Everton v Liverpool: From England's El Clasico To A Forgotten War...
Cast your collective minds back to the mid-1980s. Sexless-Alien-Overlord, Margaret Thatcher ruled the country with an iron fist, the televised exploits of a bunch of grubby cockneys in a suspiciously white part of East London held the nation in its thrall and in my hometown of Liverpool, the colonisation of leisure-wear continued unabated.
The mid-1980s was also the era when the Anfield and Goodison derbies were the most important fixtures in the football calendar. Back then, Everton and Liverpool were the giants of English football; dominating the league, appearing together in cup finals and successfully representing the country in Europe.
Although both Merseyside derbies had always been big games, the ascendency of the two clubs elevated the fixtures to primacy, making them something akin to the El Clásico encounters that dominate Spanish football today.
Fast forward to 2012, and even the most blinkered-of-patriotic Scousers would be hard pushed to suggest that the Merseyside derbies are still the most important fixtures in the domestic game. That claim has instead travelled along the M62, to our Manc cousins. Their twice annual head-to-head now arguably occupies the place where the Merseyside derby once smugly parked its ar*e.
The mid-1980s was also the era when the Anfield and Goodison derbies were the most important fixtures in the football calendar
But as much as the rise of the Mancs has contributed to this, equally important has been the decline in the fortunes of Everton and Liverpool.
The past twenty-five years have not been kind to the Merseyside giants. Our collective dominance very quickly dissipated and for the last two-and-a-half decades both clubs have watched in frustration as Manchester United have piled glory upon glory, and then in disbelief as the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City have risen to become two of the biggest clubs in Europe.
Now, before red-sh*tes amongst you turn to a loved-one and ask them to type-up your anguished grunts and crayon scribbles into a vaguely coherent rant, let me say that I acknowledge that the decline in each team’s fortunes has not been an equal one.
Over this period, Everton have had a much more difficult time than Liverpool. Aside from coming very close to relegation on two occasions, we’ve only won one piece of silverware and suffered periods of soul-sapping mediocrity.
The past twenty-five years have not been kind to the Merseyside giants
That said, by Liverpool’s own lofty expectations, the club and fans can hardly look back at the past twenty-five years and view it as a ‘Golden Age’ either. Despite a smattering of League titles, FA Cups and even a Champions League, the nineties and noughties haven’t lived up to the standards that most Kopites have come to expect. In short, they’ve been left behind, compelled to life in the slower-lane as other teams have powered ahead.
And all of this means that come Sunday, when this season’s Goodison derby kicks-off, few neutrals will probably care that much what the outcome will be. The game simply doesn’t matter that much anymore.
But what about in the city itself, I hear no-one ask? Well, here too the derby has undergone something of a transformation over the past two-and-a-half decades.
During this time, it’s become a much more acrimonious affair. Contrary to the popular belief that in the past both sets of fans got on famously, there has in reality always been a mutual hostility come derby day, which is as it should be between city rivals.
When this season’s Goodison derby kicks-off, few neutrals will probably care that much what the outcome will be
But in recent years this has mutated into something harsher. It might not reach the insane levels of loathing evident somewhere like Glasgow or Milan, but the atmosphere has certainly become more antagonistic between opposing sets of fans.
Whether this is because the fixture now matters more, its significance exaggerated due to the absence of success in other areas, is unclear. Kopites certainly give the impression that this might not be the case. For them, it‘s the rivalry with United that has become all-consuming, one fuelled by bitterness and frustration.
Alternatively then, it could be symptomatic of the growing lack of objectivity amongst supporters in general, the demise of any capacity to appreciate another fan’s perspective or recognise the quality of the opposition. Perhaps this trend, which began in earnest when the Premiership first started, has accentuated the mutual loathing that already existed in Merseyside, incrementally heightening the levels of hostility year-by-year.
Whatever the reason, the result of Sunday’s derby still really matters in the city. No supporter wants to walk into work or school on Monday morning and be greeted by the smug-smiles and endless gloating of the opposition’s fans.
It might not reach the insane levels of loathing evident somewhere like Glasgow or Milan, but the atmosphere has certainly become more antagonistic between opposing sets of fans
If I’d written this piece a few weeks ago then I’d have been fairly confident that it would have been the blue half of the city smiling come Monday morning. Everton’s blistering start to the season combined with a Liverpool team that was in total disarray, would have pushed me to predict a win for my side of the divide.
But since then, events have made the result that bit more difficult to predict. While still far from being the top-four side that red-sh*tes’ demand, the Rodgers’ incarnation of Liverpool are starting to look a better side than they did at the beginning of the season. By contrast, Everton will be without Steven Pienaar (suspended) and could also be without Marouane Fellaini (injury), two players who have been integral to our wonderful recent form.
With the sides more balanced than they were a month ago, ultimately, I think the game could be decided by the form of Liverpool’s sole striker, Luis Suarez. There seem to be two versions of this player; the chance squandering lump who couldn’t hit a barn door from three inches out and the game changing forward that can terrify defences and score at will.
More often than not, it’s the former that graces the pitch. And if that’s the case then Everton have nothing to worry about. But if the other Suarez decides to make an appearance then come Monday morning every blue will have to face the prospect of happy Kopites, a miserable sight almost without equal.
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