Liverpool's last game of the league season is their last game at Anfield for this season, when they face Charlton on Saturday.
It's set to be an emotional day too.
As well as being an opportunity to send our players off to battle in ancient Greece against the Milanese, we'll also be saying goodbye to faces that have brought us some great memories over the years.
Jerzy Dudek had two years left on his contract after the glory of Istanbul in 2005, and those two years are now at an end. Rafa Benitez had brought Pepe Reina in to replace him; a decision made even before Istanbul, and was actually hopeful of selling the Polish international prior to his contract running out – for the right price. In the end the player stayed on at the club the rest of those two years because no deal came up that interested both the player and the club. He's made some mistakes – notably against Arsenal in January – since Istanbul, but his performance in Istanbul is what we will long remember him for.
Perhaps more significantly (and no disrespect to Jerzy in saying that), but Saturday will also be Robbie Fowler's last chance to appear at Anfield in a Red shirt. His 18-month-long return to Anfield has not been as glorious for him as he'd have liked, but he's still proved to be a vital squad member, and his influence on the training ground has been praised by his strike partners.
Fowler's departure in 2001 came during a period where Gerard Houllier seemed intent on proving a point. He clearly had no respect for Fowler, who really did not want to leave Anfield, but had to consider his career. He went to Leeds for £11m, but left without getting a chance to say goodbye. His last appearance first time round was brought to an end at half-time in the game as Houllier decided to substitute him. Fowler wasn't whiter-than-white during his first spell at Anfield, but was far from the worst player at the club. The club should have backed him when he got a ridiculous ban for incidents involving the touchline and Graham Le Saux, but instead decided to let him serve his ban. No appeal was made in an attempt to reduce the ban to a reasonable length. Stories of training-ground bust-ups were allowed to leak out, and the press were fed negative stories about him.
One so-called Liverpool website tried to claim Fowler had been too drunk to train – when in reality he'd been suffering from what amounted to a bad case of flu, and was virtually unable to breathe, let alone take part in a training session. That Liverpool site – now boycotted by most internet-using Reds – was one of many who wanted to stick the knife into a player who loved Liverpool and had done since he joined.
In reality Robbie just did not fit in with Gerard Houllier's ways. Houllier wanted the money he knew Fowler would bring so that he could bring in his own signings. He knew he couldn't get rid of both Fowler and Owen, and it seemed that there was a campaign claiming Fowler and Owen couldn't play together. They rarely got a chance to even try and play together, but when they did it always seemed to work out. The French manager wasted the £11m he got for Robbie on Liverpool's worst-ever number nine – El Hadji Diouf. And that £11m still seems a bargain compared to the £14m lavished on Djibril Cisse – signed in 2003 but not actually arriving until 2004 after Houllier had left.
Gerard Houllier's greatest achievement as boss was the treble season, in fact in the whole of the calendar year 2005 he won five trophies. Robbie Fowler played an important part in those glories, but was dumped. In fact it was that season that Houllier decided to bring Jerzy Dudek in. Sander Westerveld had been hot and cold as goalkeeper during his spell as our number one, but when Houllier made two big-money purchases in that department it really did look like he'd made a mistake in actually signing both. Westerveld was let go, rapidly, and in came Jerzy and Chris Kirkland. Dudek never really got challenged by Kirks – whenever the former Coventry keeper was starting to look good, or Dudek was starting to look bad, poor Kirkland would pick up another injury. Would Dudek have even still been at the club if Kirkland had kept free from injury?
In many ways it would be easy now to stick the knife into Dudek. He could be accused of only staying at Anfield in order to rake in the money from his lucrative deal, signed during that Gerard Houllier era. He has certainly been quoted on more than one occasion as being unhappy with Rafa, although he's generally denied the quotes. His cup performances against Arsenal were shocking, there's little else can be said – but he really shouldn't have been picked for both games, the boss certainly should have let him sit out the second game as he clearly had no confidence whatsoever in his own abilities. But Jerzy brought us number five. Without his save in extra time (which the late Pope probably had a hand in) and his performance in the shoot-out, we'd be looking back on a valiant defeat, not a glorious victory.
Jerzy deserves a huge send-off on Saturday – a thank you for 2005.
Robbie Fowler deserves an even bigger send-off. His career at Anfield had been interrupted but he's brought us so much pleasure. And there are talks of Robbie getting that send-off – but unofficially. Various sites have spoken of their ideas for what should be done, various fans coming up with their own schemes. It's been mentioned in the Echo, by Chris Bascombe (one of those who saw at first-hand how Robbie was being victimised and lied about in the latter days of his first stint at the club). If you're at the game on Saturday, find a way of marking Robbie's departure. Give him the send of he was denied in 2001. Wear a nose plaster, like those "stop-snoring" ones you see in the chemist, similar to what Robbie wore in his heyday before he had surgery. Have you still got one of those t-shirts created to support the dockers? They were a spook of the Calvin Kline shirts that were popular at the time, with the CK of the logo put into the middle of the word "DoCKer". Have you got one of your old Robbie Fowler shirts?
If you are at the game, make sure you do something to mark the day, Robbie last appearance (if selected) at Anfield for Liverpool.
If the stories about how positive Robbie has been on the training ground are true then it's very likely he'll be back one day as a coach – but he's still got a couple of years of playing left in him, and hopefully he'll get the chance to appear most weeks at a club where the stakes aren't quite as high as they are at Anfield right now.
Some sites have actually suggested a "Number Nine" day – a way of including Steve Heighway, outgoing Youth Academy coach and legendary winger, in the celebrations. It's a number that's had some great names wearing it, including of course Ian Rush, who was still playing as Robbie embarked on his professional career.
But don't forget Jerzy, He's dreading the last day. He told the club's official magazine: "I have 40,000 thank-yous to say, so it will take me a while. It would be nice to play in the last game against Charlton. I would get to walk around the pitch and take it all in. I could hear the fans singing again. I don't know if it will be possible, it's up to the manager when he picks the team. I just want to say goodbye. If it is not possible then I will be the last person left on the pitch after the Charlton game."
Robbie, Jerzy and Heighway aren't the only faces saying goodbye this summer, although some departures are being deliberately kept a little more low-profile ahead of the Champions League final. Bolo Zenden will have to wait and see if he's offered another contract for example. Rafa's got a big chunk of money to spend if he needs it, and strikers are where he's reportedly looking to strengthen first, with Carlos Tevez and Samuel Eto'o looking more and more likely to be offered the chance to play a part in the true beginning of the US era at the club.
Dudek says it's his decision to leave, and nobody will argue that with him. He says he has to leave to try and resurrect his international career, which came to a halt in the summer, something he discovered through the TV: "I was watching TV at home, just with Sky Sports News on in the background while I was doing some things and waiting for something else to come on – as you do. I actually saw a breaking news story come along the bottom of the screen: Jerzy Dudek is not going to the World Cup. I froze. At first I thought it was a joke from the Polish manager, but then I saw that our star striker was not going, and two other senior players were already out. It wasn't a joke."
Dudek would have seen that squad in the early part of the summer, and he claims he wanted to leave Anfield there and then, but was persuaded to stay on: "Something changed in me after that snub. From being happy to play here and press Pepe, I knew I had to go somewhere to play every week. The needs of the team were more important to me than my own needs. Scott Carson was going to Charlton and the manager could not get any cover, so I stayed." Carson won't be allowed to play on Saturday, under Premiership rules, but his season at Charlton has seen him voted their player of the season, and he's been kept busy in a side looking like getting relegated.
Jerzy says he's going to be taking a step down to leave Anfield: "Now I am going this summer. I am out of contract and I need to play football. I am still hungry to play and put the disappointment of the World Cup behind me. I know I will not move somewhere and find a nicer club than Liverpool. I love this city and love this club. If I had gone to the World Cup then I would have stayed here forever. I told Rafa that too. I would have done everything I wanted to do in my career. I will not play with better players or make more friends than I have here. Wherever I go from here will be a definite step down in my career."
He does not fancy the idea of appearing as an opponent at Anfield: "I just can't imagine walking into Anfield on match-day, walking out of the tunnel and going down to the Kop end – and then hoping to see Liverpool lose. This club has been my life for five years. I have become much more than an employee – I am a fan. I don't know how I will feel when I walk out of this place for the last time, but I imagine it will be very emotional and I can see tears in my eyes. I am not looking forward to it at all."
All of those leaving Anfield for the last time on Saturday will feel much the same – and it's the Reds' way of doing things to make sure they know how grateful we are for their services.
Give them all a great send-off.
Continue reading Good bye and Thank you to departing heroes