Liverpool-Everton is the so-called 'friendly derby,' but how friendly is it?
In the latest edition of ESPN FC's derbies series, which features eyewitness insights into some of the biggest rivalries in world football, Jeff Carlisle traveled to Liverpool for the recent clash between intra-city rivals, Everton and Liverpool, with both sides seeking a repeat of former glories.
ESPN FC'S DERBY SERIES
- River Plate vs. Boca Juniors, by Sam Kelly
- Man City vs. Man United, by Iain Macintosh
- Celtic vs. Rangers, by Chris Jones
- Benfica vs. Sporting, by Lee Roden
- Everton vs. Liverpool, by Jeff Carlisle
- Olympiakos vs. Panathinaikos, by Michael Yokhin
- Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke, by Uli Hesse
- Red Star vs. Partizan, by Andy Mitten
- Steaua vs. Dinamo, by Nick Ames
- Roma vs. Lazio, by Paolo Bandini
LIVERPOOL, England -- It's Wednesday, Feb. 4, three days before Everton will face Liverpool in the 224th Merseyside derby, and former Toffees forward Graham Stuart tries to prepare me for what lies ahead.
The match will take place at Everton's Goodison Park, the ground Stuart called home for four seasons in the 1990s. A member of the Everton side that won the 1995 FA Cup, Stuart knows what this particular fixture means to the clubs and the city. The intensity, he insists, is something burned into the memory.
"You've got a five-, 10-second period before the referee blows the whistle, and the noise is incredible," he says. "The hairs on the back of your neck stand up."
Three days later, I enter Goodison Park for the first time. The venue is over 100 years old. There's a claustrophobic feel to the surroundings, adding to the tension. Unlike the hermetically sealed press boxes I've encountered in North America, the press tribune is in the middle of Goodison's Main Stand, surrounded on all sides by fans. My seat in the press row is about as spacious as the cockpit of a fighter jet. You wear it more than you sit in it.
The ground fills in, and then just before kickoff the pressure valve is released. A roar goes up. Goodison Park is in full voice, with "Everton! Everton! Everton!" ringing around the ground. The stadium is bathed in blue, save for one pocket of red across the field and to my right. A banner with the words "WE ARE LIVERPOOL" is held up in defiance.
A common term associated with meetings of Merseyside's red and blue sides is the "friendly derby," and it's true that, to this day, some Liverpudlian families are split in terms of their club allegiance.
However, the relationship is more complicated than that and has been for some time, as I discovered during a week in the city which culminates in the Saturday evening din of Goodison Park.
"WE F---ING HATE these bastards. We know 'em, but we do!" says Dr. Rogan Taylor, the director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool, and a lifelong Liverpool fan, when asked to define the current state of a rivalry that dates back to the late 19th century.
Everton was founded in 1878, taking on the name of the surrounding area. By the early 1880s, local businessman John Houlding had become chairman of the club, and it was through his business connections that Everton began playing at Anfield in 1884.
But a dispute between Houlding and members of the board created a deep schism. The board also resented the fact that Houlding, who by then had assumed control of Anfield, had more than doubled the rent on the venue by 1888. Everton's board decided to build their own stadium, Goodison Park, a mere 1,000 meters away from Anfield on the other side of Stanley Park and moved there in 1892. Houlding and those loyal to him formed a new club: Liverpool FC.
It is this shared DNA that makes this derby unique, in that it contains none of the geographical, class, or sectarian trappings of other rivalries.
Like most siblings, this is a relationship that has had its ups and downs, perhaps most notably during the 1980s when both vied for honors on an annual basis. The "friendly derby" sentiment was in evidence when Liverpool and Everton met in the 1984 League Cup final -- the first featuring both clubs -- and which was graced with chants of "Merseyside, Merseyside, Merseyside" ringing around Wembley.
The following year, the bond was put to the test. The 1985 Heysel disaster led to a five-year ban for English teams from European competition, and Everton, who had won the English league championship, were denied the chance to compete in the European Cup the following season.
"There's an awful lot of animosity [from Everton fans] because that opportunity only comes around once," says David Johnson, who holds the distinction of having played -- and scored -- for each side in a Merseyside derby. "You can't recreate that team again and again and again to get them back into Europe."
In 1986, the two teams met in the FA Cup final. Won by Liverpool 3-1, it was watched by upwards of 100,000 fans, who traveled to London, often together despite supporting opposite sides.
"The fans from both teams used to travel together in the same car, a blue scarf out of one window and a red one out the other," said Johnson. "And they worked together side by side, went to the match together. As soon as the kickoff [went], they hated each other. It was one of those things where afterwards you would have a pint."
The two teams even traveled back to Liverpool on the same plane, and what awaited them on their return was a unique celebration.
"When you win the Cup you take it round the city on a bus," recalled ex-Liverpool midfielder, and current ESPN television analyst Steve Nicol. "Some geniuses decided both teams would go around together. You can imagine how happy their bus was. It was awkward but it was fun for us because we won. I think [Everton player] Peter Reid, he didn't get on the bus. He said, 'I'm not doing that.' But the streets were lined with red and blue, banded together."
Three years later another tragedy, Hillsborough, saw the two sides come together once again. The intermingling of fans resulted in a unified show of support for the families involved, especially at the FA Cup final five weeks later, in which Liverpool prevailed 3-2 in extra time over their city neighbors.
"Everton showed the respect that was needed over it, and the Liverpool fans accepted it," says Ian Snodin, a former Everton defender from 1987-95.
Former Liverpool left-back Alan Kennedy adds: "Everton did their little bit to bring us right back down the right path. We ended up together. You'll always see '96' with a red and a blue together. That's exactly what has happened. For me, it's brought the community much, much closer."
THESE DAYS, WHENEVER the term "friendly derby" is brought up it's received with the kind of grimace and eye-squinting that hints it is no longer so, and not just because the fixture saw more red cards through 2012 -- 20, with 13 Everton players dismissed -- than any other in the Premier League era. As I ride towards my hotel from Lime Street Station, my taxi driver, Kevin Seed, admits he doesn't like working on the day of the derby.
"It used to be that your dad spoke Scouse, your brother spoke Scouse, so we knew it wasn't worth killing each other over," he says by highlighting the famous dialect of the city. "The younger generation, they're quite nasty about it."
The next day I find myself at the Baltic Fleet Pub, an establishment that seems almost out of place amid the new shops and restaurants of the Albert Dock area. It feels more grounded in substance than style, and over a couple of pints, Everton fan and ESPN FC blogger Luke O'Farrell takes a stance similar to Seed's. He does point out that he's never seen any violence at the game itself, but he has seen instances of Liverpool fans sitting among the Everton support and then being ejected for either cheering a Liverpool goal or baiting those around them.
"Over time, especially with younger fans and newer fans, it's easier to wind each other up," O'Farrell says. "Back in the day, the two teams were fighting at the top of the league, and there was that respect there. Now, it's almost like there's resentment instead of respect."
THE MERSEYSIDE POLICE certainly doesn't view the derby as friendly. On Tuesday morning I find myself at South Sefton Magistrates Court where a dispute over the time of the kickoff is set to be hashed out. At the behest of Sky Sports, the kickoff has been pushed back to 5:30pm local time and there is concern that the extra few hours spent in pubs will lead to trouble both at Goodison and the city center. The fixture is deemed Category C, otherwise known as high risk.
Merseyside Police are so insistent on an earlier kickoff that it has taken the issue to court. The complaint is ultimately withdrawn under the condition that segregation of fans be enforced, and that within 28 days a meeting will take place involving Merseyside Police, the Liverpool City Council and the two clubs in order to avoid these disputes in the future.
It's a position that doesn't impress O'Farrell, but he has other things on his mind. The upcoming derby will be the 50th since he's been born. The Toffees have won just nine and lost 22, and are winless in the last nine derbies.
"That's why you hate derby week," he says. "It's impossible, you just get a sense of dread. But you're looking forward to it at the same time."
Everton don't have a monopoly on the emotional rollercoaster that hits as the derby approaches. As Taylor sits in his study on the day before the match, flanked by pictures of George Harrison and Bill Shankly, he pontificates on all sorts of topics. Much of his academic work has focused on the history and culture of football, and the relationship between the sport and its fans.
"Life is like football and football is like life," he says. "Most of the time, it's a f---ing mess," he says. Then he whispers, "But occasionally, it isn't, and when it isn't it seems to make it all worthwhile. When the ball went through a couple of physical dimensions you didn't know existed and went into the top corner. The body responds. It's like a shamanistic f---ing magic."
These realities are mirrored by his feelings for the upcoming derby.
"As they cross the park tomorrow, all the Reds fans will go, 'We're f---ing great, the team is looking good. The other lot are probably going to be relegated,'" he says. "Then the match will kick off and everyone will go, 'For f---'s sake.' And it's like that for the rest of the afternoon until the end."
ALAN KENNEDY IS a Liverpool legend, a seemingly incongruous label for the one-time left-back. He scored the only goal in the 1981 European Cup final victory over Real Madrid, and slotted home the winning penalty in the 1984 European Cup final victory over AS Roma, in the Stadio Olimpico no less.
On the Tuesday before the derby, I meet Kennedy and we drive around Anfield, where the renovation of the stadium is in full view, as are some decaying houses, many of which the club purchased ahead of the stadium expansion. He eventually turns his car onto Scotland Road, about a mile from Liverpool's stadium, and a mischievous grin appears on his face.
"This is where it all happened," he says. "There used to be a pub on every corner here."
Not only are the pubs gone, but so are many of the buildings that housed them, with vacant lots in their place. Of the ones still standing, some are boarded up or in disrepair. Kennedy admits that the sight saddens him. To get a sense of the city's overall decline, its current population of 465,000 is barely half of what was its peak in the 1930s.
But soon we're driving by the Three Graces -- the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building -- and the revitalized Albert Dock area, Kennedy's mood perks up. When Liverpool was named the European Capital of Culture for 2008, it brought in some badly needed investment, furthering the city's transition from heavy industry to a more diversified economy with tourism playing an increasing role. Like most big cities, progress has been uneven, but Kennedy prefers to dwell on the positives.
"There's so much going for Liverpool now," he says, referring to the city.
It's a journey that acts as a metaphor for the city's football clubs. There are reasons for optimism and pessimism in equal measure. The signs of past success are easy to see, but it can act as a weight as well. Liverpool certainly has a bigger following compared to Everton, helped in no small part by its five European Cup/Champions League titles, the last of which came in 2005.
Liverpool has also managed to win a half-dozen other cup competitions since the turn of the century. But it hasn't won the league in 25 years, though there have been some agonizing near-misses. Everton hasn't won a trophy since 1995.
And the future is uncertain. On the surface everything appears rosy. Both clubs have stable ownership, and the ever-increasing amount of television money being thrown at the Premier League has allowed Liverpool to take ninth spot in Deloitte's Money League while Everton is 20th. Liverpool has also undertaken a £100 million investment that will see its Main Stand replaced, increasing the capacity to 54,000. Plans are in the works for Everton to build a brand-new 50,000-seat stadium in nearby Walton Hall Park.
But that still puts Liverpool well behind the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. Everton are additionally behind Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United. And there's some reluctance on the part of Everton fans to leave the stadium they've called home for over 100 years.
"The stadium issue has trapped both of the clubs," says Taylor. "Liverpool turns over £250 million, and Manchester United turn over £400 million. United have got a 75,000-capacity stadium, great recent history of course, global brand. How are you ever going to catch up there? I don't doubt that Liverpool and Everton will continue to live. Whether they will flourish ..."
I'M AT ANFIELD the day before the derby. To my left is the legendary Kop, and directly across from me is the soon-to-be-demolished Main Stand. David Johnson, fresh from hosting a corporate event for the club, sits across from me in one of the suites overlooking the pitch.
The trademark moustache is gone and his hair is gray, but he doesn't look that far removed from his playing days . He makes it abundantly clear that he will not be in attendance that weekend. His explanation is simple.
"Red or Blue, you can't be both," he says.
Johnson had two different spells with Everton, sandwiched around stints with Ipswich Town and Liverpool, though it was with Liverpool that he spent his best years. It seems that the blue half of Liverpool hasn't quite forgiven him for this.
"The Evertonians, even at my age now, can't seem to get over the fact that I played for Liverpool," he says. "I'd rather watch it at home or go to the pub with all my mates, have a few pints and watch it there than go to Goodison."
He was born into a Liverpool-supporting family, with his brothers Brian and Johnny making sure he knew where his club allegiances should lie. Yet when it came time to pick which club he would sign for, Everton pushed harder than the club he had supported as a boy.
EVERTON vs. LIVERPOOL
- First derby: Oct. 13, 1894, at Goodison Park. Everton won 3-0 in front of 44,000 fans.
- Head to head: 224 games played. Liverpool have won 88 games, Everton have won 66 and 70 draws.
- Most appearances: Goalkeeper Neville Southall (Everton) with 41 games played.
- Most goals: Striker Ian Rush (Liverpool) with 25 goals.
"It just went out the window who you supported," he says. "That was the club that was going to make me a professional footballer. So I broke my family's heart by signing for Everton."
Not for the last time either. On Nov. 13, 1971, Johnson scored the game winner in his first Merseyside derby, a 1-0 win at Goodison Park.
"To beat Liverpool 1-0, and score the goal when you're just breaking into the side, it knocks down all the 'Is he going to make it?'" he says. "You're accepted because you scored against the arch-enemy."
Six years later, he repeated the feat, scoring the only goal of the game at Goodison's Gwladys Street end. But on this occasion he was wearing Liverpool red, not Everton blue.
"It was better," he says with a smile.
No doubt, the fact that his club allegiance was in line with his family's had something to do with that. But it had its downside as well. "When I played, I was playing for my brothers, for their bragging rights," he says. "All my family would come to me and say, 'Don't you dare let us down.' So there was more pressure from my family than there was from the manager."
Snodin had a ringside seat to the other player who has played and scored for both clubs in a Merseyside derby: Peter Beardsley. The two were roommates during their time with Everton, and on Dec. 7, 1992, Beardsley scored the game-winner in a 2-1 Everton victory.
"You see the modern-day player, when you see them play against a former team, they don't celebrate the goal," says Snodin. "To see Peter Beardsley running down the full length of the pitch giving it loads, it just shows how football has changed. It was fantastic to beat them because we didn't do particularly well that season, and the atmosphere was great that day."
WHEN SATURDAY FINALLY arrives, it dawns clear and sunny, but it soon gives way to overcast skies. I'm driven to the match by Kevin Ellison, an Evertonian who has driven me all over the city for the past week. When we first met, I asked to be driven to Melwood, Liverpool's training ground. He responded on that day with a smile, "Do I have to?"
But on this day, it's clear his nerves are on edge.
Ellison drops me off on Goodison Road a few hours before kickoff, and fans have already started to gather. Outside St. Luke's Church -- which is wedged between the Goodison Road and Gwladys Street stands -- a sculpture depicting the Christmas truce is on display.
The sculpture shows a British WWI soldier and his German adversary shaking hands, commemorating the moment on Christmas Day 1914 when the two sides stopped fighting and played football instead. Someone has taken the liberty of adorning the two figures with scarves consisting of both Everton and Liverpool colors. Perhaps the "friendly derby" is alive and well after all.
The Dixie Dean statue that sits in front of Goodison on Walton Lane is also decorated, but in this case it's with blue and white flowers in memorial of Everton fans who have passed away.
It takes me a good 20 minutes to circumnavigate Goodison Park. There is a sense of anticipation, but the atmosphere is festive. Fans from both clubs can be seen enjoying the day together. It was what led former Everton manager David Moyes to state that Everton was "the people's club."
An impromptu survey reveals the two sets of fans have plenty in common. There's Liverpool native and Reds supporter Michael McGonnell, who as a 4-year-old in the 1950s used to travel to games with his grandfather via motorcycle. Then there are Brandon and Sharonaka Earp from Hagerstown, Maryland, who are attending the match with a group of fans from the EvertonUSA supporters group.
As for the vaunted police presence, I ask Detective Inspector Nigel Stewart how many police are at the ground. One hundred?
"I wish," he says. "I think at the briefing this morning there was about 70, from senior officers on down to street level. We're used to working the Merseyside derby. We know how to police it. We're just doing as we normally do. No issues at all."
Then there are Steve Kelly and Sherry Brewster. Kelly is decked out in Everton blue while Brewster is in Liverpool red. "We'll stop being friends at half past five, and then hopefully kiss and make up later," says Kelly.
Are you married?
"He's not asked me to marry him yet, but I don't know if I could ever marry a Blue," quips Brewster. "No amount of money and no amount of pretending he was a Red would ever, ever make me want to marry him if I'm honest."
Kelly shoots back, "That saves me buying an engagement ring then."
The attendance of Kelly and Brewster at the match is serving a higher purpose. Brewster has worked on various charitable efforts for families impacted by the Hillsborough disaster. Kelly lost his brother Michael, a Liverpool fan, in the tragedy and for the last three years has been pushing Everton to put up a memorial at Goodison Park. On this day, a plaque that Kelly designed is about to be unveiled.
Minutes later, Kelly is asked by Hillsborough Families For Justice Chairperson Margaret Aspinall to pull back the curtain. It's a recreation of famous photo showing a young girl in an Everton jersey walking side-by-side with a boy in a Liverpool shirt with the numbers on their backs combining to say "96."
For those family members present, the emotions are still raw. Mary Corrigan kisses a picture of her son Keith McGrath -- who passed away on that day -- that is attached to her lapel. She's no less appreciative of the sentiments.
"It's a lovely feeling for the families," she says.
Kelly adds, "As a bereaved brother and a Blue, I'm really proud today. Every time I look at this now, I'll be pleased, and think how we've honored our neighbors. It just epitomizes what our great city is all about."
FOR ALL THE buildup and pre-match atmosphere, the game turns out to be something of a dud, ending in a 0-0 draw, though the intensity of the crowd is such that the game seems to fly by. Liverpool is the aggressor with surprise starter Jordon Ibe ringing a shot off the post in the 27th minute.
Everton try to hit back on the break, but the Toffees are crying out for any kind of creative influence to step up and none does so. The Everton fans clearly sense their club's struggles. Each foray forward is met with a roar that quickly dies out. As Liverpool connect passes, the crowd's enthusiasm gives way to a low rumble of frustration.
Steven Gerrard, who's playing in his last derby, is serenaded throughout with the Steven Gerrard song, both the supportive and mocking versions. He has a free kick in the 10th minute that is tipped over the bar, and he nearly scores on a sensational overhead kick only for Steven Naismith to deflect the effort wide of goal. Otherwise, Gerrard's final Merseyside derby is relatively quiet. A final shot in the 88th minute that goes wide sums up his day and ensures the game finishes goalless.
By the time I exit the stadium, the last vestiges of Liverpool red have long since departed, though the pubs along Goodison Road are still doing a brisk business. But cabs are scarce, so I share one back to the city center with three Everton fans from the Netherlands.
Ellison texts me in the wee hours to say, "My cellphone died happy, with a point EFC didn't really much deserve."
All week long I had been told that "it's only the 'friendly derby' if it ends in a draw." The buildup and game itself revealed plenty of passion on both sides and the bragging rights attached to the result are very real. Yet there were also times when the bond between the two clubs still shines through, especially in the most painful of moments. For now, families can reunite and friendships can resume, at least until Liverpool and Everton meet again.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.