One day I plan to ride around Dundrod on my bike, says Liverpool chief Ayre
Ian Ayre was laughing and larking around with his fellow Go Kart racers at the Nutts Corner circuit. The Liverpool Chief Executive had just finished his second session on the course at the county Antrim venue and was revelling in the camaraderie and craic that comes with a day out like this.
He had just taken on a host of other competitive characters who are heavily involved in motorcycling, the second great sporting love of his life.
If yesterday was all about having fun, his weekend will be a little more serious. Today he will be at Dundrod to watch the Ulster Grand Prix, the fastest road race in the world, before flying to London to meet up with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and his players ahead of their Premier League season opener at Arsenal tomorrow.
Ayre, having accepted an invitation from race organisers, has been in Northern Ireland for the past few days, meeting riders and teams taking part in the UGP meeting. On Thursday he lapped up a tour of the circuit.
"It is a great circuit with very real road racing and a fantastic atmosphere," said one of the most powerful men in English football.
"The real attraction of these races is that you get so close to the action and the riders. On Thursday we were on a bend near the paddock and to see the speed and the commitment of the riders was so exciting.
"I did a flying lap in one of the safety cars which was unbelievable. For someone who rides a bike it gave me a sense of how difficult the course is and how fantastic the riders are."
The 52-year-old isn't just excited to watch others whizz around the roads on two wheels. He gets on his bike too, and has done since he was 15. Currently he owns two machines, including a Harley Davidson, which he can be seen riding in his home city of Liverpool. He reveals it would be a dream to ride the famous Dundrod circuit in the future.
"I have been to the Isle of Man TT and ridden round on my own bike. It is definitely on my bucket list to come back to Northern Ireland with my bike and have a shot around the Ulster Grand Prix course," he said.
"As much as I love bikes, though, and as much as I like to ride I couldn't get anywhere close to what the riders do here.
"The riders are close to the edge and so committed. The quality is unbelievable. I'm really looking forward to Saturday's racing. It will be tough and competitive out there with people like Hutchy (Ian Hutchinson) and Michael (Dunlop) going for it. It'll make for a great day in all the classes."
Ayre is well used to iconic sporting locations given that he spends many hours in his day job at Anfield. Currently undergoing major redevelopments to the Main Stand, the Liverpool Chief Executive is delighted that the club's owners, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), decided to stay put and expand the stadium to a capacity of 54,000 rather than move elsewhere.
"On the day that Fenway Sports Group bought Liverpool we were wandering around the stadium with John Henry (principal owner of FSG) and he said to me 'Why would we leave here?' It is the spiritual home of the football club and if you go and see what we have built there now it's something Liverpool fans can be proud of," stated Ayre.
"People can feel it's a world class venue for football. It's great that we are remaining there."
Ayre is entering his 10th and final season as Chief Executive at Liverpool having made the "hardest decision of my business career" to depart in May. He says he is proud of his work, adding that "hopefully my legacy is leaving the club in a much better state that when I arrived".
He says the club is in good hands, stating: "The owners are fantastic people. They are very committed. It seems like every other day there is a story about someone else buying it but that is football.
"These guys are hugely committed to the club. They are great people to work for and work with and I think at the heart of it they do understand what being a Liverpool fan is all about.
"They have taken that on board and are very respectful. Some of the stuff we did with the design of the stadium that makes it feel really Liverpool came from the owners. They get what is under the surface at Liverpool and the DNA and for that reason and others makes them great custodians for the club."
Ayre calls the Premier League the best in the world and is excited by the prospect of seeing Liverpool boss Klopp go head to head against other big hitters like Jose Mourinho at Manchester United and Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
Once upon a time these clubs used to have pre-season friendlies in Northern Ireland. Now they travel around the world.
Asked if Liverpool would make it over to Windsor Park any time soon, Ayre said: "It is definitely possible. Only a couple of years ago we played in Dublin.
"What basically happens is that our commercial team and our football side get together and put a programme together. We don't really go out looking for these games, they tend to come to us, so if the right organisers approach our team and put in the right proposition anything is possible.
"People think it is all about finance but it is more about the quality of the team we can play at a particular time. Sometimes you look for lower level opposition in the first few games, then build it up. There is always an opportunity. For Northern Ireland never say never."