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‘Crazier than Istanbul’ – The inside story of Liverpool’s 2001 UEFA Cup win

The 2000/2001 season was a famous one for Liverpool Football Club.

Sixty-three games played and three trophies won, Gerard Houllier and his class of 2001 brought the good times back to Anfield.

Two decades on from cementing his Liverpool legend, the iconic Houllier would pass away leaving his club, his team, in mourning.

As part of the 20-year anniversary of that memorable term for Liverpool, the ECHO spoke to several members of Houllier’s squad to talk through some of their greatest days on the football pitch.

And also, to pay their respects to a manager they revered.

This is the story of the 2001 season – told by those who shaped it.

Part three continues with Liverpool lifting the UEFA Cup in Dortmund after one of the wildest European finals of all time.

Liverpool were made to work for their first European trophy in 17 years.

After ties with Rapid Bucharest and Slovan Liberec were safely negotiated, the Reds were forced to tackle some of the very best sides in the competition.

A tough two legs against Olympiakos saw Liverpool emerge 4-2 victors before would-be Serie A champions Roma awaited in the last 16.

After beating Fabio Capello’s Giallorossi, Portuguese giants Porto were up next before a semi-final showdown with Barcelona.

An unheralded Alaves would await Houllier’s side in the final before the Reds emerged 5-4 victors via Gary McAllister’s Golden Goal.

Phil Thompson : “That Roma team, they had Batistuta, Cafu…they were a proper team. Gerard always gave us the great thing of asking us for our team. We’d give our team and he’d have the final decision.

“So when we came to Rome, Gerard said to the staff: ‘I’ve got a plan how to beat Roma’ and he didn’t ask us what our teams were.

“He said he had a formation to beat them. Roma were 3-5-2. He said he was going to play with Robbie and Michael up front, but he was going to play Jari (Litmanen) as well. So it was two up front with Jari in behind as a No.10 and then three midfield players.

“So straight away we thought Cafu and Vincent Candela, two of the best full-backs in the world at the time, they were going to have the ball all day long if we don’t have at least four.

“So he left the room so pleased with himself, he was so confident and I thought that he’d already told Jari he’s playing. We had a chat and I said I couldn’t believe it. We agreed the set up was not right, maybe at home, yes. But away in Rome we all said it was suicide.

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“What are we going to do here? So I knocked on his door and I went in. I said ‘Gerard, we’re all very pleased that you give us our time and team selections, but we’re confused with the setup because of Cafu and Candela. They will rip us apart.’

“I said: ‘Listen, if you want to go ahead with it, go for it, but I’m giving you mine and the staff’s opinion.’ and he went ‘OK, leave it with me.’. So then we had the team meeting and he picked a 4-4-2. Thank goodness Michael scored two because I could have been sacked had that gone wrong!”

Jamie Carragher : “This was Fabio Capello, who was the manager in European football at that time, wherever he went, he won. Roma won the Serie A that season, so it was the best team in Italy.

“I think Batistuta was on the bench for the first leg as they were that desperate for the title. They still had Montella, Delvecchio, Totti, Cafu, some great players. Walter Samuel was involved.

“In the return leg, we were getting beat and they got a penalty, but it looked like the referee had changed his mind and then gave a corner. There was murder after that and we got away with one really.

“But it was one of them when we’d beaten them, we knew we’d put out a really good side there. A big one to come through that.”

Michael Owen Liverpool football player February 2001 Heads home to score Liverpool’s second goal during the match between AS Roma and Liverpool in the UEFA Cup fourth round, first leg at the Olympic Stadium, Rome, Italy

Gary McAllister : “Michael barely touched it but his two finishes were just world-class and that’s what separated Michael from other strikers, he didn’t need many chances.

“Roma probably came off the pitch thinking how they’d lost that game 2-0 and it was down to Michael. He pounced on a few defensive mistakes by Roma and was just uber clinical.”

Danny Murphy : “For me personally, Barcelona away was a bit disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, I’d always dreamed of playing in the Nou Camp as a kid and doing that was an amazing achievement, but I struggled with the occasion and I didn’t play well.

“I think Pep Guardiola come out after the game and slated us saying it wasn’t football and it was a joke and blah blah. In the second leg, we played better, Gary Mac got the winner and I think a few of the lads gave it to Pep in the tunnel after the game and it all went off a little bit.”

Carragher : “In the Nou Camp, it was 0-0 and we were playing against Rivaldo, who was probably the best player in the world at that time, Overmars, Luis Enrique, Kluivert, so it was top quality, so two clean sheets against a team like that was something special.

“It was won by a Gary Mac penalty with a young Pepe Reina in goal. Pep Guardiola was involved, so it was a typical Barcelona team with some great names. And the Kop that night, with the atmosphere and us being so strong defensively basically got us through to a European final.”

McAllister : “When the penalty was given, all I can remember was Puyol giving me some Spanish verbals down my ear. I had no idea what he was saying but it’s not complimentary, I don’t think.

“So when I scored the penalty my first thought was ‘where’s Puyol?’ because I wanted to give him some Scottish compliments back!

“And I think Stevie was first over to congratulate me, so in that first moment of trying to give Puyol some abuse, I think I caught Steven in the chin with a clenched fist. There was a lot of emotion there.”

Thompson : “I think it was Johan Cruyff who said it was going to be one of the most boring nil-nils ever in the final, but he got that one wrong. It was one of the great games in my time with Gerard where we lost control of it.

“Even when making the subs and how that worked. We ripped them apart early on and then they changed it from three at the back to four. Brought on a striker and crawled their way back into it.”

Pep Guardiola had a prime view of Gary McAllister’s penalty winner in Liverpool’s 2001 UEFA Cup semi final win over Barcelona

Carragher : “It’s crazier than Istanbul to be honest, it’s just that 2005 was the Champions League final and this was the UEFA Cup. The problem was that we went 2-0 up so early and they weren’t a household name. I don’t think we took our foot of it but I think we were shattered.

“Had we been a bit fresher we could have won that three or 4-0. But I just think with the FA Cup final that we had and it was a long season, I think we were out on our knees, we really were. And when they stepped it up they put us under real pressure.”

Murphy : “Gary Mac’s performance has to be talked about. He was devastated he never played in the FA Cup final but he didn’t let that affect him. On the evening, it was like his whole career condensed into that game with his assists, his goal. People call the FA Cup the Owen final, you could call that the Gary Mac final in some ways, couldn’t you?

McAllister : “For the goal that won it, my only thought was to make them defend the cross. I wasn’t trying to be too clever with the delivery. It was a bizarre night. To this day I would say when you see that gg there were still a few players who didn’t realise the game was over. A lot of them went to centre again to kick off.”

Thompson : “As it was Golden Goal, on the left of our dugout, Gary Mac was going across and I am getting my penalty takers sorted.

“I’ve got my list for the penalty takers and who did I take out of the equation? Didi Hamann! He wasn’t happy about, but when Gary takes that free-kick, he floats it into the net, it comes off Geli’s head, well we just shot out of our seats, on the pitch, the lads are all celebrating.

“Patrice Bergues had forgotten it was Golden Goal! Patrik Berger had too! It was sensational, what a game 5-4.”

DORTMUND, GERMANY – MAY 16: UEFA POKAL 00/01, Dortmund; FINALE: FC LIVERPOOL – CD ALAVES 5:4 n.V.; JUBEL des SIEGERS FC LIVERPOOL (Photo by Henri Szwarc/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Carragher: “We were never the greatest footballing side to play for Liverpool, but very few had our winning mentality and our spirit because we won so many tight games and got over the line so often. That’s what made us have the season we did in terms of winning the trophies.”

Murphy : “We had the Charlton game at the weekend but we couldn’t celebrate. There were amazing celebrations on the pitch and then we got in the dressing room and it went (right down). We’ve won something again and we can’t go and have a bevy. We obviously knew the job that was in hand though.

“When we got the job done against Charlton we stopped off at the supermarket on the way back, topped the trolley up with beer and food and went out in Liverpool with the lads.”

Carragher : “I didn’t really want to get too involved with the parade to be totally honest because I wanted it over with so I could go and get on the ale with my mates and my family.

“When you see the scenes though it was unbelievable it really was, you want to stay on there all night in the end and it was only just eclipsed by Istanbul really.

“That day when we were all on that bus for the first time as young lads, three trophies, when are Liverpool going to be in that position again? That’s what made it special.

“We played every game we could possibly play that season. So that scene on the bus, people lining the streets, to be part of that myself was very special.”

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Murphy : “It’s just schoolboy dreams isn’t it? If you’re a Red…what do you want to do when you’re older? I want to play for Liverpool. I want to win something with Liverpool. I want to score at the Kop end and hear my name sung.

“And I want to play with my mates and lads who I respect and have my back. And I want to play for a manager who supports me. I want to enjoy everything about it and that season had it all.”

Thompson : “This is for a group of Liverpool fans who hadn’t witnessed a European final since the 1980s. So the games you’re talking about, people are travelling to, Barcelona, Roma…places to go. They were going with their dads, grandads, family. It was their time.

“Dortmund was packed full of newbies, people experiencing a European final for the first time.

“I remember lining up on the edge of the box to sing You’ll Never Walk Alone and then we all got into the biggest huddle you’ve ever seen, it was just fantastic bonding with the togetherness and the crowd. It was proper.”

Stay tuned for the part in the series as the class of 2001 give their heartfelt tributes to Gerard Houllier

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