“Football doesn’t do sentimentality, does it?” mused Jamie Redknapp. The sport may not, but boy the television coverage was giving it a Gerrardian heroic effort to make up for shortcomings elsewhere.
The bald facts of the Sky Sports broadcast showed a Liverpool side once again turned over at home by moderate opposition, with Steven Gerrard quiet and distant from the main action in a deep holding role ahead of a callow defence, and those ahead of him who must now fill his boots more anonymous yet.
But, as commentator Alan Parry and host David Jones were at pains to stress, this was not so much about the result or the performance as the “farewell party” for the Liverpool captain.
If it was a party, then Jones was that loud bore you cannot get away from, yelling the same anecdote at you over and over again, trailing you from kitchen to drawing room to tell you how many miles he gets to the gallon and a funny thing a chap said to him on the golf course only last week.
The outpouring of Gerrard love from the Liverpool fans pre‑match spoke for itself: it did not need Jones to lay it on with a trowel in the way that he did.
One appreciates that it would be good business for everyone if Gerrard had a good match and scored a goal in his last Anfield game: it’s a simple, lovely story that even a child could grasp.
However, that does not mean that everyone watching on the box has a reading age of six. When Crystal Palace, thoughtlessly and selfishly, went in at the interval on level terms, Jones was getting desperate. “Liverpool fans need a hero in the second half. I wonder if they can think of anyone who can save the day?” he said.
That sort of presentational cadence is better suited to a children’s programme: “I wonder what Mister Tubblewump has got under his hat today? Is it a pussycat?” but proved a mere bonbon compared to the glut of sickly-sweet sugar that was to come post-match when Jones interviewed an actual child, bending down to ask one of Gerrard’s daughters.
“And what do you think of Daddy?” The young Miss Gerrard – scoop alert – declared herself strongly pro-Daddy.
It was Steven’s day, and let him do as he pleases, for he has earned the right and is by all accounts not a bad fellow, as footballers go. A certain sort or generation of English person might find the parading of one’s offspring around the stadium a bit OTT, but it would take a heart of stone to begrudge Gerrard a farewell of his choosing.
And yet, while the language used to laud Gerrard often harks back to a previous era (Boy’s Own, Roy of the Rovers, from standing on the Kop to club captain and so on) Sky’s coverage of his last match was very modern, in thrall to that hackneyed vogue for “the narrative” that the marketeers yearn to impose on to the kicking of balls.
Inconvenient details were either glossed over (for instance, when the stadium announcer hailed a man who “won almost everything there was to win” as if a League title would have been merely a nice bonus rather than the main point of the whole operation) or ignored entirely (no mention of his 2005 request to leave the club and instead a portrayal of blissful, untroubled union).
It was reminder that Sky Sports is not just a reporter of sporting action but also the packager of an entertainment product.
The generation who grew up in Gerrard’s time are the children of the Premier League Super Mega Turbo Sunday and of PlayStation consoles where you control Gerrard (or Messi, or whoever) on your video game and make them perform outrageous on-screen feats.
These fans want individual brilliance and superheroes over competition in the traditional sense but, as sportspeople from Sir Donald Bradman getting a duck at The Oval to Gerrard shooting limply wide in front of the Kop have found out, sport rarely delivers the glorious finale that promoters crave.
But grown-ups can still enjoy a cracking yarn without a Hollywood ending: there’s no need to shove the pre-determined children’s version down our throat.