So it’s almost over.
Be prepared, for the man whom Manchester United supporters have despised and dreaded, mocked and goaded like no other, is set for the leaving of Liverpool. No more five finger salutes, no more kissing the liver bird on his shirt. He is set to pack his Phil Collins collection and head over the ocean to a city steeped in the rich tapestry of footballing history – Los Angeles.
Steven Gerrard, standard bearer for his boyhood club, openly admits in his autobiography that he was raised to hate United. (You’d never guess it.)
Such was his passion and desperation to beat them, that only rarely, did Gerrard show his true worth in games between the two. Oh, there were times when he ignited. A thirty yard screamer at Anfield, the many penalties at Old Trafford, the infamous 4-1 and kissing the camera, as well as last season’s so near hat trick of spot kicks during the David Moyes’ reign (debacle.) If Gerrard had converted that third penalty, it doesn’t bear to think what he would have done to the television camera that day – small mercies. Watched on by a crowd seething and spitting blood. For the Mancunians knew this man understood the bitter rivalry that exists between them. He is our Neville, Giggs, Scholes and Butt. Sadly born in the wrong city, his loyalty to Liverpool is a birth right and is from the heart. This was no act; no mercenary attempting to earn kudos with his supporters to show that he cared; no playing to the audience. This was a boy from Huyton living out a childhood dream and rubbing United’s noses in the dirt, and it hurt.
Just in case that he ever forgets, United supporters will always be around to remind Gerrard that despite a wonderful collection of honours, a Premier League title has remained elusive. Twice, once under Rafa Benitez, Liverpool, with their best team since the late eighties, came close. And last year’s astonishing campaign, when they collapsed in a heap with the finishing line in sight. A vital win, late on at Norwich, when Gerrard gathered together his players in a huddle and declared to them. ‘This doesn’t f—–g slip.’
Well, a legend was born! Gerrard’s horrific slip the following week, to let in Chelsea’s Demba Ba, to score at Anfield in a 2-0 victory, began Liverpool’s demise in the title race, ultimately letting in Manchester City at the last.
For United supporters the lesser of two evils. Just.
Like asking how would you like to be executed. Shot or hung?
Gerrard’s error that day caused fits of hysterical laughter from all who had little love for Liverpool’s seemingly inevitable and God’s law (if you believed what they claimed) but none more than in Manchester.
The Internet quite literally exploded in that blessed Mancunian art of piss-taking. One man’s simple error was latched upon and entered into the folklore of the vicious and twisted rivalry that exists between the two clubs.
From that day onwards, a slow painful Liverpool exit for Steven Gerrard began. A career, where no doubt, the crowning moment will be his monumental efforts in the 2005 ‘Nightmare of Istanbul.’ Gerrard’s swashbuckling, second half, showing to lead Liverpool’s charge back from three goals down, to eventually beat AC Milan on penalties – indisputably, legend making stuff.
And on Merseyside they love a flag and to pen a line to go with it.
Stephen Gerrard’s legacy to Liverpool football club will always be that night under the Turkish stars when AC Milan let us down badly.
This season’s announcement to quit and head for Los Angeles caused many to think that disillusionment with manager Brendan Rodgers had moved beyond the pale. A decision to leave Gerrard out of the Real Madrid game at the Bernabeu was akin to Rodgers telling his Captain it was time to go.
No doubt getting rid of Gerrard, before the tides turned rough on the Mersey and the cries from the Kop was for their idol to take over.
To leave a player such as Gerrard out of such a prestigious game can only now be seen as an attempt to intimidate and tip him over the edge.
No matter what was aired publicly, Rodgers was most definitely in self-preservation mode. Then came Manchester United to Anfield.
Left on the bench, Steven Gerrard was forced to watch on as Van Gaal’s revitalised outfit produced a first half performance that staggered and bemused, and was arguably the finest from a United team at Liverpool in twenty years. Outclassing a Liverpool side lacking ideas and most importantly, the fight for battle was simply unforgivable in games like this.
Whilst Gerrard was warming up in the first half, goading by the United supporters inevitably was returned with a smile and five fingered gesture.
No problem there, all fair in love and war.
Having no answers on the pitch to Van Gaal’s tactical nous, Rodgers called on his Captain to save his neck and the game with some good old fashioned passion and desire. Gerrard entered the game at half time, wired and wound up like Big Ben on steroids.
A minute later he left it equally such, after being given a red card.
Two moments of madness. First, on Juan Mata and then an assault on Ander Herrera, that came etched with memories of battles past between these two great clubs. Vindictive, raging and out of control – it’s a northern thing.
Gerrard was seeing his team being toyed with and couldn’t handle it.
After all he was a fan, one of their own; maybe his biggest downfall and highest accolade in one. Cue once more the mickey taking as Gerrard mania erupted on the red side of Manchester. This man who had become the gif that simply kept on giving.
And so now the end is near. Will United fans miss him? An enduring feud, fired by hatred on both sides, and it has to be hoped, just a modicum of respect. Though I suppose that is debatable.
A worthy opponent and a damn fine enemy over the years. Everybody needs a bad guy and Steven Gerrard has played his part to perfection. So with a little neighbourly bon voyage and good riddance to suit, enjoy yourself in the ‘City of Angels’ Steven.
In my city you’ll always walk alone.
But if you slip we’ll pick you up….