Ray Houghton says playing for Liverpool was a surreal experience

Last Updated: 19/09/13 5:27pm

Ray Houghton reminisced about his meeting with Pope John Paul II when he joined Ben Shephard and Chris Kamara on the Goals on Sunday sofa.

The former Republic of Ireland midfielder and his international team-mates were granted an audience with the leader of the Catholic Church when they competed in the 1990 World Cup.

And Houghton - who won 53 caps and scored six goals for his country between 1986-1997 - revealed that the length of time the side were in the Italian capital took its toll on then-Ireland boss Jack Charlton.

"We knew there was a reasonable chance we could get to Rome and meet the Pope," said Houghton, who played domestically for the likes of Fulham, Oxford, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace.

"And Jack Charlton being Jack Charlton said: 'No problem, I'll get you an audience with him' and when we got to the quarter-finals we did get to meet him - though Jack fell asleep!

"It took a good three hours with all the nationalities in the auditorium and each bishop saying a few words, but after that we had a private audience with John Paul II.

"It was great because the Pope was an ex-goalkeeper so he just wanted to speak to Pat Bonner about his position, and was not interested in us!"

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Houghton joined Liverpool from Oxford in 1987 for a fee of £825,000 and went on to win two top-flight titles, two FA Cups - including the 1989 showpiece against his team's Merseyside rivals Everton - and two Charity Shields.

But the Scotland-born star explained that the Anfield outfit did not use extreme training methods to polish their game, and instead relied on the quality players they had at their disposal to maintain their dominance of English football.

"I often had to pinch myself at how many good players were around me at Liverpool."

Ray Houghton

"At times at Liverpool, it was a surreal experience," added Houghton.

"When you were going into games, it wasn't if you were going to win, it was how many you were going to win by, and I never had that at any other club or at international level with Ireland.

"The team was that good but there was no secret in training; we didn't do any patterns of play or set pieces, we just played small-sided games and had 10 minutes of shooting practice on a Thursday.

"But we did have John Barnes, who was the best player I have ever played with, and Alan Hansen, who had everything - including dirtiness - and was the best defender I ever played with.

"I often had to pinch myself at how many good players were around me at the club."