Gavin Laws is sat in the Liverpool dugout trying desperately to make himself heard over the sound of screaming fans when Kenny Dalglish wanders over and decides to intervene.
"Have you told them you're a Manchester United fan yet," interjects Kenny, who spotted our interview taking place and, never one to miss an opportunity to wind someone up, has decided to take a break from overseeing training.
"Everyone already knows," fires back Laws. "The website outed me straight away when we were in Kenya."
It's July 15 and we're four days into Liverpool's 2011 Asia Tour as sponsored by Standard Chartered, the company where Gavin Laws works as Group Head of Corporate Affairs. Just over 38,000 fans have descended upon the Bukit Jalil stadium to watch the Reds train for the first ever time on Malaysian soil and we've taken the opportunity to start our look back on the first 12 months of Standard Chartered's record-breaking shirt sponsorship deal with Liverpool FC.
He's quite right about the website outing him as a lifelong Manchester United supporter when we were in Kenya for the first joint soccer clinic between two companies last August but it was all done in the nicest possible way. The day before arriving in Kenya, Laws had been at Anfield to cheer on the Reds against Arsenal on the opening day of the season and now 11 months on, he's been around the club, the players and the fans so often, it's hard to believe Liverpool haven't secretly become his favourite team.
LFC: It was a year ago this month that the partnership between Standard Chartered and Liverpool was announced. Does it feel like a year ago?
Gavin Laws: No, not all. It's been such an amazing time for us it's just whizzed by. So many good things have happened because of the sponsorship that it's hard to believe it was a year ago.
When you first started talking to Liverpool about the possibility of becoming the shirt sponsor, what sort of things was the bank looking to achieve?
Well, the primary objective was to raise our brand awareness through being associated with something that everybody wants to watch. The Premier League and Liverpool's position within the Premier League was the only metric we had to measure possible success by. Then we started thinking, well, we can do work in the community, we can do this and we can do that. Actually, the huge numbers of things we have done over the last 12 months have absolutely blown us away. We never expected Liverpool would have the appetite they do to join us in the community initiatives and that has been absolutely fantastic.
You're obviously a football fan and there are other senior figures at Standard Chartered who enjoy football but for some of the others involved in the decision to team up with Liverpool, this is a whole new world to them. Have they been surprised by the impact of the partnership one year down the line?
Most definitely. We're a bank full of football fans but we'd never done a sponsorship like this before. We had some rough idea on what we wanted to achieve but in China, Peter Sands was wearing a Liverpool shirt as he handed out the trophy. That's the Chief Executive of our company being really involved and loving every minute of it.
How have the bank's senior figures reacted to meeting some of the club's greatest legends as they have done on the Asia tour? No matter how important someone's day job is, there's something about meeting footballing legends, isn't there?
Absolutely. People get star struck because they're celebrities. The first time you meet one of the top players - be it Rushie, a Liverpool legend, or Steven, as one of the current players, you're stuck for words to say which is bizarre because this is what we do all day long in the banking business - meet new people and talk to them. Football has this real celebrity status but actually the reality is that we've found, much to our surprise, that everyone's down to earth, you can have a good conversation with everybody and on the few occasions when there has been a bit of an issue about something, we've just been able to have open conversations and sometimes the club has agreed with us and sometimes they haven't but they've always been good conversations.
We seem to have moved away from talking about sponsors at Liverpool Football Club. From day one, the Standard Chartered-Liverpool connection has been a true partnership, hasn't it?
Absolutely. That's why we chose Liverpool and Liverpool chose us. We talk the same language. It's easy to say partnership but it's bloody difficult to actually make it happen. What you need to do is have people who are prepared to talk to each other about all sorts of things and find out which outcome works best for all of us. I think Ian Ayre would agree when I say that everything we have done we have done by mutual agreement. There is nothing that the club have forced on us or that we've forced on the club and I think it's working for both of us.
The club you are in partnership now with in July 2011 is very different to the one you got into bed with a year ago. The ownership issue dominated fans' thoughts and the manager was hardly universally popular with the supporters. When the protests were at their height and the results were at their worst, did the bank ever think, 'What have we done here?'
No, no - never. From the very first game against Arsenal that ended in a 1-1 draw, Joe Cole got sent off if I remember rightly, we had 250 of our staff and customers at the match and the feedback from them about being involved in Liverpool was just superb. The team had ups and downs all the way through and publicity works for the sponsor probably better than it does for the club at times but Liverpool finished the season as the best performing team and that's a great thing for us to be associated with.
Everything changed at Liverpool Football Club in October 2010 when John Henry and Tom Werner bought the Club. Did you have dialogue with the new owners before the takeover went through?
No. We were always very clear, we are the sponsor and we have no say in the running of the club. Ian Ayre very kindly kept us informed all the way though and a couple of times asked our opinion of things but we are very clear - a football club runs a football club and we're the sponsor. It all worked out pretty well in the end though. I've met the new owners, I think they are great, I think they have got the right idea about what they want to achieve and that makes us happy.
So you didn't design our third kit - as a few cynics have suggested?
[Laughs] No and I'm also not responsible that England haven't won the World Cup since 1966! We get to see the new kits before they are finally signed off. I doubt we would want to veto them. My company colours are blue and green and we know that there's no way there's going to be a bright blue and green away kit put together. The new shirt has come out and it's nothing to do with us. Absolutely nothing.
I've seen you laughing and joking with Kenny Dalglish all the way through the tour. His arrival in January really lifted the whole club, didn't it?
It did but as a sponsor, he was our ambassador from the start. He has been with us to so many events and even when he was made manager, he honoured the events he was already pencilled in for which is the mark of the man - absolutely brilliant. We have taken him to banking events which are normally quiet and staid and we have had people queuing just to touch his hand. He's an amazing individual, he really is. You see it with the players, you see it with the fans, everybody is excited that he's here and that makes it easier for you to win.
Another two Liverpool legends are here in Asia - Ian Rush and Phil Thompson. Rush, in particular, has been very involved with the bank since day one of the partnership...
He's incredible. Ian and I did the first soccer clinic together out in Kenya and what a fantastic experience that was. We had no idea what Ian would be like, we didn't know if he'd get tired of all the people pressing him for autographs but there was none of that. You should have seen the faces on the kids and the faces on the coaches in Kenya when Ian interacted with them. Ian was amazing then and has been ever since, as has Phil Thompson and all the others that we have met.
Going back to the soccer clinics - after Kenya there were similar events in London and Korea. Would you say they have been one of the real success stories from the first year?
They have been. For us they delivered brand awareness and associated us with success, and on that level, they couldn't have gone better, but for me, my enduring memory of that first trip to Kenya was seeing the 100 or so very little happy African kids wearing brand new Liverpool kits with smiles on their faces. I bet lots of them had no idea who Ian Rush was as he played before they were born but his power and his charisma got us through. It was fantastic.
I was there with you and Ian when we went to the hospital in Kenya and watched a girl have cataracts removed from her eyes. Through 'Seeing is Believing', Standard Chartered are involved in lots of things like that but it took the partnership with LFC to take that message to a new audience that day...
You take it to a whole new level when you put someone beside it who can get us the attention and can help us raise the funds the projects need to continue doing such great work. Phil Thompson was telling me in China that having seen the blind kids play soccer, he had no idea that even your own coaches were so involved and did such a great job in the community. A lot of people talk about this - and it's not true for some - but the reality is that the work in the community is as important to us as the work that is done on the football pitch.
We went to Korea for the soccer clinic but the planned game against FC Seoul never materialised in the end. Were you disappointed we didn't make it there with the first team on this tour?
It was hugely disappointing, but there's another three years of the initial contract to go and hopefully we'll get a chance to go there. Korea is a great market with great people who love their football, so we'll be there sometime.
Soccer clinics have been a daily part of the 2011 Asia Tour for Liverpool. Is the work done away from the TV cameras over in China, Malaysia and Singapore just as important as all the player appearances in shopping malls and bank branches?
It is hugely important for our customers and it's hugely important for our staff as it's their kids who are coming to train with us alongside the underprivileged children or kids with disabilities. That's what the partnership is all about.
Fast forward three days and the tour has reached its conclusion in Singapore. The entire travelling party will be on a plane flying home to Liverpool John Lennon Airport in just under an hour and Gavin and I are stood together outside the entrance to passenger holding area. I ask him how the tour has gone from Standard Chartered's perspective.
"I can't tell you how nervous we were last week when someone said to me there was going to be more than 25,000 people watching the training session!" he says. "You've no idea how nervous that made us feel. China was better than all our dreams. The players were great, well, you were there, you signed shirts yourself because people are just so excited about Liverpool so meeting anyone connected to the club is an honour. It's been fantastic. Over 80,000 fans for the game against Malaysia just blew our minds and Singapore was a brilliant place to end the tour too. The whole tour couldn't have gone better from our perspective."
So one year down, what can we look forward to over the next three years?
Well, I think you're going to see a lot more community work, I think you'll see a bit more aggressive exposure of the football team and we would hope that we'll continue to work with the legends and take them to many more markets. It's important for Liverpool Football Club and for us that we get continued exposure and commercial success and then both of us will benefit.
So, if we're sitting here in a year's time and Liverpool, with Standard Chartered on the shirts, have been crowned the new Premier League champions, there'd be no happier person that you. Right?
[Laughs.] I'd be delighted. Obviously! Look, I've been a Man United fan all my life so it's difficult to make the change - my wife worries about me quite a lot! - but as far as I am concerned, Liverpool to win the Premier League is the ultimate, ultimate aim. Get back into the Champions League and push on from there. That would be fantastic for us and fantastic for the club.