Steven Gerrard, the 2006 FA Cup final, and the perfection of captaincy

Steven Gerrard, the 2006 FA Cup final, and the perfection of captaincy

This feature is part of Virtuoso

With such a vast and storied history, with legendary players and managers who achieved so much, to etch yourself into the folklore of a club like Liverpool you have to be a truly special talent. Whether you’re a local lad who did the city of Liverpool proud by making their team a success like John Aldridge, Robbie Fowler or Phil Thompson, or you arrived at the club from elsewhere and made your mark the way Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish, John Barnes or Graeme Souness did, Liverpool is willing to make you a legend should you have the passion, desire, talent and success.

One player who embodies everything about Liverpool as both a city, a community and as a football club etched himself into Liverpool folklore – if, by anyone’s reckoning, he hadn’t already – with a cup-winning performance that included two goals, one in particular that will never be forgotten.

On 13 May 2006, just shy of a year on from the date of Liverpool’s incredible comeback victory against AC Milan in the Champions League final, Steven Gerrard orchestrated yet another comeback to win a significant trophy, this time in Cardiff against West Ham, in what is rightly regarded one of the greatest FA Cup finals in history.

It would be the last FA Cup final to hosted at the Millennium Stadium, before the re-opening of the new Wembley, and the 125th final in total. A significant one for the competition, but also for Liverpool and West Ham, with the latter looking for their first FA Cup triumph since 1980 and their first bit of silverware since 1981.

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To understand the significance of Gerrard’s performance in this game, you have to understand the position his side was in and how incredible it was to see how he dragged Liverpool to glory. Ironically, it would be another Liverpool legend who inadvertently gave West Ham the lead as Jamie Carragher somehow put the ball into his own net while trying to clear a cross from Lionel Scaloni.

It was a horrendous start for the Reds, but not the end of the world. There was still time to change the game. Any hope of a quick reply, however, was dashed when Pepe Reina, a goalkeeper usually so reliable, spilled Matthew Etherington’s shot into the path of Dean Ashton who poked it in to double West Ham’s lead.

Things were looking bleak for Liverpool. Already 2-0 down after just 30 minutes, in a game in which they were deemed strong favourites, but the mental strength of this Liverpool side was on show just four minutes later when Djibril Cissé pulled one back. Who picked out the Frenchman with an incredible 40-yard pass? Steven Gerrard – and what a ball it was; straight to the feet of Cissé to halve the deficit going into half-time.

Just nine minutes after the restart, Liverpool were level and, of course, it was Gerrard who established parity. Unmarked in the box, feeding off the wonderful knockdown from Peter Crouch, Gerrard arrived to smack home his half-volley into the top corner. He set up the first and scored the second but still had work to do.

It’s all well and good being level, but you have to go and win; at least, that’s what Paul Konchesky thought when his cross, or shot – nobody is certain what the full-back intended – sailed over the head of Reina to give West Ham the lead again, this time giving Liverpool just 26 minutes to perform yet another final miracle.

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Liverpool were knocking on West Ham’s door, but none of the players opened up. Chances went begging and time was slowing drifting away from the Merseyside outfit, until the 90th minute; dead on the 90th minute. John Arne Riise had tried to loop the ball into Fernando Morientes but West Ham cleared. The ball trickled through the middle, 35 yards from goal. Untouched, like a tired boxer with their hands by their side, begging to be hit.

As the PA started to announce the amount of added time, Gerrard started his gallop towards the ball. Never needing a second invitation, Gerrard met it perfectly on the volley and it raced past a helpless Shaka Hislop. The Liverpool end of the stadium erupted, thousands of fans across the country astonished, as even more neutrals let out a yell of excitement with a hint of astonishment to the goal they had just seen.

When your team needs a captain, the best rise to the occasion. Gerrard had brought his team back from the dead earlier in the game with an assist and a goal and now, he had just done it again with the most incredible of strikes. A last-minute equaliser in the FA Cup final as captain for your boyhood club; it’s the stuff of dreams, the exploits from which legends are forged.

A penalty shootout win gave Liverpool the FA Cup, but the headlines belonged to Gerrard. It was an incredible show of heroics when his team needed it most, an outstanding goal and a performance that will live long in the memory. This was the Steven Gerrard final. It will always be just that.

By Tom Scholes @_TomScholes

Edited by Will Sharp @shillwarp

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