Liverpool Football Club wouldn’t be Liverpool Football Club without the following things: a mood-swinging social media fanbase, European nights under the Anfield lights and a massive dollop of nostalgia. So let’s look back at a season that gave us the last two on that list: the treble season of 2000-2001. They were wondrous days – and there was no social media either. In many ways, it was bliss…
Where were you when JFK was shot? I wasn’t born. But apparently it was one of those moments in life where everybody remembers where they were (especially the second gunman on the Grassy Knoll, who definitely wasn’t on the Grassy Knoll) and how they felt.
There are moments like this throughout all of our lives, whether it be 9/11 or the fall of the Berlin Wall. I have one such moment that is ensconced in my brain: the 14th of May, 2000. This was the moment when I watched Liverpool succumb to a David Wetherall goal, and thus a 1-0 defeat, in the final game of the 99/00 season away at Bradford City. They won, we lost, and we slipped from third to fourth and missed out on the Champions League (no top four back in those days, lads and lasses).
Ok, so it’s hardly the assassination of a US president, but each to their own. I was sat in the living room of my Mum and Dad’s house, watching the Grandstand vidiprinter (kids, ask your parents), as the painfully slow notifications were being typed across the screen. Eventually, the game ended and the cameras took us to Valley Parade where a jubilant Bradford squad (they had saved themselves from relegation on the final day) were jumping all over the place and their fans were on the pitch. Liverpool players, of course, were more than visible in their green away shirts, with the navy and white sash across their chest from shoulder to waist. They looked as miserable as I felt. No Champions League, despite a largely impressive season under Gerard Houlllier (his first in sole charge of the club), felt like a late, horrible kick in the teeth.
Bradford City, who are they?
Funny isn’t it, what we remember and what we associate with those memories. That Wetherall goal was obviously the sting that gave Houllier’s Reds the impetus to go out the following season and qualify for Europe’s big league once more, having been absent from it for so long.
I was watching football more and more back in those days, as a sixteen year old who’d just left the safety and security of high school for the daunting world of A Levels and the local Sixth Form College. In many ways, it was a break with everything that I knew – much like Liverpool Football Club broke away from tradition with the appointment of the earnest, stern-yet-smiling Gerard Houllier.
He represented a clean break from the Boot Room days, and more recently the Spice Boys era of the club. Houllier would mould and shape his Liverpool side into his own image, and firmly re-establish the club as one of the best in the land once more – although when Bradford turned us over on that final day of the season, even the most hardened Reds would have wondered when, or if, that would ever happen. David f***ing Wetherall.
Houllier was therefore on borrowed time as the 2000-01 season kicked off; many fans were not sure of the pedigree of the manager after the side capitulated on that final day the previous season. However, the manager was bullish and not one to shirk a challenge.
He had set about ridding the club of the more negative elements that came to pass in the mid to late nineties – most notably of all the “Spice Boys” mentality that dogged many of the players in the media. Houllier had overseen the removal of players like Steve McManaman (more on that here – stick with the Transfer Room for always quality LFC content) and Jason McAteer in favour of players who were more likely to fit in with the work ethic of the enigmatic Frenchman at the helm of the club.
In came the likes of Markus Babbel at right back, and the attacking midfielder NIck Barmby from Everton (a controversial move, as you can well imagine. Merro would have absolutely lost his mind had that happened in the age of Twitter). Houllier was determined to build his squad around an attacking dynamic that had a strong defensive base from which to roam forward.
It was a common misconception that his sides were “boring” – in this campaign the Reds notched over 100 goals across all competitions and as the likes of the League Cup and UEFA Cup finals show, were not lacking in entertainment value. The squad looked strong in the spine, with Sami Hyypia fully bedded in alongside Stephane Henchoz at the back, Didi Hamaan, Danny Murphy and the emerging Steven Gerrard in the middle and the power of Emile Heskey, pace of Michael Owen, and guile of Robbie Fowler (one of only two “Spice Boys” survivors alongside Jamie Redknapp) up front.
But Houllier felt that someone was missing from the setup, something that would help steel the lads on the pitch against the mental tribulations of games like Bradford away: a 35 year-old Scotsman.
Houllier goes off-Kilter
The free signing of Gary McAllister in the summer of 2000 brought raised eyebrows from most, and extreme bafflement from some, of the Liverpool fanbase. McAllister was not a bad player per se, but to the fans he was someone who didn’t have the required ability for Liverpool Football Club.
Goes to show what we know, eh?
He would go on to provide calm authority on the pitch, and an ability to mentor young talent off it (Steven Gerrard would go on to write in his autobiography how he used to sit next to McAllister as often as possible in order to learn as much as he could from him), and no shortage of amazing memories – more on that later.
Overall then, and with the wonder that is 20/20 vision in hindsight, Houllier was bringing together a squad that would blend style with steel, in a bid to return the club to greatness. By the same time I was in Sixth Form College, wondering why everyone was dressed in jeans and looking miles smarter than me in my Adidas firebird trackies.
The Reds successfully – albeit nervously – navigated a UEFA Cup qualifier against Rapid Bucharest (finishing fourth the previous season saw Liverpool enter the forerunner to the Europa League), and wins against Manchester City and Aston Villa meant that August was a good month all round.
After a horrible thumping against pre-Russian billionaire gangster Chelsea in early September, Liverpool, and Emile Heskey in particular, laid down their first serious marker of the campaign with an absolutely barnstorming 4-0 win over Derby County. Heskey lashed in a hat-trick, including a wonderful strike into the top corner from twenty yards following a neat lay-off from Robbie Fowler. Patrick Berger finished the rout with one of his own trademark missiles from range. Heskey was fast establishing himself as first-choice alongside Michael Owen, meaning Robbie Fowler would sometimes cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines. It was around this time that all my mates seemed to be getting girlfriends while I was single, so I know how Fowler felt. Sort of.
Anyway, Heskey banged in more goals as the season went on (including a win against the Ev at Anfield in which Barmby also scored to much general fume from the Theatre of Beams), but then again so did the entire team – the Reds scored three goals or more in 21 games in all competitions across the season, including a wonderful 8-0 destruction of Stoke City at the Britannia where Robbie Fowler notched a hat-trick.
There was the 4-0 demolition job of Arsenal in the league in December, the utterly bonkers 5-4 win in the UEFA Cup final and a memorable 4-2 win in the FA Cup against the second biggest team on Merseyside, Tranmere Rovers. Remember Christian Ziege? Yep, he got some goals. Vladi Smicer? Him too. And let’s not forget the underused genius that is Jari Litmanan, who also chipped in.
Basically put, Liverpool in 2000-01 were bringing proper entertainment back. I too was bringing footballing entertainment back in my own way; the weekend when Owen slammed in a hat-trick against Newcastle at Anfield on the 5th May I was missing an open goal from five yards out for my Saturday league team. Wonderful stuff.
However, there were obviously some moments that stood out more than others – let’s look at them together shall we?
Liverpool 1-1 Birmingham City, League Cup Final 2001 (Liverpool win 5-4 on penalties)
Robbie Fowler, the greatest finisher this country has seen in the last 25 years (yes, I’m including Alan Shearer and Ruud Van Nistelrooy in that, fight me. My Twitter handle is @Red_UnderTheBed, knock yourselves out), often found himself out of the first team in the league behind Owen and Heskey, but was first choice (and captain) for the League Cup – and he utterly excelled. The now veteran (in relative terms) striker scored an absolute worldie in this final where I’m almost certain we made Trevor Francis cry. It was a spectacular goal, a looping, crashing half volley, and even though plucky City pushed us to pens (Fowler of course scored his, and Carragher got the winning pen), it helped mark our first trophy in six years and began a run of excellent days out at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Both games against Manchester United
Danny Murphy scored three times in three 1-0 wins at Old Toilet while he was a Liverpool player, did you know that? You do now. His excellent free kick was the difference in the game in December, while Fowler dumped Gary Neville on his arse before slotting past Barthez in the home fixture – and then laid off a beautiful assist for an absolute screamer from Steven Gerrard, to which Andy Gray remarked “that’s not in the top drawer – that’s above that”. Indeed.
Bradford City 0-2 Liverpool, May 2001
Hahaha f*** off David Wetherall.
Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal, FA Cup Final, May 2001
The Owen final. Yes, he hurt us all by joining United and by generally being a dick (how on earth is he an ambassador for the club?), but in that final he was absolutely peerless. We’d been getting ran ragged by Arsenal for about 88 minutes (including a hilarious handball on the line by Henchoz that was so blatant people at that back of the stadium could see it), before he prodded home an equaliser late on, and then tearing off after a long ball by Berger as the final whistle approached. Owen took the ball, nudged it past the last man and bore down on goal…and you know the rest. Epic. I’ve still got my gold away shirt from that season, and I was wearing it at a pub watching the game with me Dad. I ended up throwing my pint on someone as I jumped up to celebrate, but nobody cared.
The Ev 2-3 Liverpool, Woodison Park, April 2001
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA GARY MCALLISTER HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Liverpool season without some terrible results as well: we couldn’t beat Leicester at their place, we lost to Middlesbrough in Smog City (Westerveld’s cringe-inducing “ice on the ball” excuse in no way made up for him generally being jarg that day), and we lost an enthralling encounter to Mark Viduka (and Leeds) 4-3. But overall, what a season. Let’s not forget, we also turned over Roma away from home and Barcelona across two legs. We are European giants because of games like that.
The UEFA Cup win against Alaves was insane; Cosmin Contra tore Jamie Carragher apart for 90+ minutes and made everyone go home and try to sign him on Champ Manager, Robbie Fowler came off the bench to stick one in like he was born to score for Liverpool in a European final (he was), and then Gary Mac, who had broke the hearts of every blue back in April swung a delightful free kick into a crowded penalty area well into extra time, only for it to ping off the head of an Alaves lad and sail in for the Golden Goal winner (remember Golden Goals? What a time to be alive).
Gary McAllister proved to the Liverpool faithful that for that time at least, Gerard Houllier could do no wrong. Of course it went sour – within two years he was gone – but to this then sixteen year-old student, Ged was everything. Him, Thommo, young Stevie G, the god-like genius that was Robbie Fowler, Emile “DJ” Heskey, Big Sami, Gary Mac…the whole lot of them, even Gregory bloody Vignal, are legends in my eyes. My love for Liverpool Football Club was already there, long before the 2000-01 season, but it was cemented forever in the moments provided by that squad of players, and that quite wonderful Frenchman. Allez les Rouges indeed.
This article is dedicated to my late Uncle, a former season ticket holder at Anfield who lived and breathed Liverpool Football Club and one of the principle reasons why I love the Reds. Here’s to him.