All set for the derby? No, neither are we. ‘orrible, aren’t they? Nerves. Anticipation. Anger. Joy. Sadness. And that’s before kick-off. It’s not all doom and gloom, though, and the 228th meeting of Everton and Liverpool could be a cracker, with both sides focused on European qualification. That’s just the thing, though, we all long for the days when the world turned its head to Merseyside because everything was hanging on the result. Not just the bragging rights. By Alan O’Hare.
Winning. That’s all a derby game is about. It can mean three vital points or three vacuous points… it just doesn’t matter. Or does it?
Come May it’ll be thirty years since Everton last won the league and twenty seven since Liverpool last triumphed at the top of the table. The blues haven’t gone close since and the reds have flattered to deceive whenever they’ve been in with a mathematical shout come April. Sure, there’s been a couple of second place finishes for Liverpool across those three decades, but it’s always been ‘there or thereabouts’ as opposed to throwing it all away at the last minute.
Three decades. It hurts like hell when you read it. Generations have grown up not recognising Merseyside’s football giants as giants of the game. And therein lies the rub… the winning is all that counts in a Merseyside derby these days because it only has a peripheral effect on the rest of football. Twenty one red cards since the Premiership began tells its own story of a parochial parade being played out in front of locals baying for blood. Harsh? Perhaps. But when was the last one that really counted? The 2012 FA Cup semi-final at Wembley had us all salivating… but it was just a semi-final. The reds returned to Wembley again weeks later and were beaten by Chelsea.
Think back to 2005, too, when Champions League holders Liverpool were challenging the blues for fourth place in the league all spring. Yes, I suppose in modern parlance it was exciting… but the fact remains both teams finished nearly thirty points behind champions (them again) Chelsea and were never in contention for anything other than the chief bridesmaid slot.
Culturally, the derby has slipped down the radar outside of the city, too. Of course, the game is always televised, but then again so is Burnley v Southampton these days. It’s a big game, but the success of the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City has made sure there are fixtures just as big each month of the season.
And yet… I’m still getting those butterflies. I can still smell the air thick with chip shop curry. I can still feel the night time surround me as I remember gripping my dad’s hand walking through the Walton night. I’m still excited. When I was growing up, it was a goal that used to electrify a Merseyside derby (usually scored by Ian Rush). Tomorrow, you can bet your last half and half scarf that it’ll be some sort of tackle that acts as a catalyst for how the rest of the game plays out.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, though it is a big reveal of the fact we appear to be more concerned with the demise of our rivals, as opposed to how well our own team is playing. Fair enough, there’s nothing like a crunching tackle to ignite a fire inside your belly… but it’s got nothing on a goal. Especially a goal that means something in the bigger picture.
What’s the bigger picture of tomorrow’s clash? A fight for fourth, at best, I suppose. Liverpool are in the driving seat there, though another inconsistent season means that’s the only thing they’re chasing. Same for Everton, really, though they’re even more inconsistent than their rivals. I’m sure the blues will take seventh and Europa League qualification as ‘progress’, though it remains to be seen how happy Liverpool’s owners are at the reds’ stagnation. It’s all relative, though, as neither are challenging for fuck all and that’s a shame. It won’t matter come kick-off, however.
It won’t matter come the first tackle. It won’t matter come the first goal. It won’t matter come the first raised fist to the crowd. It won’t matter come the first sending off (inevitable). It won’t matter come full time. It won’t matter come nine o’clock Monday morning, either, when you’re laughing in your mate’s face.
But it won’t matter to the rest of the country, either. That’s what hurts.
Liverpool v Everton
Saturday 1 April, 12:30pm
Pic courtesy Getty