episode of the All In Yellow podcast above