Remember Craig Johnston’s Predator boot? That was when the longhaired Aussie tried to apply science to a football boot. It all sounded perfectly reasonable when Craig was talking about it. A football has a sweetspot, right? When you strike the ball right on the sweetspot, you have maximum control over the flight of the ball. By wearing the specially moulded Predator boot, you maximise the chances of striking the sweetspot. It’s liquid football, innit?
The reality was quite different. Most of us couldn’t hit the sweetspot on a cow’s arse, so why a bit of rubber cut off a bicycle tyre and superglued to the front of your boots would improve your chances is a mystery.
And if ever the Weird of Oz needed proof of the barminess of his idea, he got it in spades on Saturday. When Steven Gerrard gathered Robbie Fowler’s pass, you can be sure he wasn’t calculating the position of the sweetspot on the ball, the minimum force that would be necessary to secure sufficient velocity to strike the net or the possible effects the wind might have on the trajectory of the shot. No, he just teed it up and struck the damn thing as hard as he could. Yet for all the spontaneity of the strike, it was totally perfect. 6.0 for technique and artistic merit.
Watching him slide gleefully along it was easy to appreciate just how much it meant to him. While he is not the first diehard Liverpool fan to make the short yet oh-so-difficult journey from the stands to the pitch, he is the first to do so from among that select group of players that I like to affectionately refer to as our Young Tarts.
The origins of the term are entirely derogatory. Cast your mind back, if you will, to the late 1980’s, when men were men and pansy was the name of a flower. Not a year went by without every team that aspired to the top proclaiming their latest Great White Hope/Dope, the player who was going to storm the footballing world and usher in a new era of unrivalled dominance for that club.
Naturally that player would usually transpire to be a complete dud.
Liverpool never had Young Tarts though. To get a feel for the mentality separating LFC from Everybody Else, I present Russell Beardsmore (the fact that he was a Manc is a complete coincidence…okay, not really.) He was a Young Tart if ever there was one. Flying down the wing, whipping in crosses, sex on legs (shurely shome mishtake? He looked like Luke Chadwick! – Chris Mc/James), he was a lot more impressive than Ronnie Whelan would have been when he arrived on the scene back in the early 1980’s. Ronnie was solid, dependable, reliable and a lot of other adverbs which are so mealy mouthed as to be insulting.
The difference was that Ronnie Whelan was a world class player, while Russell Beardsmore would eventually wind up at AFC Bournemouth. Young Tarts never worked, see? You needed someone solid, dependable, reliable (etc.), not some brain dead Tony Daley type who excited short sighted pundits but was actually about as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike.
But as the Republic of Liverpool – never use the term ‘Empire’; empires are inherently evil – began to crumble, the idea of having a few Young Tarts to shine some daylight into the miserable squalor that our lives had become became a lot more appealing. Admit it, the shock of going two whole years without winning the title was ameliorated somewhat by the arrival of Steve McManaman on the scene. At first he was about as reliable as Graham Poll, but he brightened up many games with his sparkling brand of football and he almost single-handedly won the FA Cup for us in 1992.
Then along came Robbie Fowler. It was around this time that the phrase Young Tart retrospectively entered the deiseach lexicon. 90 Minutes ran an article highlighting the prospective stars of the future including such luminaries as Tommy Widdrington, Neil Shipperley and Billy Kenny. Billy Kenny got sacked by Everton, by the way. Included among all this dross was Robbie Fowler, and my brother pointed out to me that we were finally beginning to produce some Young Tarts of our own. We were going to break the mould though, by producing some that were actually good.
There was a hiatus then of a few years before Young Tart III arrived in the form of Michael Owen. Not only were our Young Tarts good players but one of them was the talk of the entire planet after France 98. But surely you can only pull off this stunt of bringing brilliant players through the ranks so many times…?
Enter Steven Gerrard. The other three were all attack minded players, but Steven Gerrard simply defies description. It seems incredible on the face of it, but he’s going to be the best of the lot. No ifs, buts or maybes. Well, there is one. He has to stay fit. But if he does, he WILL conquer the world. His career thus far has seen a relentless progression. He seems to get better in every game.
I was present at Anfield earlier on this year when we stuffed West Ham. West Ham’s three Young Tarts (tired of that phrase yet?) came to Anfield fresh from beating Man Ure at Old Toilet when they had blunted the Mancs’ top notch midfield. But that day against Liverpool, the three of them withered in the face of the remorseless Gerrard. They couldn’t get past him when they attacked and they couldn’t get stop him when he attacked. It was enough to make a grown man cry.
I’m certain we all think that Stevie G is Liverpool’s best player, bar none. And I’m also certain that we all have a Stevie G moment, that single instant of perfect clarity when we realised that this boy was a little bit special. Mine was against Arsenal last year at Lowbury. Standing inside our half, he played a perfect pass through to Titi Camara (still miss him) to score. All very straightforward at first glance. But looking at the replay from behind the Liverpool goal almost brought me to tears. The vision, the accuracy of the pass, the perfect amount of deadweight on the ball, the stricken look on Gilles Grimandi’s face as he realised he had just had his scrotum metaphorically towel-slapped by a manifestly superior player…put it this way: can you ever imagine Roy Keane or David Beckham doing something quite so cheeky?
It’s hard not to disregard his unnerving injury problems though. Rob Jones (who was never a Young Tart because he was born old) was probably the best full back we ever had but injuries prevented him from achieving full greatness. Maybe the same will happen to Our Steven. But for the moment the future looks bright, and I think we can all be forgiven for engaging in a little idle fantasising…
“And Liverpool’s captain, Steven Gerrard steps forward to receive the European Cup for the third year running. The captain has been at the heart of Liverpool’s success…and THERE-IT-IS!!! [cheers] Liverpool have won the European Cup again!”