Fans' View

Fans’ View: Will we ever get a Steven Gerrard?

Photo: Paul Rudderow

It was the longest stoppage time in history — at least, if you are a Liverpool supporter. Sunday’s massive win over Manchester City may have brought the storied Merseyside club within touching distance of its first Premier League title. No one in the stadium seemed to be affected more deeply by the moment than one man, Steven Gerrard. After more than five gut-wrenching additional minutes of play, Mark Clattenburg finally blew the full-time whistle, and Gerrard uncontrollably wept tears of jubilation.

It was a special moment not only for Liverpool supporters, but for any neutral fan to see the captain reduced to childish joy at the prospect of finally winning his first title before his career comes to an end.

What made it even more special is that Steven Gerrard is no ordinary captain. He is Liverpool Football Club. Born in Merseyside, Gerrard joined the Liverpool Academy at the age of nine, just a year after his 10-year-old cousin, Jon-Paul Gilhooley, became the youngest of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster. He made his first team debut at age 18, became captain at age 23 and continues to dominate the midfield at 33. When he kisses the club badge in a goal celebration, you know that it means as much, if not more, to him as those in the stands.

With the trade of Jack McInerney, we are reminded once again how rare it is in modern professional sports for a player to be a “lifer” with just one club. Gone are the days when names like Michael Jordan, Dan Marino, and Mike Schmidt were synonymous with a single team. Many athletes today switch teams as often as they sign new contracts. It is understandable. Fans and owners demand immediate results. Money talks. We know the sad story that ends with me telling my son not to put his favorite player’s name on the back of his jersey for fear that he’ll be traded next year.

Some fans criticized the Union staff for boasting that Andrew Wenger was a local talent, saying that they didn’t care where a player was from, just so long as he performed well.

But local roots and a true devotion to the club do matter. That special moment at Anfield could only happen because of Steven Gerrard’s lifetime connection to his club.

Rewind to Sunday. If my TV screen is instead filled with the face of a player who has played for six different clubs, landing at mine on a one-year contract because the current oil-rich billionaire wanted to buy a championship, I guarantee you neither I nor the player have the same special experience. Call me nostalgic, but that is the truth.

There is something pure and wonderful about rooting for the home team, especially when you can identify with its players. When those players stay long enough to truly care about the city and its fans, that’s when they stop simply being professionals and start playing with their hearts.

Will we ever get a Steven Gerrard to don the blue and gold for an entire career? Will we one day retire Andrew Wenger’s number? The odds seem stacked against it. But perhaps somewhere in a classroom of the Union Academy sits a young man wearing an old McInerney jersey signed by Okugo and LeToux who wakes up every morning dreaming of playing at PPL Park. For our sake, let’s hope that dream includes retiring on the same pitch as well.

12 Comments

  1. This is an excellent read. Thank you. Players like Steven Gerrard are few and far between that is for sure. I guess as a father, taking my young boy up to YSC to PDP train, one part of it is for the experience the other part is because, ‘the road to PPL begins there.’

    One of the beautiful things about football which separates it from all other sports is the grass roots youth connection that can be established between players and clubs. I absolutely believe a Steven Gerrard can be found among the mix of young boys sitting in a classroom in King of Prussia; he works hard, trains and dreams- becomes a reserve team player, than an Islander, than maybe the call up comes and 15 years later he retires as a lifer for the club.

    A small part of the problem for me personally, is that while I take my young boy up there secretly hoping he will have the ganas (spanish slang for desire) to create his own dream, I tend to be the one saying instead, wouldn’t it be amazing to play at Anfield someday or Turin with Juve, or Mexico City for Cruz Azul. I am still not completely sold on our culture or product here with MLS. I think the league has soooo much growing to do. I think the model of MLS will always prevent it from fielding the best players whether developed locally or abroad. Maybe we just need more time. Maybe I need to more fully support the local team. Maybe it is my values that are amiss.

    Thank you for this article. and by the way, I have shown my son the Sterling goal about 15 times because from Suarez to Sterling, every moment about that goal is world class and embodies everything a good footballer should be.

    • btw, as someone commented to me in a previous post, I know paragraphs are my friend, for some reason I am too slow to figure out the proper spacing on my computer. sorry for the hard reads.

    • Thanks Joel. I have the same feelings about the “path to PPL.” I’m certain the academy will produce great players in time, but will they ever forgo bigger contracts for the glory of staying with their home club?

    • I agree with your MLS point to some extent. How could the Union compete from a culture standpoint with Liverpool or Juve or even Cruz Azul? This team is 5 years old! It will take a couple of decades until MLS generates an established history with legitimate rivalries. That’s not to mention the $$$ gap.
      .
      I think MLS can be a top 10 league in the next 5-10 years, but breaking into the top 5 leagues in the world won’t happen for a long, long time.
      .
      I don’t think the salary cap structure or the league structure are barriers to the success of MLS. It’s not stopping any of our other leagues from maintaining their comfortable place at the top of the perch. It’s all about 1) generating enough revenue to afford the best players in the world and 2) building large grassroots support for each and every club. And lately, the league is focusing too much on #1 and not enough on #2 with its expansion moves IMO. We need balanced growth as a league to produce a viable product.

  2. Great article! Very well said. As a Liverpool FC and Philadelphia Union fan this really hit home for me. Not only does the city and club mean everything to Gerrard, the players around him are fighting to get him his first league title. To your point, you would never see that type of commradery or passion from teammates for a player who’s there on a one year contract. Hopefully we can look back 10 years from now and talk about the day the Union selected Amobi Okogu and all of his accomplishments at our club.

    • I don’t disagree but even Amobi is a native californian. I hope for some kid outside 69th Street station or in Perkiomen or Alston, Wallingford, Oxford et al….

      • Yeah but we really associate Kobe with the Lakers and Bill Russell with the Celtics. As long as MLS maintains a draft I don’t think it is fair to not treat someone as a lifer because they aren’t from the area and didn’t grow up with the club.

      • They have the homegrown rule

      • Chester needs soccer. That would be great to see some kids get motivated by the stadium in their backyard and start kicking a ball around in the street.

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