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I was a Silvio-tounged devil

Lew Baxter gets the inside take from the cheeky Reds fan who blagged his way into a Cup Final row with Silvio Berlusconi, now the subject of a play

Published on May 16th 2009.


I was a Silvio-tounged devil

THE yarn of how cheeky Liverpool football fan Mark Radley blagged his way into the private suite of Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, at the fabled 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul, how he slurped the great man’s champagne and almost ended up in a rumble with the eminent A C Milan owner, was surely just another slice of pub bore folklore.

This smart looking guy smiled and gestured at me to sit next to him. He spotted my shirt and immediately began taking the Mickey, holding up three fingers to indicate Milan’s lead while tapping me on the knee in an annoying way

Yet, proving that truth is often more fantastic than fiction, and the story is now the centrepiece of a play tracing the last 30 years of Liverpool FC through eyes of one fan. Beating Berlusconi! begins a month-long tour of theatre venues around Merseyside next week, taking in two nights in the Anfield conference suite and finishing up at St George's Hall.

Written by former Hollyoaks actor John Graham Davies, it has already received the thumbs up from the likes of Jimmy McGovern and Tony Booth.

The title role of madcap fan Kenny Noonan – based on the errrant fan, Mark Radley – is former Brookside villain Paul Duckworth who also played Ringo in the film Backbeat.

Mark Radley’s true-life wondrous tale began when he was feeling fed up at half time during the 2005 final in the Ataturk Stadium, with Liverpool already apparently facing defeat.

“I went off to find a souvenir programme and I needed a drink as things weren’t going our way at that time,” explained the 29-year-old who has been a devoted Liverpool fan since he was six.

“Suddenly I was in this corridor and saw a couple of waiters with trays of drinks heading through a door. I just wandered past the security stewards with a cheery wave and found myself in a room full of what were obviously important people.

“I noticed they had a better view of the pitch than I did on the terrace, so I shoved my way through the crowd to get a look. I was dressed in my red Liverpool shirt but that didn’t seem to bother anyone.”

The next thing, as he was knocking back a glass of champagne, Mark heard someone askinghim to sit down as he was blocking the view and the game was about to recommence.

“This smart looking guy smiled and gestured at me to sit next to him. He spotted my shirt and immediately began taking the Mickey, holding up three fingers to indicate Milan’s lead while tapping me on the knee in an annoying way,” said Mark.

A steward, realising that the man in the Liverpool colours probably wasn’t a guest came over and suggested he should leave but Berlusconi, for it was he, waved him away and Mark stayed put.

Still oblivious to the identity of his nattily dressed neighbour, Mark leapt to his feet as Liverpool scored a much hoped for goal.

“I was cheering and then saw that I was the only one on my feet in the room and realised it was full of Italians. I just grinned at them.

“This bloke then just gave me a condescending smile as though this was a consolation prize but when we got another goal and then another, I couldn’t contain myself and was back on my feet yelling and celebrating wildly.

“Suddenly this guy in the suit was in front of me poking me in the chest and obviously not happy as I was still jumping up and down.

“I think a few people thought there was going to be trouble but I’m not a soccer hooligan and was merely celebrating the goals, if a little excitedly,” explained Mark.

“A few stewards then began to pull me away from this man and told me I couldn’t upset him as he was the president of AC Milan,” said Mark.

What he didn’t know was that Berlusconi is also Italy’s most powerful and rich man – and according to other European leaders, something of a handful.

Then it got better.

"I figured the security lads were about to turf me out and begged them to let me stay. They were very sympathetic and then to my surprise gave me a wristband and ushered me to this other VIP suite.

“I couldn’t believe my luck – it was Liverpool’s own private room. I was in heaven and spotted a lot of WAGS, loads of ex players and in an adjacent box John Aldridge was doing a TV commentary. It was just a crazy situation and there was no way anyone was getting me out of there. So, I stayed and carried on watching the game and drinking more champagne.”

Later on, in an Irish pub in the centre of Istanbul, Mark met up with pals and his father-in-law and told them the tale of the bloke in the box.

“They all stared at me as though I was daft. That was Silvio Berlsuconi, the primeminister of Italy, he owns A C Milan, they all shouted at me. I was amazed.”

The story might have remained just a Friday night anecdote if he hadn’t told it to playwright John Graham Davies who was a regular customer at Mark’s shoe repair shop in Mossley Hill.

"I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, it was a fabulous story,” said John who has written numerous plays in his 30-year acting and theatre career which included spells in Jimmy McGovern’s Cracker and Hillsborough, in Hollyoaks, as the domineering Les Hunter, and with Patricia Routledge for four years in Hetty Wainthropp Investigates.

"I tried to pitch it as a television piece but it would have been too expensive. I couldn’t get a theatre interested so decided to produce it myself,” said John, who lives in Wavertree but is originally from West Yorkshire.

"We got a bit of funding from Liverpool FC and the Liverpool Culture Company before it wound up. But basically I am taking something of a punt on it,” admitted John whose last play Taking Sides was broadcast by the BBC World Service.

"Of course I have taken a bit of dramatic licence with the stage play, which I finished two years ago, but have used Mark’s experiences in full,” said John who is delighted that one time Everyman Theatre director Matt Rutter – who also worked with Spike Theatre in Liverpool – will direct the play.

"People tell me its very funny and I think it will appeal to anyone who is a Liverpool fan or loves football, and certainly those who enjoy wacky stories,” he added.

*Beating Berlusconi! – first night Thursday May 7th @ 7.30pm in the NOVAS Contemporary Urban Centre in Jamaica Street, Liverpool; and then on tour throughout Merseyside and the North West. Further details see here

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Connie IslandApril 30th 2009.

Do you know i have never been to the Isle of Wight or the Isle of Mann. I haven't been to the Channel Islands or the Hebrides or the Orkneys. I have nothing against island races, I mean we are one. I have just never got round to visiting any of them. But here's the funny bit - i have been to lots of Greek Islands and I don't even like olives. I do enjoy kippers from time to time so really you woud think the Isle of Mann would be an obvious choice.

DigApril 30th 2009.

Can't wait to see this play. I think there could be a play about Athens too after the ticketing and turnstiles fiasco. Albeit without a happy ending. A good mate walked in to the Liverpool VIP section with 2 officials and took his seat. No questions asked, no ticket or I.D. necessary. Another guy I know took his own high visibility jacket and walked straight in to the pitchside and watched the match from there!

Eccles cakeApril 30th 2009.

Top tale!

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