10 January ~ Mark E Smith began his memoir Renegade by comparing the band members who deserted The Fall on a US tour a few years back with “the Beckham generation: that lot that fucked up so spectacularly in 2006 because they couldn’t do what they were paid to do; because they couldn’t spend time away from their birds; that lot who couldn’t stop crying.” This opinion of a squad lead by players such as Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole and Steven Gerrard reflects a widely held view that while England’s serial failures over the past decade were nothing to cheer about, at least they afforded us the chance to spit with contempt at the spoilt and excessively affluent players who failed to live up to their publicity.
I try to think about these players and their lives as little as possible, but sometimes the modern world insists on encroaching on my mental space, which is still largely occupied by memories of watching home wins from the old wooden stand at Sincil Bank as smoke from an old man’s pipe blew up my fledgling nostrils. A wang-eyed postman last week belatedly and erroneously delivered to my house the December 20th edition of OK! magazine. I was about to put it back in the postbox with an “undeliverable” note attached, when I spotted the week’s main story: Steven and Alex Gerrard present baby Lourdes inside their spectacular new home at Christmas with Lilly and Lexie.
Maybe this was meant to be. My postman knew that I write scathing articles for a sceptical football magazine that questions the whole ethos of the modern game. He wanted me to see the other side. The lighter side. Never mind the scowling, diving, whining Steven Gerrard I saw every week on my television screen. What’s the real Steven Gerrard like? The family man, relaxing in his home. In his spectacular new home, no less. At Christmas.
Fearing the scorn of my family, I ripped off the plastic cover and furtively scurried into a dark room, locking the door and using a small pocket torch to scan the text and the pictures. Pausing only briefly to find out if Jedward is (are?) “all set for Christmas”, and swooning slightly over the pictures of lovely, shaven-headed Sinead O’Connor’s “casual, quick and very romantic” lead up to her fourth marriage, I gorged upon the Gerrard photo feature to find the portrait of a family with very real concerns, posing in front of a festively adorned 12-foot Christmas tree and what looks like the piano John Lennon used in the Imagine video. It wasn’t hard to picture Steven sitting down at the instrument and playing his fellow Liverpudlian’s call for world peace (“Nothing to kill and dive for…”).
You think these people lead perfect lives? Think again. Despite the Yuleish idyll depicted, it was only five weeks since “the couple’s lives were thrown into sudden turmoil, with Steven being rushed to hospital for surgery on his infected ankle just two days before the birth” of third child Lourdes. Luckily, thanks to the miracles of modern medicine, it wasn’t actually Steven giving birth, so the delivery went ahead as planned. “The labour was only two hours so it was pretty quick,” Alex assures us. Steven heroically watched the whole thing from a neighbouring bed.
Where did the name Lourdes come from? Well, Alex wanted another name beginning with L, while Steven thinks “it’s classy and Madonna’s daughter has it too which is nice”. He’s done “a few nappy changes”, but the injured ankle had made it hard to be too involved at first. Meanwhile, becoming a dad has made Steven more mature. “When you’re a footballer, people think that’s the be all and end all, football is important but it will always play second fiddle – my family comes first.”
If you’re not in tears by this point, your heart is made of cold, hard steel. If you could see the photos of Alex in her kitchen, by the cot, and sitting on the stairs showing off some leg (“having slipped straight back into her size 8 clothes after the birth”), you would maybe have more idea of the struggles of your average footballer’s wife. If you could see the whole family posing by the indoor pool, you’d maybe realise that being a footballer’s not just about pinging the ball 40 yards ahead of your forward line, or blasting shots into the upper tier, or demonstratively insisting that the DJ plays Phil Collins. There are pool maintenance issues too.
Despite all the sacrifices – Steven missed their last wedding anniversary due to a golf charity event in Portugal, and will miss this year’s because “hopefully” he’ll be playing for England in Euro 2012 – the Gerrards have not forgotten those who are not so well off. “We’re really lucky,” says Steven (for a second I thought it said “tacky”, but it was just the dimming battery in my torch), “that we’re in a privileged position where we can treat each other to nice presents but it’s important to realise that there are other people out there who can’t do that.”
So suck on that all you cynics who think that today’s player is completely detached from the fanbase. If you couldn’t afford to give your family “nice presents” this past Christmas, remember that the likes of Steven realised the position you were in. I personally will never again jeer England’s golden generation now that I understand the trials of their daily home lives. Just imagine you came home from a hard training session with Kenny Dalglish grunting some incomprehensible Celtic dialect on the touchline and Andy Carroll’s ponytail flapping in your face, and just as you want to relax with the piano and the pool, in comes the wife and says: “Youse, get your Yves Saint Laurent kecks on, the photographer from OK!’s here in ten minutes.” Ian Plenderleith