Graeme Souness: The Italian Job

September 20, 1984
For Graeme Souness, La Dolce Vita, the sweet life, has now begun in Genoa.
The footballer with the looks of a Mexican bandit has said farewell to the North’s industrial grime, and is enjoying a brand new career in the Mediterranean sunshine alongside his fellow millionaires.

After two months of his new life he has no regrets. Quite the contrary.

“It’s all turning out so well. I have to stop occasionally and wonder when something is going to go wrong,” he told me over lunch among the palms at Nervi’s Hotel Astor.

And as he joked with his pretty wife, Danielle and young son Fraser, against a backdrop of spectacular mountains and shimmering blue sea, it was easy to see what he meant.

In some ways Genoa, which houses Souness’ present club Sampdoria, is similar to Liverpool. It is a large port, with a population round the million mark; it owes its fair share of the grindingly poor and unemployed; and it has two big football clubs in Sampdoria and Genoa, which have always been fierce rivals.

But there the similarity ends. “There is an atmosphere of contentment here that I never found on Merseyside,” Souness explained. “The ordinary people seem so much more relaxed and friendly.

“There is tremendous enthusiasm for football, as there is on Merseyside, but it expresses itself differently. When I first arrived to sign for Sampdoria there were crowds cheering me in the streets.

“People stop me in the street and wish me good luck. Nothing is too much trouble and we have encountered nothing but the most wonderfully friendliness.

“In Liverpool our fans were wonderful, but in the city as a whole there always seemed to be an underlying bitterness. I experienced it in other cities, too, but it seemed worse in Liverpool than anywhere else.”

“Perhaps it was because some people are jealous of the money successful footballers can earn, when so many of them are out of work.

“During the last year or so I hated getting out of my car in Liverpool for fear of someone shouting abuse at me.

“I hardly ever went to watch Everton play, but that last time I did, a youth stood next to me and spent the entire match mouthing obscenities. It was bad enough for me when I was by myself, but imagine how you feel if you have your wife and kids with you.

“The Liverpool club were fantastic to me and we had some wonderful times. They are a great club and will go on being great. But just ask yourself, where would you want to live and bring up your children if you were given the choice – Merseyside, or here?”

Here is the little coastal resort of Nervi, five or six miles round the rocky bay from the bustling port of Genoa.

Beautifully landscaped swimming pools and beach bars and bathing cabins nestle among the rocks. Towering palms and brightly coloured flowers are everywhere, especially in the municipal gardens where squirrels play fearlessly.

Fine stone villas and apartment blocks climb up the steep mountain slopes, many of them topped by ruins of ancient forts built in the days when Genoa was constantly at war with neighbouring states.

Nowadays, the only invaders are the passengers of cruise liners like the Nassau-registered Vistafjord and the Napoli based Flaminia, tied up in Genoa harbour, or the owners of splendidly appointed yachts, calling at one of the many marinas along the coast.

Here the summer lasts into early October (it is currently well over 80 degrees at noon each day), and starts again at Easter, enabling residents like the Sounesses and their neighbours, Trevor Francis and his wife Helen, to bathe or laze in the sun for at least half the year.

And when the warmth does depart, there is always the possibility of a visit to beautiful Santa Margherita, ablaze with blooms, or the mountain ski-slopes, where the children can entertain themselves.

“The children really love it here,” Danielle Souness told me. “Fraser, who is five, has started going to an Italian playschool, so I expect he will soon be teaching us Italian.

“Chantal, aged nine, is at the American school just outside Nervi, and her only regret is having to say goodbye to her pony, which has had to be left behind at stables in Croxteth Park.
“It just wasn’t practicable to bring it out, so I think we shall probably have to sell it.”

Indeed, the Souness family pets have probably caused the more headaches than anything else. Graeme has brought over one of his Alsatians, leaving the other with his in-laws in Majorca, and Danielle still has her three Yorkshire terriers – but they both know that when Graeme’s present contract expires they face a lengthy period of quarantine.

“We’ll face that when we comes to it,” Danielle said: “”Who knows what we will be doing in two or three years time?”

The Sounesses are currently sharing a comfortable apartment block with the Francises, as Liam Brady did previously.

“It’s been a great help to us both having Trevor and Helen here,” said Graeme. “They have been out here for two years and know the ropes. And, of course, they’re good company, too, which is important because we don’t know many people yet and very few speak English.”

The Francises now speak Italian, though not very enthusiastically, and the Sounesses accept that their ultimate success, or lack of it, may well depend on them doing the same.

“I shall have to start soon,” said Graeme. “It’s not just a matter of communicating with the other players, but of making sure you have a decent social life.”

In some ways the Sounesses’ present lifestyle is actually less spectacular than it was in Liverpool, when the man who earns the nickname Champagne Charlie drove a Mercedes and dwelt in a large mock-Tudor mansion in West Derby.

At present they share a well-worked Volkswagen, or use taxis, and their apartment, though extremely comfortable, is not one that immediately catches the eye.

The real improvement is much more deep-seated and psychological. Today Graeme Souness and his family live in the kind of relaxed comfort that only those who have really made it can afford.

In between working very hard, he can enjoy, as a matter of course, the sort of relaxation that most of us only know for a fortnight on our annual holidays.

“It’s not as though we are in a backwater, or cut off from all our friends,” Souness points out. “It’s only two hours on the daily flight from Genoa to London, and I hope to keep in regular touch with friends like Kenny Dalglish through playing for Scotland.

“I expect some people in Britain will criticise me for moving on and accuse me of lacking loyalty to Liverpool. All I can say is that I had seven great years there which I will always remember – and I bet most of the critics would do exactly the same as I have if they had the chance.”
(Source: Liverpool Echo: September 20, 1984; via © 2018 Findmypast Newspaper Archive Limited

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