Stevie G as Roy of the Rovers

We forget sometimes. Amid all the talk of money and greed, of owners and debts and transfers and cheating, we forget why we really watch football. We forget what drew us to the game in the first place. 

It is about heroes and escapism and, even now, in a world of insane hype, we can still recognise a bona-fide, 100 per cent comicbook hero when we see one.
This is why we fell in love with the game as children and why we remain fascinated by the sport today, even if it is against our better instincts.

Essentially we are all waiting for that Roy of the Rovers moment; the instant when a football phenomenon delivers a dramatic twist of the plot so implausible it could be lifted from the cartoon strips of our youth. And, thankfully, there are a rare few who can deliver script lines worthy of Roy Race. 
Some believe two compelling performances are enough to anoint Gareth Bale as a hero. It was even suggested he was the 'Second Best Player In The World' this week by a newspaper, ignoring the fact his brilliance was enhanced by a tactically dim Inter Milan under Rafa Benitez. By the time you read this Bale may have shone against Bolton Wanderers and been elevated in the pantheon of greats alongside Pele. Who knows? Nothing wrong with celebrating good news and sublime talent, of course, but a little perspective comes in handy.

There is, however, one player who carries his club squarely on his back week in and week out. He has made such a habit out of heroics it has almost become routine for him.
When he is absent, the team is diminished. When he emerges from the bench, it usually signals the start of some thrilling and unlikely rescue act. That is why Steven Gerrard just has to be the closest thing modern football has to a genuine Roy of the Rovers character.

Take the events of this week. With Liverpool meandering haplessly to defeat against Napoli, and with their new American owner shaking his head ruefully at the inadequacy of the players he had inherited, as if he actually knew something about the game, Gerrard stepped forward.
The crowd suddenly crackled with anticipation. They instinctively believed everything would be all right because 'Stevie G' would save the day.
That kind of pressure might sink some players, but Gerrard just feeds on the responsibility. Lo and behold, in the final 15 minutes he scored an irresistible hat-trick and all was well with the world at Anfield. Or at least it would be if Liverpool could discover a way to clone Gerrard and replace the rest of the team with versions of the man. Of course, if you saw this scenario played out in a comic book you would chuckle.

England's most decorated football club have had some spectacular players, but Jamie Carragher believes none is better than Steven Gerrard. The captain rescued the Reds against Napoli, but is he greater than the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, Kevin Keegan and the other Merseyside messiahs?

But Gerrard has produced more moments like this than any other player I can think of.

When Liverpool needed a late goal against Olympiakos to progress in the Champions League, the scorching strike three minutes from time came courtesy of you-know-who.
He started the amazing European Cup final fightback against AC Milan in 2005. When the FA Cup was snatched from West Ham's grasp a year later, Gerrard scored twice in normal time, including a thunderous 91st minute equaliser, and again from the penalty spot in the shoot-out.

Is he the best Liverpool player ever? Jamie Carragher thinks so and he has an argument. Kenny Dalglish, Kevin Keegan and Graeme Souness had a fine team around them. Gerrard has Fernando Torres, when he's feeling up to it, and not a great deal else.

Of course, we know so much more about our 'heroes' now than they did in the days of Scorcher, Tiger and The Hotspur that none can be considered perfect role models like the fictional Roy. And Gerrard has flaws. We remember a scrape in a bar and a tendency to trip over imaginary legs now and then. But everyone is entitled to a lapse and his general demeanour and attitude earns him nothing but credit.

So although Britain doesn't produce football comics any more and the likes of 'Hotshot Hamish' and his ilk have had their day, we can still echo the adventure and exhilaration that captures the spirit of Roy Of The Rovers. Gerrard proves it every week.

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