Few would have predicted the ups and downs that lay ahead when a certain Ledley King arrived on the scene as a second half substitute in the iconic Merseyside arena on May 1, 1999.
The first half couldn’t have gone any better. We led 2-0 via Jamie Carragher’s own goal and Steffen Iversen’s strike and looked on course for a famous win but everything changed just before the break when Mauricio Taricco received two yellow cards in quick succession.
Ledley, just 18, got the call from manager George Graham to replace ‘Tano’ at left-back with Stephen Clemence having to make way at half-time.
Unfortunately, it went downhill quickly. Jamie Redknapp pulled a goal back from the penalty spot inside two minutes and then two goals in as many minutes from Paul Ince and Steve McManaman turned the tide in the Reds’ favour as it ended 3-2.
Ledley was soon established in the first team and went on to make 323 appearances for us between 1999-2012. He first wore the captain’s armband in 2004-05 and held onto it until he retired, lifting the League Cup in 2008.
And it all started that sunny afternoon in Anfield…
“I’d made a few squads and was training with the first team at the time, travelling to matches and on that particular day I was on the bench,” recalled Ledley this week, as we prepare for our latest trip to Liverpool this weekend.
“We got off to a great start, we were 2-0 up but unfortunately ‘Tano’ got sent off just before half-time and I remember the manager telling me to warm-up straight away.
“I remember going out there and my heart beating fast and thinking ‘this is it’, that I could actually be going on and making my Spurs debut.
“It felt for real and I started preparing myself mentally to come on.
“We managed to get to half-time at 2-0 and that’s when the manager made the substitution. From there, it was about getting my head around going out there.
“I remember being nervous. I was always nervous before matches anyway. I just went out there and tried to do my best.
“The second half was one-way traffic and it was a tough debut. Liverpool had some trememdous players, McManaman played really well and even though the result ended up being a huge disappointment, it was a big moment for me to get out and test myself at that level.”
Ledley had some ups and downs at Anfield – we led twice before conceding late equalisers in 2005 and 2007 – before finally cracking it in May, 2011 – our first win at Anfield since 1993.
“It’s always such a difficult place to go,” he added. “In the first half of my career, we had some close games but could never get the result.
“But we started to get good results against them at home and then we won in 2011.
“I remember that really well because that was my first game back after seven months out with a groin problem.
“Harry Redknapp asked me in the week if I could play. I travelled up with the team but in my mind I would only be watching. I was asked to play on the day and I said ‘yes, I’ll give it a go’ and we won 2-0. It was Suarez’s first game back as well. It was a great performance and great result.
“I always enjoyed playing there, it’s a special stadium and hopefully the lads will come back with a positive result on Sunday.”