Liverpool Legends Put Smile Back on the Face of Football
When John Terry and Didier Drogba get a huge ovation from the Kop you’ve got to know you’re witnessing something special.
I perhaps put too much focus in these columns on some of the negative aspects of modern football - the cheating, the hooligans, the money and the entitlement that it creates.
Like everything else in the past, it’s easier to look back with rose-tinted glasses at a simpler time when professional footballers lived up the street and not in pampered millionaire gated communities.
But wasn’t it inspiring on Sunday to see some of the world’s most amazing talents – and, in some cases, most maligned personalities – kicking the ball around like a bunch of kids over the park?
The park in this case was Anfield, the most awe-inspiring of stadiums with the most incredible fans.
The occasion was Sunday’s charity match between all-star teams put together by Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. The game raised more than $1.5 million and restored any fears you may have that football has become too bogged down with the burden of winning.
To hear ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone,’ sung by the Liverpool supporters on any given day will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
To witness the applause for former players like Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres is heartwarming.
To see Terry getting a warm reception is simply bizarre…and wonderful.
Some things, like Mario Balotelli scoring (and smiling) and Gerrard playing longer than a minute, were a surprise given recent events. Others, like Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba scoring trademark strikes, were more predictable.
There was something for everybody really. When Suarez won a dubious penalty after falling over a Carragher tackle the two of them got up laughing. Gerrard scored a couple of spot kicks. Locally raised scouser full back Jon Flanagan took another major step in his comeback from injury with 30 minutes.
Torres wasn’t easily forgiven after leaving for Chelsea in 2011 but all's well now if the applause greeting his second-half appearance was anything to go by.
Suarez got an even bigger ovation despite his exit to Barcelona at the end of last season.
For the Liverpool faithfull, it was also an opportunity to give a proper, if belated, send-off to favorites like Xabi Alonso and Pepe Reina.
This was soccer as it is supposed to be. There is a reason, after all, why it is called a game.
The score was 2-2 but that was probably the least important thing about the day.
Steven Gerrard still has work to do for the Reds and he will face an altogether different challenge next season with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Getting used to a new club in a new country won’t be a walk in the park.
But if he fancies another fun match played in the same spirit next year he is always welcome to venture down the Pacific Coast to Orange County on a Sunday morning.
The Field of Broken Dreams will be honored to play host, just as long as he brings the oranges.