The Treble - Cloud Eight
From Issue 52, Summer 2001
Isn't it funny how tiny quirks of fate can change
your life on a massive scale? Imagine, if you
will, when Big Ed was scouring through YNWA all
those years ago looking for a suitable title for
his new fanzine. What if he had settled for "Tossed
and Blown"? Once the vice squad had finished
with him, would he still have had the enthusiasm
for continuing with this enterprise?
During the late forties and early fifties, my
dad used to watch both Liverpool and Everton on
alternate Saturdays. When I came along, economies
had to be made and a choice made between Liverpool
or Everton. At the time, Everton were surviving
in the First Division and Liverpool were newly
relegated to the Second. Strangely, he opted for
Liverpool. His decision has been rewarded a thousand
times over down the years. Yet, on one single
inexplicable whim turned my own destiny. I was
eventually introduced to Liverpool Football Club
in 1963 and immediately developed a taste for
silverware when it could so easily have been Bitter
Blueberry Pie instead.
Tiny decisions change our lives on a massive scale.
Even during the last ten arid years, I never lost
sight of the rewards that my support has brought
me. There were times when I doubted whether those
days would ever return as successive managers
strayed ever further from the path. Roy Evans
assembled a great attacking side for us but they
couldn't defend and he couldn't control them.
Then along came Monsieur Houllier at a time when
our hopes were at an all time low. Our patience
has eventually been rewarded. Our historic treble
was made all the sweeter when I stopped to consider
that I could so easily have been sat across Stanley
Park, fuming and oozing jealousy.
The success that the side achieved last season
was satisfying on a number of levels. Most of
all, I was thrilled for that new generation of
our supporters who have never known success. Their
commitment in following the club, home and away,
was richly rewarded. More than that, they now
have precious memories of their own to match those
which us old farts have from Rome or Paris.
Success was no less delicious for those of us
well used to seeing multiple trophy wins. There
were those of us who were beginning to wonder
if we would ever see success on this scale again.
Even up to the last issue of TTW&R I was still
expressing doubts about Monsieur Houllier and
whether he could instil in our players that mental
toughness that all winners have. I was finally
won over after our second performances against
The first leg was a heroic defensive performance
in which the whole side conspired to contain a
team packed with world class players. We did the
job, but it seemed like the whole team was consumed
with defensive duties, leaving no possibility
of scoring ourselves. If we were to triumph in
this tie, we had to do the same job again at Anfield
AND fashion an attacking strategy from somewhere.
I went along more in hope than in expectation.
The atmosphere was a bit special (although I hope
you will forgive us old farts if we still insist
that St Etienne was still the best European night
ever at Anfield - trust me) and I do believe that
we made a difference. Rivaldo's forty-yard shot?
When Steven Gerrard hits them from that range,
they go in.
When the final whistle went and all hell broke
loose, I had a quiet, emotional moment in which
I exchanged the hope, on which I
had survived for ten years, for the certainty
that we were back. Back as a force to be reckoned
with in Europe. Back where we belonged, beating
Europe's elite. Back, able to hold our heads high
with confidence, dignity and self-respect. That
is what that victory meant to me and this certainty
put a lump in my throat the size of a grapefruit.
We hadn't won a trophy in that match but that
didn't matter - we were back and I was happy to
finally accept Houllier as the architect of our
If we needed further proof, we got it at Cardiff.
It came in the unfamiliar guise of Lady Luck.
All successful sides attract a certain amount
luck. Ask Alan Hansen about Bruges at Wembley
in 1978. Ask the Mancs about the last ten years.
The fact that we survived a relatively poor performance
and several spurned Arsenal chances and were still
in the match was due, in part, to good fortune.
The fact that we went on to win, wasn't. It was
because we had Michael Owen and because Tony Adams
became too old at a critical moment. However,
the fact that Lady Luck has been seen hanging
around your dressing room is a real indication
that the good times are back. That isn't to say
we were lucky to win. This was just the balance
being redressed - which tends to happen over a
season. We could easily point to a whole catalogue
of instances over the past few seasons when Lady
Luck was nowhere to be seen. And in Arsenal's
case, this win had been coming since 1950 (via
1971, 1980, 1987, 1989 and August 2000) so I,
for one didn't give a toss how it was achieved.
That it was won by a fabulous pass and a world
class finish, was a bonus. Besides, being called
'lucky' by Arsenal fans is about as surreal as
attending a lecture on humility and bowel control
Much has been written about the Alaves match -
rating it as one of the greatest European Finals
Forced to stay behind and watch it from the comfort
of my armchair, I have to say it was one of the
most horrible, tense matches of my life. I didn't
enjoy it and I felt physically ill by the time
we lifted the trophy. It took hours for the stress
and tension to drain away, to be replaced by the
warm smug glow of satisfaction. Not only were
we back amongst Europe's elite, we had the tangible
evidence of a big shiny UEFA Cup to prove it.
I dispute the view that we were lucky in Dortmund.
The best team won through their spirit and persistence
and Alaves lost the match eventually, because
of several cynical fouls and their lack of discipline.
Lesser teams than ours would have folded after
an 88th minute equaliser like that. The remarkable
thing was that just days after a gruelling FA
Cup Final, we seemed to get stronger the longer
extra time went on.
And so to Charlton. By now I was actually against
qualifying for the Champions League. My thinking
was inspired in part by a contrariness that makes
me rebel against the likes of Parry who insist
that this, for financial reasons, is the real
extent of our ambitions. With our confidence sky
high and without the burden of a massive programme
of Champions League games to distract us, I really
felt that we could mount a serious and sustained
challenge to the Mancs for the title during the
coming season. That's what matters. Never mind
- we will just have to do it the hard way. And
yes, I cheered as loudly as anybody when Robbie's
fabulous overhead went in and by full time I was
drunk with the idea that we could go all the way
in the Champions League AND give the Mancs a run
for their (unlimited) money. Nobody is going to
fancy playing us after the scalps we have taken
That performance against Charlton was an appropriate
climax to our season - a climax even more explosive
than that of Zabriskie Point. The side played
with patience, tenacity and spirit. If there is
one quality which Houllier has revived, it is
the team ethic. You can see how well these guys
get on - how they play for each other. Ever seen
a player who hasn't kicked a ball all season,
lift a trophy? It is that collective mentality
which ran through all our best sides like a steel
cable. No room for egos (Robbie) - you are part
of a red machine now. You had to admire their
stamina in the Charlton game, especially after
the physical and mental ordeal they had been through
in the games leading up to it.
So, was it a more successful season than the Mancs?
Arguably. An unprecedented treble - definitely.
Of course, it didn't take long for the revisionism
to start but we know the truth. This was success
on a massive scale and nobody is going to take
that away from us. We are BACK and anybody who
says otherwise has all the credibility of a Jeffrey
Archer alibi. Manager of the season? Stuff your
awards - we know the truth.
There were plenty of success stories all over
the pitch last season. Twelve months ago, my eyebrows
were raised as high as anybody's when we signed
Gary McAllister. We knew he had been good but
- at 36 - I doubted his worth to us. I have never
been so pleased to be wrong. Professionalism personified,
as demonstrated by his reaction to scoring against
his old club. Elated and gutted at the same time.
A true pro. If I could say that one player alone
made the difference between success and failure
over the season, it has to be McAllister.
Markus Babbel was yet another significant acquisition
who cost us nothing. Once he had settled into
the right back position, he was steady and reliable
week in and week out, giving us valuable width
and power going forward. Up front we had few worries
as Owen and Fowler have slowly started to put
their injury worries behind them. Heskey matured
into the good strong all round striker we knew
he could be. We just need for our manager to be
a bit more gung-ho (like Sven Goran Mobilephone)
and play the three of them together in the same
side. It solves the problem of keeping them all
Sami Hyypia WAS the player of the year (whatever
the PFA or the football writers might think) -
if for no other reason than that he went through
the season without getting booked. Think about
it - in an age where referees wave a yellow card
for farting, this central defender spent his season
jumping, sliding and being the last line of defence.
Not getting booked even once means only one thing:
pure class. Mr Potato Head - watch and learn.
And how can a player who makes three goal-line
clearances in a match not be Man of the Match?
When is Hyypia going to get the recognition he
richly deserves? Then there was poor Stefan Henchoz
- another brilliant season and still standing
in Sami's mighty shadow.
Stevie G came of age and we can be confident that
the heart of our midfield is in safe hands for
the foreseeable future. He is already a serious
contender for Souness' title of 'Best All-round
Footballer to Wear a Liverpool Shirt' and the
frightening thing is, he can still get better!
Of course, to single out individuals for praise,
misses the point. All that we achieved last season
was achieved collectively. Everybody made a significant
contribution and even players like Hamann, Murphy
and Carragher who, hitherto, I haven't rated that
highly, matured into vital members of the team
who all had great games at some point or other
during the season. Elsewhere, other players have
been less consistent. Smicer was, at times, brilliant.
He can also be frustrating. I was shocked when
he was substituted in the FA Cup Final - mainly
because I didn't realise he was on the pitch!
Ziege was a mistake although we might have changed
our opinion of him if his overhead kick against
Wycombe had gone in. Barmby made a vital contribution
scoring several vital goals, especially before
his injury. He also created one of the season's
most delicious moments by scoring against the
Bitter Blues in the derby. I swear I heard them
collectively howl with pain when the ball hit
the back of the net. Sander can be erratic but
he made some decisive saves - good saves - in
key matches and I feel he can become a great keeper
in the next couple of seasons.
Of course, fanzines aren't here to heap yet more
adulation on these once-underachieving, still
grossly overpaid prima donnas. We are here to
point out the shortcomings of our players and
throw light on the areas where we want to see
improvement. So I would like to point out that
the quality of Michael Owen's handspring after
his second goal in the Cup Final was embarrassing.
This is an area of his game that needs a lot of
work and I am looking forward to seeing a big
improvement in the coming season. And, er, that's
But seriously, weeks after the season finished,
I sat and watched that Barcelona match again and
as brilliant as the result was, the performance
wasn't nice to watch. Cruyff had a point. What
if Luis Enrique's shot had gone in - Westerveld
was a spectator. Could we have scored again if
we had to? I don't know - maybe this is what success
in the modern game feels like: that high scoring
humiliations only come along once every Everton
Win and most significant results are just ground
out. The ability to sneak a 1-0 lead and defend
it to the final whistle has been rediscovered.
We have also found again that determination which
used to win us so many games late on, a relentlessness
which dictates that there is no such thing as
a lost cause. Perhaps we are going to have to
settle for that, for now, and the Anfield belief
that just winning isn't enough - win in style
- will have to wait. I'll certainly settle for
it ahead of winning bugger all!
Anyway, during the coming season, I want to see
a lot more pre-match huddles on the Kop. We in
the main stand started our own last winter and
we now regularly huddle down before each match
and commit ourselves to not use foul or abusive
chants in the Anfield Stadium (we've always been
above racism - so no need to mention it) and to
utter nothing but support and encouragement for
our team. We believe that our spirit played a
small part in all that we achieved last season
and if we can spread this practice around the
ground then who knows what might be possible?
Get your huddle going.
This trend towards 'deep' slogans on banners is
an interesting development along the way towards
rehabilitating football fans into civilised cash
cows. "Wine for my men - we ride at dawn"
- what's that all about? Will it be the Chateau
Latour (72 of course) or the 1971 Petrus, Sir?
Whatever happened to "Twelve pints of lager
for my mates - the coach leaves in five minutes"?
More interesting was the maxim at Cardiff "What
we achieve in life, echoes in eternity".
Quite a snappy little poke in the eye for the
Mancs while at the same time reminding our current
players that they now had their chance to make
their own mark in history. It was just a pity
that the phrase was a piece of Hollywood schmaltz
from the mouth of Maximus Gladiator instead of
something more profound from Plato or Descartes.
If we are really going to blend football and philosophy,
I would like to see a Red banner at the European
Cup Final in Glasgow next May quoting Aristotle:
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence,
then, is not an art but a habit".
One of the down sides to last season was the countless
hours wasted queuing for tickets. In this day
and age, when I have bought tickets on the Internet
for access to the Uffizi in Florence or an Alcatraz
Boat Tour in San Francisco (visiting relatives?
- ed) surely it wouldn't be beyond the club to
set up a means of buying tickets for 'non season
ticket' matches, online. It is typically arrogant
and complacent of the club in not providing it's
fans with this sort of access to tickets. Security
considerations can be easily overcome. The benefits
to all, especially those with access, are obvious
- or are we to continue to be treated like foot
and mouth suspects - herded in lines outside the
the wind and rain?
The first week in July was a conspicuously bad
one for the club with the passing of both Joe
Fagan and Billy Liddell. These men served our
club with integrity and distinction and we will
always speak their names with fondness and respect.
It must have been some small consolation to their
families that they lived to see the club restored
to greatness again.
Hopes for the new season? That we might build
on our solidity and become a little more adventurous.
The side is full of talent and it is being focused
on defensive duties when it could be so devastating
if given a bit more freedom to express itself.
I hope our participation in the Champions League
doesn't affect our title hopes in the same way
that Chelsea and Leeds have been distracted in
the last two seasons. Last season is going to
be hard to follow and even harder to improve on.
Let's just remember that success is a fragile
and precious thing. Enjoy it, savour it and celebrate
it but DON'T ever take it for granted. We never
have, and we never should, make assumptions about
our next season. We know what might now be possible
- let's go and get to Cloud Nine by winning one
(or better still, both) of the trophies that we
didn't win last season.