Anfield faithful wish Gerrard well... but won't be flying the flag

 

Dave Murphy is the man charged with organising the coaches that ferry official Liverpool supporters' club members around the country to follow their team. He would not dream of travelling to watch England, however, and has one overriding thought at Steven Gerrard's trip to Sweden to complete his century of caps tomorrow: "My own personal feeling is I hope he comes back fully fit and raring to go for Liverpool."

Murphy may acknowledge Gerrard's "great feat" in reaching this milestone but it evidently pales beside his triumphs in a red shirt and this indifference towards the national side feels quite typical of football fans, both red and blue-hued, in a city that prides itself on being a bit different.

The music journalist, Paul Du Noyer, summed it up elegantly in his book "Liverpool: Wondrous Place" when he described his birthplace as "the Capital of Itself", a city "deeply insular, yet essentially outward-looking: it faces the sea and all the lands beyond, but has turned its back on England".

This applies in football as much as anything else. Jamie Carragher, Gerrard's fellow Liverpool stalwart, wrote in his autobiography that losing with England hurt less than with his beloved club and, for Anfield loyalists, this is the way it should be.

John Williams, a sociology lecturer at the University of Leicester and author of "Red Men", a book about Liverpool's history, recalls how Michael Owen's standing as an England icon worked against him on Merseyside, where, by contrast, the very Scouse Robbie Fowler enjoyed god-like status. "[Owen] wasn't always loved and that was because he quite early on in his career was openly saying that 'the England team is more important to me than what I do at club level'." Gerrard is different, Williams adds, because he "has projected himself much less as a national icon. Although he has had wobbles in the past, he has always stayed loyal ultimately to the club and spent his entire career at Liverpool. People are much less unhappy about Gerrard as a national figure."

All the same, it seems fair to say the bunting will not be out in Huyton tomorrow. Williams cites a longstanding "antipathy" towards England which "probably reached its height around the late '70s, early '80s when the whole Thatcherism thing kicked in". He offers further context: "Liverpool has this strong Celtic set of connections, and certainly Liverpool Football Club's success under [Bob] Paisley at least was built on great Scottish players, not great English players."

Another oft-mentioned factor, equally applicable to Manchester United, is that Liverpool supporters have their own big days out whereas England, to quote Carragher's scathing description in his book, are "a magnet for fans who are a bit inexperienced, dare I say clueless, when it comes to top-class football". There is also the perception of England as a Home Counties team. Indeed, a breakdown of the best-represented regions among official England fan club members shows a top five of London, West Midlands, Kent, Essex and Surrey, who together comprise over 60 per cent.

Can Ibra hit target this time?

Sweden may have proved to be tricky opponents for England through the years but their star player, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, has continually struggled against English sides.

In 20 matches, the Paris St-Germain striker has emerged on the winning side only three times, scoring just four goals in the process.

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