Shankly, Paisley, Dortmund And Divvies: Why Thursday Nights Are Alright

Shankly, Paisley, Dortmund And Divvies: Why Thursday Nights Are Alright

By Gareth Roberts


“THURSDAY nights, Channel Five, Thursday Nights, Channel Five.”

So ubiquitous did that dopey ditty from the divvies become with the UEFA Cup (or the Europa League if we’re pretending nothing existed before 2009) that even Jim Rosenthal and Stan Collymore once sang it during TV coverage of a Fulham match in the competition.

This week has seen the inevitable ‘banter’ from Newcastle United fans aiming barbs at Liverpool supporters as their Saudi-funded side prepares for Champions League competition for the first time in 20 years.

They could of course find themselves in the competition they are taking the piss about pretty soon. And ironically their club’s only success in Europe is the 1969 Fairs Cup, considered the predecessor to the UEFA Cup. A mere 54 years ago.

But no matter…

The vibe from some is, and has been for some time, that there is something to be ashamed of to be competing for that wonderful-looking piece of silverware. Because it’s second-rate, right? And the Champions League is where it’s all at, so forget the rest.

Now clearly money-wise and prestige-wise there is a gap, it would be silly to suggest otherwise. But is Big Ears’ little brother really that bad?

FORZA LIVERPOOL: Grab our classic tee for this season's European trips

I look at pictures of the legendary Bill Shankly with the UEFA Cup in his arms and I see a man rightly proud of guiding Liverpool to their first European trophy 50 years ago.

Another snap shows the late great Bob Paisley and Emlyn Hughes returning home after winning it with beaming smiles at Liverpool Airport in 1976. It's hardly The Simod Cup, is it?

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It was in the UEFA Cup that Liverpool returned from European exile post Heysel. The match at Anfield in 1991 against Kuusysi Lahti was The Reds first at home in continental competition since 1985 — and my first ever as I formed part of a 17,131 crowd.

Dean Saunders scored four that night in a 6-1 rout and in the following round it was the famous comeback against Auxerre, The Reds losing 2-0 in France only to stage an unlikely comeback to win 3-0 in front of 23,000 at Anfield. A raucous night despite the poor attendance and one a certain Mark Everton Walters no doubt mentions to this day.

What about 2001? One of the best seasons of my lifetime to support Liverpool. And the highlight was travelling to Dortmund for my first European final as a match-goer.

A crazy game, a great result and a moment to cherish forever. No one in red at the Westfalenstadion was arsed about what anyone else thought that night when Liverpool lifted a first European trophy in 17 years, so why would we be now?

It wasn’t just the final either. It was the journey. We conquered Rome in the fourth round and in the semi-final took on, and took out, Barcelona.

Johan Cruyff might have found Liverpool’s defensive performance to claim a 0-0 draw in front of 90,000 at the Nou Camp “horrible” but it meant a Gary McAllister penalty fired past a Pepe Reina with hair at Anfield sealed the trip to Germany.

That night has since been bettered by Barcelona redux but in 2001 rabid Reds drank Slater Street dry and police on horseback had to shush our street songs and usher us on our way home. Special times. I’ve never seen someone hug a postbox with joy before or after that occasion.

We have a more recent history with this competition, too. Ok, it didn’t end how either we or Jurgen Klopp would have liked it to in the 2016 final in Switzerland. But there was plenty to love along the way.

A first-ever European tie with Manchester United ended with Liverpool bettering our rivals on and off the pitch.

Anfield was alive with swagger and support in the first leg as only David de Gea kept the scoreline decent. Philippe Coutinho added the cherry on top at Old Trafford with a super solo goal.

And which ground did Europe better in that tie? Come on…

Then it was tournament favourites Borussia Dortmund, a club Klopp had left only 11 months previously. The world interest in that tie was unbelievable. We shared an anthem, a love of the manager, and in the first leg, the goals.

But that second leg…wow. Time was that many Kop stalwarts mused that the Anfield atmosphere of old had gone for good. This night suggested otherwise. And then some. You’ll Never Walk Alone was belted out, the volume was ramped up and the ground was a sea of support. Then the game started…

Dortmund were 2-0 up after nine minutes. Divock Origi, also on target out in Germany, made it 2-1 early in the second half but Marco Reus made it 3-1 on 57 minutes.

It left The Reds needing three goals in the last 33 minutes to progress. Tell us never... Coutinho (66), Mamadou Sakho (77) then Dejan Lovren in injury time to take the roof off.

Thomas Tuchel post match said: “If you expect an explanation, I have to disappoint you. It was not logical. It was very emotional. It was an atmosphere when I think everybody except our supporters believed it was meant to be. It was destiny.

"If you think about the Champions League final with AC Milan when Liverpool came from 3-0 down to win, that contributed to the energy and belief in the stadium. Then everybody believed in the lucky punch."

And the mad thing is we’ve since had a better European night than that!

Villarreal was pretty special, too, that season – 1-0 down from the first leg, we beat them 3-0 at Anfield to reach a first European final since 2007.

Now? Now Klopp is aiming for a fifth European final in his near-on eight years at the club. And this one is in Dublin. Imagine that pint.

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If Liverpool go all the way, it would also mean a clean sweep of trophies for Klopp during his time as manager here and put The Reds clear as the second most successful club in the competition.

Currently Liverpool’s hat-trick of UEFA Cup wins puts them level with Inter Milan, Juventus and Atletico Madrid. Sevilla are way out in front on seven. Real Madrid are among the clubs to have won it twice.

No prestige? No one’s arsed? Tin pot? Mickey Mouse?

Jamie Carragher, a man who played in 58 games and lifted three trophies including the UEFA Cup in the 2000-1 season, once said: “Winning a European trophy’s special. The build-up to it: the different stadiums, the travel. There’s something special about Europe - that’s what I miss more from my career more than anything, the European games. The home and away, the travel, going to different countries, different cultures and different styles and systems.”

Amen to that.

Let the bells do the banter. We’ll do Europe. Bring on Thursday night. 

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