Carling Cup clash of the cousins: Steven Gerrard v Anthony Gerrard at Wembley
Anthony Gerrard has taken a very different route to Wembley than his cousin. He tells James Corrigan why the final means so much
The tale of the two Gerrards comes full circle under the Wembley arc tomorrow. When one was at the very bottom, the other was at the very top and the chances of the pair ever meeting in a major final appeared on the remotest outskirts of unlikely. Six years on and here they are.
Anthony is the little cousin, the player with the same famous name, the same famous smirk and a sense of humour formed on Ironside Road, the street in Huyton where the families both lived. Anthony, however, was the one who didn't follow the Boy's Own script. While Steven emerged and rose, Anthony emerged and fell. The week in May 2005 summed up an entirely relative contrast.
"When Steven lifted the Champions League, I was in Cancun, crying into a beer," said Anthony, who was euphoric for his cousin yet crestfallen for himself. "I was just trying to get away from football in general."
That very week, David Moyes had told him Everton were letting him go. Having been spotted by them as an eight-year-old, Gerrard had come through the ranks with a boy called Wayne Rooney and, at 19 and captain of the reserves, was considered one for Everton's future. Moyes changed all that in one cold instant.
"I was heartbroken," says Gerrard. "There were nine of us going in to see about our contracts and I was the last person left in the canteen. I went in to see the manager and heard him say 'No'... It was a bit of a kick in the gonads, really. I had to re-evaluate my life. I could have gone to university. But I had a dream of being a professional footballer."
That beer in Mexico may have stopped tasting bitter by the time Steven and Liverpool had pulled off the comeback of all comebacks in Istanbul, but Anthony was determined he would not be the Gerrard with the hard-luck story. Along with Steven, his family helped pick him up and off he went to Walsall to rescale one of sport's greatest ascents. Within a season he was in the bottom division, off the radar, not even a blip.
"I couldn't just give up," he said. "I want to play in the Premier League and I've worked my way into the Championship. I have got a great support network around me. My dad, my grandad, my cousins, they picked me up and told me I wasn't a bad player just because of one manager's say-so.
"I went and proved that by going to play against fellas who were 6ft 5in and just wanted to elbow my head off. You can't buy that experience. You don't get it playing tippy-tappy reserve games. You do that by getting knocked out in places like Boston, when you get carried off on a stretcher and left in A&E for an hour. When you fall away from the top teams, it is a hard road back. Not a lot of people can do it but, hopefully, I can."
That is why today means so much. If Mark Hudson passes a fitness test, Gerrard may well find himself on the bench, but one must suspect that even a cameo appearance would satisfy him. "I've been dreaming of this day all my life," he said. "But always in those dreams I've been wearing red."
To say loyalties in family Gerrard will be split is oversimplifying this conundrum. There are 80 relatives in all attending and, in truth, they would have to be a hard, red-nosed bunch to deny Anthony his moments of glory. Certainly, he will not hold back, despite his obvious devotion to "my big cus".
"If he goes through one-on-one in the last minute and we are winning, I am going to take him out," says Anthony, his smile as broad as his accent. "Let's be honest. I'm not going to lie. He's got too many winners' medals. If this is my only chance to get a winner's medal, I have to take that opportunity. But it will be strange playing against him for the first time. OK, the first time professionally. It was funny when we were young in our nan's back garden. He had made a goal out of tarpaulin and would always drag me out to play as goalkeeper when his mates came round. Our nan would have to come out to tell them to go easy on me.
"I don't know how I'll feel when I see him in the tunnel. I can't picture it. We will have to get the hug out the way well beforehand and away from everyone else and then just get on with the job. If he loses, he will be gutted. Yet, he might have a little bit of admiration for his little cousin taking the plaudits."
Trophy apart, Anthony is sure of one thing being in his possession come Sunday evening. "The shirt," he says. "I haven't mentioned it to him yet. I texted him the other day and I was so close to saying, 'Don't even think about giving your shirt to anyone else'. All the other boys will want it. But there's no need for them to be greedy. There is Bellers's shirt, Suarez's shirt, etc. But the Steven Gerrard one is mine."
Steven Gerrard insists that the 'Kenny factor' has lifted the doom and gloom around Anfield and that victory in tomorrow's Carling Cup final can be the catalyst for greater glories
By Ian Herbert
Steven Gerrard is one of that diminishing breed of footballer disinclined to communicate their injury updates, breakfast contents and general hopes of conflict resolution through Twitter, so it is only now that we discover the full emotional capital he carries into leading Liverpool out at Wembley for the first time tomorrow.
The statistic which will get a substantial airing this weekend – that it is 16 years since Liverpool last went to Wembley – is a conceit, of course. A generation of Liverpool fans would be entirely familiar with Wembley Way had cup finals not been staged 130 miles down the M4 in the six years from 2001. But Gerrard still always felt he was missing a gift in the possession of John Barnes, Liverpool's captain on the day he first clapped eyes on the twin towers, as Liverpool fell to Eric Cantona's Manchester United in the 1996 FA Cup final. "I was thinking about that when I was at Cardiff for Cup finals," Gerrard admits. "I was slightly gutted, if you like – that they were not at Wembley, because when you're growing up and watching finals as a kid, you want to walk up those steps and lift the Cup above your head in front of everyone."
There are more profound kinds of significance about tomorrow, too, the foremost being a collapse into internecine strife and outright civil war which has crippled Liverpool since Gerrard lifted their last silverware at the 2006 FA Cup final that has since borne his name. "Yes, of course," he says to the suggestion that he felt the club were slipping away entirely. "Going back to the time under George Gillett and Tom Hicks, you suffer a defeat at Anfield and then go out to do a warm-down, and there are thousands singing and shouting to get the owners out. Not good. There were days when you wondered, 'Will I ever get to a major cup final or will I experience more success as a Liverpool player?' But you don't stop believing. You always have to believe and have confidence that things will turn around if you keep working hard and doing the right things, and that's what we have all done. We have all stuck together. I think the experience and hurt from the lows help you to get to places like this final, and to have good memories."
That his beloved club should be restoring a little of the lost dignity is something Gerrard attributes to the man depicted on the vast image his father, Paul, once heaved up the stairs at No 10, Ironside Road, on Huyton's Bluebell estate, and passed over, telling him: "He's the man. The best player who ever turned out for Liverpool. Get him up on your wall."
Liverpool's presence in London tomorrow is "down to the Kenny factor, him coming in," Gerrard says. "This time last year, the season was over, there was a lot of doom and gloom around the place. Kenny coming in gave everyone a big lift and slowly brought a bit of belief and confidence back."
These past few months have been an unsparing test of Dalglish's executive skills and have posed uncomfortable questions about where the line between loyalty and indulgence falls. For Gerrard – the man who once reflected of Rafael Benitez's regime that "we are cogs in a machine, he rarely communicates with us" – the equations are less complicated. "He is a lot closer to the players," he says. "A very good man-manager. He's honest and shows the players [a lot of] support. When you're a player and go out on to the pitch, you want to deliver something back for him. I don't think there's a problem with managers who are distant. I have worked with managers who handle players differently. But with Kenny it's more like he still thinks he's a player, still trying to get a game on the training ground, still laughing and joking with the players. From a serious point of view, he's very loyal and honest with the players. That's all you can ask for."
There are striking parallels between the journey Dalglish (left) will take, this weekend, and the one which Gérard Houllier made 11 years ago, when the 2001 Worthington Cup final win over Birmingham City – on penalties – also delivered Anfield its first silverware in six years. The FA Cup and Uefa Cup followed that season. "Before we won that treble we were improving slowly and I think that's what is happening here," Gerrard reflects. "I think if we deliver the Carling Cup it will give us the confidence and, hopefully, can be a catalyst for the team."
The league title was also not beyond the bounds of possibility in 2001. "I think we are a little bit further away than that team," Gerrard reflects.
Not all of his memories of this type of occasion are cherished. In the 2005 League Cup final, it was Gerrard's own goal which allowed Chelsea back into the game they won 3-2 in extra time. "A nightmare," is his summation. "An own goal. I felt suicidal. It was bad; one of the worst days I have had, especially against Chelsea. I was linked with them for a while before that cup final. Then to go and score an own goal – there were Liverpool fans who probably thought I meant it at the time because I was linked with them – and to get the defeat was a nightmare, too."
The presence in the Cardiff squad of his 26-year-old cousin, Anthony, who would often be present at the kickabouts on Ironside in their boyhood years, provides another dimension today. Anthony, his father's brother's son, would see him at their mutual grandparents' house – No 35 in that street. "I knew from a young age he was going to be a good player," Gerrard says.
But a succinct response to the notion that a Cardiff win might bring some family consolation encapsulates what tomorrow means. "For him personally it would, yes, but not really. No."
Record Breaking Reds: The Final Lowdown
Roads to Wembley
1R Oxford (a) Won 3-1 (aet)
(Conway, Whittingham, Jarvis)
2R Huddersfield (h) W 5-3 (aet)
(Gyepes, Parkin, Cowie 2, Conway)
3R Leicester (h) D 2-2 (aet, won 7-6 on penalties)
4R Burnley (h) W 1-0
QF Blackburn (h) W 2-0
SF1L Crystal Palace (a) L 1-0
SF2L Crystal Palace (h) W 1-0
(Gardner og), 1-1 on aggregate, won 3-1 on penalties.
2R Exeter (a) Won 3-1
(Suarez, Rodriguez, Carroll)
3R Brighton (a) Won 2-1
4R Stoke (a) Won 2-1
QF Chelsea (a) Won 2-0
SF1L Manchester City (a) W 1-0
SF2L Manchester City (h) D 2-2
(Gerrard pen, Bellamy) won 3-2 on aggregate
*Tomorrow Liverpool will contest a record 11th League Cup final – the Reds having won seven, also a record, of their previous 10 finals.
Most League Cup victories
5 Aston Villa
4 Chelsea, Manchester United, Nottingham Forest, Tottenham Hotspur
Liverpool's League Cup victories
1981 Drew 1-1 (aet) with West Ham United [scorer: A Kennedy], won replay 2-1 at Villa Park [Dalglish, Hansen].
1982 Beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 (aet) [Whelan 2, Rush]
1983 Beat Manchester United 2-1 (aet) [A Kennedy, Whelan]
1984 Drew 0-0 (aet) with Everton, won replay 1-0 at Maine Road [Souness].
1995 Beat Bolton Wanderers 2-1 [McManaman 2]
2001 Beat Birmingham 5-4 on penalties after a 1-1 draw (aet) [Fowler]
2003 Beat Manchester United 2-0 [Gerrard, Owen]
Liverpool League Cup final defeats
1978 Drew 0-0 with Nottingham Forest, lost replay 1-0 at Old Trafford
1987 Lost 2-1 to Arsenal [Rush]
2005 Lost 3-2 to Chelsea (aet) [Riise, Nuñez]
*Cardiff City are playing in their first League Cup final, and become the first Welsh side to contest the showpiece, the city having hosted the final for seven years (2001-07) at the Millennium Stadium while Wembley was being renovated.