Steven Gerrard profile: the Lion of Liverpool who embodies fight for Hillsborough justice and is poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph

 

From the sport which has been devoured by money and by its own raging ego comes the latest chapter in what might be a story of beautiful virtue. Liverpool Football Club are this weekend seeking to stay on course to become English champions for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, just as a reckoning is coming for the 96 lives that were lost at Hillsborough in that same era.

The circularity of it all is made even finer by the club’s captain, who draws the two strands together. Steven Gerrard lived Hillsborough in the raw. His cousin Jon-Paul Gilhooley, with whom he embarked on many a game on Huyton’s Bluebell estate in Liverpool’s eastern overspill – Gilhooley in his Liverpool shirt, Gerrard in his Paul Gascoigne England replica – was the stadium disaster’s youngest victim: 10 years old when he died. Football has its fill of fake emotion, crocodile tears and “kissing the badge”. But when a tear-streaked Gerrard emerged from the euphoria of Liverpool’s victory over Manchester City last Sunday, the cause of the emotion, 48 hours before Anfield’s 25th anniversary Hillsborough commemoration, barely needed inquiring about.

Gerrard, who is 33, is a throwback to older, simpler times, too: a one-club, home-club player who belongs to a diminishing breed of footballer disinclined to communicate his injuries, world views and the merit of his commercial sponsors through Twitter. He is a national leader now – captain of the England team which competes in Brazil in six weeks’ time – yet remains an introspective, sometimes tortured soul who wears a deeply furrowed brow and could never bring himself to leave his club and his home city.

 A first England call-up, 14 years ago, left him so nervous that he nearly turned over the Honda his father had lent him for the occasion; his homesickness when called up for Kevin Keegan’s Euro 2000 squad was so profound that he initially resolved to pack up his bags and fly home.

It was an insecurity born of rejection. Gerrard’s failure to make the Football Association’s old Lilleshall academy – where his infinitely more extrovert friend and former teammate Jamie Carragher earned a place – was a source of devastation, for which a kind of catharsis came seven months later when a Lilleshall XI played the Liverpool Academy, for whom he played. In his own words, Gerrard “battered” them. “I smashed Lilleshall’s midfield to pieces, absolutely shredded them,” he said years later. “Into every tackle I poured all my frustration at being ignored.”

Therein lies the raw, survivor’s instinct, equally evident when he was charged with affray over a punch-up in a Southport bar, five years ago, for which he was acquitted. Only recently did he tell the full story of being sent off in one of his first Merseyside derbies, after taking out the frustration of being a mere substitute on Everton’s striker Kevin Campbell – piling into him with his studs up, when finally sent on to play. The then 19-year-old Gerrard was excruciated later that day to bump into Campbell in the gents at an Albert Dock restaurant, where – as Gerrard told it in memorable Liverpool vernacular – “he dropped his keks and showed me the stud-marks I’d left on his thigh”. Gerrard’s apology was accepted.

Reconciliation has not always been so easy to find. Though the city’s other club, Everton, embraced the Hillsborough tragedy more than ever at this week’s commemoration, Gerrard has taken the worst of the vitriol from that team’s fans. Their chants about his wife Alex – the mother of their three daughters, whom he met on a night out in Liverpool 12 years ago – have been vindictive and disgusting.

For all that, Gerrard decided long ago that he would never play anywhere else – though the two angst-ridden summers he spent agonising over that decision said more about his complex mind. The stagnation of outdated, family-owned Liverpool became the problem. The 2003/4 Premier League table, which left Liverpool 30 points behind champions Arsenal, devastated him and the speculation that he would leave in the ensuing summer for a Chelsea newly enriched by Roman Abramovich was a source of desperate worry. The Manchester United player who came knocking on his door at England’s European Championships base in Lisbon didn’t help. “Come and join us at Old Trafford,” said Gary Neville.

The rumour which has stuck stubbornly ever since is that death threats received by Gerrard’s father, Paul, kept him out of Chelsea’s hands. Gerrard has always denied that, though the instructions he received from his father revealed what an inward-looking republic Liverpool can be at times. “Steven. You are not going anywhere. I don’t want you to go.”

 The lure of London was even stronger when, after the delirium of leading his club to their most incredible triumph – against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul – Liverpool decided to make his new contract negotiations a drawn-out game of cat and mouse. Gerrard tabled a transfer request to shake the club out of their inertia but, characteristically, he was the one who suffered because of it. Traumatised by TV pictures of fans burning a replica shirt with his name on it, he had to summon the family doctor, who arrived to find Gerrard in his bedroom, being helped through a state of distress by his father and paracetamol. Gerrard stayed.

More disappointments were to follow, including American owners who almost took Liverpool into insolvency and the failed managerial comeback of Kenny Dalglish – a huge image of whom Gerrard’s father once heaved up to the family home at Ironside Road, on the Bluebell, and handed over for the boy’s bedroom wall.

And then came reward for all the years of waiting: the resuscitation of Gerrard’s once-great club by Brendan Rodgers, a young, modern manager from Northern Ireland who has used his considerable powers of motivation to put Liverpool together again. Gerrard’s recent articulation of how Rodgers, only eight years his senior, had helped him, revealed the value of having a boss who understood the contours of his complex mind. “His one-to-one management is the best I have known. He makes you go out on to the pitch feeling a million dollars,” Gerrard said. Rodgers’ use of Dr Steve Peters, a successful sports psychiatrist, is something Gerrard gratefully seized upon.

Liverpool’s game at Norwich City tomorrow is only a preface to Chelsea’s arrival at the old Anfield stadium next weekend for an occasion of greater significance. But Gerrard memorably declared this week that East Anglia is Liverpool’s new Istanbul. And beyond all of it lies Brazil – where the Football Association has decided to take Dr Peters. Liverpool, England and Gerrard dare to dream.

A life in brief

Born: 30 May 1980, Whiston, Merseyside.

Family: Parents are Paul and Julie Gerrard. Married to model Alex Curran, with whom he has three daughters.

Education: Attended St Michael’s Primary School, Huyton, and Cardinal Heenan High School, West Derby.

Career: Liverpool debut in 1998, so far making 471 appearances, scoring 111 goals, and winning League Cup, FA Cup and European Cup winners’ medals. He has won 109 England caps, making his debut in 2000 and will captain the team in this summer’s World Cup.

Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss