For those that preach the value of patience in professional sport, new Phoenix goalkeeper Tony Warner provides a prime example.

In five years with Liverpool he didn't make a first team appearance but went on to a successful football career all over the UK.

Warner has no regrets about his time at Anfield.

After signing on as a 20-year-old in 1994 he went on to watch 120 games from the bench as back-up goalkeeper, earning the nickname 'Tony Bonus', for the win bonuses he collected as a non-playing substitute.


"It was great - even though I didn't get to play, it got me known in football circles and I managed to go out on loan a few times," says Warner.

"There are no regrets - obviously you would like to get some more games but it is still great to look back on Anfield."

While match days were tough, the experiences gained during training made it all seem worthwhile.

Legendary names such as Ian Rush, John Barnes, Steve Nicol and Ronnie Whelan were still there, while Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman were the next stars on the rise, followed by Michael Owen.

Warner learnt a lot from all of his team-mates but reserves special praise for Fowler, often regarded as the greatest natural finisher of his generation.

He scored more than 30 goals in each of his first three full seasons from 1994-1997, and Warner was privileged to see him at his peak.

"There were a lot of amazing players but Fowler was the standout," says Warner. "He was one of the most natural finishers ever to play the game. He was better than superb - he could score with either foot, score with his head, and score from any distance.

"When he got close enough to be within range - anywhere from 25 yards out - you knew you had to pull your socks up and be ready. He would always like to have a pop from distance. He could disguise his shot brilliantly, often had barely any backlift and had an amazing ability to hit the corners of the goal."


Owen was also a goalkeeper's nightmare, while Rush was the wily veteran who had seen it all.

"When Michael [Owen] started to come through the ranks, nobody had seen pace like it - he was lightning quick," remembers Warner. "He was unbelievably fast for a young lad. At the other end of the spectrum, you had Rush, who had more experience than anyone and spent a lot of time teaching the young lads coming through."

After five years with his hometown club, punctuated by loan deals at Celtic, Aberdeen and Swindon, Warner moved to Millwall in 1999.

"It was a good time for me to go," says Warner. "I was 25 and didn't want to be seen as an out-and-out reserve keeper because sometimes you may not get another chance."

Warner enjoyed the best years of his footballing life with the Lions, appearing in over 200 matches as the team reached an FA Cup Final (vs Manchester United in 2004), won promotion from the old division two and came within a few games of making the Premier League.

Based in southeast London, 'the Den' is one of the toughest places to play in Britain, partly due to their notoriously passionate fans.

"It is a true working class club and the fans are very vocal," remembers Warner. "Opposing fans and players didn't like coming down to the Den and sometimes it felt like you had a voodoo sign over some teams.

"I would get phone calls from mates in other teams asking about the atmosphere and I would say - 'you will get hammered from the time you get off the bus to the end of the match'."

Tim Cahill, Teddy Sheringham, Dennis Wise and Tony Cascarino are some of the notable players to represent Millwall in recent times, while Phoenix team-mate Paul Ifill spent several years at Millwall and provided Warner's link to the club. With the Wellington club getting the seal of approval from Ifill, Warner was quick to make up his mind when the Phoenix offer came.

"You can dwell on these things and invariably they can go away," says Warner. "If you don't make a decision, the decision can be made for you and sometimes somebody else steps into your place."

Warner knows all about the merry-go-round that is British professional football.

Since his Liverpool days he has represented Swindon (loan), Celtic (loan), Aberdeen (loan), Millwall, Cardiff, Fulham, Leeds (loan), Norwich (loan), Barnsley (loan), Hull City, Leicester City (loan), Charlton Athletic, Leeds United, Scunthorpe United and Tranmere Rovers, sometimes for just a month at a time.

It is yet to be seen if he will make the impact of previous signings Liam Reddy and Danny Vukovic but Warner proves essential back-up and experience behind Mark Paston, who has had injury problems in recent times.

As the Phoenix enter the second half of their pre-season campaign this week, both Warner and Ifill are away on international duty - and set to play against each other. Warner will play for Trinidad against Ifill's Barbados in a Concacaf Fifa World Cup qualifier on Wednesday.

"That will be interesting - if he gets selected," laughs Warner, of the match in Bridgetown, Barbados.