End of an Era
It was hoped, in the years and months prior to his Liverpool career finishing, that Steven Gerrard would end his time at the club on a dizzying high. Dreams of him lifting one last trophy evaporated at Wembley though, and his final appearances both at home and away, ended in heartbreak.
In January 2015, the news that all Liverpool supporters had been dreading was finally announced. Gerrard confirmed that he wouldn’t be renewing his contract and that in May 2015 he’d play his final game for Liverpool. The announcement came less than 24 hours after he’d netted two penalties in a draw against Leicester City. He later revealed that he’d made up his mind that his Liverpool career was over when Brendan Rodgers benched him in a Champions League match away to Real Madrid a few months prior. In the season before, Gerrard had come within a whisker of finally lifting the Premier League title, only to see his dream instead celebrated by Manchester City. His announcement came a few days before the FA Cup campaign began at Wimbledon where he scored both goals. The final would coincidentally be played on his 35th birthday; an old-fashioned FA Cup fairytale was being forged. Eyes lit up at the possibility of Gerrard signing off with a trophy, but a woeful showing at Wembley in the semi-final against Aston Villa extinguished that dream and set the tone for a nightmare ending for our captain.
The mosaic at Gerrard’s final Liverpool game at home, taken from my seat in the Anfield Road end.
The Kop Says Goodbye to One of Their Own
In his penultimate home match, against Queens Park Rangers, he missed a penalty before scoring what was his final Anfield goal in a competitive game for Liverpool. His last appearance in front of the Kop came against Crystal Palace, a side who’d effectively ended Gerrard’s title hopes in the previous season.
I’d secured tickets for the Palace game seven weeks before Gerrard’s announcement. I knew I’d be there to see Stevie make his Anfield farewell like I had been two years earlier to see off and thank another legend in Jamie Carragher. Before the game, a car was parked inside a perimeter fence and crew members from Sky began to fit cameras in it for an interview with Carragher outside the stadium, but the former defender’s late arrival complicated the process. It would exit the temporary car park close to a row of marquees, set up for the VIPs/Directors, who were moved due to the disruption caused by the ongoing renovations to the new main stand. Everyone hoped that Gerrard would score a goal as a final gift to the fans, even if the Anfield faithful weren’t ready to see the back of ‘Captain Fantastic’. In any case, a home victory was the only way to end such an emotional and memorable career.
Sadly, the ‘Football Gods’ saw things differently, as did Crystal Palace. The London club proved themselves to be party poopers despite Liverpool taking the lead at the Anfield Road end through Adam Lallana midway through the first half. Liverpool simply failed to kick on, conceding three times. Brendan Rodgers opted not to substitute Gerrard, so the hometown hero couldn’t receive a standing ovation, and instead replaced Alberto Moreno with Jerome Sinclair on 87 minutes before the final whistle blew to end the miserable defeat. It meant that for the first time since that 2-2 draw with Leicester, Gerrard completed a full 90 minutes in the league at Anfield. The traditional end of season lap of honour was focused predominantly on one man – the captain, Liverpool’s number 8, ‘Mr Reliable’, Steven Gerrard. His journey on Merseyside was at an end, and he now had to prepare for the new challenge that awaited him in America. His teammates all adorned the new home shirt with ‘Gerrard 8’ printed on the back of it. After a rousing speech, Stevie led his teammates in the lap of honour with gifts and cards thrown towards him and his children as he soaked up the love of the Anfield crowd for the very last time.
Gerrard with his daughters on his final lap of honour after the Palace game.
Bitter End at Stoke
Following that match, there was speculation in the media that Gerrard wouldn’t play in the final game of the season against Stoke. I had managed to line up two tickets for the match at very short notice, but on the day, the tickets failed to materialise and it looked like I would be spending the game stood outside Stoke’s ground on the side of a motorway, missing a piece of Liverpool history. Thankfully, some supporters had spares that other fans had failed to collect, so I ended up attending the match with an U16 ticket and got in just as the whistle blew to start the final match of Gerrard’s Liverpool career.
The match soon descended into a nightmare though, as Stoke scored three goals in the space of eight minutes midway through the half. Any lingering hopes for a fairytale farewell had well and truly gone out the window as the half-time whistle blew with the Potters leading by a staggering five goals to nil. This wasn’t in the script. The atmosphere on the concourse was the opposite of what you’d expect with such a margin though, as choruses of ‘Rafa Benitez’ chants erupted, maybe in jest or perhaps in the hope that the former manager may return to replace Rodgers, this defeat being the final straw for many fans. Rodgers attempted some form of damage limitation in the second half as he sent Kolo Toure and Jordon Ibe on to try and recover some pride.
Gerrard did at least get a farewell goal when Marc Muniesa appeared to feel a tight hamstring, allowing Gerrard to run through and score, but even that wasn’t enough to salvage his send-off. Gerrard’s former teammate Peter Crouch hammered the final nail in with his side’s sixth goal. Nothing could change the fans’ feelings after a 6-1 drubbing at Stoke, especially on a day that was meant to be about celebrating the career of a club legend. As he left the field, the pain was etched on his face. This wasn’t the way his career was meant to end, but that’s how it’ll be remembered in the history books.
Gerrard leaving the pitch for the final time as a Liverpool player, taken from the away end at the Britannia Stadium.
Though the end of Steven Gerrard’s career pales in comparison to what he achieved on the pitch in the years that followed his debut in November 1998, it’ll always be the failure to add a Premier League title to his trophy haul that’ll hurt the most. When looking back on his career, these matches, and the saga with Chelsea in the summer of 2005, won’t be at the forefront of the mind. What will are his contributions in both Istanbul and at Cardiff 12 months later in the ‘Gerrard final’. As will some of his best goals, including a stunner against Middlesbrough just a few weeks before the 2005 Champions League final. Derby day strikes and thunderous challenges will never be forgotten either. There was hope that when his time at L.A Galaxy drew to a close, and with a new manager at Anfield, that we may have seen a 6-month cameo return, but it wasn’t to be. However, he did return as the head coach of the U18s to give back to his boyhood club. Though he departed for his first senior management role in Scotland with Rangers, it’s expected, more than hoped, that at some point in the future, we’ll see him back at Anfield in the hot seat.