Gerard Houllier was a scouser with a French accent – he fell in love with Liverpool and the city who gave him his heart
14th December 2020

GERARD HOULLIER was really a Scouser with a French accent.

He may have born in Therouanne, a few miles south west of Calais, but Liverpool became the love of his life – not just the club but the city.

Houllier stood on the Kop and watched Bill Shankly’s side destroy Dundalk 10-0 in a Fairs Cup tie at Anfield in a record – breaking win and was bewitched.

That was in September 1969.

Little could he have known then that he would be dragging a club into the new millennium 30 years later, celebrating a treble of FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup.

Houllier had moved to Merseyside while studying for a degree in English at Lille University.

He spent a year working as a teaching assistant at Alsop Comprehensive on Liverpool’s Queen’s Drive.

Never more than a footballer he even played for Alsop, the local team.

He wanted to be a teacher, not a manager but his father fell ill and he dropped out of university and became deputy headmaster of Ecole Normale d’Arras.

Life was how Houllier had imagined it, until he was persuaded to become player – manager of Le Touquet and it was from there that his football career took off.

He held a succession of posts in low – level French football but his reputation was beginning to soar.

He won successive promotions with Noux-les-Mines into his country’s second division then took over at Lens in 1982 and the Paris Saint-German three years later, winning Ligue 1.

By 1992 he was head coach of France but resigned in November 1993 after failure to qualify for the 94 World Cup finals.

But he never lost the Scouser in him after spending that year in the late Sixties living in Liverpool and he jumped at the chance of working with Roy Evans as joint manager in 1998.

Four months into the season he was in sole charge at a club that had once inspired him but had lost its hold on domestic and European football.

He arrived eight years after they had last won the title and his first job was to break up the band known as the Spice Boys.

Paul Ince, David James, Jason McAteer, Rob Jones, Tony Warner and Steve Harkness were all sold, while Steve McManaman left on a free transfer.

Eight new players were signed: Sami Hyypiä, Dietmar Hamann, Stéphane Henchoz, Vladimír Šmicer, Sander Westerveld, Titi Camara, Eric Meijer and Djimi Traoré.


Liverpool's training facilities at Melwood were also thoroughly overhauled and the march towards new triumph had begun.

But the new order took its toll on Houllier and he almost gave his life for the club.

At half time in an October 2001 clash with Leeds United he collapsed and had it not been for incredible work by medics he would almost certainly have died there and then.

Instead he survived long enough to be rushed to hospital where he underwent an 11-hour heart bypass operation.

He missed five months of the season to recover and in his absence Phil Thompson took over, Liverpool finishing second in the Prem.

Yet Houllier was never quite the same force.

He was as warm, friendly and intelligent as he had always been but perhaps understandably a little light had gone out of his eyes.

He left Anfield by mutual consent in 2004 after the fans turned on him and his team over what they saw as negative football.

He went on to boss Lyon and in September 2010 took charge of Aston Villa.

But Houllier’s health caught up with him again and after falling ill the following April he walked away from management.

He was awarded the Légion d'honneur for his services to French football, and an honorary OBE for services to British football, along with fellow manager, compatriot and friend Arsène Wenger.

But it was his time within the legions of the Kop that meant he could never walk alone in the city that he gave his heart to.

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