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Duncan Oldham: Gerard Houllier reminded us what it was like to win again

Gerard Houllier

When I heard the news that Gerard Houllier had passed away, I felt like I’d lost a part of my life and it’s a feeling that I’m not sure I can explain.

Ged was appointed manager of Liverpool Football Club in July 1998, this was around the same time that I started KopTalk. Before the website was born, I used to send LFC news updates to Reds all over the world by email. That mailing list then became the website that you see today.

I basically started my KopTalk journey when Ged started his Liverpool journey alongside Roy Evans. It was an exciting time in my life watching my hobby grow into something that would dominate my life. A lot has changed over those 22 years. We’ve seen managers come and go but Ged will always be one of the most special managers in my eyes.

I was gutted when Roy Evans stood down but the joint management thing just didn’t work. Then working by himself, Ged started to make a real impact on the club. He reminded Liverpool fans what it was like to win again. 2001 was an incredibly happy period for any Liverpool fan. Cardiff became a second home to us. It was a really happy period of my life as a fan but I was extremely happy on a personal level, too. Charlotte and Rob were just a couple of kids, my mum – who adored Ged – was alive and the website was absolutely buzzing.

Ged was responsible for modernising Melwood and instilling a new discipline which was lacking amongst some of the players. It wasn’t just Melwood that he modernised, he also wanted the club to stop living in the past and wanted his crop of players to make new history, opposed to always looking back at what had previously been achieved. That didn’t go down well with the likes of former KopTalk columnist Ian St. John who would only refer to Ged as ‘The Frenchman’ whenever he was penning columns or speaking on the radio. Ged wanted the old guard to stop wandering around the corridors of Anfield as if they owned the place. While accepting they were legends, he didn’t think it was good that they would just turn up uninvited in the dressing room on match-days and so on. He thought it put pressure on his current crop of players who were already under great pressure to make Liverpool great again following years of underachieving.

He wanted the club to become more ‘European’ with its approach and attitude, and to do so, the club had to start looking forward instead of backwards. Attitudes had to change, especially with regards the drinking and partying culture that some of the players back then were caught up in. Michael Owen may have been a bit of a ‘stiff’ to some of his team-mates, but Ged considered him a total professional. ‘You have a short career. You can party as much as you want when you hang up your boots’ was his mantra.

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Not long after becoming manager, midfielder Jean-Michel Ferri was signed by Ged from Istanbulspor in a deal worth £1.5million. It was a bizarre signing at the time. Ferri was coming to the end of his career and only ever made just two substitute appearances for the Reds before being moved out the following year. I was told back then that Ferri had been brought into the squad to be a spy. I talked about this on KopTalk at the time and I’m sure people thought I’d lost the plot. However, many years later, Robbie Fowler would write in his autobiography: “Everyone else was thinking that he was just a spy, and we’d joke that he must have a tape recorder in his bag, which he took back to Houllier every night.” Something was definitely not right, that’s for sure!

In October 2001, Ged was rushed to hospital for an emergency heart operation after he was taken ill at half-time during a Premier League game against Leeds United. Assistant boss Phil Thompson assumed the role of caretaker manager while Ged was in hospital and he later revealed that although Ged was under strict instructions to rest without any distractions from work, he had made him smuggle in a radio that he would then hide in his bed so that he could listen to the Reds when they were in action. That tale along with his hilarious attempt to downplay Robbie Fowler’s controversial goal line ‘snorting’ celebration against Everton by saying the Liverpool striker was actually pretending to eat the grass because team-mate Rigobert Song had taught him it was a Cameroonian tradition that he used to perform at Metz, are just a couple of examples as to why Ged was one of us.

Sadly, towards the end of his time as Liverpool manager, an unpleasant message was sprayed on the walls of Melwood which suggested it was time for him leave the club. The graffiti was actually blamed on rival fans but it still wasn’t very nice for Ged and his family. The KopTalk community collectively sent some flowers to his wife, Isabelle, following the incident and she along with Ged were delighted with the gesture. You’ll Never Walk Alone isn’t just a slogan, it’s a way of life.

It was an awful day when Ged left Liverpool Football Club but it was an absolutely horrific day when he left this world.

Your smile will be missed, Ged. Thank you for what you did for Liverpool Football Club. Thank you for helping put Liverpool back on the road to success. Thank you for talking to my mum. Thank you for taking time to speak to my daughter who was just a kid back then who idolised you and your players. Thank you for making all of us happy.

Just thank you x

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Duncan Oldham
KopTalk Editor