Are Chelsea fans hypocrites for applauding Steven Gerrard?
Standing ovation for Liverpool captain came after years of abuse from Stamford Bridge
Chelsea fans stopped baiting Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard for just a few seconds on Sunday and instead gave the former England captain a standing ovation as he left the field during the 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, on what is likely to be his final appearance in London.
Their reaction has divided opinion, with some describing it as "hypocritical" after years of abuse for the Liverpool captain, who turned down a move to Chelsea in 2005.
Gerrard himself was unmoved by the ovation, dismissing the gesture of the Chelsea fans on his final appearance in London as a "couple of seconds" of respect.
He hinted at some residual bitterness afterwards. "The Chelsea fans showed respect for a couple of seconds for me, but slaughtered me all game so I'm not going to get drawn into wishing the Chelsea fans well. It's nice of them to turn up for once today... but what's important to me is the Liverpool fans and they have been there since day one."
Gerrard has had a difficult relationship with the Chelsea fans for a decade after twice rejecting the club's advances. The Liverpool man was linked with a move to Chelsea in 2004 and again in 2005, when he turned down a record offer at the last minute.
His refusal to switch allegiance also coincided with a period of intense rivalry between the two clubs and their managers Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez, which only made Gerrard more of a target for Chelsea fans.
Last season Gerrard's infamous slip against Chelsea cost Liverpool the league, and many of those who applauded Gerrard on Sunday had arrived at the ground armed with posters mocking him for his misfortune.
Gerrard "left the pitch to a surprisingly warm, hearteningly generous, and – let's face it – slightly hypocritical reception from all four sides of a ground that has thrown so much bile his way down the years", says Barney Ronay of The Guardian.
Earlier he had been "given a poisonously mocking reception" punctuated with "bursts of glee at every slip and misplaced pass".
The attitude of the Chelsea fans was "questionable" all through the game, says Tony Barrett of The Times. And when he came off there was a "smattering of boos" before Stamford bridge "rose to acclaim the one opponent, arguably more than any other, who has been such a feature, for good and bad, of Mourinho's two spells in charge".
But once he was gone "the ridicule from the stands briefly resumed," notes Barrett. "Old habits die hard."
Gerrard's comments after the game proved Liverpool are not only losing a great midfielder, but also a passionate spokesman who can "say more in a two minute snatched interview after a game than some players can mumble in ten years", says Chris Bascombe in the Daily Telegraph.
He made it clear to Chelsea's fans "that he wasn't ready to accept 20 seconds of class as compensation for inspiring the rest of the country to mock the worst moment of his career".
Gerrard, rather refreshingly, appears to have "skipped the media training now offered by clubs... and – rather like his on-field performances – he consults his heart rather then a PR advisor before speaking".
The player was happier to accept tributes from Chelsea boss Mourinho, whom he described as the best manager in the world. For his part Mourinho called Gerrard a "dear enemy" and attempted to explain away the taunts towards him as a form of "respect".