Everybody hates them and they don’t care. Millwall fans, detestable bunch of thugs by and large. Sam Bethell, the fella who swung for and missed Patrice Evra, was one of them.
But I’ve just read an article by Millwall-loving Ron Liddle in The Times which is really worth a read. As if slagging off that prick Frank Lampard wasn’t enough to warm us to him, he has today torn a strip off the theory that scouse bastard Gerrard is worthy of all the praise he has received in the press.
Is there a devilish, shadowy conspiracy to stop Liverpool winning the Premier League title this season? Or are Liverpool retreating into their unlovable role as perpetual victims once more? I have the horrible feeling that Steven Gerrard’s arrest (and subsequent charging) for some alleged fracas in a Southport nightclub will lead, some way down the line, to black armbands, wreaths strewn around the gates at Anfield and maybe a minute’s silence before the next home game.
Liverpool’s fans have been quite magnificent these past few years, rock solid in support of their manager, fervently behind their team even when getting the run around by Havant & Waterlooville and Barnsley – a model of patience, forbearance and loyalty. In other words, proper football supporters as we once understood the term. But they do not always react well to adversity apparently imposed from outside. And this time around, with Steven Gerrard’s arrest, they are being chaperoned back into their whining laager by the national press. It’s not fair, etc, someone wants us to lose the league, etc.
One commentator – who also, presumably not coincidentally, was the ghost-writer of Gerrard’s award-winning autobiography – laid it on with a particularly broad trowel. “No-one walks alone at Anfield” the article began, before detailing how poor Stevie would find everyone rallying around, with “Sammy Lee delivering a few words of encouragement” and the backroom staff bowing and scraping and Rafa putting his arm around the shoulder. And then stepping out proudly at Deepdale in the FA Cup tie against Preston North End because Stevie G “possesses the mental strength to sprint out of the tunnel and impose his phenomenal game on proceedings, perhaps by bashing the opposing centre-half on the cranium inside the first minute”.
Well, okay, he did not write that last bit, that was me. And it may be unfair on Gerrard because, of course, the whole affair has not yet come to court and “Stevie” might be an entirely innocent party, which is precisely the subtext of how he has been judged so far by his employers and by much of the national press.
Compare and contrast, if you will, with the way football supporters are prejudged in much less grave matters (see right) or indeed with the calumny heaped (rightfully, I reckon) on the shoulders of that lovable but mischievous little imp, Joey Barton.
This is Steven Gerrard MBE we are talking about, of course, Steven Gerrard of England – and to read some of the encomiums in the press you might think that he had just embarked on a course of chemotherapy or recently returned from a tour of duty in Basra or suffered a sudden triple bereavement, rather than been arrested for allegedly occasioning actual bodily harm in a nightclub at two o’clock in the morning. Innocent until proven guilty, for sure, but such a presumption does not necessarily have to imply a requirement for beatification.
And we haven’t even begun to deal with that exacerbating circumstance, Mr Gerrard’s deep love and veneration of the music of Phil Collins and the suspicion, unspoken so far, that he may have requested the unfortunate DJ to have played In The Air Tonight or some other noisome sliver of Mr Collins’s vapid 1980s bombast.
Hell, sure, it is a tough time for Steven Gerrard right now, but it is probably a rather tougher time for the alleged victim, what with those four stitches in his forehead and the fact that, according to several reports, he is a Manchester City supporter.
Should Gerrard play at all, with this charge hanging over him for the next three weeks (and perhaps longer)? I am not entirely won over by his manager’s insistence that playing for Liverpool will have a magical rehabilitative effect on Gerrard. “The best thing for him and for us is to just focus on the football,” the manager remarked. Benitez has also said that he knows Gerrard as a “nice lad”, to which we might respond well, fair enough, who could possibly gainsay such a judgment?; but the whole business smacks just a little of what we might call self-interest.
I wonder if Benitez would have been quite so indulgent had, say, Robbie Keane been banged up for 20 hours after having been accused of clobbering someone while on the razz at two o’clock in the morning at a nightclub. I have my doubts. Gerrard is crucial to Liverpool’s title hopes; they can do without Torres just about, but not Gerrard.
Still, as I say, Gerrard is innocent until proven guilty and, beyond that, in theory I have nothing against players celebrating in a nightclub until the early hours after a football match. The notion that they should not be allowed to do so is yet another imposition that separates the players from the fans and establishes them as a sort of weird super-breed, devoid of morality, fragile of constitution and too stupid to be allowed out on their own.
It is certainly true, too, that the way we view our footballers – and celebrities in general – has changed considerably in the past 15 or so years. They are no longer revered by the public quite as they were but are more often the repositories of (more often than not, drunken) disdain, hostility and even violence.
This is partly because they have traded in their honest pro credentials for celebritydom, effected through the outrageous wages they are paid each week, which, you have to say, exceed the value they bring to their clubs. The money they earn and the lifestyles they enjoy seem to offer carte blanche to any normal person to subject them to derision and vituperation, which may be unfair, but it is comprehensible. It sort of goes with the territory these days, and nightclubs are, for the likes of Steven Gerrard, accidents waiting to happen.