After dominating British and often European football throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, the end of the 20th century was comparably barren for Liverpool Football Club, with the Anfield trophy room’s only addition since the start of the Premier League era (which you can read more about in our collection of personalised football books) being the 1995 League Cup. Merseyside was crying out for the new millennium to begin with a bang, and Gérard Houllier’s team wasted no time in obliging. The UEFA Cup final victory against Deportivo Alavés in Dortmund provided the cherry on top for a unique domestic and European cup treble.
The match, played at the Westfalonstadion on May 16th 2001, is remembered as one of the most dramatic UEFA Cup finals of all time, but, given the nature of Liverpool’s previous cup final outings that season, effectively followed suit. Indeed, only four days prior, the Reds, having been on the back foot for the majority of the match, had dramatically come from behind against Arsenal in the F.A. Cup, winning the first Millennium Stadium final thanks to two Michael Owen goals in the last ten minutes. Earlier in the season, they had to rely on a penalty shootout to defeat second-tier Birmingham in the League Cup final.
Alavés themselves could rightly claim to rival Liverpool for sheer unpredictability. Finishing tenth in the 2000/01 La Liga, the Spaniards, who had never won a major trophy in their history, had toppled a much-fancied Inter Milan earlier in the tournament before securing their place in the final with an emphatic 9-2 aggregate win over Kaiserslautern. But, if Alavés had the most dangerous attack in the competition, then Liverpool certainly had the most formidable defence, conceding only a single goal in the process of knocking out Roma, Porto and Barcelona.
In what would turn out to be the most goal-laden UEFA Cup final in history, it’s no surprise that the score sheet didn’t stay blank for long. Just three minutes in Markus Babbel, born and raised in Munich, headed Liverpool in front. Despite Iván Alonso pulling one back for Alavés with a header of his own, the Reds cruised into half-time with a 3-1 advantage, courtesy of goals from 20-year-old hometown hero Steven Gerrard and 36-year-old Gary McAllister, signed only months previously from Coventry City.
McAllister would ultimately enjoy the greatest night of a career already well into its twilight years. After Alavés levelled the scoreline at 3-3 just minutes after the restart with a quick brace from Javi Moreno (the second a memorable freekick drilled straight underneath the airborne Liverpool wall), the still-flying Scotsman picked up his second assist of the night for substitute Robbie Fowler’s mazy run and finish; Liverpool’s fourth, and they would remain in the driving seat until two minutes from time, when Jordi Cruyff, once of Manchester United, headed home a last-gasp equaliser for the Basque side.
Into extra-time, then, and the prospect of a first ever European final to be decided by the golden goal rule. As time rolled by, Liverpool’s objective would become increasingly favourable; be it a result of tired legs, the gravity of the occasion or perhaps the knife-edged tension of the “next goal wins” format, Alavés’s numbers began to diminish, as Magno and then captain Karmona received their marching orders for overzealous challenges.
The latter gave Liverpool a free-kick on the edge of the opposition box. With 116 minutes on the clock, McAllister called on his aging legs one last time, and whipped in a terrific ball, which was nodded into his own net by Alavés’s Delfí Geli. A fortuitous goal, but golden nonetheless.
Liverpool would go on to defeat Champions League winners Bayern Munich in the UEFA Super Cup final, making 2001 one of the most successful years in the club’s history. You can relive all four triumphs (as well as countless others) in our exquisite personalised Liverpool book.