The title of this piece seems a bit premature, given that Steven Gerrard hasn’t ended his career, and a bit inappropriate, given that Liverpool just lost the FA Cup to Chelsea last night.
But rather than putting out a match reaction on the final itself, I thought a tribute to Steven Gerrard should be in order.
After all, he is the main reason I started following Liverpool in the first place, and the main reason I’ve stayed with the Reds all these years.
I’ll spare all the unnecessary obsessive touting of his skills, experience and superhuman feats, because everyone who knows football will know what a force of nature Gerrard has been for Liverpool, in the Premier League and in the Champions League.
I’d rather comment on the issue of loyalty.
Perhaps Gerrard is a soft-spoken guy. His interviews are normally quite bland, and while he affords a smile once in a while if an interviewer mentions the 2005 Champions League or a great goal he scored in a man-of-the-match performance, he often puts on a poker face in interviews even after the best of celebrations.
But seeing the unbridled joy he exhibits when he celebrates a win on the pitch, and having read his perhaps-too-hastily-published autobiography, we see that this guy is Liverpool through and through.
Set aside that public flirtation with Chelsea in 2005 that is still often reminisced upon (usually by supporters of other teams). To think that a young captain of 24, barely approaching his prime and with the world at his feet, shouldn’t be tempted by untold riches on offer and an ambitious team in the country’s capital is to be naive and utterly unrealistic about being a professional athlete. (In that respect, although my heart tells me to think otherwise, Fernando Torres’ departure for Chelsea made sense, especially considering the circumstances then. And the circumstances now.)
No, the fact that he chose to stay (where Michael Owen once left, remember) should speak volumes about this man’s integrity, commitment and loyalty.
And the fact that he still puts on the Liverpool shirt week in, week out (when his fitness allows) as often the only fighter on the pitch says everything we need to know about this man.
As a mere spectator (and one from an overseas armchair at that), I can’t even begin to count how many rebuilt teams he’s had to work through. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to win a Treble, then having to play with the likes of Salif Diao and El-Hadji Diouf. Then to win the European Cup and the FA Cup, and then to return to reality alongside Nabil El Zhar and Jermaine Pennant. And then to hit heady heights with Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres, only to wake up year after year to see their departures.
Then to wake up with the prospect of playing alongside Paul Konchesky, Christian Poulsen. And now Jay Spearing and Jordan Henderson.
For years, I tried to mirror that sort of unwavering loyalty by putting on my own #8 shirt whenever Liverpool had a game to play that day. And for an extended period of time, this coincided with a run of Champions League games in which Liverpool went unbeaten whenever I watched them live with my Gerrard top on.
Then that run finally came to an end – and when you’re working a full-time job like I am now, it’s hard to sport a Gerrard shirt on match-days. Times have changed.
Yesterday, I set aside all the presupposed characteristics of a working man and retrieved my Gerrard shirt from my shelves. And for a brief two hours last night, I returned to my heart-on-sleeve instincts, shouting my voice coarse for a team that has become part of my life, courtesy of a man who has made that much impact on it.
But the hard fact is that Liverpool are no longer what they used to be, and Gerrard is no longer what he used to be.
Still, until Andy Carroll came on and changed the game, Gerrard was the only person on the pitch to not be overawed by the occasion, to still put on the fight he’s done so often in his illustrious career.
Maybe, when he hit a Carroll knock-down into the stands, it was all too reflective of an erstwhile powerhouse whose finishing prowess have deteriorated to that extent.
But for the last 20 minutes of the game – even towards the last 5 – I was hoping, yearning, straining for that loose ball to fall to his feet outside the area, so he could, much like he did 6 years ago, be the hero again. So that Stevie G could once again save the day. So that his smile would be plastered across the front pages with the familiar Roy of the Rovers, Captain Fantastic, Super Stevie G headlines again.
Alas, it wasn’t to be.
And so, rather than the outright anger at Kenny Dalglish for his time-and-again incompetent tactical approach and personnel selection, rather than the outright depression that Liverpool couldn’t cap a terrible season with the scant consolation of a Cup Double, the overriding emotion I felt was the heartbrokenness that Liverpool have not done justice to the loyalty of their captain all these years.
I was told after I left the bar that the cameras showed a Steven Gerrard in tears.
I’m glad I didn’t witness it.
It might’ve been too much.