Friday, July 24, 2009

One rule for the stars?

Steven Gerrard has been cleared of affray after a jury accepted his claim that he was acting in self-defence in punching a man three times in a Merseyside bar.

Some years ago I was the victim of a robbery in Liverpool, on my first visit to the city in fact. Returning to the vast QE II Courts for the trial, the same complex where Gerrard would appear as the accused this week, I recall a Scouse detective looking up at the towering red-brick buildings and lamenting to me, "This place will always be busy."

Liverpool was England's second city in the 19th century but suffered steep economic decline when its shipping industry died in the post-war decades of the 20th. In freefall during the Thatcher era, crime boomed and the city won an unfortunate reputation as Britain's most deprived and desperate place, a tag it has done much to try to shake off, including being named Europe's Capital of Culture in 2008.

So the last Liverpudlian you expected to see in the dock was a well-respected successful multi-millionaire soccer star, a local hero forever idolised for his sterling years at Anfield and heroic retrieval of the 2005 Champions League Final from the jaws of defeat.

I value Gerrard higher than any other English player in ability and admire the fact he is a link to the football I grew up with: Loyal to one club, he plays for his local team and speaks with the local accent. Gerrard hitherto has been a good role-model with his never-say-die endeavour on the pitch, his polite and measured contributions off-field to journalists and lack of private scandal, until now. He has been England's best player for the best part of a decade, a true talisman and footballing treasure and a man
about whom no-one had a bad word to say.

But I cannot feel sympathy for him today. While
CCTV footage is not crystal clear regarding Gerrard's attack, he had in police interviews accepted responsibility and apologised for throwing three punches at Marcus McGee while being "7/10" drunk, on a scale where ten equals complete inebriation. He had said he had acted in 'self-defence' because he had thought McGee was about to attack him, when camera footage clearly shows Gerrard's friend elbowing the DJ in the face before the footballer and others pile in on the helpless victim, who lost a front tooth and sustained facial cuts and bruises from the onslaught.

Footage then shows Gerrard being restrained by the Southport bar manager and being frogmarched away. And all because he had tried to wrest control of the bar's music from its DJ, who was having none of it, England legend or no.

The evidence was compelling that Gerrard was guilty, but the jury acquitted him alone of the seven accused of violence, sending a completely wrong message to society. You can get away with drunken crime if you are famous and universally-loved, it seems. I forgive Gerrard, who has contritely apologised, but the Liverpudlian jurors should have known better.



(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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