A former Eden man has played a key behind-the-scenes role as part of a talented and highly-motivated team which has propelled Liverpool Football Club to phenomenal success on the domestic, European and world stage.
Philip Holliday, of Langwathby, joined the Anfield giants five years ago as head of travel after spending more than a decade employed by travel agencies contracted by Premier League teams — including the Reds — to plan trips on their behalf.
In his newly-rebranded role as vice president, travel, Philip is responsible for all domestic and international excursions within the football club, 90 per cent of his focus being trained on the all-conquering first team.
Backed by an experienced seven-strong team, the 41-year-old former Penrith Queen Elizabeth Grammar School student maps out journeys from start to finish in painstaking detail, embarking on reconnaissance ventures which ensure that transport, hotels and training pitches are top notch for the playing and back room staff, while also running the rule over services used by club directors and commercial partners.
A typical total group size for a Champions League away fixture, for example, is up to 150 people, while around 700 were in Madrid last year to watch Liverpool lift their sixth European Cup.
“It’s everything, everywhere they go,” Philip told the Herald of the preparations. “We won’t go anywhere where we haven’t undertaken a visit beforehand.”
And how Liverpool have travelled since he arrived, reaching three European club competition finals in four years after dramatic campaigns across the continent.
Defeats to Spanish sides Seville in Basel, in 2016, and Real Madrid in Kiev, in 2018, were followed by the dramatic Champions League run which ended with victory over Spurs in the Spanish capital last May.
“They all had their challenges,” said Philip. “Madrid is the highlight, 100 per cent. The amount of work involved with a European final, effectively it’s three or four weeks of your life in which you don’t do anything else.
“It’s every day, 16 hours a day. It’s incredible.
“Finals are just a massive occasion for the club and there’s a lot of hard work involved in that. So to actually win in Madrid off the back of those (two previous) defeats is as good as it gets.”
But even after that triumph there was no easing up, off or on the pitch, as staff meticulously mirror the unstinting efforts of effervescent first team manager Jurgen Klopp.
After Madrid came a pre-season tour to the USA, a training camp in France, a Super Cup final victory against Chelsea in Istanbul before a new Champions League campaign began. Then came further success in the FIFA World Club Cup just before Christmas in Qatar.
“It’s been absolutely non-stop,” admitted Philip of the travel plan workload.
“It’s privileged in one sense but the hours you have to put in, the days that you work, it’s not a normal job. This isn’t Monday to Friday, nine to five. It’s all about the preparation, it’s all about the finer details.
“One thing the manager has instilled in every department is to find that extra two or three per cent over and above other clubs because that will make a difference at the end, which was obviously proven last season and this season, and the success that we as a football club have had. So you’re under a lot of pressure to find those little extra bits.
“It’s a tremendous achievement and the key thing is that you know that you’ve contributed to that success.
“There’s a big motto at Liverpool – ‘it’s the team behind the team’ – and that’s very evident. Whether you’re a coach, physio, cleaner, security, travel — you’re all in it together, and that ethos is played out not just at the training ground but also across the club as well.
Of the Liverpool’s international success, he added: “I’ve looked after a lot of Premier League clubs.
“I’ve done a lot of finals that we’ve lost and when you fly home on the plane that’s a pretty grim scenario so it’s been fantastic to actually get on a plane home, whether it’s Madrid, Istanbul, Qatar, knowing that you’ve won.
“It’s just a great feeling. And you’re pleased for the players and the staff because they all put in so much effort and time.
“They’re very together and the atmosphere and the togetherness within the football club, I’ve never experienced that before in the 20 years I’ve been involved in this industry.”
Such a punishing schedule, he acknowledges, has been very challenging for his wife, Karen, and their children Harriet, seven, and four-year-old Sebastian.
“She’s been fantastic and very understanding, particularly over the last four or five years,” he says of Karen. “Family times are few and far between.
“COVID has been a disaster for everyone but from a family perspective it’s been a fantastic time because I’ve not been travelling.
“I’ve actually been at home. There was probably a two or three-month period where — granted there was still limited work to do — but I was at home 24/7, and I’ve never had that.”
More recently, Liverpool have toasted further success and clinched their 19th top flight English title during a season which was suspended amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
A carefully managed restart presented Philip and the club with new challenges for domestic home and away fixtures.
Strict social distancing, hygiene and testing guidelines have been followed, hotels carefully selected and, in the past week, attention has now turned to giving players the best possible travel and safety advice as they consider holidays at an uncertain time.
Arguably the most peculiar aspect of Philip’s work is that he is an Arsenal and Carlisle United supporter.
“It’s bizarre because when Liverpool play Arsenal, it’s difficult, especially as I have a lot of friends at Arsenal,” he admits.
“But I need Liverpool to keep winning because if they keep winning they’re happy, and if they’re happy then I’m happy. It certainly makes my job a lot easier.
“When you’re with a successful team the whole atmosphere around the camp is unbelievable, and it has been unbelievable since Jurgen came in.”