Part 7: Here We Go Gathering Cups in May (and February).
By TTT Subscriber Anthony Stanley.
It was a season when Liverpool announced they were back; a breathless, joyful campaign full of twists and turns, of memorable football and last gasp goals, of celebrating wildly with scarcely believed incredulity. It was so special because no one – absolutely no one – saw it coming. The naysayers were silenced in a frenzied cacophony of blistering and magical memories; a lifetime of them in the space of a few months. Gerrard Houllier became a messiah, the most popular manager in a generation, as Reds everywhere – weaned for over a decade on the envy that only those who once had it all and find themselves cast out can understand – bobbed to the tune of Baha Men’s ‘Who let the dogs out?’. It was McAllister from forty yards and his manager’s beaming, disbelieving and infectious smile; it was winning twice against United and deliriously casting off their hex over us; it was Michael Owen and a brace in Rome; it was Robbie – struggling under the authoritarian nature of the regime – still able to conjure a stupendous twenty yard volley in the first of our Cardiff visits; it was keeping out Rivaldo and co. in Barcelona and completing the job at Anfield (can anyone remember the rhythm of our heart beats in those final few moments as an away goal would spell elimination?); it was practical larceny against Arsenal in the FA Cup final when Owen, like a tartrazine-addled toddler on Christmas morning, all manic eyes and disbelieving smile, tried to summersault after planting past Seaman with his left foot; it was a deluge of goals, one of them golden, in Dortmund; it was that man Robbie again, somehow scooping an overhead kick into the Charlton goal in the final league game of the season. It was all this and more; a crystallisation of heady joy as the results just kept coming. Sixty three games in four competitions. One hundred and twenty seven goals, three trophies and a return to the promised land of the Champions League.
There’ve been worse seasons to be a Liverpool supporter.
There was no hint of the special campaign that was to come as Houllier conducted his transfer business with the revolving door policy still ongoing; ten players joined the Reds and eleven left. Save for the arrival of Jari Litmanen in January, none of the dealings of the club were particularly inspiring and the one player that came closest to capturing the imagination of Kopites – Christian Ziege – was, after a long and protracted saga where the Reds were charged with tapping up the German, an unmitigated disappointment. Symptomatic of the seemingly underwhelming nature of Liverpool’s incomings was the arrival of a veteran Scot, Gary McAllister. Reds fans were more than a little sceptical at the acquisition but, like so many that hailed from the highlands before him, the former Coventry midfielder would go on to paint himself into Liverpool’s rich historic tapestry and acted as a catalyst for the glories that were to come. The German defender Markus Babbel, also arrived on a free transfer from Bayern Munich. Though not a fantasia signing, it was a canny piece of business – so typical of Houllier at this stage of his Liverpool career – and was actually something of a coup. Babbel would go on to feature prominently in the fantastic campaign we were about to witness. There was something of a faint scandal, much to the bemusement of the French manager, when Nicky Barmby made the trip across Stanley Park to sign for the Reds in a £6 million deal, becoming the first player since Dave Hickson over forty years previously to make the journey. Barmby, a clever, robust and dynamic attacking midfielder, would play his part during the historic season – particularly in Europe.
The rest of this article is for Subscribers only.