The Steven Gerrard saga and football's changing attitudes

Posted by Farman on January 21, 2005, 10:49:18 AM

Steven Gerrard is leaving Liverpool.

‘Oh no he isn’t!’

‘Oh yes he is!’

As the pantomime season winds down, and the media hacks wind themselves up over another collection of rumours, half-truths and lucky guesses, it is noticeable that the Steven Gerrard speculation seems to have taken a back seat. This has provided welcome - though no doubt temporary – relief for Reds tired of a group of no-mark, clueless speculators acting as if they’ve just discovered a young Pele playing at Colchester. While the media equivalents of Trinny and Suzannah did all they could to tell our captain that red was soooooooo not in, it took the combined efforts of Liverpool (‘Gerrard is not going anywhere’), Chelsea (‘we won’t be making any major signings this January’) and Gerrard himself (‘I’m staying here for the foreseeable future’) to shut them up, at least for a month or two.

Steven Gerrard started 2004 as one of the finest midfielders in the Premiership. He ended it as the most complete, influential and outright best central midfielder in world football. Yet with a good while left on his contract, and the guarantee of an immense transfer fee with the money-burning Chelsea sniffing around, outside observers may have come to wonder if it would have been such a bad thing after all had we sold him, or indeed if we come to sell him in the summer. In the long-term, selling the player may or may not prove to be the best move for all concerned. However, for me at least, this would seem to miss the point.

Last summer, Steven Gerrard, 24-year old homegrown red, captain of Liverpool, top-earner and multiple medal-winner, came very, very close to leaving our club. For Chelsea. Because he wanted to.

The reason behind the outrage felt by most Reds at the time went, and continues to go, well beyond the loss the team would feel from losing an irreplaceable player. Most Reds have come to feel a certain way about the way players should think and behave if they have the honour of wearing the Liverbird on their chests. Especially a player such as Gerrard.

Liverpool fans, more than most clubs, are conservative. Perhaps ‘traditionalist’ would be more appropriate, given that some readers might not notice the small ‘c’ and consequently send round the men in white coats. Old values, and long-established ways of doing things, are highly valued. Any change towards the new values of the modern game tends to be frowned upon, whether its ticket access, corporatisation, new stadia, the background of fans, impatience with new players and managers, player power, kick-off times, just about anything. There are very few clubs where the level of outcry would have reached those of Liverpool fans with the advent of a simple electronic scoreboard, let alone the McNasty's at the back of the Kop. Heaven knows how we’d react if, God forbid, we were ever to follow the lead of other clubs and have a Lenny the Liverbird prancing round the pitch at half time (complete with illustrations of the latest plotline in the programme), or if the sound of James Brown’s ‘I feel good’ was to follow every home goal. We know our history, we understand the traditional way of doing things, and we follow them. When it comes to our players we - more than most fans -expect them to maintain traditional values and attitudes of effort, commitment, passion and an appreciation of the badge they play for, and not just to be about cash n’ careers.

Further, Liverpool as a city, more than any other city I’ve spent time in within this country, comes across as having if not an outright socialist attitude, then certainly a strongly left-leaning one. Shanks’ famous “the socialism I believe in…” quote seems as relevant to many Reds as most things he had to say about the game. Of course, such statements can only be generalisations, and some may feel that links such as this between politics and sport are tenuous. Yet I still feel that if a large section of supporters maintain views on life that value social responsibility, knowing your roots, supporting those around you, one-for-all-and-all-for-one, and a belief that other values are more important than the accruement of money, then the fans as a whole will have a more hostile attitude towards those who go against the grain. Especially when that person has come from their own midst.

Finally comes the problem of London, the South and all that represents. Most Northern cities are resentful of disparities in wealth, jobs, attitudes and media coverage that comes from the focus on London, and this is as true in Liverpool as anywhere. The new money and mouthy cockney attitude at Chelsea makes them a microcosm of the way many think about London and its people. That one of our own would want to sell out and move to that makes the potential move grate even more.

To my mind, Chelsea have recently come to fit the Tory loadsamoney image. Abramovich, a leech who has made obscene money off the sweat of his own people, fits in there like a Versace glove. Together, they represent the Big Bad Wolf, the Ugly Sisters and Jack’s giant (complete with golden eggs) rolled into one.

So while Abramovich fe-fi-fo-fums over the blood of yet another Englishman (he’s behind you Steven!) any number of clueless ex-players and so-called experts say Gerrard has to move on to win things, to move forward in his career.

On the first count, as a club player in England, there are now only seven trophies that it is possible to win, under any set of circumstances. Not halfway through his career, Steven Gerrard has won five of them. Compare that lot to his wannabe mate Frank’s grand total of…none. That’s in the same time, and while with his current club. Arguments over the credentials of our new management team, the steady progress they are making and the ambition shown with the money being spent have been covered elsewhere, and I’ll try not to cover old ground here.

But what does fascinate me is the way people talk about money and careers in the context of football, and how exactly they expect football fans to react to it. To my mind, there is absolutely no logic in being a dedicated football supporter. Once you have your club, you are bound to it, and are absolutely loyal to it. Yet I can’t help but feel that our love is as unrequited as a child’s love for his pet goldfish (although the power and control is on the outside in that instance). Moneymen, writers and commentators love to talk about football these days being a product, or a business. Money does make a difference, but it is not, and never will be, the driver. The driver is the loyalty, passion and dedication of the fans. With any other product, if it is poor quality, no-one buys it. Nor if the service is poor. Nor if it costs too much. Nor if it is too inaccessible. Nor if it is too time-consuming. For most fans, the reason we use our spare time to go to, say, Portsmouth away, pay thirty quid each plus travel costs and time, stand soaking and cold in the rain, and then keep doing it again and again, has nothing to do with any product or any logic.

We idolise those players on the pitch. It hurts to see that they don’t apply the same rules as us, and talk about careers as if they’re in some other run-of-the-mill job. Football to us is not about careers. We’re not paying to watch some pin-striped college boy climb the corporate ladder at Andersen Fuckin’ Consulting. The fantastic salaries top players command has its roots not in doing a standard job well that increases the business’ bottom line, but in the blind dedication of fans who keep at it regardless of ‘company’ performance.

This is not something that is completely lost on the players. I can’t think of a single example of a player in England moving clubs and simply admitting it’s for the money – something that happens surprisingly frequently in some Latin countries, where it seems to be more acceptable. Moving for a greater chance of winning, however, is apparently acceptable. Yet the traditionalist in me feels that a local Red who’s been brought up in the finest traditions of our club should feel a much stronger will towards a good chance of winning with his own club than towards a greater chance of winning with that soulless, moneyed London crew. The magic just isn’t there. The fact that, for Gerrard, there was even a decision to be made – at this stage – blows out of the water any idea that he really is, without fail, one of us.

Stevie G was, and for many remains, the ultimate icon: world class player, Red, scouse, captain, heartbeat, lifeblood; all in a world of football gone mad. Up to last summer, he represented everything we wanted from a player. Now, for me at least, he’s just another young, ultra-capitalist, V8-revving modern Premiership footballer.

For all my words, I hope we never find out just how loyal he is. For that will mean we are successful and challenging with him in the team. But as far as I’m concerned, I’ve had my last sporting hero. Our players can make me joyously happy. I continue to sing their names and of course support my team. But the Gerrard saga was a huge let down for me. He was the last player I thought would even entertain the idea of leaving in such a manner.

What it taught me is that ultimately, no matter what they say, the way those players we idolise think is far removed from how we do. We should no longer love them, but love what they do for us. The truth is that’s much the same way they feel towards us.

© Farman 2005

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