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Men in White Suits: Liverpool FC in the 1990s - The Players' Stories by Simon Hughes (Bantam Press 2015)
Mangotsfield United saw enough in Tanner to ask him to training, where he first met the late Ralph Miller, a legendary non-league manager, who was a builder by trade.
‘I enjoyed playing under Ralph more than Bobby Gould, Gerry Francis, Kenny Dalglish or Graeme Souness,’ Tanner beams. ‘He loved players that got stuck in, and I was one of them. He was an old-school psychologist, a bit like Bill Shankly, I suppose. The funny stories are endless.’
Tanner recalls one.
‘There was a player that he desperately wanted to sign for Mangotsfield. Problem was, the fella lived in South Wales. So he drove over the bridge in his van with a bicycle in the back. He pleaded with the fella at his front door. “Look, I’ve cycled all the way over here from Bristol to sign you.” The lad looked at his bike. “Jesus Christ,” he said. “You must really want me.” So he signed the forms there and then. Ralph rode around the corner and chucked his bike in the back of the van before driving home.
‘When I was about eighteen, we decided to go on our first lads’ holiday to Magaluf. To prepare for the holiday I decided to get myself fit, so I went out running every day – did sit-ups, press-ups, the lot. It was the fittest I’ve ever been. After our first pre-season session back at Mangotsfield, I got out of the shower looking all bronzed. “Fuck me,” Ralph went. “You’ve got a body like Tarzan and a prick like Jane!”’
In the mid-eighties, Bristol Rovers were, as Tanner puts it, ‘in financial shit’ and needing players that would play for practically nothing, so manager Bobby Gould scoured the Gloucestershire and Somerset county leagues for undiscovered talent.
‘Rovers signed Gary Penrice, Phil Purnell, Gary Smart and myself from Mangotsfield, all for the princely sum of two floodlight bulbs. I can still remember Ralph turning up at Eastville Stadium while all of us were playing in a reserve game, shouting at the top of his voice, “Where’s my money, Gouldy?” That was Ralph all over. In later years he came to Anfield to watch me play and said how proud he was of me, which touched me, coming from such a hard man.'