Steven Gerrard: Don't call me a hero… there are only 11 of those and they won England the World Cup
22:30 GMT, 13 November 2012
This story starts behind the wheel of a Honda. An awkward teenager turns his father's car south, towards the Home Counties, jangling with nerves as he embarks upon an England career.
There was no map but it led here, to the Friends Arena in Sweden, where Steven Gerrard will become only the sixth Englishman to acquire 100 caps in more than 140 years of international football on Wednesday night.
Anxieties have eased since that first call from Kevin Keegan and Gerrard is today relaxed, despite a slight knee problem, and comfortable with his own opinions as he settles into a large, cream armchair to reflect on the journey.
All smiles: Gerrard appeared in relaxed mood with manager Roy Hodgson at England's pre-match press conference on Tuesday
The Honda has gone but the miles keep ticking by. He understands England these days and England understands him. England matters to the 32-year-old Scouser, just as Liverpool does. It always has, he insists.
When it goes wrong – and, boy, it has gone wrong at times – he feels the pain, furrows the brow and shoulders the responsibility. Asked to rate his international career out of 10, he gives himself a six, then upgrades to a seven, but this is an occasion to savour. There is even a smile.
'It's something I never thought I'd achieve,' said Gerrard. 'Growing up, getting turned down at the FA's national school at 14, not getting picked for England U15s. There were times when I thought I'd never even get one cap.
Mark of distinction: Gerrard celebrates his first goal – against Germany in 2001 – and trains on Tuesday in boots marking cap No 100 (below)
Gerrard: What they say about the England captain on the eve of his 100th appearance
He is always prepared to give the youngsters the benefit of his experience and can come to them with a wise word. He has done a fantastic job in my time as manager.
I'd say that Steven Gerrard has had the biggest influence on the England team in the last 10 years. He would get in any team that Liverpool have had.
He has something extra. I really like him as a player. When he's not injured he's a top player because of his skills to read the game and find the passes.
Erik Hamren (Sweden manager)
Getting to 100 caps is the ultimate achievement. As a footballer, he has been one of the most outstanding in the last couple of generations. He is a fantastic role model.
Big heart, always fighting; for me, Steven Gerrard has more skills than a normal player.
'To be here on the eve of 100 is an unbelievable achievement for me and my family. When I speak about it the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
'There have been great players before me and ones I've played with who haven't got to that milestone. It's very flattering.'
England's 5-1 win against Germany in Munich in 2001 quickly springs out as his finest memory, but even this leaves an aftertaste.
'I'd probably say that's the strongest England team I've played in,' said Gerrard. 'It had great balance between young and experienced players. We had some world-class players.
'I know the “Golden Generation” gets spoken about, which is something I don't really like, but when you look at that team from front to back it was really strong.
'That group of players under-achieved at big tournaments. That team should certainly have got to a semi-final.
'We were unlucky at times in the penalty shootouts but that's certainly a regret. That group of players should've done better.'
The weight of expectation stifled players, according to Fabio Capello, and Gerrard accepts this.
'It's everything,' he said. 'It's the fans, it's the media, it's because we've got the best league, it's because every other country is so desperate to beat us.
Head boy: Gerrard is set to make his 100th England appearance against Sweden on Wednesday night
'There have been times when I've found the shirt to be a bit of a weight. We get criticism and you have to take it, get on with it, just try and play through it.
'It's one of the reasons why certain teams in my generation have under-achieved. You have a bad game or a nightmare and you know the coverage is worldwide. There are a lot more eyes, a lot more cameras, a lot more opinions, a lot more TV channels covering the game – Sky, ESPN, Al Jazeera – there's social media. It's even bigger than when I came in. It's a lot more difficult for the young lads.
'Everyone watches England. When I speak to the foreign lads in my dressing room, the first result they look for is England. As soon as they come off the pitch they think, “How did England get on” Everyone wants a piece of England, everyone's interested in England. That's what we have to get on with. Playing for England's a tough gig.'
Then there are the penalties. Of Gerrard's five major tournaments – he missed the World Cup in 2002 with an injury – three have ended in defeat in a quarter-final shoot-out.
Leg-up: The England captain admits the Three Lions shirt has been 'a bit of a weight'
He had been substituted in Euro 2004 when England were beaten by Portugal but missed from the spot two years later in the World Cup in Gelsenkirchen, against the same opposition. This year, he scored his penalty against Italy in Kiev and dared to believe the curse was about to end. He was mistaken.
'Penalties were probably our best chance,' said England's captain. 'We were tired and Italy were on top in the latter stages. I thought, “Penalties, yeah, maybe it's our turn”. I felt confident. I saw our penalty- takers and I thought, “This is it, last four”.
'I felt a responsibility. I wanted to take the first penalty. I thought if I scored that the lads coming up after would be less nervous. I'd missed one before and I thought to get up and score that first penalty would give the lads belief.
'Taking a penalty for England in a tournament is a million times more difficult than a normal penalty. The nerves and how your body feels, there's a lot more pressure.
Starting out: Former England boss Kevin Keegan presents Gerrard with his first cap in 2000
'It's three times for me and I don't think any other international player would have experienced that. My initial thought was, “Not again”.
Briefly, he considered retiring from England after Euro 2012 but agreed to lead the World Cup qualifying campaign.
'It wasn't a close call but when you're that age and you have another setback, it crosses your mind,' said Gerrard.
'But being captain and the buzz I get for England outweighs the thought of knocking it on the head.
'Having players like Jack Wilshere coming through, it's worth hanging about and carrying on and seeing if things change and a bit of luck comes our way.
Jack's back: Gerrard believes Wilshere is a 'fantastic talent'
'He's a fantastic talent and if we can produce more players on Jack's level maybe we've got a chance of going far in a tournament. That's the way I look at it.'
In Stockholm, he could play with Wilshere for the first time and also witness the international debuts of wingers Raheem Sterling (17) and Wilfried Zaha (20). Sterling he knows from Liverpool but the England captain sought out Zaha on Monday morning, aware of the nerves he himself experienced when he was first called up at a similar age.
In his book, Gerrard told how he was afraid to enter the dining room alone, dumbstruck in the presence of Alan Shearer and Tony Adams, the victim of a room-trashing (for which he blames Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman, although they never confessed) and homesick during Euro 2000.
'I still struggle to this day with being away for four to six weeks,' he said. 'I'm a family man, more comfortable with people around me who I've grown up with. I'm not really a fan of being in hotels and away in different countries but it's worth going through to get the buzz of winning in an England shirt.'
Heartbreak: The Liverpool captain missed his penalty in England's 2006 World Cup exit to Portugal
When it comes to advice for the newcomers, he reverts to something his father said when he was eight years old and about to join Liverpool's academy. 'Basically, you get out of football what you put in,' said Gerrard.
'If you work hard and make the sacrifices and you're willing to learn and you have the talent, you'll have a good career. That's the advice I have always tried to stick to.
'Some of them won't be able to. That's fact. Not everyone who plays at this level will go on to be a top international player. That's just the way it is. Some will find it too hard, some won't be good enough. Some won't work hard enough for it.'
For Gerrard, desire was never an issue. It still isn't. He has not yet given up hope of success with England and could threaten Peter Shilton's record of 125 caps.
'It would be nice to get 120 but it's not my priority,' said Gerrard. 'My interest is in qualifying for the next tournament.'
He doesn't even wince at the idea of managing England, saying: 'Yeah, of course,' when asked if he would fancy the job.
'I'm going to go into my coaching badges. We'll see where it goes. I'll only be a coach or a manager if I feel I'm good enough. I don't think you go down that road because you've been a decent player. That's a mistake a lot of footballers have made.
'You get your badges first, you try it and you're comfortable and you have belief in your own knowledge of the game but it doesn't automatically mean that you will be able to manage.'
All this lies firmly in the future. In Sweden tonight, he can stand tall alongside England's centurions, his name etched in history, despite his self-deprecating view that the only footballers worthy of hero status in this country are the World Cup winners of 1966. It is typical Gerrard, a little harsh on himself.
'In football, the hero and legend status is given out far too easily,' he said. 'As far as playing for England goes there are 11 heroes, the rest haven't really delivered.'
But he has delivered as a role model, an ambassador and one of the finest midfield swashbucklers the game has seen. He has delivered as an all-action hero in a Honda.
How it all began for Gerrard and England with some fowl play…
Given a first call-up by Kevin Keegan, Gerrard celebrated his 20th birthday before England v Ukraine at Wembley and was given a cake after training. Later, he found his bath full of water, his clothes dumped in, and 'Happy Birthday' on his mirror. The finger of blame has been pointed at Liverpool team-mate Robbie Fowler.
'It was so long ago, I couldn't tell you if it was me,' said Fowler, tongue firmly in cheek. 'He was shy and had a silly fringe but he was one of us, so myself and Steve McManaman looked after him.
'Whoever did it did him a favour because he was a terrible dresser. And whoever wrote on his mirror had to use toothpaste because he never had shaving foam, as he didn't start shaving until he was 29!'