WHAT a great reception Steven Gerrard received following his final appearance at Anfield in a Liverpool shirt.
After next weekend’s end-of-season date at Stoke, Gerrard is heading for LA Galaxy to finish a glittering career in the Californian sunshine. The 34-year-old, who was making his 709th appearance for the club he supported as a boy, is a model professional adored by the red half of Merseyside and admired by the rest.
At his peak the former England captain could have played for any club in the world but he chose to stay at Liverpool where he won every major honour except for a Premier League champions medal.
Try as I might, however, I can’t erase one image from my mind when the name Gerrard comes up. It’s petty I know, even parochial given the scale of Stevie G’s achievements, but it just won’t go away.
I’m talking about Saturday, August 19, 2006 at Bramall Lane. Sheffield United were playing their opening match against Liverpool having just won promotion back to the Premier League.
Rob Hulse sent the Lane wild, putting United into a deserved lead 60 seconds after the break. It looked like staying that way until the 69th minute when Chris Morgan waved a mistimed right boot in front of the advancing Gerrard at the Bramall Lane end. There was no contact but Gerrard seized the opportunity to make a theatrical dive in front of the visiting fans.
Referee Rob Stiles pointed to the spot and Robbie Fowler denied United all three points. Given relegation on goal difference 37 matches later, those two extra points would have come in very handy. After heated arguments in the aftermath and later on BBC’s Match of the Day, it was deemed the penalty had been given against Morgan for intent to trip Gerrard. There wasn’t any intent. Gerrard was just too quick for the United skipper.
Blades manager Neil Warnock insisted that contact had to be made for a spot kick to be awarded and if the referee thought that was so then Morgan should have been sent off instead of receiving a booking.
Ever since that day I have noted Gerrard’s penchant for a dive when opportunity arose at a time when it still wasn’t common in the English game. Strangely, he rarely received any criticism. In his latter years he cut it out completely.
I can’t forget, but given Gerrard’s immense contribution to English football, I’m willing to forgive. Only just!