In 2001 Liverpool FC added another unique chapter to our already illustrious history.

No one has done it before and no one has done it since.

It was unprecedented to win three cup competitions in one season. Liverpool had won the league and two cups in 1984 when we were brilliant, and Man Utd did something similar in 1999, but nobody had won three cup competitions in just one season. Although winning the League or European Cup is the ultimate for Liverpool supporters, this deserves to be recognised as it was just so unique.

Other teams can call it Mickey Mouse all they want, but we won more trophies in three months than Everton have in the last 29 years. We began the season in three cup competitions and won them all.

Kenny had resigned 10 years earlier. We had won just two trophies since, so to pick three up in one season was unbelievable.

Only a dickhead would bet on such a thing, and that’s exactly what my mate and I did in February 2001, getting 62/1 for The Treble. I don’t know who was more stupid, me for suggesting it or my mate Mike for agreeing to it. Either way, it was the best £5 each that we have ever spent……

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Massive changes

Roy Evans did a great job picking the team up from the shocking Graeme Souness years. They entertained us with fantastic attacking flair, but we fell short of winning anything more than a League Cup in his first full season. As supporters were losing patience with our failure to take the final step to glory, the board looked towards a foreign solution.

As Man United became the dominant team in the nineties, our fall from the top was even harder to bear. Unknown Frenchman Arsene Wenger had arrived at Arsenal and they immediately began to challenge Uniteds dominance, winning the double in 1998.

Suddenly, foreign managers were fashionable. As France had won the World Cup in the same year, and players like Anelka Vieira and Petit were successful almost overnight in the Premier League, Liverpools attention soon turned to France.

Gerard Houllier arrived with a reputation for developing players and organising a successful structure throughout every level of French football. Originally as a joint manager alongside Roy Evans, the partnership was doomed from the start, and Roy stepped aside three months later as he felt he had no choice.

Houlliers new approach generated a less spectacular but more efficient Liverpool side, and there was major surgery on the squad in his first two season, at a level never seen at Liverpool since Bill Shankly arrived.

There were high profile players like David James, Jason McAteer, Dominic Matteo, Phil Babb and most notably, captain Paul Ince shown the door. Steve McManaman decided to move for the dream move to Real Madrid, so we had lost our most creative player on a Bosman free transfer.

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Over the next two seasons, local lads Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher became regulars alongside Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen, with Danny Murphy also developing into a first team regular. Experienced heads were brought in to help develop these lads, notably Gary McAllister and Jari Litmanen, and both made a significant contribution during their two years at the club.

Under Roy Evans, our biggest weakness seemed to be a soft centre in goal and defence. Houllier invested in unknown players Sander Westerveld and Sami Hyypia, alongside solid professionals Markus Babbel and Stephane Henchoz. Houllier had a reputation for developing young players in France, which was enhanced when he gave Steven Gerrard his debut, and eventually made him captain.

However he showed that he was not frightened to splash the cash, and by the beginning of season 2000/01, expensive signings Nick Barmby, Didi Hamman and record signing Emile Heskey had arrived for a total of £25 million.

Flops and frustration

All of these players helped create a solid, strong, efficient Liverpool side, who were tough to play against but at times also tedious to watch. There were also a number of expensive flops along the way – something that has become very familiar to us reds ever since. Bernard Diomede was part of the France World Cup winning squad, but looked far from it. Christian Ziege arrived controversially due to a contract release clause for £5.5m which in hindsight was not worth the bother, while Igor Biscan quickly became a cult hero but for the wrong reasons. Vladimir Smicer also never convinced anyone that he was worth the coveted number 7 shirt, even after his heroics in Istanbul.

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Other players had brief stays during the first two years under Houllier, such as Jean Michel Ferri, Rigobert Song, mad Erik Meijer and the exciting Titi Camara. However, the manager soon developed a ruthless streak in moving players on if they were not up to his professional standards.

It was a frustrating first full season under Houllier in 1999-00, as we missed out on Champions League qualification against Bradford in the last game of the season. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we were about to enter one of the most rewarding, roller coaster seasons we have ever had.

We never do it the easy way

The League Cup run included a stunning 8-0 win at lower league Stoke, and a 5-0 2nd leg semi final win against Crystal Palace, yet we could only beat lower league Birmingham via a penalty shoot out in the final. Our six year trophy drought was over, but not without controversy, as star man Michael Owen was left on the bench for the whole game.

In the FA Cup we faced a strong Leeds Utd side away and won 2-0. We should have had a relatively straight forward quarter final against John Aldridge Tranmere side, but they had knocked Everton out in the previous round and we only managed to win 3-2. Then the mighty Wycombe Wanderers, managed by Lawrie Sanchez (famous for his 1988 winner for Wimbledon) faced us in the semi final. We won 2-1, with two goals in the last 15 minutes, as Fowler scored a brilliant free kick and set up a final against Arsenal.

To be fair, Arsenal battered us on the day. Stephane Henchoz was amazing in goal – even though he was playing centre back – and Michael Owen was the hero with two brilliant late goals. Against Birmingham he didn’t play. This time he was the match winner, in spectacular fashion.

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In the UEFA Cup, the highlights were beating Roma 2-0 away (Owen got both) when no one gave us a chance, then scraped through after a 1-0 second leg defeat. We faced Barcelona, led by superstar Rivaldo, in the semi-final and despite him skimming the bar with an amazing 40 yard effort we won 1-0 on aggregate. I had never been involved in celebrations like that on the Kop before that night, as it really felt like we were back in the big time, reaching our ninth European final.

I was just 21 years old during this season, so this was my first proper experience of the famous nights that my Dad and Uncles had talked about in the past, such as St Etienne and Inter Milan. Plus, I had £5 on the treble at 62/1, and as I only earned about £5.00 an hour, the prospect of £315 was pretty exciting……

We faced the little known Spanish Club Alaves in the final. On paper, like against Birmingham, we were red hot favourites. Alaves were known to be strong at the back and to play on the break, just like Liverpool did at the time, but we had better players. Johan Cruyff had described Liverpool as playing “anti-football” after the 1-0 semi final aggregate win, and a tight, tense, sterile game was expected.

It finished 5-4, after a golden goal in extra time, with Alaves down to 9 men. We went 2-0 up, then 3-1 up, back to 3-3, then Fowler made it 4-3 with 20 minutes left, with Alaves equalising at the death through ex Manc Jordi Cruyff. We won through an own goal, just four minutes before it would have gone to penalties. It was unbelievable, kamikaze football, and so unlike Houlliers Liverpool.

Some players had simply ran out of steam after such a long season. Others, like Gary Mcallister, thrived as the space opened up in midfield.

We had done it. Three cup finals. Three trophies. Sounds simple doesn’t it? There were 63 games and over 120 goals scored in this season, giving us three trophies and a third place finished. After six years of winning nothing, Liverpool had created history again.

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Houlliers legacy

We were tough at the back, (Babbell Hyppia Henchoz Carragher) strong and skilful in midfield (Hamman Gerrard Murphy Mcallister Berger Barmby or Smicer), and lightening quick on the break up front (Heskey, Owen or Fowler).

More than anyone, I think Carragher epitomised the spirit of that side, starring at both right back and left back consistently throughout the season, while Gary McAllister looked more like a 25 year old than a 35 year old, and all three strikers scored vital goals in massive games.

There seemed to be a game every three days as Liverpool gathered impressive momentum. As well as the cup games, there was Gary Macs last minute 40 yard against Everton and Gerrards screamer v Man United. Danny Murphys one man crusade to beat United began with a cheeky free kick to win 1-0 at Old Trafford and Arsenal were thumped 4-0 at Anfield. We finally reached the Champions League after a 4-0 win against Charlton on the last game of the season, with Fowler bagging two stunners. Not bad for a team that were not good to watch……

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There is no doubt that this season was a key experience for players like Carragher, Gerrard, Hamman and Hyypia to draw from while on the road to Istanbul four years later. They were up and coming players during the treble season but key, experienced men in 2005. The experience of 2001 was worth far more to all of them than just three medals.

Gerard Houlliers tenure as manager ended disappointingly after his illness, as high profile signings Diouf Cheyrou and Diao famously flopped in 2002 when we expected to kick on. Expectations were high after 2001, followed by a second place finish in 2002, but yet again Liverpool could not take the next step to the league title.

As time goes on though, the achievements of that 2001 season look more and more impressive. I would give anything for us to have another season like that, for the momentum, the sheer drama, and obviously the three trophies.

Gerard Houllier was the man from France and he made us dance. He should always be regarded as a Liverpool legend.

Hou led the reds out? Hou, Houllier……

Written by Simon Ward

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