Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Liverpool ovation at Anfield restored my faith in football

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Eriksson stood beside Gerrard as ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ plays out at Anfield? That could take some topping for sporting moments this year

March 23, 2024 4:02 pm(Updated 4:07 pm)

Forget England and Wembley and Brazil and the nauseating kit furore for just one moment, if you will, and instead celebrate the best footballing moment of the weekend, maybe of the month or year so far, that came just minutes before 3pm on Saturday afternoon at Anfield.

Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Sami Hyypia and a host of other Liverpool and Ajax legends were all waiting in the tunnel when the greatest cheer came for someone who had never played or managed either club: Sven-Goran Eriksson.

If you weren’t already crying from that video where England’s golden generation sent messages to their former gaffer, then this was the moment, as a man with “at best” a year left to live walked out to fulfil a dream and soak up the entire adoration of Anfield.

After the former England manager raised his arms to applaud a crowd that responded in kind, a bow, a thumbs-up, and then a wave followed.

And most heartening of all, there was that beaming smile. One that took you back 20 years in an instant, one that belies the reality of his illness but typifies the power of every cancer sufferer who can find joy in their darkest of hours.

Eriksson, 76, revealed he has terminal cancer back in January, and in the aftermath of his brave public admission, he went on to speak of his Liverpool regret.

“My father is still alive and is still a Liverpool supporter, and I’m a Liverpool supporter as well – I’ve always been,” he told Sky News.

“So I always wished to be the manager of Liverpool, and that will not happen for sure, but I’m still a Liverpool fan.”

Cue the campaign by Liverpool’s fans to get Eriksson in the dugout, backed by Jurgen Klopp, and one that came to fruition when it was announced the Swede would be part of their management team for the charity Legends match against Ajax.

“It’s like a dream,” he said ahead of the match. “When I was a manager I always dreamt about Liverpool, but that never happened.

Soccer Football - Friendly Match - Liverpool Legends v Ajax Legends - Anfield, Liverpool, Britain - March 23, 2024 Liverpool Legends manager Sven-Goran Eriksson and Steven Gerrard before the match Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff
Sven-Goran Eriksson and Steven Gerrard before the match (Photo: Reuters)
Soccer Football - Friendly Match - Liverpool Legends v Ajax Legends - Anfield, Liverpool, Britain - March 23, 2024 Liverpool Legends manager Sven-Goran Eriksson before the match Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff
Sven-Goran Eriksson laps up the applause before the match (Photo: Reuters)
Liverpool Legends' manager Sven-Goran Eriksson (L) jokes with Liverpool Legends' manager Ian Rush ahead of the Legends football match between Liverpool Legends and Ajax Legends at Anfield in Liverpool, north-west England on March 23, 2024. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Sven-Goran Eriksson (L) jokes with Liverpool Legends’ manager Ian Rush (Photo: AFP)

“It was close once, it was some discussion once, many years ago… it never happened. But now it happens. When they asked, I thought it was a joke. I said of course, and then it’s charity, which makes it even more lovely.

“‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is magic. I’m looking forward to it. I’m very honoured and thankful to Liverpool that they gave me this opportunity.”

And how fitting that Eriksson stood by Steven Gerrard, a key member of his England team in the 2000s, as “You’ll Never Walk Alone” played out before kick-off.

With tears in his eyes – and he wasn’t the only one – Eriksson took in the moment as the scarves were raised and a packed crowd sung one of football’s best-known anthems.

It was one of the more emotional renditions you will see, and a moment Eriksson will hopefully cherish for as long as he possibly can.

Cancer may feel like a solitary battle at times, but here Eriksson learned he was far from alone, and on a weekend of pointless commotion about colours on a flag, it was refreshing to remember football can still deliver these moments. Moments, and storylines, that actually matter.

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