The Long Goodbye

In my younger years, when I still lived in the nation’s capital, I’d often go to see Liverpool when they came to town. There’s quite a few London teams who are, or at least were, regulars in the English top flight. QPR, Watford, Crystal Palace, Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea, Fulham, Charlton, Millwall, West Ham, Clapham Rover and Wanderers. I can sense a few raised eyebrows from seasoned English football fans. Clapham Rovers and Wanderers? They are both now defunct. Have been for years. But both have FA Cup wins to their names, Wanderers with five of them. Indeed, Wanderers share the record with Blackburn Rovers for the most consecutive FA Cup wins (3) and another record shared with three others teams for winning consecutive cup finals on two occasions. Bet you didn’t know that, eh? Bet you don’t much care, either…

When I went to see games on a Saturday in the 80s and 90s, things were much different from today. You could turn up on the day and buy a cheap ticket for a few pounds and stand up to watch the match. The stadiums were all a bit worse for wear, the pitches often turned into a mud bath after the first heavy rain of the season and the burgers were a sure fire way to ruin your Sunday. If you needed a wee, you could go in the trough. Or just pee on the floor next to the trough. Or even pee in the corridor outside the toilets. It really was all much the same thing.

These days, you need to start your efforts to get a ticket weeks in advance, and your efforts will often fail to deliver. It’s tough to get a ticket, and if you’re successful, you’ll part with a sizeable chunk of your weekly salary. But the stadiums are all now world class, and peeing on the floor will almost certainly get you ejected from the stadium. Do it in the corridor, and you’ll probably end up on a sex offender register. Times have indeed changed. Apart from the availability and pricing, for the better.

Back in the day I watched some of the greatest players even to pull on the red jersey of Liverpool. Dalglish, Rush, Whelan, Hansen, Lawrensen, Barnes, Beardsley, Aldridge, Nicol, Grobbelaar to name a few. Then I left London, and I stopped going to matches. I became an armchair fan. That’s ok. I’ve always had a comfy armchair and a half decent telly. The view is always the best, too. But I miss the atmosphere. I miss seeing the game in the flesh. So now and again, I try to get a ticket. And fail.

Until this season. Back in December, Liverpool came to Bournemouth to play the local team in a cup tie on a bleak, dark and positively chilly Wednesday night. Bournemouth are a lower league team, so this was a big deal for the town. The tickets were all gone in a flash, of course. But Mrs P delivered. She has a friend who happens to be a season ticket holder at Bournemouth, and he kindly gave his ticket up for me. What a sacrifice. What a great guy! But karma can be a blessing, not just a bitch. Bournemouth were recently promoted to the Premier League for the first  time in their 100+ year history. He’ll get to see a ton of top games next season.

In the days leading up to the game, I thought back to the last time I went to a match. It was twenty years ago. Steven Gerrard was still a schoolboy last time I went. It’s since turned out that this is Gerrard’s final season at Liverpool after 17 years in the first team. He’s heading out to Los Angeles to wind down his career. He played that Wednesday night, so I can add his name to the list of Liverpool legends that I’ve seen play. I have a photo too, to prove it.

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Is Gerrard the greatest? There are many who say he is. But how do you define great? Luis Suarez is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most talented player to pull on the red jersey. But his stay was too short for him to be the greatest. For me, as with most people my age who grew up watching the all conquering teams of the late 70s and 80s, Kenny Dalglish will always be numero uno. But Steven Gerrard is most definitely a close number two.

Without him, the last couple of decades would have a been a miserable time for us Liverpool supporters. He’s raised some pretty mediocre Liverpool teams to greatness over the years. He’s scored some of the finest goals seen in the game, in some of the most memorable games, often right at the death. And whatever some of his detractors might say, he will always have that Wednesday night in Istanbul, 25th May 2005.

Liverpool will miss the guy. English football will miss him. I will miss seeing him take to the field. But I will always have that Wednesday night in Bournemouth, 12th December 2015.

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