This time, Rodgers' son has to 'walk alone'

Oldham Athletic's Anton Rodgers arrives for their FA Cup third round soccer match.

Every father knows the feeling: You nurture the sporting ambitions in your child, you let him or her win up to a point but there comes a time when, with sons in particular, they get darned competitive, so quick and so strong, you suffer for all that kindness.

The FA Cup on Sunday night serves up a nice little family story.

Brendan Rodgers is manager of Liverpool.

Anton Rodgers is a player of Oldham Athletic.

And the luck of the draw sees them meeting as opponents at Anfield in the third round of the competition.

"It is incredible," says Rodgers senior. "Something that may never happen in a lifetime."

"I sent him a text the day of the draw," says son Anton.

"Didn't get an answer. I think my dad was swerving my calls!"

The father is 40, the son is 20, and the nature of their winner- takes-all contest at Anfield today is heightened by the fact that Oldham knocked out Liverpool 3-2 in a thriller in last year's round four.

This is a different, improved Liverpool.

It is a diminished, struggling Oldham, two divisions below the Reds, and booed off their own pitch after another defeat in a relegation battle on New Year's Day.

But the Cup, everybody knows, marches to its own tune.

Its history is woven with unlikely upsets and, even with Luis Suarez the hottest shot in the Premier League at the moment, Liverpool will not, dare not, be complacent.

Within the Rodgers household, however, there are two sides to this story.

"It looks like my dad is moving too fast and I can't catch him," Anton admits.

"But Sunday could be a great occasion for us."

"When I finally got hold of him, we had a bit of banter but sometimes fate intervenes, and maybe you get a goal that day just because it's against your father."

First, the son has to get on the field because he was only a substitute in Oldham's last game.

And any goal from his midfield position would be a first because he has yet to score in professional football.

"I've made it as hard as I can," quips Rodgers senior.

"I was telling him that we were the highest scorers in the Premier League, and reminding him that Anfield is a fortress. But he's a terrific young talent, Anfield will suit him."

They both know the reality of life, and of sport at this level, can be unforgiving.

The father represented both Irelands - north and south - as a schoolboy defender.

But when he was 20, his boy's age now, he was told by doctors at Reading that a genetic knee condition would never stand up to full-time professional football.

Already a father, his dream shattered, he threw himself into the next best option.

Determined to be the best coach he could be, he spent long spells abroad, in Spain, to learn coaching methods, and you see that imprint on his team today.

He rose as an assistant coach to Jose Mourinho during the Special One's first spell at Chelsea (when young Anton was an academy boy at the club), and then made his own way via Watford, Reading and Swansea to Liverpool.

The boy, and his sister, got to know about life on the road in a professional football household. Anton told reporters the other day that his dad suffered the slings and arrows of defeat as hard as any manager, but neither brought the bitterness of setbacks through the front door when they were at home.

On holidays, in the swimming pool, on the tennis courts, or table tennis, the father reckons he sometimes let Anton win "until he got older and better".

He doesn't say it, but if the choice on Sunday is between giving his son a leg up the ladder, or crushing Oldham in revenge for a year ago, then family will get no privilege.

"I'll tell my team that the No.17 is Oldham's best player!" Rodgers senior says.

"In all seriousness, I can't skip over it because it's Anton. I have to get my players to keep an eye on him because he's a good player, and it's our job to win the game."

While he may say "in all seriousness", the facts suggest that, so far anyway, Anton is not an exceptional player.

Oldham are not simply in a different league to Liverpool, they are also in a financial struggle to stay afloat.

And Anton is not an automatic first choice.

However, this is a family that has played together and stayed together through some tough times.

The father was warned from following his dream; the son, at 1.69m tall, is not the biggest but can point to Lionel Messi as an example that size isn't everything in this game.

In the space of a year, Brendan senior lost his parents to cancer in 2010 and 2011.

Last year, he and his wife Susan supported Anton through two long, harrowing trials at London's Old Bailey Court.

Anton, together with three other players of Brighton, were accused of sexually assaulting and photographing a 19-year-old girl after a night out on the town.

The first jury could not agree on a verdict, the second found all four players not guilty.

The girl admitted to an assortment of lies.

"Both Anton's mum and I found it really, really difficult," the father said on Friday.

"You know the innocence of your son and you have to fight to prove that."

"Obviously, it was very, very important to defend his name, and this is about his professional life. His mum was there for every minute of both trials and she saw everything. I was there for parts of it. Anton has got his professional life, and I'm at one of the biggest clubs in the world, you can imagine this was a really difficult period."

An FA Cup match on opposite sides is important too but pales in significance to the day Anton was cleared at the Old Bailey last May.

Win or lose, the game is just a game.


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