As with almost every other rivalry in football, in fact in any sport, there is a heady mixture of geographic, social, and sporting history that defines a fixture. Tom Clarke looks at Liverpool vs Everton
Liverpool is statistically the most successful football city in England, with 27 league titles won by both clubs combined. The Merseyside Derby often splits households in Liverpool, as members of the family support different teams. Proud red and blue colours flow sanguinely through the northern, working-class city when derby day approaches, with excitement and apprehension filling the streets as friends and families become nemeses just for one day.
The rivalry, one that has seen the most red cards of any fixture since the establishment of the Premier League, was born of one man and a bitter dispute with his committee in the late 19th century. Everton President John Houlding was involved in a rental dispute with the club committee after Everton had in fact played at Anfield since 1885 – before the creation of the Reds. A dispute with political foundations led to faction and resulted in the Everton committee leaving for a new location less than a mile away across Stanley Park, as John Houlding stayed at Anfield to establish Liverpool Football Club in 1892.
Everton and Liverpool battled it out in the English first division throughout the 20th century, particularly in the 1980s. Both clubs had been successful in the 1960s before Everton fell off the pace for a period. However, after the arrival of former player Howard Kendall as manager in the 1981-82 season, in whose first season Liverpool won the league title whilst Everton attempted to get back on their feet. Everton won the FA Cup in 1983-84 whilst Liverpool won the league title, so the two played each other in the following season’s Charity Shield. Everton came out as 1-0 victors thanks to a Bruce Grobbelaar own goal, as the competition between the Merseyside clubs began to truly set alight again. The same result occurred in both league Merseyside derbies in the league campaign that year, with Everton winning the league and Liverpool recovering from a difficult start to the season to finish second. Merseyside league dominance was at its highest point, as Everton emerged as challengers to Liverpool’s previous throne of England.
1985-86 saw the rivalry at its peak, with the pair battling it out for both the league title and the FA Cup. With both clubs winning one each in the league, the season’s climax saw the first all-Merseyside FA Cup final at Wembley in May. Liverpool went on to complete the league and FA Cup double, as they cancelled out Gary Lineker’s opener with goals from Ian Rush and Craig Johnston. Liverpool beat Everton in the final of the following season’s League Cup despite Everton’s league triumph in that 1986-87 season.
Often referred to as the ‘friendly derby’ due to the aforementioned integrated support of the clubs among families and social groups and no overt religious split between the clubs, Merseyside derbies were one of the only derbies where opposing fans were allowed to sit together and total fan segregation was not enforced. Despite this, the relationship between the two clubs has not always been one of ‘happy families’.
The bitterness bubbled over in 1985 after violence had erupted between Liverpool and Juventus fans at the Heysel disaster, where 39 fans died and a further 600 were injured. This resulted in Liverpool and all other English clubs being banned from the European Cup for five years, just after Kendall’s Everton had won the battle with their city rivals for the English League title. Many Evertonians believed they would have won the European Cup during this period if Liverpool had not have received the ban, as they had won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in the same year. It left a bitter taste between the two clubs which had already been strong in the battle for the league title.
However four years later, the two clubs united in matters more important than football. 96 Liverpool fans were killed in the Hillsborough disaster before an FA Cup tie between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, and Everton joined Liverpool in support of the tragedy. Red and blue scarves were tied together and stretched across Stanley Park to connect the two stadiums, held up by fans of both clubs. Everton and Liverpool both reached the final of the FA Cup that year and chants of “Merseyside” could be heard around Wembley.
Although the respect between the clubs continues, it is always a luminous affair when red and blue clash on Merseyside, as players fight for bragging rights as well as the fact that the two teams are often fighting for similar positions in the Premier League. It is the longest running top-flight derby in England, and every scouser wants their team to be ‘the pride of Merseyside’ as months of taunting from friends and family awaits them if their team loses. The passion of the fans in the stands and around the city is infectious, as players prepare to fight their challenges and put themselves on the line for their team in true derby spirit.
Key games down the years
April 2001, Premier League: There’s little more entertaining than a fiery, pulsating derby. Five goals, two contestable penalty decisions, a red card to a six foot three giant, and a 45-yard winner ensured fans were on the edge of their seats in a feisty encounter which saw Everton come back twice from behind after Duncan Ferguson and David Unsworth cancelled out goals from Liverpool’s Emile Heskey and Markus Babbel either side of a missed penalty from Robbie Fowler. Deep into stoppage time with the tie looking likely to finish honours even at 2-2, Gary McAllister stepped up to take a free kick not far from the centre circle and rifled the ball inside the post to send Gerard Houllier’s Reds into raptures.
February 1991, FA Cup: This fifth-round replay saw two great managers come up against each other as Howard Kendall’s Everton hosted Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool in a scintillating FA Cup tie. Everton clawed themselves back into the game four times in another thriller which saw braces for Tony Cottee, Graeme Sharp and Peter Beardsley. Following the 4-4 draw, Kenny Dalglish announced his resignation as manager of Liverpool.
May 1989: FA Cup: After the Hillsborough tragedy in the semi-final, players and fans alike were still recovering from the trauma. Liverpool and Everton had played out a 0-0 league draw in the weeks following the disaster, and the final of the FA Cup saw the Merseyside giants join together in harmony at Wembley. Red and blue scarves were waved together in demonstration of the immense unity and humility of both sets of fans in standing side by side in difficult times. John Aldridge put the Reds ahead after four minutes, and Stuart McCall pulled the match level in the dying embers of the 90 minutes. Substitute Ian Rush stormed on and made it 2-1 in extra time before McCall responded with another equaliser. However, Rush struck again to head past Neville Southall and win the cup for Liverpool.
Ian Rush: The Welshman leads the way in terms of both all-time derby goals and all-time appearances for an outfield player in the fixture, and once scored 4 against the Toffees in a 5-0 victory at Goodison Park in November 1982. He remains one of Liverpool’s best players of all time, and had a knack of knocking goals left, right, and centre against the Reds’ city rivals despite supporting them as a youngster.
Kevin Sheedy: One of the most skilled players to play for both clubs, Sheedy made the move across Stanley Park to join Everton from Liverpool in 1982. Several years later, he returned to Anfield to face his former club and stepped up for a free kick at the edge of the box, from which he was notorious with his left foot. Most players refuse to celebrate after scoring against their former club, but Sheedy, after smashing the ball into the back of the net, ran towards the fans in the Kop and offered an alternative gesture. “I usually put one finger up signalling a goal, but it being the Kop, two fingers automatically went up”, Sheedy said afterwards.
Bill Shankly: One man who encapsulated the nature of the Merseyside derby, a Liverpool legend and one of their best ever managers, was Bill Shankly. He often joked about the rivalry, saying: “In my time at Anfield we always said we had the best two teams on Merseyside – Liverpool and Liverpool reserves”. He was also quoted as saying: “If Everton were playing down the bottom of my garden, I’d draw the curtains”.
Although the rivalry can be light and humorous, you can usually expect fireworks when the two teams clash – especially if there is home-grown talent in the team looking to prove a point and win bragging rights for their team. As apprehension built the past week ahead of the 228th Merseyside derby, friendships were put on hold as football took over the city of Liverpool.
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