The Tomkins Times is a well respected football site. It is not however accustomed to receiving invites to gala film premieres, complete with red carpet, flashing cameras, and a parade of glitzy celebrities.
Fortunately the preview screening of ‘Make Us Dream’, a new documentary about Steven Gerrard, featured none of those things. I was able to slope down to the Soho Screening Rooms without need for a tuxedo. Even so, as something of a film nerd, seeing the walls of the building adorned with signed posters for the likes of Donnie Brasco and Slumdog Millionaire made it feel mildly special.
There was also only eight of us present for the screening, it was the very definition of low-key. Apparently the film had only been completed four days earlier, so there’s every chance I was in the first group of people (beyond those who worked on it) to see the finished product.
The film is not currently widely known. Try googling it, and you won’t get very far. While it’s due to receive a cinema release, the Amazon Prime logo which flashed up at the beginning indicates it’s true eventual home. The team behind it certainly have pedigree in the field though; the director, Sam Blair, has previously made a film about Diego Maradona, and the producer was behind ‘Senna’, ‘Amy’ and ‘Supersonic’. Documentaries about iconic figures, in other words.
As someone who is not a professional reviewer but is a lifelong Liverpool fan, it’s very hard for me to paint an objective picture of this film. For instance, the centre-piece of the documentary is obviously Istanbul. I had goosebumps during most of that sequence, but then I’d get them if I watched the scratchy VHS of the match I taped when it was broadcast. Can I assess the film fairly? I’ll give it my best (Gerrard-esque) shot.
The documentary largely flows in linear fashion through Gerrard’s life. But we first see him in Los Angeles in the summer of 2016, in order to establish the main theme of the film. The Liverpool legend notes in his voice-over narration that his brain is still fried from the Chelsea game. Any Kopite will instantly know which match with the Blues he is referring to.
The fact this is being said over two years after the event is telling. This is a film about pressure, and what it can do to a person. Especially a person who is described as quiet but emotional by his mother, and who admits to seeing a psychiatrist in 2011 when it appeared injuries would end his career prematurely.
The undoubted pressure of playing for Liverpool is weaved throughout the film too. Any sane person knows that football phone-ins are best avoided, but the clips used in the film highlight what some supporters thought of Gerrard during the low moments of his career. It’s not easy listening. At the end of the documentary, the subject explains why he moved to L.A: “for a chance to breathe, to finish my career with a smile on my face”. Despite living the dream of all Liverpool supporters, it wasn’t a bed of roses doing so, and we certainly get a good sense of that from the film.
It gets underway properly with enjoyable home movie footage of the young Gerrard playing football, celebrating after games, and collecting end of season awards from former Reds players. This is interspersed with the story of how Liverpool FC were doing at the time. While no film covering the club during this period could ignore Hillsborough, there is of course added poignancy due to Gerrard’s cousin, Jon-Paul Gilhooley, being the youngest of the 96 supporters who never returned home.
As the film moves into the 1990s, and the future skipper’s time in the Liverpool youth team with Michael Owen, the cracks start to appear. Gerrard is painted as some kind of potential saviour for a struggling Liverpool side, yet what of Robbie Fowler? Or even the aforementioned Owen, who had racked up over 60 appearances and 30 goals for the Reds prior to Gerrard’s debut?
It would be going overboard to suggest the documentary paints Gerrard as a messiah, but the film’s promotional photo (which is at the top of the page) seems to imply a Christ-like figure walking head bowed through a throng of adoring worshippers. And there’s very little in the film which shows the former #8 in a negative light. As a fan, I recall some horrendous challenges leading to red cards, and while there are a few clips of such incidents, in voice-over his reckless, tough tackling is brushed off with humour.
The match footage throughout the film is dealt with very well. Iconic moments from Gerrard’s career are presented from angles you won’t have seen, which provides a different perspective on legendary events you know inside out. Players are filmed close up and from pitch level to emphasise the pace and madness of playing professional football. The Istanbul footage is also layered with multiple commentaries at once, highlighting the swirling madness of the whole evening as it unfolded.
One thing the film certainly lacks is a manager’s perspective, largely from either side of the relationship. Despite being the man who brought Gerrard through and eventually made him captain, Gerard Houllier isn’t mentioned.
Although they shared the greatest moment of their careers together, Rafa Benitez doesn’t feature much either. When he does, it’s largely in a negative light. Struan Marshall, the player’s agent, says Benitez was cold when Gerrard needed an arm round the shoulder. He admits “Rafa’s coldness added fuel to the fire”, but Gerrard also admits he thought the Spaniard wanted to sell him, and he’d have preferred to “play for a manager who loved me”.
The on-off moves to Chelsea are covered, and in fact it’s José Mourinho who features in the film more than the Liverpool managers who shaped Gerrard’s career. It’s something which makes sense for the narrative of the documentary, though it still felt incongruous. But then I’m not impartial in this conversation, and never could be.
Liverpool’s off-pitch trevails during the captain’s career are briefly covered, though not especially well. The Hicks and Gillett takeover gets a few minutes, though it’s shown as being after the Manchester City takeover (it wasn’t). Despite it’s debilitating effects on the club, I learned nothing about what Gerrard thinks about it now, or thought at the time.
This is perhaps what separates this film most from ‘Kenny’, the documentary on the other nominee for the accolade of Liverpool’s greatest ever player (which Daniel Rhodes wrote about here). I felt I learned far more about the man at the heart of that film than I did here. Nobody talks on screen in this film, giving it a detached quality.
Of course, the players are from different eras; every single game of Gerrard’s career has been filmed and is available to be shown, whereas a film on Dalglish simply has to dig deeper. There’s no Liverpool fan who won’t enjoy watching ‘Make Us Dream’, but whether the King has the edge over Gerrard on the field or not, he certainly does in the cinema.
In cinemas nationwide from Wednesday 14th November. Thanks to TTT member Jon Rushton for inviting us to the screening.