Noting that Liverpool Football Club have a strong connection to Scotland is hardly penetrating analysis. In the Georgie Porgie café a corner kick from the Kop, the evidence is staring you in the face. On one wall there’s a framed photograph of a Scotland team from 1897.
The relevance becomes clear on closer inspection; it contains George Allan, who became the first Liverpool player to represent the country when he played in Scotland’s 2-1 win over England at Crystal Palace. Allan enjoyed two spells at Anfield. They bookended a stint at Celtic, where he scored 15 goals in 17 games.
It is strange for the manager of a club that once fielded nine Scots in the same team, whose first-ever team became dubbed as the ‘team of Macs’, to be asked to consider whether Scotland is a profitable place to search for prospective players. But this underlined the extent to which things have changed.
Jurgen Klopp was adamant that Scotland has become a breeding ground. Or, to quote the Liverpool manager in his own inimitable style, it’s now a “cool place to scout again”.
As well as Andy Robertson, the currently injured first-choice left back, Liverpool have Calvin Ramsay, signed from Aberdeen in the summer, and Ben Doak, a 16-year-old, on the books.
It’s still a world away from a team of Macs, or even the legends who made up the spine of the classic Liverpool team from the 1980s: Graeme Souness, Hansen and Dalglish – with Steve Nicol at full back for good measure.
Even the bricks in the walls around here tell the story. Hansen on Old Barn Road. Dalglish and Bill Shankly on Oakfield Road. Although he is of course not Scottish, a mural of Steven Gerrard adorns the side of the Sandon Pub, where the Anfield club were formed in 1892. Liverpool have provided Rangers with a manager – and vice versa in the case of Graeme Souness – but the two teams have never come up against each other in a game that matters. Until now, that is.
In an era of over-exposure and crushing familiarity, it’s hard to credit. Liverpool’s ban from European football in the late 1980s, when Rangers were enjoying a revolution under Souness, is one possible reason. Another explanation is that their periods of success did not quite align, hence no previous European Cup meeting. Scottish football was a lot more democratic in the early 1980s, when Liverpool were on their perch.
Dundee United and Aberdeen were league winners during that memorable decade. The Tannadice side might well have met Liverpool in the actual final of this tournament in 1984 had they been able – or, indeed, had they been allowed – to defend the 2-0 lead held over AS Roma before a controversial second leg in Rome, with later accusations of a bent referee.
Indeed, Liverpool haven’t played against a Scottish club in the European Cup since they came up against an Aberdeen side managed by someone called Alex Ferguson in 1980. That turned out to be an easier couple of nights than anyone expected. Admittedly, it was an Aberdeen team finding its feet in Europe. A European Cup-Winners’ Cup final victory over Real Madrid three years later showed this was a quicker process than might otherwise have been expected.
But the 4-0 defeat at Anfield was a wounding evening after the 1-0 reversal in Aberdeen, when Terry McDermott scored an early winner. Liverpool ran over the top of Aberdeen on Bonfire night two weeks later. Even Hansen scored. “I was never so glad to get a game out of my way in my whole life,” Ferguson later wrote in his first book, A Light in the North.
Much of this, it seems, was news to Klopp yesterday. He was a youth player at SV Glatten at the time. Anglo-Scottish relations were not at the forefront of his mind. Asked about the cross-border aspect, with the clash having been given the inevitable ‘Battle of Britain’ context, he rather sportingly sought to get into the mood of things.
He described this first competitive meeting as “pretty special”, but he is a tactician rather than a historian. He knows little about auld enemies, less about new ones. “Apart from that I cannot say too much about the relationship, about what that means exactly,” he said. “Nobody gave me a historical update. I know a few things obviously and that it might be very special for sure. But apart from that it is a normal Champions League game. But it is very nice. I actually think that it is very nice that we don’t play the same teams all the time.
“It is refreshing," he added. "It is great for Rangers. There will be a great atmosphere here, there will be a great atmosphere. People should enjoy that, and I hope they will be able to enjoy that.”
In fact, Klopp might be more interested in the Dutch-German dynamic; Giovanni van Bronckhorst occupies the away dugout at Anfield, where he was sent off on his last appearance at the ground; for Arsenal in a 2-1 defeat in 2001, after picking up a second booking for simulation.
The Ibrox manager has history here even if Rangers and their skipper, James Tavernier, do not.
Tavernier recalled coming to Anfield for a youth cup semi-final “about ten years ago” when with Newcastle United but he was in the stand rather on the pitch because he had not been included in the squad.
It’s safe to assume he will be rather more central to his side’s hopes of success on a historic night at Anfield.