Steven Gerrard Made His Liverpool Debut On This Day 21 Years Ago
A slender, fresh-faced teenage boy with a fluffy hair, unspoiled by gel, is nervously wandering along the Anfield touchline. His baggy shirt drowns his skinny frame as he tries to tuck it into his shorts.
"Your heart is pumping. Butterflies. You see the nod and the feeling you get it's silly... it's f**king scary," he recalled. Then Liverpool manager Gerrard Houllier gives him a pat on the back and some words of encouragement before sending him into the fray against Blackburn Rovers.
This was the moment Steven Gerrard's legendary Liverpool career began. He spent the next 17 years etching his name into the club's history with epic match-winning performances, trophy wins and great goals. Now, 21 years later, SPORTbible looks back on the arrival of a Premier League legend. Before Gerrard made his debut on November 29th, 1998, he had been causing a stir in the club's academy alongside another young prodigy.
"Being honest, there was probably more hype around Michael Owen coming through than there was about Stevie," says former teammate David Thompson, who made 56 appearances for Liverpool between 1996 - 2000.
"He was actually quite a small, sleight kid so people were a little bit worried he might not have the physical attributes, but he was dominating games."
Thompson had already made 24 appearances for Liverpool by the time an 18-year-old Gerrard made his Anfield bow, but he'd seen enough in training to know he was going to be special.
"He was so aggressive in the tackle and I've never seen anyone strike the ball as hard as Stevie in my life," he recalls. "He was quiet and very humble, but he had a touch of arrogance that you need. Even at that age, he led by example.
"He had all the confidence in the world he was going to make it."
You wouldn't have known it when the Sky Sports camera zeroed in on his unblemished face, sheepishly searching around the pitch, seeking reassurance from his teammates as he replaced an injured Vegard Heggem in the 89th minute.
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The Anfield faithful greeted the unknown academy graduate with muted applause as they watched their team run down the clock on a routine 2-0 victory. "A youngster who's never even featured on the team-sheet before is going to be given his opportunity for Liverpool, promoted from the youth side, fresh-faced, teenager Steven Gerrard," observed the commentator. "His name didn't even make the back sheet of the programme this afternoon, which left many of the fans asking who he was?"
Focus and concentration gripped the local lad from the Bluebell estate as he felt the legendary turf beneath his boots but inside he was filled with electricity. "The buzz was hard to describe," says Gerrard, in his documentary Make Us Dream.
"When you actually get on the bench and you're warming up it's just a sea of people."First-half goals from captain Paul Ince and Owen had secured the points against a Blackburn side that finished the season in 18th and dropped down to the Championship.
Gerrard replaced Heggem at right-back, where Houllier would initially try to crowbar him into the team with Ince, Jamie Redknapp and Danny Murphy all vying for starting berths in central midfield. The no.28 equipped himself adequately in the handful of minutes he played, but there was little sign he was destined to become club captain at 23.
"I only played three, four minutes of actual action, but I remember my dad saying something to me straight after the game, going home, 'No one can take that away from you now, you've played for Liverpool's first team," he said.
"You almost feel like the journey's ended then, but then when reality kicks in, it's only the start. My life changed, from the day it changed, very, very quickly. The door opens to the real game."
And once he was through the door he evolved into a world-class midfielder that blew teams away with his intensity and skill. Gerrard went on to make 710 appearances for his boyhood club, scoring 186 goals and winning nine major honours, including the Champions League, before joining MLS side LA Galaxy at the age of 34.
"As Stevie became more prominent in the first team I was pushed out to the right-hand side so I have to resent him a little bit," laughs Thompson. "Any big game he played in for Liverpool Football Club, he was colossal. If you look the trophies he won and the goals he scored, he's one of the best if not the best to have ever worn a Liverpool shirt."