Gerrard: Anatomy of a Superhero

A superhero enjoys a special kind of stature, beloved by all, yet isolated. Trapped in a cocoon, devoid of sharing things in common with anyone else. We find them unobtainable and alien, icons thrust so high on a pedestal, they are divorced from our reality. These characters are classic examples of the hero cult that seems to be ingrained in the psyche of humans. Every culture from ancient to modern has had examples of it. Soldiers idolised in Ancient Greece known as heroes. Gladiators with particular prowess in battle were exalted in the Coliseum. A rich myth developed with each man, their deeds used by the public as proof they were living links to celestial beings. More than men but not quite Gods, they were icons for the unachievable made possible.

The Greek hero Heracles immortalised

We too must have our heroes. Our society, though very different to ancient Greece and Rome, shares an obvious passion, sport, and the narrative we impose on each match still captivates fans in every country in the world. Association football is the perfect place for modern day heroes. Professional players are deified for their weekly actions on the pitch. Matches that take place in twenty football stadiums in England every Saturday and Sunday hold sway over the attentions of countless millions of fans. However, not all football players are heroes. Just like in ancient armies, not all soldiers are. For a hero to rise he has to be special. His abilities have to so far outshine the rest they appear divine.

“Not the glittering weapon fights the fight, but rather the hero's heart.”

English football has imposed the hero narrative upon Steven Gerrard. He is a bastion of passion, pride and skill, yet all of his attributes combine to become something more. It is the heart with which he plays that captures the imagination of the public and it is the recognition of this public that confirm him as a hero. To describe his exploits in the same way one would discuss Hercules seems apt. He is known for singlehandedly grabbing a football match and directing it in the way he needs it to go. These deeds let him wield immense power in popular culture. A televised football match transcends the meaning of a mere sporting event. It is a three hundred and sixty degree Greek tragedy. There are countless subplots at work. The media construct story lines; they mould player images to fit classic good and bad guy character templates. This process sets up the event. Steven Gerrard is very often the star of the show. Ironically the sporting action itself is a sideshow.

Photographers regularly capture Gerrard in iconic poses
reminiscent of heroes.

It has been his trademark to pull his ailing Liverpool side from the fire, be it with a thunderous first time volley from outside the box (see the Legend of Gerrards FA Cup Final) or with an elegantly rousing header in a European Final. It is often suggested that the hero is a symbolic representation of the person experiencing the story or narrative in which the hero is operating, therefore the relevance the hero has to the individual fan is great.

“The hero is often simply an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances, who, despite the odds being stacked against him or her, typically prevails in the end”

The hero is the perfect vessel for fans vicarious participation in the great mythologies of their day. Regular people can empathise with his plight, which is the crux of why Steven Gerrard is a modern day hero. Facets of his being and upbringing mirror many of those that fans share with him. He comes from a working class background and plays for his hometown team, therefore identifying with the intense love and fierce local pride that is the lifeblood of the fans. Importantly, he himself is a fan.

“You must admit that the genesis of the great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears, and the social state into which that race has slowly grown...before he can remake his society, his society must make him.” - Herbert Spencer

The Liverpool public was crying out for a hero. It had been too long since the days of their last legend, Dalglish. By craving someone of Gerrards stature the fans were unconsciously constructing the very story of Gerrard before his emergence. He was a self-fulfilling prophecy who just happened to tick every box and make aspects of his game seem superhuman at times.

At this stage it is important to point out why Jamie Carragher, himself a beneficiary of local working class upbringing, and crucially making it to be a first team regular in the Liverpool squad, is not exalted to the level Gerrard is. Gerrard occupies that position on the pitch that has the most romance associated with it, attacking midfielder. He is the eye of the storm, the spice in the mix. Midfield means he can stop the opposition with a tackle that is timed to perfection, create goals for his teammates with sublimely weighted passes and also unleash shots with the ferocity of a bolt of lightning. Carragher is lodged in the goalmouth making crucial interceptions that don’t capture the collective imagination to the extent a Gerrard shot that blazes by the goalies helpless hands would. These get the Kop on their feet.

“Trademarks of the hero include an unwavering cause, a costume, superhuman abilities, a supporting cast of recurring characters, a headquarters and a nemesis.”

Gerrards unwavering cause has turned out to be Liverpool fans and the club itself. The attention that was paid to his nearly transfer to Chelsea a few summers ago has transformed the bond he has with the club and fans to a higher calling. If we reinterpret the Liverpool jersey, we can view it as a costume. It is an outfit that is worn when he performs his deeds of footballing wonder. His abilities on the pitch are superhuman when viewed by fans, managers and most other players. The supporting cast of recurring characters is his teammates, manager and any other staff that appear in the newspapers in conjunction with his image. His headquarters must be Melwood, Liverpools high tech top-secret training compound. The nemesis for him has been Chelsea for some time, but the Liverpool Manchester United rivalry goes beyond that. He enhanced his standing in the eyes of his fans by scoring at Old Trafford and kissing a television camera two seasons ago, an act that resonated deeply with all Liverpool fans. These iconic moments are what elevate the game from mere sport to highly compelling drama where he takes centre stage.

A combination of the media, the fans and his sponsors have augmented Gerrards legacy by using elements of his playing career as these trademarks. The method of presenting modern day football to the public exploits this list of trademarks ruthlessly. Papers, television corporations and gossip websites deal in exclusive photos, video clips and sound bites that enhance the sporting personalities and make them distinct from every day people. For example, they are often pictured at their futuristic training complexes in cutting edge training clothing. The ways in which these photos are given to the public exalt the player, his occupation, his methods of work and his surroundings

There are many moments that categorise him as a hero; instigating the unlikeliest of comebacks in Istanbul, scoring two pile driver volleys in the FA Cup final the following year or his awesome hat trick from the bench against Napoli. Arguably the most consumed moment of Gerrard sporting prowess was immortalised by commentator Andy Gray screaming “Awwwww ya beauty! What a hit son, what a hit”

That goal made me suspend disbelief. It was amazing and made sure Liverpool progressed to the next phase of the Champions league. That night the beginning of the dream to win it was born. Gerrard dragged them over the line. Importantly in that video I always notice his position as the ball is being played near the corner flag. He is centre stage, arms outstretched. He knows exactly where he needs to be to ensure his influence over the game. He screams for the ball twice. He hits his shot. The fans delight is biblical. He becomes a superhero. His version of the Superman crest? The Liverbird upon his chest.

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