OpinionJohn Aldridge

True football fans appreciate the icon that is Steven Gerrard

Red letter day: Lifting the European Cup in 2005
Red letter day: Lifting the European Cup in 2005

Steven Gerrard has attracted more animosity than any other player in the modern game and there is a good reason for that – his detractors have always appreciated what a damn good player he has been, even though they didn’t want to admit it.

As a section of the Stamford Bridge crowd gave Gerrard a standing ovation as he left the field in last weekend’s clash with Chelsea, it was evidence that true football people appreciate what this icon has contributed to the Premier League over the best part of two decades. 

That said, Gerrard was right not to be too thankful to the Chelsea fans after their gesture as I reckon only about half of them joined in with that applause and I can hazard a guess as to why. 

This particular club lacks a massive number of genuine, decent supporters and that is the case across the game these days.

Fair play to those Chelsea fans who acknowledged a great player in his final match at their ground, but we saw yet more evidence of the petty hatred people have for Liverpool’s greatest ever player as well last weekend. 

What the hell were Chelsea fans up to holding up little yellow pieces of plastic referencing Gerrard’s slip against the Blues last season? Come on lads we are all grown-ups here and you made yourself look very silly. 

That is why Stevie was right to not go overboard in acknowledging the applause and have a bit of a pop back at the Chelsea crowd in his brilliantly honest post-match interview. He has been on the end of some vile abuse from that lot down the years, so he was in no mood to bid them a fond farewell. 

The same can be said of the treatment he has got from Manchester United and Everton supporters and it is a shame that the game seems to have this tribal side to it these days. 

I’m not looking through rose tinted glasses when I reflect on my playing days because while Liverpool and United fans have always disliked each other, there is a venom in the animosity between rivals players and supporters that is unpleasant these days. 

It’s as though people forget that the target of their abuse is another human being. They see it as a bit of fun to have a pop at someone’s family or even their kids on social media sites, but these idiots shouldn’t be allowed to get away with some of the stuff their spout. 

Some sports writers who know little or nothing about the game have also enjoyed writing nasty articles about Gerrard down the years and once again, I don’t see the logic in knocking a player who has done so much for the game since he made his debut for the club back in 1998. 

What a lot of people don’t get a chance to see with our elite football stars in 2015 is what they are like away from the football pitch and in their everyday lives, with Stevie’s celebrity status meaning he needs to stay out of reach from the public most of the time. 

This is one of the tragedies of the way our game has gone. Back in my playing days, I used to love meeting up with fans and having a pint or two with them, but can you imagine what would happen if Gerrard walked into a packed Liverpool bar on a Saturday night? He’d be mobbed and nobody needs that kind of attention. 

The Stevie I have been fortunate enough to get to know down the years is actually a great fella to spend time with. He’s a scouser, so it goes without saying that he likes a laugh and his work with children’s charities in Portugal and Liverpool has been fantastic. 

He is a wonderful professional and while he has made a couple of mistakes and been caught out by the media in his younger days, he has learned from that and kept himself out of the public eye for the last few years. 

A lot of players make fools of themselves in nightclubs or with their childish antics off the pitch, but Gerrard has gone about his business in a very dignified way and people should applaud him for that rather than try to find fault in his magnificent career. 

Regular readers of my Sunday World column will know that I’m convinced we waved farewell to the best Liverpool player of all-time at Anfield yesterday and to those who claim he is not a great because he didn’t win the Premier League, please wake up and smell the roses. 

Gerrard came close to joining Jose Mourinho at Chelsea in 2004 and 2005 and I’m sure he would have won a few Premier League medals with them if he had walked away from the club and joined a team that were forcing their rivals into submission thanks to their sugar daddy owner.  

In the end, Stevie just couldn’t bring himself to sell his soul to the highest bidder and I know for a fact that he has no regrets about his decision. Winning the Champions League, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the UEFA Cup with Liverpool meant more than anything he might have collected in a Chelsea shirt. That’s the way he sees it. 

The truth is that this is a Liverpool lad who had lived the dream, played for the club he has supported all his life and turned out to be a legend whose legacy will live on for years to come. 

Those who still snipe at him are making themselves look foolish in my eyes because everyone who matters in this game has nothing but praise for a player who has covered himself in glory for a variety of reasons for so long. 

Mourinho – the most successful manager of the last decade – tried to sign him for three clubs. The brilliant Zinedine Zidane says he is the best player he has seen and the legendary Pele said back in 2006: “For the last five years, Gerrard has been the best player in the world.” 

They are opinions from some of the greatest names in football history and when this great game of ours allocates a place for Gerrard among its all-time greats, he will be assured of a lofty perch.