You know the one. Not this one at the Daily Mash, but the one you've been seeing popping up in your email, on Facebook, on Twitter, all over the place. I won't repeat it here, but it will take you a matter of seconds to find it online if you haven't already heard it.
The rumour first turned up a few months ago, at around election time. Then, I was told that there was a super-injunction being held over the press and that it would all be coming out in a matter of a couple of weeks.
Well, a couple of weeks came and went. The papers didn't spill the beans. Was there really a super-injunction? It's hard to prove the non-existence of something which previously has been invisible, and whose very existence has been censored - but apparently there wasn't. The existence of super-injunctions, and the murky world of censorship, means there's a plausibility about the Gerrard story. There's something out there, but we can't tell you because of X, Y and Z.
No matter. England's early exit from World Cup 2010 has seen the rumour resurface, albeit slightly changed. A few of the details are a bit different from the last time it was around. A couple of the personnel have changed, for example, but the ingredients of the myth/legend/rumour/whatever you want to call it are the same: Stevie G has been a naughty boy; he's going to get in trouble; he wants to leave the country; there's an injunction preventing the News of the World/Sun/Mirror/whoever from publishing; it's all going to come out in a couple of weeks.
I've heard three versions of the 'latest' rumour already. One is impossible because the third party concerned doesn't exist. Does that diminish it in people's eyes? Apparently not. If anything, the return of the rumour has reinforced it in a lot of people's minds, even though the details are different. It makes it stronger. Ahhh, people might think; I'd heard something similar to this a while ago - maybe there was some truth in it after all.
There's another thing, too, which could be the reason why it's back now: it explains away England's mediocrity in the World Cup without having to answer any questions about the quality of the team and coaching staff; it is a nice neat reason for the gulf between expectation and reality. It can't be that the England team were overhyped, or that we fans let our desire for victory overcome our rational view of international football teams, can it? No, it must be something else. England can't have been beaten because they weren't good enough, or the manager made mistakes, or the players were too thick, or they were tired, or simply outclassed, or any combination of the above; it must be because of a rift in the squad! Now it all makes sense! England are good enough to win the World Cup - but this off-the-field business meant they were scuppered this time.
The tabloids have added fuel, pondering on a rift between Gerrard and deposed captain John Terry. Instead of the more obvious explanations - Terry is behaving like a child because he wanted to keep the captaincy; Terry would have been OK with Rio Ferdinand as captain but could be annoyed that someone who punched someone in the face in public, but got let off by a jury, is allowed to be skipper, whereas he got deposed for shagging around behind closed doors; there are some other club/regional rivalries; the two men simply don't like each other; there isn't a rift at all - are rejected in favour of some kind of the pre-existing myth being twisted into "Terry hates Gerrard because Gerrard did xxxx but got away with it".
So what do we learn from all this? Well, until and unless the story comes out, and the rumour is proved to be true - and who knows, one version of it might possibly be, no matter how unlikely it seems - this kind of thing is going to be carrying on, morphing into new rumours. These things develop a life of their own and carry on down the years. The names will change, and some of the details, but as with all good myths, the story itself is what gets perpetuated down the years through word of mouth, and through the instant word-of-mouth we now have with Facebook, email, Twitter and blogs.
This isn't the first footballer rumour of its type, you see. Most people of my age will have heard *that* Ray Clemence rumour, about why he had to leave Liverpool; perhaps this latest rumour's heritage harks back to that, as a ready-made explanation as to why Gerrard could well leave the city, and English football, in the summer, as opposed to the more prosaic "He wants to play Champions League football". This rumour will probably develop a life of its own, just as the Clemence one has lasted well down the years.
I've heard similar rumours to the Gerrard one in the past involving Gazza, Kevin Keegan, Gary Lineker - once a footballer reaches a certain level in the game, it would seem that's when they become acceptably famous and powerful enough to be the target of it. Perhaps there's something in the myth, in the story itself, that can only be effective if it's about a player right at the top of their game; we as listeners to the tale get some pleasure out of knowing that for all their money and for all their abilities and fame, they're powerless to control their baser urges, and they've been caught out because of it. It's the same reason why people love reading the tabs about the sex lives of the rich and famous. There's a schadenfreude about it, a delight in other people's mistakes, the more famous the better. Sometimes it's true, as with Tiger Woods, sometimes it's false. It's a little bit seedy, whatever way you look at it, but I suppose it seems to fulfil a need somewhere deep in the brain.
Perhaps the worst thing Gerrard could do now would be to come out and deny it - then people will really think there's something in it. In the absence of a denial that would probably just fuel the fire and make things worse anyway, there's not a lot that can be done to quench it. But if and when he does leave Merseyside, a lot of people will sagely nod their heads and say: Ah yes, it must have been that.
We'll forget about this. And then, in a few weeks' or a few months' time, there'll be a new one, a new target, a new tale about a top-flight footballer, or an updated version of an old story. Maybe it'll be true, maybe it won't. I don't think it matters whether it is or not. I guess that's why tabloids and internet rumours alike generate so much interest.
PS Dear lovely readers, please don't post details of that rumour, or any others identifying anyone, in the comments. I'll have to delete them. Cheers.