Almost seventeen years after making his debut there, Steven Gerrard will play at Anfield for the final time on Saturday when Liverpool entertain Crystal Palace in the Premier League.
His last game before he leaves for the Los Angeles Galaxy may yet occur at Stoke City on the season’s final day, but with Liverpool realistically unable to qualify for the Champions League and Palace long safe from relegation, Saturday’s match will serve as his farewell party.
After 708 appearances, 185 goals, 10 trophies and innumerable moments of drama, it will be an occasion of unique poignancy, and the 34-year-old midfielder knows it will be difficult to keep his emotions in check.
“I’m really looking forward to the game,” he said. “I want to win my last game at Anfield. It will be a bonus if I can get on the score-sheet.
“But once the game finishes and I say goodbye to the fans that are here – and I know it’s being televised, so it’s a good chance for me to say goodbye to the fans worldwide as well – it will be emotional, not just for me, for my family.
“I’m sure there will be a few supporters that are emotional too. After 17 years, that’s just the way it’s going to be.”
Gerrard will be granted a guard of honour by both sets of players prior to kick-off, while supporters will display giant mosaics in the Kop and the lower part of the Centenary Stand.
The club will make a presentation to him on the pitch at the final whistle and the captain will then address the crowd for the final time.
When Gerrard passes beneath the famous ‘THIS IS ANFIELD’ sign in the tunnel prior to taking the field, it will be 6 012 days since he made his first appearance there, aged 18, as a late substitute for Vegard Heggem during a 2-0 win over Blackburn Rovers on November 29, 1998.
Manchester United’s Old Trafford has sprouted over 20 000 seats in the intervening years, while Arsenal and Manchester City have both moved into new stadiums, but Anfield has barely changed.
By his own admission, Gerrard’s career has been a tale of “really cruel lows and incredible highs”, but for the most part, the 123-year-old ground has been a sanctuary.
The lows have tended to happen elsewhere, be it major tournament heartbreak in foreign fields with England, FA Cup final disappointment at Chelsea’s hands in 2012 or the 2007 loss to AC Milan in the Champions League final in Athens.
He has also drawn strength from the stadium’s association with the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, in which his 10-year-old cousin, Jon-Paul Gilhooley, was the youngest of the 96 Liverpool fans who perished.
Writing in his autobiography, Gerrard said that every time he drives through the Shankly Gates into Anfield, he “slows to a crawl” in order to cast a glance at the Hillsborough Memorial.
It was thoughts of Gilhooley that doubtless caused tears to spring to his eyes after Liverpool beat Manchester City 3-2 at Anfield on the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough in April last year.
Gerrard saw Anfield’s sanctity violated two weeks later when he succumbed to the infamous slip against Chelsea that was to cost him a first league title.
But it has also been the scene of some of his greatest moments, including a slaloming run through the Sheffield Wednesday defence to score his first Liverpool goal at the Anfield Road end in December 1999.
There have been countless astonishing goals since, many hit as sweetly as it is possible to strike a football, such as the last-gasp pile-driver against Olympiakos in front of the Kop on an electrifying December night in 2004 that inspired Liverpool to glory in the Champions League.
Gerrard has often risen to the occasion and with two goals in his last two games, he is in goal-scoring form at present. The stage is set once again.
SOURCE: Barclays Premier League
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