Paddy Power and Ruby Walsh were joined by our football ambassador Phil Thompson as our guest of honour this week on the From The Horse’s Mouth podcast and he fondly remembered his time at the club as assistant to the late Gerard Houllier.
Gerard Houllier and I only met for the first time for about 15 minutes in Valencia. I was working for Radio City in Liverpool at the time and he was joint-manager with Roy Evans, but bang, two weeks later I’m his assistant!
That worried me a bit, because I wondered if Gerard actually wanted me – which I had to be assured of. I had just had six years working for Sky television before I went back into football, but I’m thankful for every minute that he gave me.
We had six wonderful years together at Liverpool, but 2001 was extraordinary! To win three cups (League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup) and then go on to win the Super Cup and the Charity Shield within six months was just a total whirlwind.
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Some of the ex-players from back then, like Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard, went on to win the Champions League. But, they’ll tell you that 2001 was the most exciting time. The Champions League day was a one-off in Istanbul, even if it was a miracle there, but those 2001 games and the atmosphere around the club from the end of February were amazing.
Don’t forget the weekend after beating Alaves we secured qualification for the Champions League for Liverpool and that was massive.
Without that, Istanbul might have never happened.
For us to claim the three cups, even though I know some people belittled it, was incredible. To win the UEFA Cup alone we had to beat Roma, Porto and Barcelona – some unbelievable sides – to do it.
Yes, I know we played Alaves in the final and people thought it was going to be a bore, but even that ended up being one of the great finals of all time. We had a decent squad, but nowhere near as good as the Liverpool one now, and to go through that season as we did was just wonderful.
There was no rest! I learned off Ronnie Moran, who was my coach, not to mention tiredness though because players will always grab at that excuse.
You have to give the positives all the time and Houllier was fantastic at doing that.
I remember I said to the team at half-time in some game, ‘Don’t let them back into the game’ and Gerard pulled me before we walked back out, because always went out last, and he said, “Phil, don’t use those words. It’s a negative. Give them a positive like ‘let’s go and score another one’. Don’t use negatives.”
I’d never even thought of that, and then I remembered the number of times I’d said that to players. But, he was right, you end up with the players going out there with the worry of letting a team back into the match. He thought of me so much. It was the best relationship I had in football besides Terry McDermott, who is my best mate. On a sporting side, it was my greatest relationship in the game.
To come together with someone like Gerard and have such a belief in each other, such a trust was special. He spent a couple of years as a teacher in Alsop Comprehensive as a young man, so he used to come and stand on The Kop and watch me play. He knew of the history of Liverpool.
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I’d like to think the best thing that we had was the trust though, and I’d never had that from someone before. He kept telling me how good I was and how great we were as a partnership. We had respect for each other and since we finished at Liverpool, I’ve ended every conversation with him with ‘I love you boss. I love you loads’.
We had that bond, it was so special and I did feel that he was like a family member.
Yes, it went wrong in our last 12 months at the club, I can’t argue that. But, look at what Gerard gave us in his time at Liverpool. It was our first European trophy for 17 years when we won in Dortmund. There was a generation of fans who’d only heard of the success stories from their dads or their grandads of what it had been like in Paris, Rome twice and all those things.
It’s funny Steven Gerrard asked me to have a word with one of his assistants Tom Culshaw before Tom went to Rangers and the first thing I mentioned to him was ‘trust’. For him to trust in Stevie, never let him down and never talk behind his back. You have to give him 100% and then he will give it back to you. That’s what I learned from Gerard.
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