Steven Gerrard – Dividing A Nation

There are two things guaranteed to wind up the average Englishman: being told what to think and Scousers.

So if you’re English and you like football, you will have an opinion on Steven Gerrard. And it won’t necessarily be a positive one.

If he’d been born in any other country, he would be a national hero.

If he’d been born in any other city, he would be one of this nation’s heroes.

Instead, one of England’s greatest ever players will forever divide opinion. Along tribal lines, mostly, but also along easy, lazy, inwardly xenophobic lines.

In an increasingly disunited Kingdom, the national disregard for Liverpool has warped the opinions about one of its greatest sons.

Young Gerrard

A young Gerrard – fresh face and tennis ball hair

Stevie G/Stevie Me/$tevie G is reviled in many quarters because he’s a Scouser. No more, no less. It really is as simple as that.

That and being told over and over again by commentators, columnists and pundits just how great the man is.

There are, of course, other factors.

He’s not the most charismatic, in front of a camera at least. He lacks glamour, shuns the limelight – very British qualities, you’d think – but none of that has helped Gerrard win over many hearts or minds.

Every sportsperson’s career has a narrative; a beginning, middle and end, highs and lows, triumphs, despair, injuries.

But the greatest, or at least the most feted, often live their very public working lives as if in thrall to a particularly outlandish script – the cliché that ‘you couldn’t make it up’.

It was true of David Beckham: Tyro, Spice Boy, World Cup villain, World Cup hero; an epic, glossy and fame-drenched tale of excess and redemption in which our hero emerged as a hugely loved English icon.

Gerrard scores

Gerrard scores. This was not uncommon

Gerrard’s story is every bit as incredible and, in purely footballing terms, probably more so. But English icon he will never be.

A one-club man (despite Chelsea’s best efforts) who became at times a one-man team, desperately striving to bring back the glory days to a club that had dominated domestic and European football across two decades.

The struggle sometimes bore fruit, most famously in the 2005 Champions League final.

But mostly, it didn’t. Because bad timing and Stevie G are firm friends.

He nearly never even made it as a pro, badly injuring his foot when he kicked a garden fork as a kid.

He then endured an injury-strewn start at Liverpool which threatened to derail what was already a promising career before it had even truly started. A late growth spurt left Gerrard on the treatment table more often than the pitch. His undoubted promise looked like it would count for nothing, his career over before it had truly begun.

Back he came, fitter, stronger, better. A lot, lot better.

There were times in his early twenties when Gerrard looked certain to eclipse everyone born into England’s so called ‘Golden Generation’ – Beckham, Owen, Scholes, the lot.

He could play pretty much anywhere on the pitch and excel. He passed short and long, beat people, tackled people, played off both feet with balance and poise. And he scored goals. All manner of goals.

Stevie Hat

Over the years, Mr G has acquired both a wife and a rather fetching hat

When he pulled on an England vest, they never lost. For a while, at least.

His first international goal was the 20-yard belter that put England 2-1 up right on half-time in the famous 5-1 mauling of Germany in Munich.

And when he was in his Liverpool red, he was unstoppable.

He was instrumental in the club’s treble-winning season of 2000/01, scoring in the utterly mad UEFA Cup triumph over Alaves, having already helped secure both the League and FA cups.

He was named PFA Young Player of the Year that season and Chelsea came calling for him when Liverpool failed to kick on from that glorious platform.
Had he moved then…who knows?

He stayed and inspired the Champions League comeback of all time, from 3-0 down to AC Milan at half-time to the eventual victory on penalties. He’d already done more than his bit when he scored a late, late screamer, against Olympiakos, to guide Liverpool out of the group stage.

Chelsea came knocking again but as he said himself, how could he leave after all that?

So he stayed. And that mixture of loyalty, emotion and maybe even fear of the unknown has shaped the figure that so many knock today.

Liverpool – a proud (over-proud) city, its people part-English, part-Irish, uniquely other. The Beatles’ city, the ‘self-pity city’. Bolshie. Funny. Self-regarding. Self-depracatory.

No other place in England inspires the contempt of the English like Liverpool does. If Scousers were another race, the hate they inspire would be illegal.

For the record, I’m not a Scouser. Nor am I a United fan. I’m as unbiased as any Englishman could be about Liverpool.

I have my opinions, like everyone else.

Scousers everywhere

A Manc’s nightmare right there

The famed ‘Scouse wit’? I can take it or leave it. The horror of Hillsborough? I bought the establishment lies, like so many did, and saw the anger and pain that resulted as self-inflicted or in some horrendous way deserved.

I was wrong, they were right.

I just don’t like to be reminded of it, just like Liverpool fans don’t like to be reminded of Heysel.

Righteous fury, self-righteous posturing, complicity and denial. Liverpool and the rest of England are, quite frankly, as good and as bad each other. It’s a history that no-one should be proud of, where there is no moral high ground to be claimed.

In football, Liverpool were kings. From the mid-seventies to the advent of the Premier League, they won it all. Over and over again.

Gerrard in any of those sides would have had it all. Instead, his timing was out yet again.

After a decade of occasional, astonishing glory leading a team never quite fit for the one thing all Liverpool fans craved – winning the league again – Gerrard finally had even that grail in his sights.

Inspired by the goals of Luis Suarez and the fresh direction of Brendan Rodgers, Gerrard’s Liverpool came the closest they would ever come to the league title.

And it was Gerrard who became the fall guy, literally, when it all went wrong.
His slip against (who else but) Chelsea took all the momentum out of their challenge. The debacle at Crystal Palace was actually more hurtful, but the Chelsea game changed everything.

Again, you couldn’t have made it up: the flawed hero makes the most public of errors against his long-term suitors and all is lost.

Gerrard leaves English football for good in a fortnight. Gifted, driven, at times heroic. Mocked and derided when he should be lauded and applauded, the best compliment most non-Liverpool fans can offer him is one involving the words ‘grudging’ and ‘respect’.

His only mistake was to be born in Liverpool and to have remained embedded there.

Steven Gerrard will leave with his head held high. Quite a lot of the rest of us should probably hang ours in shame. We won’t, though, because we don’t like being told how to think.

We have an excellent range of pictures, shirts and boots hand-signed by Steven Gerrard, part of a massive Liverpool section on our site. And all UK orders come with FREE UK postage.