It’s party time in Liverpool as 350,000 turn out to cheer Reds


LIVERPOOL, England, AP

“Party Time.”

That’s how the Sunday Express summed up Liverpool’s miraculous season, which ended Saturday with a 4-0 thumping of Charlton as the Reds claimed a place in next season’s lucrative Champions League. The haul looks like this: — English League Cup champions — English FA Cup champions — UEFA Cup champions The unique triple and a place next season with the big boys of European soccer drew about 350,000 Liverpudlians to the streets on Sunday as the team paraded through the city in an open-top, double-decker bus to show off the silverware. The tour began in the city’s Mill Lane area of West Derby and finished in the Queens Drive and East Prescot Road junction. On the strength of young strikers Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Emile Heskey, 20-year-old midfielder Steven Gerrrad and his aging and balding counterpart Gary McAllister, Liverpool in on the verge of retuning to its glory days of the 1970s and 80s when it won the European Cup four times and was the the continent’s best club. Much of the credit is being heaped on Gerard Houllier, the Frenchman who replaced Roy Evans during the 1998 99 season after they tried briefly to co-managed the team. Houllier, the former French national coach, took over in November 1998 when Evans stepped down. In just over 2 1/2 seasons he has restored Liverpool, which may still not be a match for Manchester United or Real Madrid or Roma — but the Reds are very close. Houllier installed a new kind of discipline, which was evident when he prohibited any kind of drinking celebrations after the Reds won the FA Cup on May 12 — 2-1 over Arsenal on two late goals by Owen — and the UEFA Cup four days later over Spain’s Alaves 5-4 in Dortmund, Germany. “The reason Liverpool asked me to come was because aspects of their preparation needed changing,” he said. “When the game changes, as football has in the last few years, you preparation has to change, too.” Liverpool finished the season with 10 unbeaten games in 34 days — nine victories and a draw. The turning point might have been Gary McAllister’s 44-yard free-kick winner against Everton on April 16. The kick gave Liverpool a 3-2 victory when it was down to 10 men and momentum heading to the last month of the season. Down the stretch Liverpool has been consistent and hard as steel. The Reds lost only one of their final 19 games — only three defeats in the last 31. it was a great finish for a team that won only five of its first 10. Much of the credit goes to strikers Heskey, Owen and Fowler — and to a lesser extend Jari Litmanen — and the way Houllier handled their fragile egos while alternating the four. Fowler has complained about the situation and has threatened to leave. But he now seems resigned to staying with Houllier talking about signing French international David Trezeguet. “He (Fowler) has never been close to leaving,” Houllier said. “I just said that if he wants to go then he goes. But it’s not just about the manager.” “I’m pleased that he’s said he knows there is competition but he wants to win things. If you want to be successful, you need four strikers.” “Robbie has shown a great team ethic in the past three games. You don’t have to accept it with a smile on your face, but you do have to understand it. I can prove that it pays off.” There’s no arguing the point.