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Is rival fans' treatment of Steven Gerrard fair enough or does he deserve more respect?

The Liverpool legend received a rare respectful applause at the weekend.

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EVER SINCE MAKING his debut as a last-minute substitute against Blackburn on 29 November 1998, Steven Gerrard has been one of English football’s more divisive figures.

It is easy to see why he is viewed as a God-like figure in some parts of Liverpool. A quick glance at the stats — 185 goals in 708 appearances — tells you why.

Yet in opposition grounds, Gerrard is treated with considerably less fanfare.

He has been taunted by rival fans, particularly after his infamous slip against Chelsea in last year’s vital end-of-season encounter, and Stamford Bridge on Sunday was no exception, with signs referencing the previous campaign’s defining game, as well as derogatory chants being sung throughout the match.

Of course, on the flip side, the Liverpool captain was given a largely dignified standing ovation by the Chelsea fans as he was taken off with 10 minutes of the game remaining, with Liverpool’s hopes of a Champions League place fading.

“He’s taken a lot of stick here but I think the Chelsea supporters knew deep down it’s only because he’s a superstar player and he’s been a thorn in their side for many years. It was nice for him to get that touch,” Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers said following his side’s 1-1 draw with the Blues.

However, Gerrard himself responded with a little more cynicism.

“I think Chelsea fans have showed respect for me for a couple of seconds but they have slaughtered me all game,” the 34-year-old said. “It was nice of them to turn up for once.”

Jose Mourinho viewed it differently still, claiming the crowd’s derogatory chants were actually a sign that they respected Gerrard.

“The negative song only shows respect, nothing other than respect,” the Chelsea boss stated. “It is like a negative song, to a ‘dear enemy’. The applause was special. Stamford Bridge was special. Steve gets that for almost two decades, every week when he plays at Anfield. To get that in an away stadium is a fantastic way for him to feel. Probably every club, every stadium respects him a lot.”

Yet Mourinho’s interpretation of the situation is by no means the consensus.

At Old Trafford, he appears to be widely loathed. Last season, for instance, Man United fans flew a plane banner over the Aviva Stadium, during Liverpool’s friendly with Shamrock Rovers, which read “Giggs 13 Gerrard 0 MUFC 20 TIMES”.

This ostensible lack of respect has been emulated around English football grounds, where fans routinely mock Gerrard over his costly slip.

And it isn’t just a Liverpool legend that they are mocking, Gerrard — having made over 100 appearances for the English side — would be considered a national icon in many people’s eyes. The midfielder was a stalwart of the Three Lions for over a decade before announcing his retirement from the international game last summer. It’s difficult to compare an equivalent situation in many ways, but would Robbie Keane be afforded similar treatment if he were to turn up in an Irish ground for a rival club?

In the past, Mourinho and others have criticised fans for their provocative chants about Gerrard. However, is there really a point in being so sensitive about it?

Football is a cruel game and fans are invariably fickle — had Gerrard signed for Chelsea all those years ago, he would undoubtedly be treated as a hero by the Stamford Bridge faithful.

There is also truth to what Mourinho says in that players who achieve little in the game are rarely afforded such disdain.

Moreover, it’s unlikely that those fans who mocked Gerrard on Sunday — and those who have been deriding him all season — feel any genuine hatred towards the midfielder.

Instead, their jibes are symptomatic of modern football. At present more than ever, the game is treated as entertainment. Players, once the epitome of the community, and respected equally by both sets of supporters, are nowadays millionaires that the average fan struggles to empathise with on a human level.

These footballing superstars are about as relatable to supporters as TV characters in a Sky-produced drama and are treated as such.

Gerrard is a highly experienced player — he will have long ago learned not to take opposition fans’ taunts to heart — just as he evidently took their applause with a pinch of salt at the weekend.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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