Vegard Heggem can still picture the 'shy and skinny' 18-year-old who stood poised to replace him on the Anfield sidelines.

Liverpool, eighth in the league table, were playing out the final minutes of a comfortable 2-0 victory over rock-bottom Blackburn - a win which would see them avoid a fourth successive home defeat.

Heggem's number flashed up on the fourth official's board - and the Norwegian made his way to the touchline to play his part in a piece of Anfield history, 15 years ago today.

Steven Gerrard, wearing the No.28 on his back, tucked his shirt into his shorts nervously and received a reassuring pat on the head from assistant boss Phil Thompson, before striding onto the pitch to fulfil a childhood dream.

"It's funny to think that's where it all began for Steven," Heggem told the Liverpool Echo. "I just remember how shy and skinny he was back then.

"I was surprised how quickly he went from his first session at Melwood to making his debut at Anfield. It was a really short period.

"There was a buzz when he came on as it was a great boost for the fans to see another local boy coming through.

"It had a really positive influence on the whole club. [Gerard] Houllier had been monitoring him at the Academy and could see the potential there. He believed he could make the step up and his judgement was certainly proved right."

Houllier had taken sole control as Liverpool manager two weeks prior to Gerrard's bow against Rovers.

The Frenchman demonstrated huge faith in the youngster by handing him a first start so soon after promoting the midfielder from the club's Academy ranks to train with the first team.

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Indeed, Gerrard had only notched a handful of reserve games - but Heggem insists there was an aura about the young Scouser that allowed him to embrace the daunting challenge of life in the senior side.

"I hadn't heard much about Steven before Houllier promoted him to the first-team squad," he said. "After he arrived he made himself well known with his influence on the training pitch.

"When I first saw him he was so skinny I didn't expect much but that went out of the window when he started training with us. He never held back at all. I think the senior players soon realised we had a real talent here.

"Even before his debut, we had seen his great ability. He may have been shy and skinny but it was never in doubt that he would go flat out and get stuck in - that's what he was like at Melwood.

"I was surprised he was so physical. Back then he lacked a bit of muscle but he would still go flying in and was fiercely committed.

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"He was so focused, so desperate to succeed. He was fearless and he had the attitude a young player needs to go with his talent."

Heggem racked up 65 appearances during a five-year Anfield career and during that time, the full-back watched from close quarters as Gerrard developed into a key first-team player for the club.

Three months after the Norwegian announced his retirement in July 2003, Gerrard was handed the Liverpool captaincy by Reds boss Houllier.

"Over that period I saw him develop into an even better player," Heggem said. "The biggest development was physically - he got stronger and tougher.

"Everyone talks about his passing and shooting abilities but his speed was also a big asset.

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"I remember we did some speed tests and he was the quickest out of all of us. Having such quick feet helped him a lot as he could get himself into great positions to intercept the ball."

Heggem has monitored Liverpool's progress from afar this season - and he believes Gerrard remains the driving force in the team.

"Steven is still such a vital part of the Liverpool team and it would be fantastic if we could win the Premier League title in the next few years before he retires. It's the only trophy he hasn't lifted," Heggem added.

"Perhaps that's too difficult a target for this season at this point in the club's development, but it's been a good start and we are still in contention near the top of the league.

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"Brendan Rodgers is doing a very good job and I hope they can continue in this way.

"I'll always be a Liverpool fan. I get over once or twice every season, and I watch all the other games on TV. Some of the football we've played this season has been really enjoyable to watch and we have a lot of offensive talent in the squad.

"It's a great achievement by Steven to stay at the top level for so long and his record speaks for itself.

"He's had an amazing career - up there with the best in Liverpool's history. He's world-class and the complete footballer."