This is a bit impromptu. To say this was last minute wouldn’t be inaccurate. But this was a tribute-through-gritted teeth that was long overdue. I don’t know what to write about Frank Lampard, because I know about him as much a Manchester United fan knows about Steven Gerrard. I know him by what he’s not – which was easier than for me to acknowledge his strengths. I guess this allows fans like myself a certain luxury of moral superiority.
As you see, I have wasted no time whatsoever in mentioning Steven Gerrard already. Both have been used as measuring sticks for other, for no reason but the mere fact that they happen to be from the generation of Tiger Magazine, the golden age of Match of the Day, and Roy of the Rovers. They were like most Greek heroes, born around the same time. If only they were born 10 years apart, I could have been objective about this debate, and the world would have had the chance to absorb their genius separately.
They were the ‘Messi vs Ronaldo’ debate before Messi and Ronaldo were growing out of their post-pubescent mullets. While Messi and Ronaldo are the byproducts of a Darwinian evolution of modern football, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard were meant for different eras.
Steven Gerrard should have come first. He should have been of that 1990 England team that went to Italy. At his prime, he should have been busting his gut to get at the end of a Paul Gascoigne one-two. Wouldn’t that have been a joyous sight? Behold, Ajax and Hercules finding each other with through balls and crosses. (It’ll let you guess who’d be whom.) Tell me that team wouldn’t have won the World Cup and I’d scoff. Steven Gerrard may have saved Gazza’s career. They could have been like the best of brothers. You’ll never convince me that Steven Gerrard reached his full potential playing with the likes of Igor Biscan and Charlie Adam (with all due respect to Igor and Charlie.) Heck, he might have even convinced the Evertonian Gary Linekar to swallow his pride and join Liverpool – he’d be the Torres to his Gerrard. It’d be the stuff of dreams.
Stevie should have been dove-tailing with Souness and Dalglish in the great Liverpool teams, those bastions of invincibility playing in front of the unbroken crest of the Spion Kop. A culmination of the will of the fans in the form of the flesh, blood and clattering bones – he’d have made the last-ditch goal-line tackle that stopped Michael Thomas’ and Arsenal from winning the league in 1989. Instead of Gennaro Gatusso, he’d have labelled Vinne Jones a ‘kitty cat’, consequently ending Guy Ritchie’s favourite henchman’s film career even before it began.
Steven Gerrard’s reservoir for defiance is as deep as the Mersey. Kenny Dalglish and the city of Liverpool could have leaned on him during the siege of their morality by the Thatcher government and the Yorkshire Police. Kenny attended each of those 96 funerals. How could that not break the spine of a footballing dynasty, let alone the spirit of a man they called the King?
This Liverpool team did not deserve Steven Gerrard. Watching Steven Gerrard prowl the midfield was like seeing the regulation-size T-rex at a dinosaur exhibit. A giant among men. Born too late, he embodied a bygone hope and romance of football and the modest, glossy glory Panini card/8-bit arcade. In Gerrard, Liverpool fans saw Roy Race of the Melchester Rovers come hurtling out of the 10×14-inch Saturday cereal box panels and onto the 45m x 90m chalk-drawn box of the football pitch.
He’s the urchin from the working-class hood of Huyton who would scorch his skin on pavements just to win the ball back. Joey Barton, Tony Hibbert, Steve McMahon, and other scowly-headed bastards, Huyton bred hellhounds. Nothing was expected of them. A good touch and a mean streak were needed to survive.
Football was Frank Lampard’s birthright. While he was kicking the ball into his grandad’s cage, Frank Lampard Senior, the West Ham legendary centre-back used have the World Cup-winning captain, Sir Bobby Moore for fish, chips, cuppa on weekends. While Steven Gerrard was scything down local punks twice his size in crumbling, concrete parking lots, Frank Lampard had reserved sessions with his father. The thud of tackles ringing across Essex parks was as much of the ambience as birds chirping, or a geezer ranting about his local football team. Lampard’s uncle handed him his domestic debut while his father was in the dugout. All Steven Gerrard received as hand-me-downs were cardboard boxes full of impostor syndrome. “I’m shitting myself here, mate,” were his exact words to Didi Hamann, on his international debut versus Germany.
When Lampard went onto make his debut for England, lining up with his kick-the-ball-in-the-bird-cage partner Jamie Redknapp (Uncle Harry’s son), it came as little surprise. To Lampard, perhaps, the inevitability of the event was something as routine as a scholar getting good grades.
With Makelele, Essien, Roman Abramovich and his upbringing padding the midfield, Frank Lampard had the nuance, skills, privilege and the opportunity. Steven Gerrard was a one-man-crew manning a leaky schooner to shore, while Frank had a deck full of aces on a frigate called HM Abundance sailing at the rate of knots. This is probably why Lampard who started playing two years earlier retired two years later.
Where Gerrard relied on the nitro boost of adrenaline to cover every square inch of grass, Lampard philosophised himself into the perfect position to score 177 goals. The Chelsea man, who as a boy notched an A+ on Latin literature in his GCSEs was wise to the narrative of mob (fan) culture and turned his coat when the season suited him, moving irreverently from West Ham to Chelsea to rival oligarchs Man City. Steven Gerrard would still perhaps be covering one in the long line of errant Liverpool left-backs, instead.
This is what I tell myself. And if you too are a Liverpool fan this is what you should tell your children and your grandchildren to come. All this is why Gerrard has as many matches named after him as Frank Lampard has trophies. If they are half as gullible/romantic as we are, they’d buy it.