And then the final whistle blew. Anfield roared in unison. It was the moment that we had always dreaded. Yet, it was a relief at the same time. Relief, because the match was over and so was the embarrassment. Pain, because it marked the end of an era of Steven Gerrard — one of the greatest players that Liverpool has ever produced. It was not the kind of farewell that we wanted to give him. But I guess, we can live with that — simply because life is not supposed to be fair all the time. The match, which Crystal Palace won fair and square, was also a testament to Gerrard’s career at Liverpool – full of high and lows, victories and defeats, hits and misses. In the span of 17 years, in which he has resisted invites from many a football team, Gerrard has remained truly loyal to the Reds motto – a motto that we believe in and repose our faith in.
As the Kop chanted ‘You’ll never walk alone’ for its favourite son last night, I was taken back to 2004 when I was in the eighth grade – the time when the allure of the English Premier League had hit me. I hadn’t seen much, but I knew instinctively that Reds was the team I would root for. It just happened. Liverpool became my fetish and Gerrard my hero. Seasons came and passed. Players came and left — Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez, but Gerrard remained. Not that there were impulses to leave. Chelsea came very close to signing him back in 2005 but then Istanbul happened — that feverish night when we had to overcome the Italian demons if we wanted to touch the greatest club trophy of all time. The match didn’t start well. Milan scored first through its captain Paolo Maldini, then added a second through Shevchenko and then a quick third through Crespo. At half-time the score line read 3-0 in favour of Milan. “The dream is over for Liverpool,” the commentator muttered.
But it was not to be so. Gerrard, the Liverpool captain, produced a blinding header to make it 3-1. The Reds sensed pay-back time and added a quick second to make it 3-2. And then, the inevitable happened when Gerrard was fouled in the penalty box giving the Reds a chance to score an equalizer. Alonso was chosen and although his attempt was saved, he scored through the rebound to make it 3-3. The match then went onto extra time and finally into penalty shootout with both teams failing to score a winner. Liverpool convincingly won the shootout 3-2 with the last Milan shot by Shevchenko blocked by Dudek. The stadium erupted. Nobody could believe their eyes. How could an English team, which has failed to win a League trophy since 1990, make such an impressive comeback to maul Milan. For me, that was the icing on the cake and a stronger belief that Steven Gerrard was the man for the team. Till this day, it remains my favourite football match ever.
Yes, that silver sparkling Premier League trophy might still elude Gerrard’s closet, but he has the rest – 2 FA Cups, 3 League Cups, UEFA Cup, 2 UEFA Super Cups and that magical night in Istanbul which got us the Champions League trophy and most of all the unflinching and unwavering support of the fans at Anfield. We thank Gerrard, not just for all the glittering trophies that he helped the Reds bring, but more importantly for the steadfast loyalty he always kept for Liverpool.
On a personal note, last night, as Steven Gerrard was ushered onto the Anfield pitch for one last final time through the guard of honour and the sparkling mosaic spelling out ‘CAPTAIN’ in the stands, I felt as if I was entering a tunnel, a very dark tunnel with no light in sight. It’s like being left behind. It was a moment that we all knew will come someday. Liverpool will certainly get through this, but I know for a fact that Anfield will never be the same again. Despite all your flaws, Stevie, you remain my hero and I will miss you.