This week marks the beginning of yet another European campaign for Liverpool FC. In fact it’s the thirty-sixth campaign since our first overseas adventure began forty five years ago with a trip to Iceland for our first ever match in what was formerly known as the European Cup.
Since then, discounting the six years of banishment, we’ve only had three seasons without some form of European competition, whether that be the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup which later became the UEFA Cup, or the European Cup Winners’ Cup, or the European Cup (whose full title was actually the European Champion Clubs’ Cup) which became the UEFA Champions League in 1992.
Our pedigree in Europe is enviable to say the least. Not only have we participated for thirty six seasons out of forty five, but we can add the fact that we’ve won the European Cup five times (plus twice runners-up), The UEFA Cup three times, The UEFA Super Cup three times (plus twice runners-up), and once runners-up for the European Cup Winners Cup.
We are now in our sixth consecutive Champions League competition, which is an amazing achievement for the club and especially for Rafa Benitez. Just consider that in his first five seasons as Liverpool manager he has not only guided us through those five consecutive appearances, but has managed to win the cup once and make one other final appearance. We’ve succeeded beyond the group stage every time, and have been semi-finalists and quarter-finalists once each besides. Rafa previously had European experience with Valencia, including winning the UEFA Cup in 2004, following a quarter-final appearance in the Champions League in 2003 (after earlier knocking us out of the group stage!). But as we always say, the past is gone and we cannot rest on our laurels as we look ahead to the challenges presented by this season’s European adventure.
September 16 (h) and November 24 (a)
Our first match, at home at Anfield, is against Champions League newcomers Debreceni VSC. The club was founded on 12 March, 1902 and was originally named Egyetertes Futball Club, and then later became Debreceni Vasutas (Railway) Sport Club or Debreceni VSC. The association with the railway gave the club the nickname “Loki” as in many other famous clubs such as Lokomotiv Moscow and Lokomotiv Sofia. In fact, the club was also once called Debreceni Lokomotiv (during the communist era).
The club have had a successful period since promotion to the First Division in 1993, and have been Hungarian League Champions four times (2005, 2006, 2007, and 2009), as well as winning the Hungarian Cup three times (1999, 2001, 2008). Their entry into the 2009-10 Champions League came after beating Kalmar and Levadia Tallinn in the 2nd and 3rd Qualifying Rounds respectively, and then overcoming Levski Sofia in the Play-off Round. This is their first ever qualification for the Champions League, but they have previously competed in the Intertoto and UEFA Cups, but without a great deal of success. They are also the first Hungarian team to compete in the Champions League for 14 years.
Liverpool’s previous experience against Hungarian clubs has been successful, with victories over Honved (1966), and Ferencvaros (1968, 1970 and 1974). Debreceni’s stadium only has a capacity of around 10,000 and so is not suitable for Champions League matches. Their home away from home for their three Group Stage games will be the recently renovated 69,000 seat Stadium Puskás Ferenc in Budapest. This is the same stadium where England lost 7-1 to Hungary’s Puskas and the “Magical Magyars” in 1954.
It can be disastrous and ill advised to underestimate an opponent, but there should be little trouble in picking up points from these two matches.
September 29th (a) and December 9th (h)
ACF Fiorentina, more commonly known simply as Fiorentina, were founded in 1926 following a merger of two professional clubs in Florence – CS Firenze and PG Liebertas. The idea behind the merger was to form one “superclub” from the two that would be worthy rivals for the other major Italian clubs. They managed to gain promotion to Serie A in 1931, and have spent most of their time since then at the top level. In fact, only four other Italian clubs have spent more seasons in Serie A.
Fiorentina have had a lengthy list of famous players, from Socrates, Adriano, and Dunga (Brazil); to Roberto Baggio, Francesco Graziani, and Luca Toni (Italy). They have also enjoyed the services of Rui Costa, Gabriel Batistuta, and Brian Laudrup. One more notable ex-player is Swedish International defender Glenn Hysen, who left Fiorentina in 1989 to join Liverpool. Former managers of the club also include some notable names, including Claudio Ranieri, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Francesco Graziani, Giovanni Trapattoni, Roberto Mancini and Dino Zoff.
Fiorentina’s success in Europe has been sketchy, with a win in the UEFA Cup Winners Cup in 1961, and runners-up in 1962. They were also runners-up in the European Cup in 1957, and the UEFA Cup in 1990. Domestically they have been Serie A champions twice (1956 and 1969), and have won the Coppa Italia six times (1940, 1961, 1966, 1975, 1996, 2001).
They are a famous club, with a proud history that includes some of the world’s finest players. But, they are something of an unknown quantity to us since we have never had the pleasure of competing against them before. They may give us a good game, but we should be able to overcome anything they put up against us.
October 20th (h) and November 4th (a)
Olympique Lyonnais, or simply OL or even more simply Lyon, were founded in 1899, and were one of the members of the G14 group of Europe’s most powerful clubs (a group that also included Liverpool of course). They are currently members of the European Club Association which succeeded the G14. Their nickname is either “Les Gones” meaning “The Kids” or in the eyes of rival supporters they are known as “Les Vautours Blancs” meaning “The White Vultures”, owing to their tendency to pluck the most talented players from competing clubs.
The history of the club is one of ups and downs, quite literally, as the club was relegated several times during the period from the 40’s through the 80’s, but stability finally arrived in 1987 with the arrival of manager Jean-Michael Aulas in 1987. The club built steadily until the team set a record of seven consecutive Ligue 1 titles, beginning with their first in 2002 and continuing through to 2008. That included two titles (2006 and 2007) under the management of a certain Mr. Gerard Houllier. Some other famous managers include 1998 World Cup winner Aimé Jacquet, former player Jean Tigana, and Alain Perrain (after serving one less-than-brilliant season with Portsmouth). A few familiar names crop up in the list of former players, with such notables as Milan Baros, Michael Essien, Sylvain Wiltord, Florent Malouda, and Mick McCarthy.
Lyon’s European experience began in 1959 with entry to the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, going out immediately to Inter Milan. The next few years saw them also competing in the Fairs cup, the Cup Winners Cup, and the UEFA Cup, but with mixed results and not a great deal of success. European silverware finally arrived in 1997 with a 4-2 win over Montpellier. Lyon’s first entry to the Champions League was in the 1999-00 season, where they’ve been a constant presence ever since, not once failing to make it past the Group Stage, which parallels their domestic achievements. Their most notable success so far was in the three years from 2004 to 2006 when they made three consecutive quarter-final appearances. This is clearly a club with a proud history and plenty of Champions League experience, and so will most likely be our toughest competition.
It may seem like a long way from now to the final in Madrid next May, but as with the proverbial journey of a thousand miles that begins with a single step, we start our latest European journey with a single match this Wednesday evening. Let’s hope for some entertaining and winning football to come, and with a little bit of luck and some good fortune on our side, we could be on our way to Number Six in a few months’ time.