Clash Of The Cousins: Anthony Gerrard
Anthony Gerrard has taken a very different route to Wembley than his cousin. He tells James Corrigan why the final means so much
The tale of the two Gerrards comes full circle under the Wembley arc tomorrow. When one was at the very bottom, the other was at the very top and the chances of the pair ever meeting in a major final appeared on the remotest outskirts of unlikely. Six years on and here they are.
Anthony is the little cousin, the player with the same famous name, the same famous smirk and a sense of humour formed on Ironside Road, the street in Huyton where the families both lived. Anthony, however, was the one who didn't follow the Boy's Own script. While Steven emerged and rose, Anthony emerged and fell. The week in May 2005 summed up an entirely relative contrast.
"When Steven lifted the Champions League, I was in Cancun, crying into a beer," said Anthony, who was euphoric for his cousin yet crestfallen for himself. "I was just trying to get away from football in general."
That very week, David Moyes had told him Everton were letting him go. Having been spotted by them as an eight-year-old, Gerrard had come through the ranks with a boy called Wayne Rooney and, at 19 and captain of the reserves, was considered one for Everton's future. Moyes changed all that in one cold instant.
"I was heartbroken," says Gerrard. "There were nine of us going in to see about our contracts and I was the last person left in the canteen. I went in to see the manager and heard him say 'No'... It was a bit of a kick in the gonads, really. I had to re-evaluate my life. I could have gone to university. But I had a dream of being a professional footballer."
That beer in Mexico may have stopped tasting bitter by the time Steven and Liverpool had pulled off the comeback of all comebacks in Istanbul, but Anthony was determined he would not be the Gerrard with the hard-luck story. Along with Steven, his family helped pick him up and off he went to Walsall to rescale one of sport's greatest ascents. Within a season he was in the bottom division, off the radar, not even a blip.
"I couldn't just give up," he said. "I want to play in the Premier League and I've worked my way into the Championship. I have got a great support network around me. My dad, my grandad, my cousins, they picked me up and told me I wasn't a bad player just because of one manager's say-so.
"I went and proved that by going to play against fellas who were 6ft 5in and just wanted to elbow my head off. You can't buy that experience. You don't get it playing tippy-tappy reserve games. You do that by getting knocked out in places like Boston, when you get carried off on a stretcher and left in A&E for an hour. When you fall away from the top teams, it is a hard road back. Not a lot of people can do it but, hopefully, I can."
That is why today means so much. If Mark Hudson passes a fitness test, Gerrard may well find himself on the bench, but one must suspect that even a cameo appearance would satisfy him. "I've been dreaming of this day all my life," he said. "But always in those dreams I've been wearing red."
To say loyalties in family Gerrard will be split is oversimplifying this conundrum. There are 80 relatives in all attending and, in truth, they would have to be a hard, red-nosed bunch to deny Anthony his moments of glory. Certainly, he will not hold back, despite his obvious devotion to "my big cus".
"If he goes through one-on-one in the last minute and we are winning, I am going to take him out," says Anthony, his smile as broad as his accent. "Let's be honest. I'm not going to lie. He's got too many winners' medals. If this is my only chance to get a winner's medal, I have to take that opportunity. But it will be strange playing against him for the first time. OK, the first time professionally. It was funny when we were young in our nan's back garden. He had made a goal out of tarpaulin and would always drag me out to play as goalkeeper when his mates came round. Our nan would have to come out to tell them to go easy on me.
"I don't know how I'll feel when I see him in the tunnel. I can't picture it. We will have to get the hug out the way well beforehand and away from everyone else and then just get on with the job. If he loses, he will be gutted. Yet, he might have a little bit of admiration for his little cousin taking the plaudits."
Trophy apart, Anthony is sure of one thing being in his possession come Sunday evening. "The shirt," he says. "I haven't mentioned it to him yet. I texted him the other day and I was so close to saying, 'Don't even think about giving your shirt to anyone else'. All the other boys will want it. But there's no need for them to be greedy. There is Bellers's shirt, Suarez's shirt, etc. But the Steven Gerrard one is mine."
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