“It’s not a normal club. It’s a special place” – Sander Westerveld’s ‘Liverpool Life’

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In the latest edition of ‘My Liverpool Life’, former goalkeeper Sander Westerveld shares tales and stories of his life as a Red.

I started supporting Liverpool because…

Like nine out of 10 players, it was my dream to play for Liverpool. It was my team.

I was born in 1974 so Liverpool were the team in the 1980s. It was always Liverpool on Match of the Day.

 

What was it like signing for Liverpool?

It was an unbelievable couple of weeks. We were already talking with Liverpool from February or March and I knew about the interest. Around the same time I got my first call-up for the national team and I remember flying to Brazil for a training camp.

In the hotel I signed my Liverpool contract, so that was a perfect week, and way to finish the season. I had my best season at Vitesse and was voted Player of the Year by the fans, and it was a good time to leave.

I can’t find enough words, especially in English, to express my feelings about that week, making my international debut and signing for my dream team. It was unbelievable for the very first minute to the very last.

The first game at Anfield, the first time at Melwood, shaking hands with Michael Owen – I’d just watched him being the golden boy at the 1998 World Cup and suddenly you’re on the same pitch with him.

Liverpool's new signings back row (l to r) Erik Meijer, Sander Westerveld, Vladimir Smicer, Titi Camara and front row (l to r) Sammi Hyypia, coach Phil Thompson and manager Gerard Houllier and Stephane Henchoz - Picture by: Michael Steele / EMPICS Sport

Doing shooting and finishing with Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler in my first training session and feeling like a shit player afterwards, because they are kicking balls in the top corner left and right. I was living the dream.

It’s something you only understand when you retire and look back. I told Virgil van Dijk that after the Champions League final, to go on holiday and sit by the water for an hour and just think about what you did, because it’s something you just take for granted. You really have to take time to let it sink in.

Imagine having a dream and fulfilling it – that’s why I was so happy at Liverpool and why I was so disappointed to leave.

 

Your first games at Anfield, there was a collective gasp when you’d kick the ball…

It was something I used to have as a little boy. When I was playing as a schoolboy for the U15s, I had a fight with the reserve goalkeeper because I had a defender taking the goal kicks.

Afterwards, I had a discussion with the coach and he said I had to learn it, but I said I didn’t have the power to. And then the reserve goalkeeper came up and said I should train on it. I proved them wrong in the future.

At 16 years old I was kicking a drop-volley 20 metres over the halfway line. It wasn’t something I trained on, but I had it and never lost it. It proved to be a big weapon.

Nov. 2000: Liverpool goalkeeper Sander Westerveld prepares to kick the ball  (Neal Simpson/EMPICS Sport)

At Liverpool, I think I was the first goalkeeper you could have bets on to score a goal, but you need to be lucky to do that.

I could also throw the ball over the halfway line – it was more precise than my kicking – but when I had the ball on the floor I could put it behind the defence, and if you had a quick player he could be one-on-one. It could be an extra dimension to our game.

We had Emile Heskey who was a big striker, so when people put us under pressure I was able to put the ball from one side to the other [to Heskey] and it gave a lot of confidence to the players.

We didn’t score too many goals, but I remember a couple of important goals, like the League Cup final, when I kicked the ball long to Heskey and Robbie [Fowler] scored that volley. Even though it only happened once or twice, it was enough.

 

Everybody talks about the Cup finals in 2001, but there were some big European games that season: Rome, Barcelona and Porto…

It was amazing. Against Olympiakos it wasn’t that hostile because the fans were far from the pitch, and it was the same with Roma, who don’t care about the UEFA Cup.

I think we ended up with more Liverpool fans than Roma and the stadium was half full, which for us was great to see. I can’t recall many saves I had to make in that game. We almost had the perfect game, Michael scored both goals and we got a great result.

ROME, ITALY - Thursday, February 15, 2001: Liverpool's team line up before the UEFA Cup 4th Round 1st Leg match against AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico. Back row L-R: Sander Westerveld, Dietmar Hamann, Markus Babbel, Gary McAllister, Stephane Henchoz, Christian Ziege. Front row L-R: Sami Hyypia, captain Robbie Fowler, Nicky Barmby, Jamie Carragher, Michael Owen. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The 0-0 in the Nou Camp was an unbelievable result and meant we could finish them off at home. Everything felt in the right place and we never lacked luck in any of the finals.

Sometimes they say you make your own luck and that’s what we did that season. We fought until the end and got the result.

 

You ended up playing for Everton, how did that happen? Was it strange?

I was playing for Portsmouth but was on the bench. On my way to watch Chelsea play Barcelona, David Moyes phoned me in the car and said he needed a goalkeeper who could play for a month. Straight away I said yes.

I put the phone down and was like ‘oh crap, it’s Everton’. I always had a great connection with Everton because nine out of 10 of my friends in Liverpool were Bluenoses. I phoned them and they said ‘we’d love to have you there, everyone will understand, you’re not going straight from Liverpool to Everton, you got kicked out of Liverpool’.

Liverpool goalkeeper Sander Westerveld fights with Everton's Francis Jeffers before both were sent off

From the second I arrived, the atmosphere and the warmth of the fans at Everton made such an impression on me. It was one of the best experiences of my whole career.

I ran onto the pitch and they accepted me and were clapping their hands. I was really surprised, everything was positive.

It was almost like they were saying thank you, because they had three goalkeepers out, I was there to help and I tried to help them. It was a good opportunity to show myself to the world again and get some minutes under my belt. From the very first minute to the very end I was loving it.

I was even allowed to stay another month but my wife was pregnant and I told Moyes I had to go back. I’m still friends with a couple of players, Arteta and Cahill, and even the kit manager. It’s got a place in my heart.

I made history, I was the only goalkeeper to play for both clubs I’m proud to have played for Everton as well.

 

And now, what’s it like returning to Anfield, playing for the LFC Legends side?

Liverpool are the club I supported as a child, it’s not a normal club. It’s a special place.

Coming back for the first time in the Tsunami charity game, it was just amazing to be back. Now, I want to play and keep myself fit for those games.

MADRIS, SPAIN - Sunday, June 14, 2015: Liverpool's goalkeeper Sander Westerveld lines-up before the Corazon Classic Legends Friendly match against Real Madrid at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Those legends games are the most important every year and I love every second of it. You don’t miss the training camps, hotels and pre-seasons, but playing in front of a full stadium is the thing you miss. To be able to do that now is something I’m really enjoying.

You can enjoy it, look around and almost sing with the fans. It’s a different feeling.

I hope to be fit until Pepe Reina retires, because then he will probably be in the team, but now it’s Dudek and me, and then David James and Grobbelaar come in. I hope to be able to play as many as possible. I do everything to be fit and play those as much as I can.


* Thanks to Sander for sharing his ‘Liverpool Life’. We’ll have more from the former goalkeeper online soon, and look out for more from this series on This Is Anfield.

You can find Sander on Twitter @sawe74.

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is now available to pre-order exclusively on This Is Anfield.

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