‘As a leader and a man, he is incomparable to anyone I have ever worked with.’ Obviously quite some guy, that: John Hunt of Everest? Nelson Mandela? The All Blacks’ all-conquering Richie McCaw? No, it’s Brendan Rogers on Steven Gerrard. The Liverpool manager insists that, although the word ‘legend’ is all right for Thierry Henry or John Terry, it is woefully inadequate for Gerrard. The extravagantly coiffed Robbie Savage, who is now the BBC’s default commentator, has declared the departing club captain the best Liverpool player ever.
Actually there’s a good argument that he wasn’t even the best Liverpool midfielder ever. Would he have got into the side when Souness and Kennedy were at full throttle? Didn’t Phil Neal win about ten times as many trophies, including several league titles? Gerrard isn’t even Liverpool’s most capped player. That’s Jamie Carragher. As for his goal-scoring record, it isn’t a patch on, say, Frank Lampard’s. His trademark, frankly, was digging Liverpool out of deep holes that he had played no small part in excavating. He normally did this with a last-gasp belt from 30 yards. Gerrard managed to bang a couple in against Wimbledon of League Two earlier this week in an FA Cup match, which just about saved Liverpool’s face. Say what you like about Liverpool, they did manage to give Wimbledon a fright! The rush to acclaim Gerrard is a product partly of an ever-present sentimentality regarding Liverpool, and partly the modern, Sky-driven insistence that football wasn’t worth bothering with before the Premier League. Anyway, only saying.
Still, Gerrard had a pretty good disciplinary record on the field, an exemplary private life, and when not dishing out a few straight rights in nightclubs, seems like an all-round good bloke. Which is more than could be said for the egregious Ched Evans. Now that the good folk of Verlin Rainwater Solutions, sponsors of the main stand at Oldham Athletic, have announced they don’t want their name dragged through the gutter by being associated with him, it looks like that’s another club he won’t be playing for. It’s deep water this, and blokes get into big trouble even stepping in, but we either believe in crime and punishment, and redemption and rehabilitation, or we don’t. Evans, however disagreeable, has served his time. Since his release, he could clearly have done infinitely more to get people on his side by saying he was sorry for the incident, and by seeming vaguely supportive of victims of sexual violence. Nevertheless, he should still be allowed to play. Somewhere. It’s his job .
Good to see how fabulous (and posh) darts has become. It is also well loved by other sportsmen. Just before Christmas, Alastair Cook won a televised leg at Ally Pally against James Anderson, his England cricket team-mate, only a few days after he was relieved of his duties as one-day captain. Darts has been a big part of English cricket since Steve Harmison used to take a board on tour with him ten years ago. His room was known as the Harmison Arms, and Graeme Swann’s nickname was ‘The Shoplifter’ (because he never went near a checkout). The team’s love of darts has continued under Cook, who got a 140 with one visit to the oche at Ally Pally and won the match with double-11. (Not the first time he has made 22 and got out recently, some might cruelly say.) One of my hopes for next year is that we see a rejuvenated Cook at the crease, back to making hundreds against the Aussies, but if his form with the bat continues to fade, maybe he should switch sports. ‘Please welcome, from Essex, Alastair “The Chef” Cooooooooooook.’
Roger Alton is executive editor at the Times.