It’s been quite some time since the clash of Merseyside’s neighbouring football clubs was widely referred to as “The Friendly Derby”.
Since the halcyon days of the mid 1980s when Liverpool and Everton went toe-to-toe fighting for the biggest domestic prizes, supporters of both clubs have taken on vastly different hopes and identities. Where once there was harmony born of mutual respect on and off the pitch now there resides acrimony.
It is hardly surprising that Evertonians have, with some apparent glee, adopted a bitterness towards Liverpool that almost defines them. Whenever the two sides have met on the biggest occasions, the Reds have always triumphed. Even before relations became strained in recent years, blue hearts were broken time and again and often with a hard luck story to boot. The name of referee Clive Thomas will forever be black at Goodison Park for disallowing Bryan Hamilton’s goal at Maine Road in 1977, denying Everton a place in the FA Cup Final at the expense of Bob Paisley’s Liverpool.
Traditionally, the Blues were the famous name; first to win the FA Cup as far back as 1906 and again in 1933 when the great Dixie Dean – once the scorer of 60 league goals in a season – was in his deadly pomp. Later, they were synonymous with the wealth of the Moores family and dubbed the “Mersey Millionaires” before Liverpool under Bill Shankly emerged from the second division to contest what was once an undoubted supremacy.
After winning the League Championship in 1970 Everton fell into sharp decline, while the Reds carried all before them at home and abroad, until they became resurgent under Howard Kendall.
For Liverpudlians, sated with success and troubled only by periodic challenges of the likes of Ipswich, Spurs and an inconsistent Manchester United, the sudden blue renaissance was a novelty.
Everton’s emphatic title win in 1985 – and a European Cup Winners’ Cup for good measure – presented them as a major rival to Liverpool’s perennial dominance and the following season, the teams fought out a battle royal in league and cup. Twice though the Blues were denied by Kenny Dalglish’s dogged pursuers, falling at the final hurdle in the championship and imploding at Wembley in the FA Cup Final. The pain of losing both major domestic trophies in the space of a week to your local foes doesn’t bear thinking about and the scars take decades to heal.
Though Kendall was able to deliver a second personal league title in 1987, the European ban that followed Liverpool fans’ involvement in the Heysel Stadium disaster left the Blues struggling to retain their best players and the manager himself left to fulfil his own ambitions with Athletic Bilbao. Evertonians will argue long into the night, somewhat tenuously, that the Heysel ban denied their club the chance not just to emulate Liverpool’s success on foreign shores but to recreate a similar dynasty, It is a sore that festers to this day.
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In the modern Premier League era, Everton’s woes have continued and as the coffers dwindled under doubtful financial stewardship, relegation in 1994 and 1997 was only averted at the last gasp.
The arrival of David Moyes saw the blue half of Merseyside cling on to the notion of a self-proclaimed Peoples’ Club – celebrating their enduring local support – but when the spiky Scot delivered a top four finish above Liverpool in 2005, the Reds usurped their achievement by winning a fifth European Cup in Istanbul.
Liverpudlians bathed in gleeful schadenfreude and the Blues had to take it on the chin yet again.
Moyes’ thinly veiled swipes referencing the Reds’ superior spending power and a thorny relationship with Rafa Benitez only added to a growing antipathy between supporters of the two clubs.
Recently Goodison Park has been the seat of further false dawns under Roberto Martinez and Ronald Koeman. If the insular Goodison faithful became quickly suspicious of foreign management – something avidly embraced by Liverpudlians – they were quickly brought to their senses by the dour reign of Sam Allardyce last season; his style of football sacrilege to Blues who fondly hark back to their “School of Science” ethos back from the 1960s.
Now, it is the turn of Marco Silva to restore their former glories and after a slow start his team have begun to eke out steady results and sneak into sixth place in the Premier League. They would take great delight in derailing Liverpool’s title ambitions with a win at the weekend; perhaps for those endlessly bullish Evertonians the height of their ambitions is to mock at the Anfield altar.
On Sunday though, Everton again face the weight of recent history against their prime nemesis. It seems remarkable that in a derby so fiercely contested, Liverpool are unbeaten since a 3-0 defeat at Goodison in 2010 and in all home clashes with the Blues as far back as 1999. One day that record will evaporate but with Jurgen Klopp’s charges all at ease with domestic matters at least, Evertonians might have to contemplate not a toast but a familiar, rueful swig to down another bitter pill.
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