Maybe this is what he needs to escape now, the roiling chorus of the blind.
Steven Gerrard is down on one knee, stretching. He is twenty yards from them but his proximity stirs up sparks of ridicule among the Stoke City supporters. They sing about him being “sat on his arse in the stand” and Gerrard smiles.
This is the sound of his new world. Peter Crouch hunkers down next to him and they chat amiably, enemy lines momentarily suspended. But Gerrard’s eyes keep sliding towards that bristling corner of Anfield.
Because some have begun barking at him like deranged yaks now and one semi-functioning blood clot in a replica shirt has rushed to the front, giving him the finger.
Why? For much the same reason grown men will stand next to their sons, making w….r gestures at an opposition player taking a corner. No reason.
Anger doesn’t need an explanation here.
Gerrard waves before retreating quickly to a seat in the stand. It is the last Saturday in November and he has become expendable to Liverpool. They win by the only goal of a wretchedly poor game, the club captain used only in the closing flurries.
And leaving the stadium, you have to remind yourself that the day’s struggle has been against Stoke. That the willful derision of, arguably, Liverpool’s finest player has come from supporters with no history of enmity in these parts.
He has been fair game simply because he is Steven Gerrard. A god of the game declining.
Perhaps yesterday’s announcement will soften that impulse to goad, but would you bet on it? Gerrard, somehow, polarises opinion. To Liverpool supporters, he will forever be revered for dragging unexceptional teams to extravagant heights. But to opponents, he often seemed some kind of Pound Shop superhero, an imitation of the real thing.
He was never a conventional central midfielder, something only Rafa Benitez seemed to fully comprehend. It was under the Spaniard that his talent found truest expression, playing just behind a lone striker, Fernando Torres.
That was Gerrard in his pomp, running, gazelle-like, between the lines in support of a player blessed with similar virtues.Athleticism was a fundamental of the Gerrard-Torres partnership and its slow diminishment demanded a reinvention of both.
Torres has not looked a serious player since leaving Liverpool, but Gerrard’s sheer competitive integrity could never countenance that kind of fade-out. He has managed to remain a compelling Premier League force, towing Liverpool around by the heart even when played in roles at odds with his natural game.
His spirit has been magnificent even if the great fire of his talent began to leave little more on the big games than the faintest residues of ash. For Brendan Rodgers, the hardest thing has surely been striking a balance between recognition of what was unfolding before him and paying due respect to a man who gave his soul to the club.
Some of what unfolded yesterday was a little mawkish, a little over-egged. Twenty six of Gerrard’s team-mates posted tributes to him on the club’s website as if he had been suddenly struck down with chronic illness rather than simply chosen to end his professional career in some gentle, convalescent home like Major League Soccer in the US.
Jamie Carragher, one of Gerrard’s closest friends, argued that Liverpool might have done more to keep him at Anfield. But to what end exactly? As a ghost of himself? As some grand gesture of denial, his legs gone but his past still casting that great, imperious shadow?
The worry for Rodgers of course is that Gerrard, even the pale imitation he has become, remains the one, authentically talismanic presence in the Liverpool dressing-room. He alone took the fight to Basel when their Champions League status was on the line last month because he alone seemed technically equipped to do so. Take him out of that dressing-room and around who will Rodgers’s team be glued?
Worse, without him to sell the idea of a glorious Anfield future looming, who will now shield someone like Raheem Sterling from those fluttering Madrid eyelids?
Rodgers is immersed in crisis management and he knows the decision to allow Gerrard leave will add to the rap sheet against him should, as seems likely, Liverpool lose the riches of top four status.
But if he could not guarantee anything more than a future of touchline warm-ups in front of the mob, what decision was there really left to make?
Gerrard will leave, but he will – in time – return too, dignity intact.
FA just grand-standing with meaningless Whelan ban
So let’s get this straight, Dave Whelan is not racist and did not intend to cause offence while insulting Jewish and Chinese people last November but he will, nonetheless, be put under house arrest for six weeks.
That, surely, is the only logical conclusion to draw from the English FA Commission’s sentencing of the 78-year-old Wigan chairman.
Whelan is “banned from football-related activities” which is a bit like saying he is barred from entertaining improper thoughts for six weeks. How on earth does the FA police such a ban? Do they bug his telephone? Fit him with an electronic tag? Follow his car? Bribe his staff?
This is idiotic grand-standing by the FA, a flexing of muscle they neither possess nor, most likely, even aspire to have. Go ahead, fine the man, direct him towards an education programme, but banning him from football? That’s called playing to the gallery.
It seems to me that some people of Whelan’s generation can be unintentionally offensive with how they articulate themselves on just anything relating to race or colour.
He is, most probably, a little bemused by the idea that he was guilty of “aggravated misconduct” for simply expressing himself in what he’d consider an everyday manner. I don’t doubt he sees the football world today as simply over-dosing on a political correctness that was unimaginable in his playing days.
A few years ago, I interviewed a football contemporary of Whelan’s – a man who played in England through the 50s and 60s too – who managed to articulate himself repeatedly in racist and misogynistic terms during the course of a three-hour conversation.
Deep down, I suspected he was neither of those things but simply wasn’t smart enough to understand the clumsiness of his language.
Whelan deserves the fine and the infamy. And he might well benefit from an education programme. But the ban? That’s just an illusion of strong policing.
McCarthy catching the eye as Ipswich fly high
There is a view, innately patronising it must be said, that McCarthy is best suited to the hard-hat world of The Championship, that he maybe struggles to communicate with Premier League millionaires and their attendant egos.
At Ipswich, he has built a fine, promotion-chasing team despite having virtually no budget with which to rebuild a club that had looked, before his arrival, to be plummeting towards League One.
People play for McCarthy because they believe in him, because they trust in the fundamental honesty of his football message. It is something of a shame that his time in charge of Ireland will forever be asterisked by the irrational behaviour of one individual in Saipan. In reality, it ought to have been defined by the unity and courage of the team that actually played in the subsequent World Cup.
Then again, maybe McCarthy will get another shot at the Ireland gig. He has expressed interest in returning and even some of his fiercest critics of ’02 have now softened in their hostility.
What can be said with certainty is that, given the job he is now doing at Ipswich, he won’t be without suitors for the foreseeable future.