Why Liverpool Legends matches matter – and term ‘legends’ doesn’t – Liverpool FC

The eighth annual Liverpool FC Legends game on Saturday saw a record Anfield crowd of just below 60,000, with every ticket sold. These games do matter and provide moments of happiness at a time when some are becoming disillusioned with modern football.

Walk around Anfield on Saturday and you would have seen lots of families, lots of smiles, and lots of children either attending their first game at Liverpool’s home or being able to attend with their family.

There were plenty of smiles on the pitch too.

Some of the discourse, especially online, sometimes focuses on whether a player is considered a ‘legend’ or not, but that completely misses the point of these games. Not to mention that many of the players involved often point out that they don’t consider themselves a ‘legend’.

It’s just a term, the definition isn’t important. Either way, every player on that pitch is famous for having played for Liverpool Football Club, that in itself, it could be argued, makes them a ‘legend’.

Two of the goalscorers against Ajax, Gregory Vignal and Nabil El Zhar, certainly aren’t ‘Liverpool Legends’ in the manner of being legendary players for Liverpool Football Club.

“It’s always a pleasure to come back and play at Anfield,” Vignal told This Is Anfield post-match. “Especially for a good cause for the LFC Foundation.”

The smile on the former French defender’s face said it all. Beaming after he scored, celebrating with a hug for Sven-Goran Eriksson on the sidelines. In the mixed zone after, like so many others, he was happy, relaxed and humble.

Vignal only played 20 times for Liverpool but that doesn’t matter. He was here, contributing to representing the club and raising money for the LFC Foundation. Since launching in 2017, the Legends games have raised over £6.4 million to benefit the Liverpool City Region and internationally.

El Zhar, meanwhile, only played 32 times for the Reds, but equalled his goal tally for the club with a superb solo effort in front of the Kop. The knee slide celebration showed how much it still means to these players.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, March 23, 2024: Liverpool's Nabil El Zhar celebrates after scoring the third goal during the LFC Foundation match between Liverpool FC Legends and Ajax FC Legends at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Imagine signing for Liverpool Football Club at age 20, struggling to break into the team, leaving and never returning to a club of the elite level. Yet returning over a decade later to score in front of 60,000 fans and take in their celebrations.

Perhaps it means more to players such as Vignal and El Zhar that they can come back and be part of these games after their playing career at the club ultimately ended not how they would have wished.

Anyway, who would begrudge a former player being able to return and play in front of 60,000 fans at a sold out Anfield?! Anybody scoffing at names on the teamsheet are entirely missing the point of these games and occasions.


The players appreciate the opportunity

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, March 23, 2024: Liverpool players line-up for a team group photograph before the LFC Foundation match between Liverpool FC Legends and Ajax FC Legends at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

When you speak or interact with any of the ex-players, whether it’s a player who made fewer than 20 starts for the club or a bona fide ‘legend’ like Sami Hyypia or Luis Garcia, what’s abundantly clear is their appreciation for being able to participate in these games.

They take it seriously, they don’t want to lose – particularly in the recent game against Man United – the players are still out there to get a win for Liverpool FC.

After the match, the players enjoy a superb social event together. You see how much it means to them now, and how much it meant to them that they represented the football club we all love. Liverpool grabs you, and so many of the returning players show it.

Jari Litmanen made only 43 appearances for the Reds, one of the most underused elite players the club has arguably ever had. The Finn was back on Saturday, playing against the club he made over 250 appearances for and scored 133 goals – and yet he regards Liverpool as ‘his club‘.

Litmanen, like so many players, grew up supporting the Reds. He arrived from Barcelona, won three trophies in his first six months, but only ever started 19 games for the club. How special is it that he can return now as a 53-year-old and play for the club he grew up supporting.


Beautiful moments and stories

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, March 25, 2023: Liverpool's Mark González celebrates after scoring the second goal during the LFC Foundation match between Liverpool FC Legends and Glasgow Celtic FC Legends at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Or take Mark Gonzalez, who signed for the club as a 22-year-old and featured in 36 games in his debut season but never played for the club again.

“I was really looking forward to playing for Liverpool from the first moment,” he recalled. “It was a dream come true.

“Every day I was talking to myself saying, ‘Do you realise where you are? I mean, Steven Gerrard is your teammate, Carragher is your teammate, Sami Hyypia…’”

Gonzalez suffered a heart attack three years ago, aged just 36. A year after that he scored twice for the LFC Legends at Old Trafford, including a superb free-kick.

He then scored against United at Anfield and Celtic last year. Four goals in three games for the winger – and he was impressive again against Ajax this time out.

Imagine that moment for him, stood in front of a full Kop, taking in their acclaim.

That some of these players weren’t able to succeed in the way they would have wished when they joined Liverpool Football Club as young footballers from a foreign country, arguably makes these moments even more poignant and significant.

Gonzalez was quick to point out that he himself doesn’t consider himself a ‘legend’ like those players who he was in awe of when he joined the club – players who he now gets to play alongside again and enjoy social time together. Players who are now friends and whose bonds are strengthened every year with these occasions. That doesn’t happen at every football club.

It’s a beautiful story, of which another was the focus on Saturday when Sven-Goran Eriksson was able to fulfil a lifelong dream to manage the club he supported.

“To sit on the bench for Liverpool, that’s been my dream my whole life,” the Swede said post-match. “It was full of emotions, tears coming. It’s a good finish, to finish with Liverpool, it can’t be much better than that.”

Eriksson sat smiling and making jokes in a post-match press conference alongside Fernando Torres. A player who some Liverpool fans will staunchly argue not only isn’t a legend but is a ‘traitor’. But look at the Spaniard now, listen to what he says. Of course he regrets leaving the club, especially the manner of it.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, March 23, 2024: Liverpool's Fernando Torres applauds the supporters after the LFC Foundation match between Liverpool FC Legends and Ajax FC Legends at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Nobody more than Torres wishes that we’d won the league in 2009, gone on to enjoy more success and been at the club longer than three and a half years. He’s now able to right some of the wrongs of his departure thanks to games like this.

The former No.9 broke many hearts with his move to Chelsea, perhaps the first to make fans think they’d never fall in love with a player again. But is it worth carrying the grudge? The resentment helps nobody.

At a time when a lot of professional football has issues that are turning people away from the game they loved, Legends matches provide nothing but pure positivity and beautiful moments for those involved and those who embrace it for what it is.

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