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Liverpool and Scotland legend Gary McAllister: The icons of the 1990s

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Gary McAllister was 35 and finished. At least Steven Gerrard thought so.

In fact, the Rangers manager, then just a 20-year-old beginning to make his mark at Liverpool, couldn’t believe Gerard Houllier was bringing McAllister to Anfield in the summer of 2000.

In his autobiography, Gerrard said: “He seemed an odd buy,.

“Okay, he was once a terrific midfielder for Leeds and Scotland but McAllister was now 35, his best days surely behind him… I rang my agent, Struan Marshall, who knew McAllister well. ‘Stru, what’s all this about?’, I asked.

“‘Don’t worry, Stevie’, replied Struan, ‘Gary Mac will be brilliant for ?Liverpool and for you as well. Listen to him. Learn from him’.

“‘Sod off, Stru’, I said. ‘McAllister can learn off me!’ How wrong I was.”

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McAllister knew he had a lot to prove. Two years later, with a treble – UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup – completed, he walked away with a place in the heart of the Kop.

The Scot said: “I was very aware of the negativity. The editor of a local fanzine said that if I played more than 10 matches he’d show his bare a*** in Woolworths.

“I had lots to prove so I trained all summer so I could arrive at Melwood ready to go.

“I wanted the lads to see that I could run. That was key. I got there and was always in the top group of runners. What I could do with the ball would look after itself but the guys saw that my legs were okay.”

Gerrard’s still learning from the former Scotland captain. He brought McAllister to Ibrox as his assistant when handed the reins two years ago, citing his experience as vital for a rookie boss.

That a high-profile figure should hold the ex-Motherwell, Leicester, Leeds and Coventry midfielder in such regard is ironic, given McAllister has never received the plaudits his talents deserved in the land of his birth.

(Image: SNS Group)

He quit the international stage after being booed by the Tartan Army while winning his 57th cap against the Czech Republic in March 1999.

That came three years after his infamous miss from the penalty spot against England at Euro 96, seeing his shot saved by David Seaman before Paul Gascoigne broke away to score the killer second goal 90 seconds later.

What’s been almost forgotten is the next time Scotland got a penalty, away to Belarus, ?McAllister had the bottle to take on the responsibility and score the only goal in a 1-0 win.

But the Wembley miss cast a shadow over his international career – and spawned a ludicrous conspiracy theory that psychic Uri Geller moved the ball just as the Scots skipper struck it. McAllister said: “I’ve met him and to this day he is adamant he moved the ball.

“The ball did move. I couldn’t use that as a lame excuse after the game but it did affect me. When I planted my standing foot and my kicking boot was about to strike the ball, it moved and I just panicked.

“I didn’t want to fall over, miss the ball completely or stub it and so I chose to blast it. I have never blasted a penalty before or since. So, I’ve no idea why it moved but it did and it’s something that will never go away. Uri texted me once to say he could help my team win as he felt bad for what he’d done to me at Wembley. Weird.”

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McAllister’s international luck didn’t get much better. Injury prevented him from playing at the 1998 World Cup and he was an unused sub at Italia 90.

The Czech game, a 2-1 defeat at Parkhead, was the final straw.

At the time, he said: “There comes a point when that type of pressure from a certain section who are looking for me not to do well, whether that be the fans or in the media, becomes too much. To give up before my time is very disappointing indeed.”

The midfielder won the English title alongside Gordon Strachan at Leeds in 1992 and other than at Motherwell, where he left at 20 to sign for Leicester, he spent his career down south.

But his elegant style of play and immaculate passing ability could have seen him display his talents on the continent.

He said: “I came close. Sven-Goran Eriksson wanted me at Sampdoria after the World Cup in 1990. After Leeds won the league, Murdo MacLeod wanted me at Borussia Dortmund.

“I spoke to Sevilla as well. I’d liked to have played abroad – it’s a big regret of mine that I didn’t.”

His swansong, though, was special. A 44-yard free-kick to win a Merseyside derby against Everton in the last minute. A penalty to beat Barcelona in the UEFA Cup semi-final. Coming off the bench in the FA Cup Final to set up the equaliser for Michael Owen who went on to win it against Arsenal.

And Alaves. Liverpool’s 5-4 win in the 2001 UEFA Cup Final will always be ?remembered as ?McAllister’s match. He scored one and provided three assists, including for the own goal that won it three minutes before the end of extra-time. He was presented the Man of the Match award. Not bad for a man of 36.

McAllister later revealed rivals Manchester United rejected him as a boy for being too small. He said: “I was always striving to prove them wrong.”

He spent his entire career doing just that.




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