Obsession with Liverpool captain overshadowing other three teams
17 April ~ "News is anything that someone, somewhere, wants to suppress. Everything else is advertising." So said the legendary publisher William Randolph Hearst in his acid test of journalism. By this reckoning, much of the football reporting in the press is base metal, rather than gold. Take the coverage of Liverpool, and Steven Gerrard, in particular.
Much as Burnley have become media darlings this season, we now have the Steven Gerrard Birthday Cup Final scheduled for May 30, when the player involved turns 35. The preferred ending has Brendan Rodgers masterminding a victory, and his one-club captain collecting the trophy while a grateful nation celebrates.
If the semi-finals go to form, Liverpool will meet Arsenal. It's an irresistible prospect for the tabloids, with the Chosen One up against Arsène Wenger, the football press's punchbag of choice; the man who deliberately frustrates the papers with his dearth of big signings and lack of ready quotes.
The Birthday Cup Final was spotted some months ago by sports writers anxious to mark the end of Gerrard's career, not with a news story, but with a good story. For that to happen, Liverpool need to win the Cup. And with pens (or rather laptops) poised to bring the glad tidings, you can bet that most of the hacks will be praying for the Reds to sweep Aston Villa aside before accounting for the Gunners – assuming they beat Reading – with Gerrard's valediction a goalscoring appearance from the bench.
In many ways, the media's attitude is understandable; Gerrard's ability to change the biggest games in the most dramatic fashion has made sure of that. But the overkill is characteristic of the British media's – and British football's – fixation with power and strength (symbolised by the clenched fist and over-the-top tackle) that left players such as Matt Le Tissier and Glenn Hoddle marginalised. Football supporters are not stupid. They recognise a genuine talent or committed club player when they see one. So why not let the punters decide when and whether to celebrate a player's career?
In these circumstances, we won't get the choice. Merely reporting the facts, rather than trawling the interminable back story, may prove too much for all but the most professional writers. All they need on May 30 is a Liverpool victory, with probable stories on Cup final morning making a plea to providence under numerous Stevie G headlines. A win for Arsenal or Reading is unthinkable.
Unless, of course, said sports pages are Blu-tacked to the walls of the opposition dressing room, as with Wimbledon 1988, with similar results for Liverpool. Mind you, if the Cup does go to north London for a second year running, some of Wapping's finest will be forced to report the facts. And that really will be news. Paul Caulfield