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Gerard Houllier’s Liverpool Return Was Anfield’s Most Emotional Ever Night

Gerard Houllier’s Liverpool Return Was Anfield’s Most Emotional Ever Night

Anfield may have hosted greater victories, but Liverpool's Champions League win against Roma 18 years ago is the most emotional of all the club's European nights.

The passing of former Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier, at age 73, has brought back memories of Liverpool's 2001/02 season when he battled life and death to lead his club.

The Reds manager fell ill during a Premier League game against Leeds and rushed to hospital for an emergency heart operation. He absence lasted five months, until he made a shock return to the bench - face gaunt from his recovery - for a must-win game against Roma in March 2002.

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Ignoring doctors advice, Houllier emerged from the Anfield tunnel to a roar that shook the Kop. A hug and even a smile from Roma manager Fabio Capello showed how special the moment was.

"It was a great night, one of the greatest nights in the club's history," said Phil Thompson, the assistant coach who'd taken charge of the first team while Houllier recovered.

"It was also an emotional night for Gerard. We discussed him giving the team talk this afternoon, and he said: 'I fancy it'. I said: 'The time's right - let's do it.'"

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Naturally, after being a surprise pep talk from their boss and with fans inside Anfield in tears, the players were inspired. Jari Litmanen's early penalty and Emile Heskey's powerful header gave Liverpool a 2-0 win over the reigning Italian champions.

It meant qualification for the quarter-finals of the Champions League - and, more importantly, it meant the club had their manager back.

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The players had only known about Houllier's return on the day, when he appeared in front of the tactics board at their team meeting in the hours before kick-off.

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"I remember their faces!" Houllier laughed during a conversation with Liverpoolfc.com earlier this year.

"That was the deal we had with Phil Thompson. I asked him, 'Do you think if I come back on that day whether it would give 1% or 20% more to the team?'

"He said: 'Definitely, boss.' Only he and maybe my close staff knew."

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The end of the game saw the Frenchman raise his fists to the Kop while 'You'll Never Walk Alone' was being played.

"They [the fans] are really special," Houllier said. "I was one of theirs, don't forget that.

"It was very emotional. I know the surgeon was in the stands, my wife was in the stands. It was something really special."

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All imagery: PA Images

Topics: Liverpool, Football News, Anfield, Football, Premier League, Champions League

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Alex Reid

Alex Reid is a writer at SPORTbible who’s previously strung words together for FourFourTwo, Boxing News, The Guardian and, yes, Cruise International (it’s about big ships, not Tom). Interests range from football and boxing to real sports like WWE and darts. He is not a cage fighter.