CL-Playoffs: The legend of Liverpool, the legend of Anfield

TSG will face Liverpool in the Champions League playoff round. A club in the upper echelon of European club football. A club which celebrates its 125th anniversary of existence this year. A club which has a not only long, but eventful history. A history of legendary coaches, extraordinary players, magnificent triumphs and harrowing tragedies.

Liverpool FC is legendary, because of its titles and its tragedies. And, because of its stadium. Anfield Road, Liverpool, L4 0TH. This address. A place to see for football fans around the world. The Mecca of stadium-goers. Everyone wants to see a game there. Anfield. 54,074 seats. One pitch. Four stands, the Main Stand, the Anfield Road stand, the Kenny Dalglish stand and the Kop. The most well-known stand in world football. Where it all begins when the “Reds” are playing at home. There they sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone’. The most famous song in sport. Imitated worldwide but never equalled.

The atmosphere at Anfield Road for the second leg of the Champions League playoff will be a special experience and a huge challenge for TSG. When Thomas Tüchel went there with Borussia Dortmund last season, he wanted to “sense, smell and breathe in the history of the stadium”. To soak up Anfield. To soak up the legend. To soak up Liverpool FC.

The stadium was, in fact, built before Liverpool FC existed. At the time, in 1884, FC Everton played their games there. The city rivals of the “Reds” against whom the emotionally-charged Merseyside derby is played today. The teams have met 228 times, with Liverpool winning 91 times, Everton winning 66 and 71 of the meetings ending in a draw. The most successful goalscorer in the Merseyside derby is one of the greatest in Liverpool’s history – Ian Rush. He scored 25 times in 36 derbies. In total Rush played 660 times for Liverpool and scored 346 goals - more than anyone else who has pulled on the Liverpool jersey. Rush is a club legend. He sits alongside Kenny Dalglish and Steven Gerrard in the pantheon of Liverpool FC.

The face of success

Dalglish is for Liverpool what Francesco Totti is for AS Roma, what Uli Hoeness is for Bayern or what Lionel Messi is for Barcelona. The most important person in the club’s history. A stand at Anfield is named after the 66-year-old. Dalglish as a player at the club, won the league five times, the league cup four times and the European Cup three times. And also as head coach he shaped the club, winning three league titles and two FA Cups. The Scotland-born man is the face of the best period in the club’s history. At the time, at the end of the 1970s and the start of the 1980s, Liverpool dominated European club football.

Dalglish and Rush, the icons, were on the pitch, when the club experienced their darkest hour in 1985. As defending champions, Liverpool had reached the European Cup final once again and were playing Juventus in the Heysel Stadium in Brussels. The “Reds” lost 1-0. However the game remains in people’s memories unfortunately due to events before the match. Liverpool fans stormed a neutral zone in the stadium, forcing Juventus fans against a wall which later fell down – killing 39 people and injuring more than 500. Liverpool were banned by UEFA from competing in all European competitions until the 1991/92 season.

Kenny Dalglish remembers: “As we came into the hotel in Brussels, the Italian fans were crying by our team bus. They were furious; they were banging their fists against the bus. It was completely understandable – 39 of their friends had died. I particularly remember one man who looked at me straight through the windscreen, crying. In that moment I understood what these people were going through.”     

Hillsborough – the darkest hour

The next disaster came only four years later. Hillsborough, 15th April 1989 – remembered as “Our darkest day” on the Liverpool website. Liverpool were playing Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup semi-final tie and 25,000 Liverpool fans had made the trip to Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium. It is now presumed that police and stewards let too many Liverpool fans enter the stadium. The day is now remembered as one of the biggest disasters in football history: 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives and hundreds were injured. 28 years later, the Hillsborough tragedy is still caught up in the justice system; it still casts a shadow on English football and Liverpool FC. Hillsborough’s victims are remembered on the club’s website.

Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool’s then manager, said: “I will never forget that day in April 1989. Even the word ‘Hillsborough’ brings back painful memories. I will carry the hurt from that disaster for the rest of my life.”

The Gerrard Era

The summer of 1989 was also the year a young boy, then barely ten years old, entered Liverpool’s youth academy, a boy who would come to lead the club for almost two decades – Steven Gerrard. Gerrard played 710 times for the Red, including 473 times as captain – more than any other player in Liverpool’s history. Stevie G led Liverpool to a place the club hadn’t been for a long time – to the top of European football. The 20-year old was the youngest player on the pitch when Liverpool overcame Deportivo Alaves 5-4 to win the UEFA Cup final, the youngster bagging the second goal of the match.

After that came the Champions League triumph in 2005. Istanbul is now remembered as one of the most incredible matches in the history of the competition. The film recalling that match in the Turkish capital, ‘One night in May’, celebrates an evening that will forever be remembered in Liverpool’s history. Steven Gerrard, then 24 years old, led his team onto the pitch as captain, scoring the goal to seal one of football’s greatest comebacks. The Reds were 3-0 down against AC Milan in the 44th minute. The final was over – it had to be. But against all odds, Rafa Benitez’s men turned the match on its head… in six minutes. Gerrard. Smicer. Alonso. In the 54th, 56th and 60th minutes. Liverpool made it to penalties and then it was Jerzy Dudek’s time to be a hero. Liverpool stood triumphant once again. Gerrard became the face of the club, the face of victory. Later, he went on to pick up two more FA Cup titles with the Reds.

The wait for a league title

Despite all of what Gerrard accomplished in his 17 years as a Liverpool player, one blot on his copybook was that he never won a league title with the club. Liverpool last won the league in the 1989/90 season. At that time the Premier League had not yet been created. More than 25 years without a league title. For the club and the fans, it has been an almost unbearable length of time. Since 2011, Liverpool, from the same city as the Beatles, have not held the record for the most league wins;  usurped by Manchester United as the most successful team in English league history. The competition for the league from Manchester and London has left Liverpool trailing in its wake: United, City, Chelsea and Arsenal have fought for the title between them and Liverpool have not been able to capitalise on when their main rivals have had weaker seasons. Aside from those four teams, only Blackburn Rovers and Leicester City have got their hands on the Premier League trophy. A fact which Liverpool don’t like to mention.

Gerrard’s career, in this sense, remains incomplete; however he is a legend in Liverpool. In May 2015, he played his last game at Anfield. With his three daughters, he took the applause of the crowd on a minute long lap of honour. “You’ll never walk alone”, the song which dwarfs all other football songs, was played and the fans raised the Anfield roof. As Gerrard disappeared into the players’ tunnel for good, he kissed the club badge one last time. A fitting departure for a legendary player.

The tie with TSG

In the summer after Gerrard’s departure, the “Reds” and TSG crossed paths for the first time. Roberto Firmino transferred from Kraichgau to the Premier League. A few months later, after the departure of Brendan Rodgers, Jürgen Klopp made the move to Anfield. The German coach wants to shape a new era at Liverpool and take the club to the helm of English football once again. He wants to bring a Premier League title to the city and cause a stir in Europe. Liverpool want a return to their earlier glorious times.

“I know all about the amazing history of this club. We are going in a new direction; we want to play emotive football. That’s important here at Anfield”, Klopp said at his first press conference. Emotions and Liverpool – a special love affair. Klopp has taken small steps on the way to success and now TSG stand in his way. And for that Julian Nagelsmann has his own plans. Plans without regard for the huge history of the opponents. Without regard for their big name. Without regard for the legend of Anfield Road. Without regard for the legend of Liverpool. 

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