The Friendliest Derby?

David GoreCorrespondent IOctober 15, 2008

After this year's game between Liverpool and Everton, there was a lot of talk of how the so-called "Friendly Derby" wasn't so friendly anymore.

The suggestion in the press is that last season at Anfield, when Phil Neville was reportedly punched in the back and spat at when trying to take a throw-in and Steven Gerrard and Joleon Lescott were singled out for verbal attack, marked the beginning of the end for the family rivalry, and the traditional good nature that the fixture has been played in for so long.

But to me, that smacks of naivety on the part of people who don't really know very much about Liverpool. I mean to be honest, if you look at it from a neutral perspective, the Merseyside derby is a rivalry that...well...doesn't seem to make much sense.

All the ingredients are there for a storm of an atmosphere. You have a liberal amount of success for both teams, two of the closest grounds in world football, a shared major city that hasn't been short of deprived areas over the years, an intensely loyal couple of working class fan bases, and even a certain element of religious conflict. 

Even the clubs themselves were formed after a rent dispute saw Everton turfed out of what was their ground and having to find a new home, a year before Liverpool FC were created to be their replacement at Anfield.

And yet, for some reason that no one outside of Liverpool could explain, it wasn't an Old Firm or a North-East derby.  For some reason, at the 1983 Milk Cup final, Reds and Blues sang together "Merseyside, Merseyside, Merseyside" for half the game.

So, the moment something went bad, it looked to a lot of people like the goodness had gone, but in reality, the fixture is STILL one of the calmest rivalries in the world, it's just not quite as cordial as it used to be.

There's a few possible reasons as to why the nice edge has been chipped away a little bit.  Everton's failure to be regarded as a top four side since the 1980s, coupled with Liverpool's recent resurgence and growing European reputation perhaps. 

Maybe it's the media's misquoting of certain players and managers just to stoke up interest in the fixture, such as when Rafa Benitez was reported as labelling Everton a "small club", when in fact he was talking about how "smaller clubs," i.e. clubs that aren't as massive and consistent as Liverpool's title rivals, often make games hard by defending well. 

This mis-quote was later used in an interview by an Everton official as ammunition against Benitez when he criticised the abuse that was aimed at Steven Gerrard.

Maybe it's new fans who don't understand the city's traditions, and treat the fixture the way they think derby rivalries should be treated, based on the animosity they see elsewhere in other fixtures. But whatever the reason, it needs to be stopped before it takes hold. 

Although the fixture is still the friendliest derby in the world, it doesn't seem quite as friendly as it once was.

Both sets of fans all need to remember what happened on the day of Liverpool's Champions League clash against Toulouse in 2007, when Anfield echoed to the combination of applause and Z-Cars as the 11-year-old Evertonian, Rhys Jones, was honoured by Liverpool fans following his senseless murder. 

As with the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, when Goodison Park, and not just Anfield, was adorned with both red and blue scarves in remembrance, it seems the true colours of both sets of supporters emerge in the wake of a crime against the city.

That's what the clubs and the derbies are all about, not the odd pathetic action of a few idiots on both sides.


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