I have been a Liverpool supporter since 1997, a year before Steven Gerrard made his debut. I have watched him every year since, often in awe, as he became the marshall of Liverpool’s midfield, keeper of the Kop’s spirit, the highest calibration on the passion and intensity meter. (He went all the way upto Eleven.)
On this day, as he says goodbye to Anfield, I am not here to write a paean to him. I don’t have the coherence of thought or the requisite vocabulary. There are millions of others who will write those. I am writing this because somewhere I had to document what Steven Gerrard meant to me as a Liverpool fan. And a football fan.
His spectacular free kicks and goals and obvious inspirational leadership apart, what I have always been in awe of is the weight on his passes. They were wickedly precise and measured – always the mark of the best schemers and midfielders in history (Cruyff, Maradona, Messi). But beyond that I know very little of football technicalities to say anything meaningful or insightful. Gerrard’s presence on the pitch was always a galvanizing moment for Liverpool when it needed that moment of inspired brilliance; he always was ready to give it his all.
From his autobiography you get the distinct impression of a proud man who was always confident about his ability and always proud about his loyalty. Those who look for the irony in that he is leaving the club that he was supposed to have retired from have to consider that this season his pride in his ability made him reconsider the loyalty side of it. Gerrard is not someone who can do this inspiring thing from behind the scenes and in the background. He needs to be in the thick of the action.
For a decade and a half he has been the spark plug that has brought to life the spluttering engine that Liverpool have often been. He loves the electricity that flows through his veins as the becomes the cynosure of home and opposition fans alike. Many think he is a media darling, overhyped as England’s greatest midfielder. Many point out his lack of Premier League accolades. Many conflate the man with the team and the team with the man. That’s how powerful a talisman he became. For opposition fans he is a lightning rod – their frustrations often directed at him not because, say, he beat their team but because of some level of resentment as to how someone could be that ridiculously good.
He is not a saint in footballing terms but despite the lows, he always will be an incredibly inspiring sight on a football field. He bleeds for football, to be able to own the stage he marches in. That has always been his driving force, that has been the secret behind inspiring his team mates. If you had ever been to Anfield during a Liverpool game and Gerrard was on the pitch you would hear his mates on the field receiving a earful from their captain for every poor tackle, for every misplaced pass. In the movie ‘Iqbal’ there is a line Naseeruddin Shah says to Shreyas Talpade “Jab dil aur dimag ek hoke khelte hain to fark nahi padta dimag kaun sa hai aur dil kaun sa” (When your heart and your head play in unison, it doesn’t matter what is driven by heart and what by your head.). Gerrard took the game to that level where the spark plug began to operate off the lightning rod.
With a player like Gerrard you do not talk about regrets, because he always did it his way with his team as the paramount consideration. He and his team fell short many times, but the intensity of the man each time he took the field never did. Adoration brings its own admonishments. Expectations sow the seeds of discontent. But here is the thing about Gerrard – even his most hard core fans will find it hard to switch clubs and loyalties once he moves to LA because as you watched him, he did not pass on to you his spirit, he passed on the team’s spirit. He is a Liverpool Legend, born, bred and forged in Liverpool. You, dear Stevie G fan, will find that you can take Steven Gerrard out of Liverpool FC but can’t take Liverpool FC out of you. And no matter whose side you are on, you will miss the spark plug. And the lightning rod.
You’ll Never Walk Alone, Stevie.