An emotional Dan Holland reports on the QPR game where the match was always going to be of secondary concern.
Since Liverpool played out a nil nil draw against that lot from across the park today’s game has never been far away from my thoughts. Part of me has been looking forward to the occasion as there are only a privileged few that can witness such moments of history; the other part of me has wanted today to never come.
I have supported Liverpool for 27 years, 16 of those years have seen one Jamie Carragher wearing the number 23 shirt. That is over half of my Liverpool supporting life and during those years due to his character, influence and all action displays Carra has been uppermost amongst my idols. For me personally he ranks above Gerrard and below only Robbie Fowler, not in terms of a footballer but in terms of a hero.
As Brendan Rodgers substituted Carra late on in today’s game the realisation set in, that was the last time I would see, cheer and appreciate a true legend, as a player anyway. Then his short but poignant speech after the game did, and I’m man enough to admit it, leave me with a tear in my eye.
Without the obvious and welcome side issue today’s game would have been exactly what it turned out to be, a dull pointless end of season game between a team already relegated and Liverpool who would finish in 7th place regardless of the result.
A break from the ordinary pre-match routine immediately before kick-off was orchestrated to create time for a guard of honour for Jamie and his two kids to walk through, a big thank you should be offered to Harry Redknapp and his QPR team for agreeing to this much deserved honour. Carra who is not one to wallow in the limelight clearly felt very uncomfortable with all eyes on him, after he completed his walk through the guard slowly walked towards the Kop and when no-one followed he coyly beckoned his team mates to join him. So much was he thrown by the attention he completely forgot about the pre-match handshake ritual. After the handshakes Jamie passed the ball with his daughter, while his son prepared to take a penalty against Reina, when Reina saved the spot kick he was roundly booed by the Kop! Clearly fans and players alike where in a very laid back mood.
Now what Jamie would really want, the match, the early exchanges suggested that this may not be a timid end of season affair as wave after wave of Liverpool attack threatened to swamp and beleaguered looking QPR side. Glen Johnson, Phillipe Coutinho and 17 year old debutant Jordan Ibe were key in the opening moments. A string of corners lead to the first real chance a header at the far post by Coutinho was cleared off the line, although some player’s reactions suggested the ball had crossed the line.
It was the little Brazilian who did give us the lead after further good play down the left from Ibe, he sucked two defenders into him with a direct and meaningful run before squaring to Coutinho who drilled a low shot into the corner of the net. Rather than giving us the impetus to push on and score more goals it relaxed the team who dropped a couple of gears and stroked the ball about without pace as though it was a training game or pre-season friendly. Only Johnson and Ibe injected pace and direction into an otherwise toothless attack.
The inclusion of Ibe should come as no surprise, as those who watch more youth games than me, rate him very highly and already better than Sterling and on today’s showing who am I to disagree. Brendans handling of the clubs young talent is exemplary, his man management of them is superb, and he was talking to young Ibe throughout the first half, referring to him as son, boy and lad in a very warm and non-patronising way. Ibe clearly responded, it wasn’t just the manager that helped the former Wycombe man through his Premiership bow, it was unsurprisingly Jamie Carragher. Always encouraging, always helping in way that makes you think surely he has a career in management or coaching.
The game continued to be played with the occasional light hearted moment. As a QPR player was being treated on the field Bobby Zamora grabbed a drink off one of BR’s back room staff and after a bit of banter, Ryland Morgans was squirted by Zamora and laughter ensued.
The crowd were obviously pre-occupied by the thought of Carra scoring on his final appearance as every time he touched the ball he was met by the cry of “Shooooot”, I believe though his team mates were also trying to set up their much respected and idolised skipper as all free kicks and corners were aimed for the Bootle man. On top of that players seemed to over dribble the ball when in and around the box, almost trying to draw a foul from the rangers defenders, this however was unsuccessful. Whilst we were all hoping for a penalty or a headed goal from Carra very few could have predicted how he nearly ended his career the way he started it, with a goal at the Kop end. The ball broke from the QPR box and fell very nicely to Jamie, the ball sat up perfectly, the crowd again cried “Shoooot”, Carra did just that, he connected with the ball perfectly from fully 35 yards. As the crowd drew breath hoping for the ball to ripple the back of the net, this perfectly struck shot crashed against the upright. This was met with disappointment and hilarity all round Anfield.
As Anfield prepared to say goodbye to a legend, they rose to a man to give Jordan Ibe a standing ovation as he left the field, could he be a legend in the making?, as the young forward left the pitch to be replaced by Fabio Borini he was sporting a smile as wide as the River Mersey. Greeted by an equally happy Brendan Rodgers who before a warm embrace asked Ibe “did you enjoy that son?” Judging by the look on his face that would most definitely be answered in the affirmative.
Two further standing ovations were given, firstly for Phillipe Coutinho. Today’s match winner has done nothing but impress since his arrival in January and hopes for next season are very high thanks in no small part to his performances. The final standing ovation was of course for Jamie Carragher.
There was to be no goal on his final outing for the Reds but let’s be honest Carra would get more pleasure from the clean sheet and obviously the win. As he was replaced by Sebastian Coates with only a few minutes left on the clock, players rushed to embrace and shake the hand of a man they all looked up to. That was it; he had tackled his last opponent, blocked his last shot, berated his last team mate and screamed at his last referee. The career of one of Liverpool’s greatest ever players was at an end and 45,000 rose to acknowledge this.
The final few minutes were played out with the only notable action coming from the stands. It used to be tradition for a strained version of You’ll Never Walk Alone to be recited in the final minutes, in recent seasons this hasn’t happened (at home games anyway). But today I witnessed and partook in one of the most passionate and well sung renditions of our famous song I can remember. It was the full song and not just the more well-known chorus; it seemed almost church like in its atmosphere – which is quite fitting in a way. There was no better way to mark the end of Carragher’s illustrious career.
All that was left was the usual end of season lap of honour, this time preceded by a presentation to Jamie from record appearance holder, Ian Callaghan, and then the speech I mentioned at the start of this report.
Thanks for the memories Carra, you will be missed as a man and a player. Enjoy your year on Sky Sports but then please come back and be a part of Brendan’s backroom staff – your knowledge and passion would be very welcome.
Not only was Carragher’s career over, so was the season and Brendan’s first in charge, a season review will follow this week but I feel very positive about things. Enjoy what should be a very interesting summer.