The weekend’s matches were largely unremarkable. The women’s team, while victorious on Sunday against London City, did it with one goal from new defender Meikayla Moore - and the match wasn’t shown anywhere, having been held from the FA Player until the following day. The result helped the Women remain in third place, with Leicester and Durham taking the top two spots, respectively. The men’s team fared a little worse, stealing a draw from determined Fulham on Sunday at Craven Cottage, bringing them to joint top of the table with Tottenham - their Wednesday opponent.
Rather the most remarkable thing is that former manager Gerard Houllier has died at the age of 73. He had been manager of Liverpool for six years, following a successful stint with the French National Team and Paris Saint-Germain. He had most recently been appointed the technical director for Lyon Féminin and NWSL's OL Reign in November of this year.
The Frenchman joined Liverpool in 1998 as joint manager with Roy Evans, an experimental role that ultimately didn’t end up working out for Evans, leaving Houllier with sole custody of the team. A fan first after teaching at a school in Liverpool in 1969-1970, he brought sweeping overhauls to the squad and to the club itself, turning Melwood into one of the most sophisticated training grounds of the time. His tenure may have ended in disappointment, with a failure to reach the Champions League at the end of the 2002-2003 season and some questionable transfer choices around the squad, his presence still had a huge impact on the club itself.
The truth is that he was before my time as a fan. I didn’t witness this period (to be fair, I was only 9-10 in 1998), but his stamp on the club - taking it to the professional heights that we know now, building that foundation - is everywhere in this modern era. He was the manager that fostered the talents of Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard, and even made Gerrard captain in 2003 before his departure. He brought the club the treble of the FA Cup, the League Cup, and the UEFA Cup (something we haven't been able to achieve since) and he had brought Liverpool to it’s best finish in the Premier League era until that point (although we’ve since overtaken that by becoming Champions).
In becoming a fan, especially for a club with the history of Liverpool, one of the first things you do is dive into all of the stories of the past. The managers, the players, the matches - everything that shaped the club into who they are today. The pioneers are easy to name. Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley. Ian Rush, Kenny Dalglish, Robbie Fowler. Names that didn’t even cross the Atlantic except on planes and newspapers, before the internet and lucrative broadcast deals. Houllier came along right at the cusp, as the world shifted and football headed towards this information age - a bridge between the old world and the new. He, quite literally, brought the club into the 21st century.
I want to give him a proper tribute, but I don’t know how. There are maybe loads of people out there more qualified than me, who watched his return to the dugout after five months away following heart surgery, who watched that Treble season and saw the team start to climb again. Who watched baby faces Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard take the Anfield pitch for the first time under his tutelage. Even the social media tributes to him going around today don’t feel enough - although The Anfield Wrap may have nailed it quite well with this simple one.
“I met him before I came to Liverpool and I knew him a little bit then,” explained current manager Jurgen Klopp, speaking of Houllier to the club’s website. “When I arrived here, one of the first messages I received – and I didn’t even know he had my number – was from Gerard Houllier.
“I know he had other clubs – worked for other clubs, was successful with other clubs – but the way he described it, Liverpool was his club, his real club where he probably felt still connected more than any other clubs. He was really supportive from the first day; between now and then, always messages came in after big games, big defeats, big wins and all these kind of things. In between, Gerard really texted and told me, ‘That was right… that was wrong… I know the situation…’ and all this kind of stuff.
“He was a really, really, really nice and gentle person. I miss him now already. Maybe the only good thing you can say in the moment is he will never be forgotten here.”
Even now, 16 years after leaving Liverpool, he considered it his club, and supported Jurgen Klopp’s efforts, offering guidance and encouragement.
He will forever be a father of Liverpool FC, a guiding spirit, and a legend.