A few words about Steven Gerrard, football, etc
Winning is one thing. How you go about it is quite another.
From a rational perspective it doesn’t really matter. There will be numerous tactics to employ, players to use, mentalities to forge and harness, but from that purely rational perspective a win is a win, no matter how you go about it. If you can then follow that win up with another win, then another, all the better. You might maintain the original approach, you might keep changing, but a win is a win. Rationally speaking.
But sport is about more than that. Sport isn’t purely rational. It is not played by dispassionate figures, nor watched by spectators with an air of detachment. It matters beyond the rational. It is only a game, but it is more than that. It is a spectacle. It is theatre. It is community, communion.
When we as fans see that sport still matters to those who actually take part it validates our experience. It allays those nagging fears that the participants are only there for the money, are professional in the worst sense, are just mercenaries. That we’re being taken for a ride. When we see that they genuinely care, we feel that we can care too, that we should care.
Most of us live in fractured communities, live in a society of the self, yet in the stadium, or pub, or even on our sofa we can still feel part of something more, something bigger than the individual. And if we believe that those people playing, there on the pitch, feel part of that something bigger too, then it feels like there really is some meaning, some point to us sitting there in the stands, at the bar, at home, watching our team, willing them on.
The 2013/14 Premier League season has been the best in years. As a Liverpool supporter, I’m naturally biased, but I still think we’ve rarely seen such an open competition, with such uncertainty hanging over every game. There are some bad sides in the league, but they are still capable of beating anyone on the day. The good sides, while fallible, have also shown flashes of brilliance that you can admire and marvel at no matter what your allegiance. There have been moments of rare joy from the best players.
Liverpool aren’t the only compelling narrative of the season, but they just might be the most compelling. 24 years without a title. Unfancied at the start of the season after finishing seventh last year, and having the fifth largest wage bill. And there is one of the best English players of his generation, nearing the end of his career, approaching his best opportunity of winning the one club football medal missing from his collection.
Few players stay with one club their whole career. Few players are so attached to their club and their city. Few players can change their role at a club and still be as important to the team, if not more so. No players are faultless – Steven Gerrard is no different in that regard. But he is still something special.
He showed how much his club and his city meant to him last Sunday. After beating Liverpool’s nearest challengers, Manchester City, Gerrard gathered his team in a huddle. It was almost corny, almost a scene from a bad sports movie. But it transcended that. It showed that within the cynical, money-grabbing, faux-glitzy nonsense of modern-day football there is still a beating heart. It still matters. We can still let it matter, we can still dream.
His speech showed his passion, showed him as a leader of men. It gave us a glimpse into what football can still mean. This isn’t about the payday, this is about a city, and a wider community and how football can still be beautiful, can still be more than just a business, more than just a mechanism to sell shirts and corporate boxes and TV subscriptions.
I admit his speech wasn’t Shakespeare’s Henry V, but it was still a visceral, real moment. A shaft of light amid the darkness of a commercialised, homogenised sport. It was proof that we should still care about 11 men on a rectangle of grass.
Sport is our great release, our escape from the everyday, our means of feeling part of something bigger. It is still that. And while there are still players like Steven Gerrard it always will be.
Liverpool have shown this season how much fun football can be. They have attacked with verve, invention and without fear. They have shown they genuinely care about their team winning, not just for themselves, but for their supporters. Obviously the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough hangs over this. Gerrard’s cousin was the youngest to die there and this was obviously on his mind on Sunday, will be on his mind every day.
But we should not muddle the truth and justice that we hope emerges from the inquiry, and Liverpool winning a league championship. Justice for the 96 is far more important. But how Liverpool are playing, and how Steven Gerrard is leading the team, feels like a fitting tribute, and is as much as we can ask from them.
Now bring on Norwich on Sunday…