On 16th April 2001, a Liverpool legend was created.
Without a victory away to their Merseyside rivals in over a decade, Liverpool found themselves being frustrated at Goodison Park once again. The Reds had led twice, had a man sent off and seen a Robbie Fowler penalty hit the post, only to find themselves pegged back to 2-2 as another frenetic derby neared its conclusion.
As the 94th and final minute began, Gregory Vignal was fouled; closer to the halfway line than the goal. Both sets of players jostled at the back post, fighting for position to attack one last long ball in to the box.
Gary McAllister; 44 yards out, baggy red jersey untucked and casually waiting with hands on hips, ignored them all. The rest is history.
The 1999/2000 Premier League season was a procession for Manchester United. The Red Devils finished 18 points ahead of Arsenal, still running on the momentum from their famous treble one season prior.
Meanwhile Liverpool, once England’s dominant force, scrambled to 4th place, falling behind a surging Leeds United along the way. Gerard Houllier, under pressure to turn the tide, resorted to unorthodox methods: signing a 35-year-old Scotsman on a Bosman from Coventry City.
Gary McAllister had enjoyed a stellar career by the time he put pen to paper at Anfield but often found himself best remembered for his missed penalty against England in Euro 96. A title winner with Leeds and popular playmaker at both Leicester and Coventry, he could have been easily forgiven for calling time on a career spanning almost two decades and hundreds of games.
Liverpool supporters could also have been forgiven for wondering the logic behind the signing itself. Whilst clearly still able to unlock a defence, McAllister had age against him and was faced with the task of proving himself capable of the jump from plucky underdog to a club looking to challenge for the title.
Fast forward two years and Gerard Houllier would describe the Scotsman as his ‘most inspirational signing.’ Whilst some may point to the fact that Houllier’s signings included Rigobert Song and Djimi Traore, few could doubt that the Frenchman pulled an unlikely masterstroke on this occasion.
McAllister joined a squad already boasting a talented midfield. Captain Jamie Redknapp was joined by Patrick Berger, Didi Hamann and a young 20-year-old called Steven Gerrard amongst others. Unsurprisingly, ‘Gary Mac’ began his tenure as a squad player, making sporadic appearances from the bench. As the season progressed and results were starting to deteriorate, Houllier turned to experience.
Whilst 2000/2001 ended with another title heading to Manchester, it became one of the most memorable seasons in Liverpool’s illustrious history. A third-placed finish secured Champions League football for the club, but it is for a historic cup treble that fans will always remember the first full season of the new millennium.
For Gary McAllister, the season became a career defining Indian Summer. Whilst he played a significant role throughout the campaign, notably scoring in shootout success in the League Cup final, his legendary status was secured in two iconic games.
The 2001 UEFA Cup final was one of the wildest European showpieces of all time. Liverpool travelled to Dortmund fresh from comeback victory in Michael Owen’s FA Cup final four days earlier. In Germany, they would face Spanish underdogs Alaves, with a vociferous and expectant fan base desperate for more success. They returned home with a third piece of silverware, after a 5-4 victory secured by a 117th minute own-goal.
McAllister himself excelled among the madness. A goal and assist in normal time were followed by a cross resulting in the Golden Goal winner in extra time. Now 36, he ended his first season at Anfield with a man of the match award in a European final to sit alongside his hat-trick of winner’s medals. The ‘inspiration’ of Houllier’s unlikely signing had been confirmed.
UEFA Cup glory marked arguably the best individual performance of McAllister’s stint at Anfield. He went on to make a total of 87 appearances, scoring 9 goals across two highly successful seasons at the club. His final appearance was marked with affectionately ironic chants of ‘what a waste of money’ from the Kop. Despite all of this, as is so often the case with cult heroes, he will remain most fondly remembered amongst the Reds faithful for a single kick of a football.
From 44 yards out.
In the 93rd minute.
At the home of the enemy.