by Liam Blake (TTT Subscriber Kevinh).
On Gerrard Day he’d kept his feelings in check every step of the way – before, during and after – through the guard of honour and around the touch line at Anfield two hours later, but when the final whistle was blown Steven Gerrard can only have greeted it with immense relief. Not, more’s the pity, the relief of a man who’d inspired his side to a Wembley final or helped secure a top-four finish and the promise of European football under the Anfield floodlights on Tuesday and Wednesday nights come autumn. The satisfaction of a job well done in front of the home faithful was denied him, and even the momentary joy of a consolation goal wasn’t to be granted him. No trademark strike in the dying of the light. Crystal Palace deserved better than to be tagged party poopers, they at least honoured the occasion and the man by giving him the game his colleagues – and to an extent even the man himself – forgot to, and their victory will have brought sweet release as the burden of responsibility began to lift from the captain’s shoulders at last. A goodbye too long even to merit being called the long goodbye could be bid at last and freedom lay just round the corner, just ninety minutes away…
Well, what a difference a week made. When the referee blew time on Gerrard’s career at Stoke eight days later his feelings could only be guessed at, consolation goal or not. Turning to acknowledge those who’d travelled, shame and embarrassment on their behalf must have figured in the mix. They’d come in their thousands, only to find just the captain and Coutinho had turned up on their behalf. Throughout a glittering career he’d been obliged to swallow not just regular disappointment but also the occasional humiliation. It was curious that he found himself dogged by such moments and it was his misfortune to have so much read into his misfortune, when that’s all those mistakes were – just mistakes, and not the Freudian slips the press feasted on, or subconscious gifts to a club he’d once seriously considered joining, or some other Monday morning blether. But to be force-fed the club’s worst league defeat of his lifetime – not to mention the lifetimes of most of those watching – must have been humiliating. And the word ‘worst’ in that last sentence doesn’t just refer, sadly, to the margin of defeat. For spinelessness, though God knows there are precedents, it was in a league of its own, throwing the previous week’s send-off into a new light. How sad that a season finale and a career climax proved a nadir for both, how dispiriting that the last ninety minutes of his career in a Liverpool shirt must also have been the longest. It was as unmerited as the goal nodded through his own net at Cardiff against Chelsea in 2004 or the slip that needs no re-introduction. Dubai can’t have come quickly enough, and the hope that he won’t be needed come winter can only have grown within him.
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