By Mike Nevin
As if the passing of Ray Clemence wasn’t bad enough, we now must say goodnight and god bless to Gerard Houllier.
Another Liverpool great (not using the word lightly) who has left us during what ought to be his prime. 73 years is no age these days, especially when he still had so much to offer the game of football in wise words and to people through the warmth of his personality.
Like Ray, Gerard finally succumbed to historical medical issues but in our treble-winning manager’s case, health problems which arose during his time at Anfield.
We lived his trauma together that horrible day when he was rushed to hospital fighting for his life during a half-time break against Leeds United on a warm autumn afternoon.
It’s just so sad.
He looked so well appearing in the BBC’s outstanding “The 30-year wait”, which featured the men who strove manfully but in vain to end the title drought.
Like Roy Evans, Kenny Dalglish, Rafa Benitez, and Brendan Rodgers, Monsieur Houllier took many sure steps on that long and winding road. Although it was Jurgen Klopp who paced towards our final destination last summer, each of the abovementioned men deserve huge credit for restoring Liverpool’s reputation during that endlessly painful domestic hiatus.
The most infuriating thing about football fans is their propensity to forget. They paint skewed pictures; rewriting history and reputations. Gerard Houllier’s obituaries will be dramatically more sympathetic today, than if they’d been written this time yesterday unless they’d been penned by those who knew him.
Jamie Carragher’s words of grief touched hearts, but perhaps the most telling comes from Robbie Fowler; the local hero despatched to Leeds by Gerard amid apparent acrimony.
“Goodnight, Boss”. Two words that spoke volumes. They might have fallen out once, but good people forgive and forget and remember the good times. Bad people do the opposite. Rob and Ged had clearly kissed and made up.
Houllier’s last 2 seasons were a struggle.
Painful to experience and uneasy on the eye and yet they yielded a trophy won against the best Manchester United lineup in their history in 2003. And, a qualification for the Champions League eventually won by Rafa’s genius a year after Gerard’s departure.
Fans bridled that Houllier revealed publicly he’d been invited into that mystical Istanbul dressing room to celebrate with his “pliers”.
The fact is that the vast majority of the red shirts that night were his boys; lads either signed or “practically” – another GH staple word – fathered by him in their tender years. They all speak so highly of this lovely Frenchman who once stood on The Kop as a young student before returning to realise a dream.
Rafa was gracious and rightly so that night in Istanbul, because like GH he’s a football man, alike in being foreign, alike in getting Liverpool, alike in getting us. Those bonds should never die and I hope they never will. In his passing Gerard Houllier deserves elevation to the managerial plane where the Shankly’s and Paisley’s sit with their more modern disciples.
The treble season of 2000-01 gave lads of my generation – and the one before – the year of our lives. Like Rafa later on, he fucking skinted us.
When things turned sour after his heart trauma, the naysayers crowed “he’s taken us far as he can.”
Correct, it was a long way to Cardiff and back so many times, to Barcelona, Rome, Monaco, and Dortmund. He had taken us as far as he could – on a journey that ran parallel to the happiest years of my life.
I was able to push my young son in a pushchair to see the 2001 returning heroes parade around town amid a Mersey throng numbering over half a million. It’s a day he should and never will never forget.
The size of that citywide homage to Houllier’s winners of FA, League, and UEFA cups was reflective of the achievement. It cost us a fortune but it was worth every penny. Those were the days of our lives.
Whether pressure was responsible for the boss’s heart problem – a dissected aorta if I recall, without checking – isn’t for me to say. I’m no medic but I do know as a supporter, that his return from illness on that epic night AS Roma were slain, was months earlier than was good for him; months beyond the call of duty.
Only those who were there that night will understand the sheer joy, relief, and spirit that enveloped Anfield when a pale, gaunt Houllier emerged from the tunnel into the glare of those European lights. We still bathe in the glow of that win, that might, that atmosphere, that majesty.
The spirit lingered on; and imbued in those players a taste for glory, an appetite whetted in Dortmund with GH there and finally sated in Istanbul with GH also there, but only as a UEFA dignitary.
I’m glad he was asked to celebrate with the Reds in the bowels of the Attaturk. He was a red himself and Rafa – a true gent – was never arsed about monopolising the glory.
We’re back there at the Attaturk again next May with a bit of luck, with another Final on the Bosphorous. Gerard Houllier was a great Boss For Us.
From Paris down to Turkey.
Let’s win another one for him; our Europhile, our leader, our friend, our Gerard Houllier.
As Rob said, “Goodnight Boss” or should we say, “Bonne Nuit et Merci, Monsieur. “