Carrying one daughter on his shoulders and with his two others by his side, Steven Gerrard circled the field inside Anfield and received the acclaim of his adoring Liverpool fans one last time.
Red-and-white scarves were thrown in front of him. He was serenaded with songs. Teammates past and present followed him around, all wearing jerseys with “Gerrard 8” on the back, and were careful to keep their distance, letting a club icon savor the moment.
It was the end of an era at Anfield on Saturday as Gerrard played his final home match in the red of Liverpool he has represented with distinction for 17 years.
The game ended in a 3-1 loss to Crystal Palace, but that didn’t really matter to Liverpool’s fans. Saturday was all about saying farewell to arguably the club’s greatest ever player.
“I’ve been dreading this moment,” Gerrard said, addressing the fans, “and I’m absolutely devastated I won’t be playing in front of these supporters again.”
There were no tears from Gerrard — perhaps out of disappointment at failing to mark his last home appearance with a win — just from his 3-year-old daughter Lourdes, and probably many inside the ground on an emotionally charged evening.
“These supporters here stand out more than any,” Gerrard said in his final words to the crowd of 44,673. “I’ve played in front of most supporters around the world, but you are the best.”
Gerrard played all 90 minutes in his 709th and next-to-last game for his hometown team but couldn’t conjure up one final moment of brilliance at a stadium he has illuminated so many times.
Instead, the 34-year-old former England captain produced a fairly low-key display in a game that ended Liverpool’s slim hopes of qualifying for the Champions League. Manchester United — Liverpool’s great rival — has qualified instead.
Gerrard will leave Liverpool after next weekend’s match at Stoke — on the final weekend of the Premier League season — to join the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The final minute of the match was played to a soundtrack of “Steven Gerrard is a red,” which drowned out the fulltime whistle. Liverpool fans chanted songs about their captain of the past 12 years throughout a frustrating match for both Gerrard and the team.
He had two shots — one that was well saved and another that was so far off target that it drew mock derision from fans in The Kop. Gerrard saluted them with a thumbs-up.
The game was more a celebration of an icon, a chance to say goodbye, than a football match. Liverpool went into it with virtually no chance of finishing in the top four, and Palace was safe from relegation, so the whole evening could be dedicated to honoring the club’s best player in a generation — perhaps ever.
Gerrard’s name was the last to be read out — to huge cheers — when the teams were announced. Accompanied by his three young kids, Gerrard touched the “This is Anfield” sign one last time in the tunnel, and walked out to a guard of honor, high-fiving each Palace player.
He clapped and waved to all four stands, two of which had mosaics held out by fans that spelled “CAPTAIN” and “S8G.” As the club’s anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” rang out, Gerrard laughed and played with his daughters.
By this time, Gerrard was trending on Twitter, which was awash with tributes throughout the game.
He couldn’t provide a final “Gerrard moment” in his 354th home match, but fans here have been spoiled by memorable moments from the midfielder since he made his debut in 1998.
Few will forget the late goal scored against Olympiakos in front of The Kop that sealed Liverpool’s passage to the Champions League knockout stage in 2004. Liverpool went on to become European champions that season for a fifth time, beating AC Milan on penalties in Istanbul after rallying from 3-0 down at halftime to draw 3-3. Gerrard says it was the best night of his life.
Gerrard departs with 10 trophies for Liverpool but — much to his chagrin — no Premier League winner’s medal. He will have one more opportunity to add to his goal tally of 185 before heading to the United States.
Gerrard’s departure will leave a huge void in the Liverpool team, and at the club. He has worn the captain’s armband since 2003. He has been Liverpool’s symbol for the past decade, the local boy from the nearby council estate who the team has turned to in times of need, and has set the standard in matches and training.
“I don’t think there is a person who has come into the club who has given what he has done over the time,” Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said. “He has been a wonderful player and gave his all for the club.”
Flags held up inside Anfield summed up what he means to the fans. “Thank You Liverpool’s Gr8est” read one. Another said: “Gerrard one of a kind.”
The pre-match playlist had songs entitled “End Of The World As We Know It,” ”No More Heroes,” and “Come Back.”
Gerrard no doubt will be back after his 18 months in Los Angeles, in some capacity or other.