Alaves 4 Liverpool 5 (AET) - UEFA CUP FINAL (May 16 2001)
Alaves 4 LIVERPOOL 5
Report by Dave Usher in the Westfalenstadion
Scorer(s) – Markus Babbel, Steven Gerrard, Gary McAllister (pen), Robbie Fowler, Geli (o.g.)
Half Time - 1-3
Venue - Westfalenstadion, Dortmund
Date - Wed 16 May 2001
Star Man – Gary McAllister
I suspect that some time in the next few days the enormity of what we have achieved this season will eventually sink in, but right now I'm still in a bit of a daze. Like so many other reds that travelled to Dortmund, this was my first European Final, and it's going to be a hard act to follow that's for sure. It's actually quite fitting that it turned out to be such a thriller, as it was very much in keeping with how the season has gone as a whole. As fantastic as it's been, it hasn't been good for the nerves that's for sure.
This is perhaps the most difficult report I've had to write all season, which may seem strange considering it was our finest hour, but that is actually the problem. The emotional roller coaster that was the 2001 UEFA Cup final was the greatest game I've seen in my life. It was also the most important, and certainly the most overwhelming. But writing about it is hard, as there's no way I can do it justice, I'm just not that skilled a writer.
The day got off to a predictably bad start when our flight was delayed by about three hours. There was only one flight that didn't get away on time, and it came as no surprise to me that it was the one I was travelling on. After all, the exact same thing happened to me going to Barca and I seem to be a bit of a jinx on that score.
For me, well this was the biggest game of the season. Hell, it was the biggest game of my life, by a long way in fact. Domestic cup finals are one thing, but this was Europe. Like everyone else my age or younger, I missed out on the glory years when we were winning European Cups, and I'm sure I'm not alone in admitting that I've always been jealous (and also a bit resentful in a way I suppose) of older reds who've seen it all.
I've been to four FA Cup finals (losing only one) and seen us win titles, but I was pretty young at the time, and so it doesn't really seem to mean that much now. I was 11 years old when we last won a European trophy, and although I can remember watching it on the telly, it doesn't mean any more to me than the trophies that we're won before I was even born.
Even though I had actually been to a few of the earlier rounds, I don't really feel like I was a part of it because being that young it was impossible to comprehend the magnitude of what was happening. As soon as I was old enough to really appreciate what was going on, the success dried up. The younger generation of reds have not known what success is like, and as a result of that we're all desperately hungry for it.
As we suffered one false dawn after another throughout the nineties, we'd often hear people comparing the present day side to the great sides of the past. It was frustrating and annoying for us, and we wanted to experience the success for ourselves with our own great side that we could be proud of, not keep hearing about how it was 'in the good old days.'.
Gerard and the players were also sick of hearing about how great the old Liverpool sides were and how they can't match up to them, and they went out and did something about it - something that no other English side has EVER done. They won three cup competitions in one season. I've said before that if we could win the three cups this season, then it would be the greatest season in the clubs history, and now that we've done it I stand by that view.
The reason for it is because it's all new again. For many of us, this has been the most successful season we've ever had. For those who were around during all the European Cup successes, this might not be quite as good, I don't know, you'd have to ask them I suppose. For me though, I don't think this season will ever be topped.
Yes, we may win the Premiership and Champions League, but this season will always be the most special to me. I guess it's because of the way all three trophies were won. The drama and tension was unbearable in every game. Had we cruised to victory in every game then of course I'd have been pleased, delighted in fact, but it would have been nothing like the sheer ecstasy experienced after each of the three finals. We came so close to losing each one, and that was made each success so special.
Against Birmingham, we all expected to win comfortably, and when Robbie scored most of us thought it would be a formality. Had they not equalised right at the end, the celebrations in the Liverpool section would have been nothing like as joyous as they turned out to be following the penalty shoot out. It was an outpouring of relief following the incredible tension of the shoot out, and that made the success even more sweet.
The same happened in the FA Cup of course. I said in my report from that game that I'd basically given up hope and couldn't see any way we'd score, so when we did it was all the more special. The FA Cup final was the most emotional win I've experienced. Until Dortmund that is.
Once again, we went through the full range of emotions. When we went two up, I could see us absolutely hammering Alaves, and although it would have been a special feeling seeing us lift the trophy in such a convincing manner, I don't think the celebrations would have been even close to what they were after the golden goal winner. You don't realise how special something is until it is almost taken from your grasp, and that's why for me this season will never be topped.
Anyway, we arrived in Dortmund at about 4.30, which meant that we were too late for the party in the Alter Markt, which was really annoying as not only had I planned to meet a few of the lads off the forum there, but I had also hoped to get shut of a few mags as well.
As it was scheduled to finish at 5, we decided it wasn't worth getting the train into town, so we stayed by the stadium and picked up a few souvenirs. We got in early to soak up the atmosphere inside the ground, and I have to say the stadium is fantastic. It's not as eye catching as the Millennium Stadium, or as awe inspiring as the Nou Camp, but I really liked it. There was loads of leg room (a welcome change from what we're used to at Anfield) and the way the stadium is designed means that it holds the noise in perfectly to create a hell of an atmosphere.
As for the game, I could comment on individual performances and who played well and who didn't, but it doesn't really matter as we won and that's all that's important. Saying that though, it would be wrong not to pay tribute to the man who has done more than anyone these past six weeks or so to keep our season going. I'm referring of course, to the bald headed Messiah, Gary Mac.
His performance against Alaves was absolutely astonishing. From first minute to last he was driving the team forward, chasing, harrying and running off the ball. He has to be the fittest player at the club, and as people keep commenting, the 21 on the back of his shirt surely refers to his age, not squad number.
We started the game like a runaway train, and Alaves simply had no answer. Had we not sat back on the two goal lead and really went for them I believe we could have had the game out of sight by half time, as they really were there for the taking. Credit to their coach though for his bold substitution, taking off Dan Eggen (at least he didn't score this time) and bringing on the dangerous Alonso.
Their right back Contra was absolutely fantastic I thought. I didn't know him before this game, but I certainly do now. He was tremendous and Murphy couldn't get near him. Carra had a few problems with him too, and when you consider how easily Carra has dealt with the likes of Cafu and Luis Enrique this season (not to mention Everton's flying winger Abel Xavier in the Goodison derby!) then it shows you just how good Contra's display was.
Their front two caused us a lot of problems, and I can't remember seeing anyone give Sami and Steph more problems than these two. The substitution of Henchoz was a smart move by GH, as Markus was excellent in the centre.
I thought the keeper should have walked after bringing down Owen, as even though there were defenders back, it was a deliberate professional foul and I was under the impression that it was an automatic red card. Still, Gary Mac buried the penalty, so I guess that was punishment enough.
At half time I was predicting that Alaves would really come at us and that we'd pick them off on the break and hit them for six. They were defending too high up the pitch and Owen looked like he was going to get through every time we attacked.
I was half right, as they did tear into us after the break, but unfortunately it's hard to counter attack when the ball keeps hitting the back of your net. It was astonishing that we had conceded three goals. That just doesn't happen to us these days. At this point I was worried, purely because we saw with what happened to Arsenal against us the effect an equaliser can have on a team.
Thankfully, we're made of sterner stuff than Arsenal, and our players don't seem to be phased by setbacks. They simply rolled their sleeves up and regained the lead with a fantastic goal by Fowler. Personally, I was amazed he didn't start ahead of Heskey, but when he did come on he looked lively and took his goal like the Fowler we know and love.
I've never celebrated a goal as joyously as I did this one. Only Michael's winner against Arsenal four days earlier compares as far as I'm concerned. Maybe if I'd been at the Pit for Gary Mac's free kick that would be up there too, but I wasn't and I have to say that Robbie's goal had everyone going completely mental. It's a feeling I will never forget.
Surely that was it, and we wouldn't let the lead slip again. Would we? When Cruyff scored I was totally stunned. In my opinion we have the best back four in Europe, yet not only had we been breached four times, but we'd let someone as bad as Jordi Cruyff score!
In terms of embarrassment, that ranks right up there with allowing Pie Arse Viduka to score four against us. Against any other team that goal would have proved fatal going into extra time.
The momentum should have been with them going into sudden death, and you would have expected our lads to have been down and out, but once again that amazing spirit shone through. That huddle that the lads do at the start isn't just for show, they actually mean it, and their sudden death extra time display is all the proof you need that our team spirit now is as good as at any time in the clubs history.
There was only one team in it at this stage, and Alaves were looking to hold on for penalties, as Berger, McAllister and Fowler drove us forward. I had a premonition about six months ago that Paddy was going to score the winning goal in this game, with it being in his old stomping ground and all, and as the game wore on I was convinced I'd be proved right.
If anyone was going to score, surely it was going to be Paddy? Well he nearly did, but sadly for Alaves it was to be one of their own players that would seal their fate. Down to nine men at this stage (deservedly so too), they couldn't deal with another pinpoint free kick from Gary Mac, and it was all over.
The celebrations were wild, and history was made. I have never experienced joy like this before, and only the win over Arsenal the other day can remotely compare. I expect that this is what it felt like for older reds when we first won the FA Cup, or the European Cup in Rome. This may not have been the first time we'd won the UEFA Cup, but it was the first time we'd done it under Houllier, and for many of us it was our first European Final.
What Gerard has done for us cannot be put into words. The bond between him and us is like nothing I can remember with any of our previous managers, even Dalglish. Gerard is often portrayed as the French Schoolmaster, but the truth is that he is every inch a Liverpudlian. He's one of us, and he's given us back our pride. We are once again winners of a European trophy, when I have to admit there have been many times over these last ten years or so when I wondered if we'd ever see that happen.
I can't explain how emotional it was to once again have the players and management joining us in singing YNWA, but I don't suppose I need to, as you'll all have been feeling exactly the same as I was. The other moving thing for me was when Alaves went up to collect their losers medals, and to a man every Liverpudlian in the stadium began chanting "ALAVES."
It's things like that which makes Liverpudlians special, and it's something which we are not given enough credit for. I haven't seen the tape of the game yet, so I don't know if the BBC showed that or not, but knowing them they probably missed out on all the celebrations because they were over-running due to extra time and had a Gardening programme that they simply had to show.
Alaves have earned the my respect with their never say die spirit, and I'll be following them a lot more closely from now on. They're a terrific club, who actually supplied all of their travelling fans with free shirts. They'd had the new shirt especially made for the final, and it was a marvellous gesture from them to do that. Maybe I'll write to Rick Parry suggesting that all of us who travel to Cardiff for the charity shield should be given the new away shirt. Then again, perhaps not.
The supporters of both sides got on really well, but we never have problems with Spanish fans, as they're friendly and easy going. Hopefully the next time we reach a final we'll be playing Spanish opposition again, because you know there won't be any trouble. They don't seem to have the nasty element following their teams that you get with Italian, Turkish and Greek sides.
This win also means we'll be playing in the Super Cup in August, against either Bayern or Valencia. Finances permitting, I'll be going over to Monaco for that one, although if we reach the Champions League I may have to reconsider that, especially if a trip to the Bernabau is on the cards. This season has been the most memorable of my life, but it's also been by far and away the most expensive. God only knows how much it has cost, but it's been worth every penny.
I arrived back home at 5 o'clock the following morning, absolutely shattered but as happy as I've ever been in my life. I'm not a religious person, but it's times like this when I have to thank God. After all, he's scored in two cup finals this year now, and lifted three trophies. And they're trying to tell us that he's unhappy!