Liverpool: A Personal History of 5 Players to Remember
When Nick Hornby wrote Fever Pitch, he was focused on a certain club from London, but a particular sentiment struck a chord with me, something that keenly described my own view of the game.
He dedicates the book to all of those who, in the middle of a conversation, find their minds drifting off to a 25 yard left-footed curler from 10 or 20 years ago.
As a Liverpool fan, I find myself thinking of many different moments of greatness but most of them were created by the players included in this article.
In no way is this meant to be a definitive list of Anfield's greatest players, though it certainly includes some of them.
Instead this is a list of players who I grew up on, who formed my footballing education, and who, at virtually any time of day, I find drifting through my mind, performing a dribble before slotting the ball home off the inside of a post.
5. Steve McManaman
Some may view this choice as controversial, but to me Steve McManaman was the definition of Liverpool in the '90s.
He may not have left the club with grace, but there were few more exhilarating sights than McManaman's lanky, effortless stride as he left the opposition fumbling and tumbling before playing a through ball for someone to score.
Indeed his off-field exploits could make Andy Carroll look like a nun, but at the time I couldn't have cared less.
I was 16 years old when McManaman made his debut. He seemed to defy football physics, the mop of hair, bony frame and legs so skinny one of his boots looked like the business end of a golf club.
He looked so clumsy, but as soon as the ball reached his foot he was transformed into a majestic and graceful footballing artist.
I would have countless arguments with friends who said that Ryan Giggs was a better player, that Liverpool were too dependent on him and I would be furious when England managers would fail to recognize just what McManaman could do.
He didn't just beat 11 players, wait for substitutes, beat two more, then lash one in; He made other players better. Constantly he would carry the ball across the midfield, linking the play, making clever but simple passes, knitting the side into a whole.
McManaman still holds the record for most assists by any player in a Liverpool shirt.
In fact, my favorite phrase for a number of years was "McManaman...Fowler...GOAL!"
I'll always feel that he was thoroughly underrated outside of Liverpool—but many footballing purists adored him.
4. Robbie Fowler
Left foot, right foot, head, tap-in, curler, bullet, top-right, top-left, cheekily over-the-shoulder, free-kick, penalty, 1 yard, 12 yards, 30 yards.
It didn't matter, Robbie Fowler scored them all. While playing for Liverpool he scored an astonishing 183 goals in 369 games.
When speaking of a "born goalscorer,"I would define the term as a player who is able to score in any fashion necessary from any position and in any situation.
Fowler was an irrepressible person on and off the field but that just endeared him to the Liverpool fans who would follow the example of the hair on their necks and stand up whenever he was within sight of goal.
I always remember the hat-trick against Arsenal, three goals in just a few minutes that left the vaunted Arsenal defense wondering what on Earth they were supposed to do about him.
Many defenders asked the same question. None of them found a definitive answer.
3. John Barnes
At his peak, John Barnes did not have a flaw in his game.
Strong but agile, he could hold off opponents with ease, have the ball under perfect control and move up the field as if he was strolling through a park on a Sunday morning.
He was a superb crosser of the ball, only Jan Molby rivaled him for his ability to not just pick out a player but choose which toe to pass the ball to.
When Barnes hugged the touchline, he moved like a ghost on glass, gliding instead of running. He was simply unstoppable.
One of my favorite memories of him came when he was in an England shirt.
Barnes was much derided for his performances for England, and I was at Wembley when he was standing over a free kick on the right side of the pitch, about 25 yards out, facing Holland's goal.
I was stuck behind one of old Wembley's view-destroying pillars when a group of older Cockneys began to bad mouth Barnes, wishing he would let someone else take it.
Offended, I respectfully told the gentlemen that they did not have a clue and Barnes was the only player good enough to take it.
30 seconds later the ball was in the top right hand corner of the net, and I was being smothered by ecstatic Londoners who had jumped over their seats to celebrate with me.
2. Steven Gerrard
Steven Gerrard's performance in Istanbul is legendary.
However, the moment that comes to mind—in those fond moments of reminiscence I am prone to—is the 2006 FA Cup Final.
Liverpool was down 3-2 against West Ham, Gerrard could barely walk due to cramps in both legs and it was looking decidedly gloomy for the team in red.
On the 90th minute, John Arne Riise floats a cross over which is knocked out and drops in front of Gerrard.
On the volley, he unleashes a shot, which feels like it could break the sound barrier as it arrows into the bottom left hand corner.
It was not the technique or the power of that goal that sums up Gerrard, it was the sheer, bloody-minded will he exhibited to put everything into that shot after hobbling around on the pitch for minutes.
It is that drive and belief that makes Steven Gerrard one of my all-time favorite players. The fact that he has spent half of his England career stuck out on the left should be a national scandal.
Thankfully there are no such issues at Liverpool where Gerrard will soon be rampaging again.
1. Kenny Dalgish
My grandfather and I would have serious disagreements about Kenny Dalgish.
He argued that Dalgish's main attribute was sticking out his backside in an unfair manner to ensure he kept the defender from the ball.
I argued that he had an almost supernatural ability to read the game and at times he was simply gracious enough to include his teammates when he played it.
I had to be educated retroactively on much of Dalgish's glittering career, and I have absolutely no doubt of his utter genius. However, I will always remember the images of Dalgish visiting the families after the Hillsborough disaster.
His humility, his honor and his incredible compassion were obvious.
If there has been anyone who is a conduit between fans across the world and Liverpool as a club, it is him.
Simply put, Dalglish is not simply a great player, or a great manager, he is a great man.
Frankly Mr. Shankly
Every fan has certain moments that bind them inextricably to their club.
Be it the poetic elegance of a chip to the far post or the shocking hilarity of hearing a 75-year-old grandmother shouting expletives on your first trip to a ground.
Whatever moments they may be they always drift back to mind and indelibly lead to one conclusion:
I cannot wait until Saturday.