THE LONG GOODBYE
Recently, Liverpool played their last home game against Crystal Palace. We actually lost the game but it was still an amazing fixture and even if we had drawn or won it would not have been the result that mattered most. It was not just Liverpool’s last game at Anfield of the season, but also Steven Gerrard’s last game at Anfield. His chance to say goodbye to the fans. His chance for letting the fans know how much he has appreciated their support over the 17 years he’s been a part of the first team. This was a chance that some players never get before they leave the club, though others don’t usually deserve it as much as Stevie G does – he earned his chance to do this with loyalty that lasts for over two decades (since he was in the Academy).
I myself attended the Liverpool V Crystal Palace game at Anfield and have some first hand experiences and pictures to share with you.
It was a magical day, even as we were defeated. The crowd were excited, full of love and support and sang songs about Gerrard for pretty much the whole game, loud and proud. After the final whistle had blown, the entire squad came back out to the pitch in “Gerrard 8” Liverpool jerseys with Stevie, who had his three daughters with him as he did a final “lap of honour” – walking around and applauding the fans around the stadium as the fans applauded him for his many years of loyalty and service to the club. He spoke over a microphone to the crowd at Anfield saying to the Reds there “of all the fans I’ve ever played in front of, you’re the best. It’s been an honour and a dream come true to play for Liverpool”. I was crying at this point, it was so emotional. The fans sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” one last time for Stevie as he rounded the entire ground waving to us and thanking us. No, thank YOU. You’ve been a wonderful part of many people’s lives for so long. A fine example of not just how to play football, but how to be as a good person. The unquestionably loyal, kind, charitable, humble and modest person we all know Stevie is. A fine father. A good man. Someone we could all aspire to be like, even if we are without his footballing skills. He’s matured into somebody we have loved for so long, for many good reasons. More than a successful footballer, he’s a respectable human being. He never lost his passion or love for the game, since his earliest years. It’s been a pleasure to have watched him since then, I can tell you. I’ve been part of a generation of fans that grew up with such amazing talent and exciting style of play to watch. You never knew exactly what to expect, but great things would usually happen. That’s what Steven Gerrard has brought to the club and to the game of football.
Steven Gerrard’s debut game for the first team was only as a late minute substitute, as manager Gerrard Houllier (who had only just taken sole control of the manager’s position after working alongside Roy Evans) replaced defender Vegard Heggem in a Premier League game against Blackburn Rovers on November 29th, 1998. Steven actually recalls this event himself as short and rather uneventful, even saying that he was played “out of position” until the final whistle blew soon afterwards. Though he would still remember it fondly as his first time in the side and he was introduced to the pitch by Phil Thompson (seen patting him on the head in the picture above). Also sitting on the bench behind him is Sammy Lee, he had already been around some real legends even before his first steps in becoming a first team player for Liverpool. They had seen what he had to offer and knew he was ready to become a legend himself, even if the rest of the world didn’t know it just yet. This was to mark the beginning of a long and loyal career from the youngster. Steven Gerrard would play more than 700 games for Liverpool as he became the 3rd most capped player for the club eventually, behind Jamie Carragher and Ian Callaghan.
In his first season, Gerrard played just 13 league games for Liverpool’s first team, during a time when Liverpool’s then captain Jamie Redknapp had been suffering injuries… this left open a central midfield spot for Steven to fill, more attacking and offensive than the previous roles he had been a part of – he’d filled in for defenders or defensive midfielders at first before he started moving into what would become his most complete role of all. Attacking midfielder. Redknapp’s absence almost dictated the future of what the young star would be doing for the rest of his career, bringing the magic to the heart of the midfield for Liverpool. By the time Jamie Redknapp had fully recovered, he had found himself a new partner to play with. Stevie could never go back to the reserves or the academy’s under 18’s team any more. He had made it to the first team squad and he was going nowhere. The whole club knew we needed this guy if we were going to make successful new steps forward in creating a glorious future for Liverpool FC and it’s fans around the world. That was certainly achieved, over the years.
Once he had started to be chosen no longer as a substitute but a first team starting player – people took immediate notice of this. They saw “Gerrard” on the team line up and they wanted to know more about him and were so happy at what they discovered. He is a LOCAL LAD! The people of Liverpool paid even more attention because of that, now. He had been born in Whiston, Liverpool and he had made it through the youth ranks to finally get to play in the first team and was now a part of the regular starting 11. That meant a lot to Scousers. He was and is a hero to us all. He lived the dream of many a Liverpudlian. Playing for the biggest football club in your city. In the country! Maybe the biggest club in the world! You can’t ignore that. He was in the spotlight from now on and we all came to know him as a symbol of great things for the club we all love and that he loves too. Steven was himself, a Liverpool FC fan even in his youth when he was not a player for the club just yet. Nothing motivates you better to play well for a club than having supported it yourself.
Steve Heighway once wrote an article about a “future star” that featured Gerrard, though Heighway would not spell his first name correctly repeatedly – it’s STEVEN, not Stephen! I’d have thought a guy called Steve could get that right. LOL! It still highlighted his talents at just an age of 12, though. It was clear he was already fully dedicated to the game – just look at him, wearing his favourite Liverpool shirt and cleaning his football boots. No mud on them!
This player was something special and everyone that began to take notice of him knew it from the first moment they laid their eyes on him.
By the time Gerrard started his second season in 1999-2000 (or his first full season, since he’d only started playing for the first team in November of the previous season), there was a whole new reason to be excited about Liverpool football club. It was clear that he was too good for defense by now. He was the danger man in the offense and an assister for the strikers. Never a selfish player, Gerrard would make sure his teammates received the crosses they needed for them to score goals and usually thought about them before attempting to go it alone and score a goal for himself.
By 2001 under the management of Gerrard Houllier, Steven Gerrard had been a part of monumental success as Liverpool won a FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup (now called Europa League) treble trophy win in one season.
As with all successful players, there’s a chance that they will be spotted by other clubs and asked to sign for them but Gerrard would continuously show his loyalty for the club he supported and loved forever – Liverpool FC. He wanted to make more great times for the fans to remember and to do it in a red shirt he had worn since he was a child, but now as a player and not a fan. He was going NOWHERE, even as other major clubs decided to request his signature. Jose Mourinho has admitted to attempting to sign him from more than one club which he was in charge of transfers for (Benfica, Real Madrid, Porto and Chelsea) and repeatedly got a rejection notice from Liverpool to every enquiry about this player. Other players like Robbie Fowler knew he was destined to be a legendary Liverpool FC player though and supported him in his decision to be loyal to us.
Despite his admirable unselfishness in his play and eagerness to provide assists for his teammates, Gerrard would eventually score so many goals that he would overtake the Kop legend Robbie Fowler (also known as God to the fans for his goalscoring talents) who had scored 183 goals in his time for Liverpool. Steven Gerrard would score at least 185 goals for Liverpool and become the 5th highest goalscorer in all competitions for the club, with “more goals than God”! Only 4 other players to have played for Liverpool have scored more goals (in all competitions) than Gerrard… Billy Liddell (228 goals), Gordon Hodgson (241 goals), Roger Hunt (286 goals) and Ian Rush (346 goals). Apart from these 4, the long list of Liverpool legends were actually not as prolific at goalscoring than Gerrard has been. Keegan, Hughes, Dalglish, Torres, Suarez, Heighway, Aldridge, Fowler, Redknapp, Barnes, Thompson, Hansen – none of these scored as many as Stevie G. He outscored them all. It’s really quite an achievement, though Gerrard was never given to arrogance or boasting about the things he’d achieved in his career. Modesty is clearly in his good natured character and he is a great role model for anyone who has encountered success in what they’re doing. He has and always will be a legend of Liverpool FC. You’ll Never Walk Alone, Steven Gerrard.
Where will he go from here? Off to a new galaxy. Los Angeles Galaxy! Early in the new year (of 2015) contract negotiations for Gerrard began as his last contract with Liverpool was coming to an end. He was ready to sign a new one and keep playing for this club, but was only offered a single year extension and he had really been looking for something more long term than that – 3 or 4 years contract, perhaps. He made the decision to play out the last remaining months of his current contract (to the end of the 2015 season) and eventually made a public announcement that he had chosen the LA Galaxy as his new team. He stated that he had no wish to continue playing in any competition in which he would have potentially face Liverpool FC as his opponent. That meant he really had to be at a club that wasn’t a part of the English Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup or UEFA competitions (Champions League and Europa League). That decision ruled out potential transfers to clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Chelsea and other European football “giants” that would have loved to sign him as he had finally made the decision to leave Liverpool after so long.
So, off to America then – to a club that successful players like Robbie Keane and David Beckham have been to and played for previously. The Major League Soccer and the USA are lucky to have such an amazing player coming to them soon. I hope they appreciate what he has meant to us and to Liverpool FC for so long. We’ve known this day was to come for a long time now, but it’s getting harder and harder as the days draw nearer to when he’ll hop on his flight to America and finally be gone from Liverpool. On that day, I will be crying a lot. I’ve already shed some tears this season as we all love and will miss Steven Gerrard at our club. This has been a long goodbye.
[written by] Stuart Drewery.
I’m an Englishman (born and raised in Liverpool in the 80s). My whole family including my parents and grandparents were Liverpool fans so I was born into being a red.
I’ve seen Liverpool win the league (about 25 years ago) and I’ve been 100% loyal and committed while supporting the Reds through all the good times AND the bad times since the 80s.
I’m a die hard Liverpool fan and one of the most dedicated fans you’ll ever meet.