LONDON: Almost 17 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 but for my family as well.”
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 in 1998.
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 its 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.
He has also drawn strength from the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, in which his 10-year-old cousin perished.
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 also been countless astonishing goals since, such as the last-gasp pile-driver against Olympiakos in front of the Kop on an electrifying December night in 2004.
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.
The penultimate round of matches in this season’s Premier League gets under way on Saturday with several clubs looking to avoid joining already-relegated Burnley and Queens Park Rangers.
Newcastle can clinch safety with a victory at already relegated QPR on Saturday, allied to Hull City failing to win at Tottenham, while Sunderland face Leicester, just a point and a place above them, in what promises to be a classic relegation “six-pointer”.
Soton v Aston Villa
Burnley v Stoke City
QPR v Newcastle
Sunderland v Leicester
Tottenham v Hull City
West Ham v Everton
Liverpool v Palace
Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2015.