Where Expectations Started…
My favourite Liverpool game, where do you start, so many memories. Winning Number 5 with the Miracle of Istanbul, the European comebacks vs Olympiakos or Dortmund, the still mind blowing 4-0 win vs Barcelona. My initial thought was the 2006 FA Cup final which I was lucky to get a ticket for, where I witnessed probably the greatest FA Cup final goal ever on that sunny day in Cardiff.
But then it hit me, for people who know me, the one LFC season I talk about more than any other is the 2000-2001 season. This season under Gerard Houllier was when I realised that Liverpool could compete for trophies again. Winning three trophies in one season and finally qualifying for Champions League again every game felt like a must win.
But the game that always sticks in my memory and gave birth to a wave of expectation was the 2001 UEFA Cup Final against Alaves. Before this season English clubs winning a European competition was something my Dad and Grandad would remember. If I am being brutally honest competing and winning in Europe became something that lot up the East Lancs road did.
Before the 2000-2001 season, apart from a Semi Final defeat to PSG in Cup Winners Cup, I was used to my 90’s Liverpool being out of Europe by the third round losing to the likes of Brondby, Strasbourg, or Celta Vigo.
This European campaign felt different with early round banana skins to Rapid Bucharest, Slovan Liberac, and Olympiakos navigated successfully.
Then in round 4 came Roma over two legs, going back to where number 4 was won. This was a talented Roma side filled with classy players like Cafa, Tommasi, Nakata, Delvecchio and Batistuta (for second leg). This is where Gerard Houiller was in his element, it wasn’t always pretty but with our compact defence of Babbel, Henchoz, Hyypia, and Carragher and our fire power upfront we always had a chance. This proved to be the case as two goals from Michael Owen gave Liverpool a crucial win in the first leg.
Then seven days later the return leg, could Liverpool get past a real European challenge? Sat in my friends house the game was tense and had that feel of a big game which I was not used to. On the hour, penalty to Liverpool, up steps Owen but it’s saved, and within 10 minutes Guigou makes it 1-0 to Roma. Tension continues to build then on 77 minutes one of the most bizarre passages of play happens. The referee blows and looks to point to the spot for a Babbel handball, oh no is this more heartache in Europe for modern Liverpool? He then appears to change his mind and point for a corner instead, in the confusion Roma players surround the referee with more than one receiving a yellow card. Pure relief we were still ahead, just needed to see the game out, which was helped when Roma captain Tommasi received his second yellow of the game. That was it, Quarter Final place for Liverpool against Porto.
As quarter finals go the Porto game was largely uneventful, a none event of a first leg finished 0-0 at their place. Then a professional 2-0 performance at Anfield with goals from Murphy and Owen saw Liverpool into the Semi Final of the UEFA Cup.
Barcelona in the Semi Finals what a team to play, they weren’t on Real Madrid level that season, but this side still had quality in the squad with Rivaldo, Kluivert, Overmars, De Boar, Guardiola, Luis Enrique, a young Puyol, and in the second leg Petit. Despite all the negativity from the Spanish press getting a 0-0 draw in the Nou Camp felt massive, can we get the tie won at Anfield?
On 19th April 2001 I sat at home with my family. Can we do it? Less than one month before I turn 18 could I get that early gift of Liverpool in a European Final. The teams line up, Liverpool side is as expected solid with two inform strikers, the Barca side somehow seemed stronger in the 14 days since the first leg on 05th April. Come on Redmen we can do this. Within 7 minutes we were given the reminder of how difficult the game will be, Rivaldo from 35 yards has Westervield tipping the ball over the bar. The rest of the half was nip and tuck with half chances, but Barca on the break look ominous. Right on half time McAllister corner is swung in towards captain Hyypia but Kluivert’s hand tips it past him…. Penalty to Liverpool.
Up steps McAllister against future red Reina, McAllister off the back of his wonder goal to win the derby at Goodison. Can he do it? Get in 1-0 Liverpool right on half time.
Can I dream of watching Liverpool in a cup final? 10 minutes into the second half all thoughts of the final went away when Westerveld slices a routine clearance. Fortunately the sliced clearance rolls out of play for a corner before Kluivert can tap it in. Fortunately after that scare, Liverpool were able to keep Barcelona to half chances and see the half out.
The date is set for 16th May 2001 at Westfalen Stadion, can Liverpool lift the UEFA Cup?
So the big day is here, in my wisdom I decided to watch the match in a local pub with my mates who were a mixture of Liverpool, Manchester United, and Everton fans. I am a mixture of nerves and excitement, finally seeing my club in a European final with a real chance of winning it. Nervous though, as who are Alaves, is this final their fairytale, can you imagine the fall out of losing this final. Before the game like most I was expecting Liverpool to win a tight game with few chances in it. How little did I know.
The lineups are in, Alaves are playing three at the back with Jordi Cruyff lining up for the opposition with his famous Dad watching on hoping to put a winners medal around his son’s neck. Liverpool lined up as expected, the defensive unit of Westerveld, Babbel, Henchoz, Hyypia, and Carragher rarely changed for most of the season. Tight midfield four of Hamann & McAllister in the centre with Gerrard on right and Murphy on the left. Then the in form front two of Owen and Heskey, with God waiting on the bench.
I’d barely had a drink of my pint and bang 1-0 Liverpool Markus Babbel after only 4 minutes. A lofted free kick by Gary McAllister is met by an unmarked Babbel to give Liverpool the dream start, it feels like the whole pub shakes with the roar from the reds in the pub.
Liverpool have settled on the ball better and Alaves seem overawed by the challenge before them. Then on 10 minutes Heskey is sent flying by a wild challenge from an Alaves player who rightfully is booked, the concern for us is McAlister doesn’t take too kindly to the challenge and is also booked early.
Alaves’ first real chance is from a free kick on 12 minutes which Westerveld is able to save fairly comfortably.
15 minutes into the game Hamann fires the ball into Owen who holds it up and slips the ball into Steven Gerrard on the right hand side. Gerrard strides into the box and fires the ball into the net under the keepers arm 2-0 to Liverpool. That was Gerrard’s 10th goal of the season, a real coming of age season for him. Gerrard scoring in a European final I’m sure we’ve heard that somewhere before.
Alaves’ coach has had enough, not long after the goal he takes one of his centre backs off and abandoned the three at the back system. Are we really 2-0 up in a final, this feels far too easy… Damn it, spoke too soon, within minutes of making the change Alaves are back in the game with a header from the substitute. Alaves’ tails are up and it’s nearly 2-2 when Moreno is through but Westervield stands his ground and keeps it at 2-1.
Come on Redmen let’s regroup and get in a half time 2-1.
5 minutes to go and Owen is through, the keeper comes out of his box, tries to handle it but in the end trips up Owen just inside the box PENALTY. Up steps Gary McAllister, what a signing this man has been, many were skeptical why Liverpool had signed the Scot from Coventry. But as the season progressed his experience was vital especially in the crunch games. Usual curved run up by Gary McAllister and it flies past the keeper 3-1 to Liverpool surely that should be game over.
Half time sat with friends talking about how mad it will be to win three trophies.
Second half is underway Mango comes on for Alaves, come on, reds keep it tight. Within a few minutes of the second half the Alaves winger seems to be in a competition with Carragher for how many times he can turn him. He eventually gets in his cross and Moreno makes it 3-2. Game On.
Having just got over the fact our advantage was down to 1 goal Liverpool gave a free kick away 25 yards from goal. Moreno lines up against a big Liverpool wall…. …. Christ it’s 3-3! Moreno has hit his shot under the wall and Westervield doesn’t or can’t react.
Houiller’s reaction is to take off Stephane Henchoz for Vladimir Smicer. This meant a reshuffle for Liverpool with Smicer going right midfield, Babbel to centre back, and Gerrard to play rest of an European final at right back (think we’ll hear that story again). Not long after this substitution Alaves captain was booked for taking Michael Owen down. Unlike Moreno’s effort, Gary McAllister free kick strikes the wall.
Then on 64 minutes both managers make changes.
Liverpool brought on Fowler for Heskey who was running on empty, but he was having a wonderful season for Liverpool. The shock was Alaves final sub which was to take off two goal hero Moreno! Not going to lie I think Liverpool fans cheered that sub more than most.
Come on Reds let’s take the lead again, where will the magic come from. Of course it came from God with less than 20 minutes to go. McAllister fires a precision pass into Fowler who cuts in from the left, shimmies past Alaves defender like he wasn’t there and fires it in 4-3. What a goal, what a player, the pub erupts, surely a goal of that quality will win the UEFA Cup.
With 12 minutes to go Houllier goes for the practical approach, what we have we hold, FA Cup hero Michael Owen’s evening is done, and on comes Patrik Berger, its 4-5-1 no messing lets see this final out. 8 minutes to go, Mango goes down under a challenge from Hamann we all hold our breath as the referee blows…. …. Free kick to Liverpool, Mango is booked for diving. Phew surely that is it.
Final minute of the game Liverpool conceded a corner after a Westervield save. Corner is swung in and Jesus Christ its 4-4!! The rivals celebrate as the banter is flowing, this game is going to extra time. Just to add salt to the wound the scorer would have to be Jordi Cruyff. The man who did nothing at Manchester United, and whose father was doing the presentation post match.
Full Time 4-4, what a game my mates said. I couldn’t think about it at the time it felt like a kick is groin that equaliser. We need to go again for a fifth time with only one striker on the pitch. Then the two words that brought fear and excitement to extra time Golden Goal. This really was football with your mates next goal wins, no second chances, no last push, if you concede the game is over.
Three minutes into the first half and Alaves has the ball in the back of the net, my heart sinks, until we see the linesman’s flag. Despair turns into relief as the game continues. Eight minutes into the first half and Alaves are down to 10 men, Magno who has already been booked for diving flies into Markus Babbel with a two footed lunge and is given a second yellow.
On the stroke of half time the ball falls to Fowler. GOAL! We’ve Won…. ….nothing the flag is up. 15 more minutes to go. Second half gets under way. Within a minute Alaves have a free kick 30 yards out after Babbel is booked for a late challenge, but the free kick is wide. Gerrard gets in a dangerous cross but Fowler cannot get a touch on it, this is agonising.
Five minutes to go, thoughts are already going to who will take our first five penalties in the shoot out. Ball is with Smicer on the left wing and he is hauled down by Alaves captain who is already booked, Alaves are down to 9 men. This game is just mental.
Free Kick to be taken by McAllister wide left of the penalty area, he lofts the ball in….
…. WE’VE DONE IT!
It’s 5-4 the referee blows his whistle Liverpool are UEFA Cup winners.
Beer flows, the cheers are deafening in the pub, who scored was it Babbel, no it’s an own goal, who cares!
Liverpool win one of craziest games I’ve ever seen. The evergreen Gary McAllister finished the game with 1 goal, 2 assists or 3 if you count the own goal, deserved Man of the Match.
Which brings me back to my opening views, for me this is where expectations started again. Liverpool should be challenging for honours again it shouldn’t be a thing our Dads or Grandads talked about. Since that final, five of the players involved played their part in The Miracle of Istanbul.
While getting Number 19 in the 2019-2020 season was one of the best seasons and probably one of the best Liverpool teams I have ever seen. The 2000-2001 season and in particularly the UEFA Cup run was for me when modern Liverpool started.
By Chris Brack, LFC Daytrippers Podcast