Is The Merseyside Derby Still The 'Friendly Derby'

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Published by Chris Jenkins
02nd Nov 2021
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Everton vs Liverpool is one of the most eagerly anticipated games in the Premier League. Supporters and neutrals alike eagerly tune in when the Merseyside Derby is broadcast on TV. As for the fans in the stadium, they are some of the most passionate you’ll come across.

Over the years, both clubs have achieved huge things, dominating English football for large parts of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Unfortunately, this success has only continued for one of the clubs, and this may be one of the contributing factors to the evolution of “the friendly Derby”.

So, is the Merseyside Derby still the friendly derby? Or have things become somewhat more vicious over the years?

 

The City

In order to understand this rivalry, it’s important to look at the setting. Liverpool is a brilliant city, full of people from all walks of life. Football is woven into the fabric of Scouse identity and contributes towards the rich culture that the dockside town has developed over the years.

One of the main reasons people tend to call the Merseyside Derby the friendly derby is because so many people within the city live close together.

There is no great divide based upon which area you’re from. You’ll find reds and blues dotted around the landscape from Bootle to Garston.

In fact, most families in Liverpool have varying allegiances. It’s not unusual to find Liverpudlians and Toffees living in the same household.

This familiarity means that you couldn’t avoid rival supporters even if you wanted to. Unlike the Liverpool vs Manchester United rivalry, reds and blues are friends, family, colleagues.

Goodison Park and Anfield are a stone's throw away from each other, separated by Stanley Park. And while many rivalries such as the Old Firm and El Clasico are built upon external factors such as sectarianism and politics, the Merseyside Derby grew simply through a desire to outdo your neighbours.

The clubs also allowed fans to mix in the ground for a long time, but this is no longer the case.

 

The History

Everton FC was formed in 1878 and their home ground was originally Anfield. They were a founding member of the football league and immediately found success in domestic football.

Liverpool FC was formed following a dispute between Everton and the Anfield landlord. When Everton moved away from Anfield in 1892, John Houlding formed Liverpool and continued to use the ground.

Everton went on to win 9 league titles, 5 FA Cups, and 1 European Cup Winners Cup through the years, with historic greats such as Dixie Dean and Alan Ball playing for the blues.

Throughout the 80s, they fielded a squad that many consider being one of the greatest of all time with players such as Graeme Sharp, Peter Reid and Kevin Sheedy. In the 80s, Liverpool had club legends such as Kenny Daglish and John Barnes playing for them.

However, Liverpool has achieved more than Everton. With 19 league titles and 6 European cups, they have enjoyed more success over the years. There was a time in the 80s when Merseyside football dominated the country and no one could challenge the two clubs.

Traditionally, Liverpool and Everton fans would attend games together and even go to each other's matches for something to do on the weekend. Despite this, the rivalry got exponentially more heated over the years and turned into something slightly different.

 

The Darker Side Of The Rivalry

Whilst the term “friendly derby” still applies to this fixture, there are some aspects of it that have fluctuated in severity. Some people believe this is because of what happened after the success of the 80s.

After the dreadful Heysel Stadium disaster occurred when Liverpool played Juventus in the 1985 European Cup Final, all English clubs were banned from competing in Europe for 5 years. This came at a time when Everton fielded an exceptional team.

Many pundits believe they would have gone on to achieve great things in Europe, cementing Everton as one of the top clubs in world football. Unfortunately, the team began to disband after their title-winning season in 1987.

Since then, Everton faced some serious financial struggles and have managed to win only 1 FA cup in 1995. Liverpool has gone on to achieve much more, and some believe this has created a more fierce atmosphere on derby day.

Most fans would dismiss this claim, but there is no denying that the rivalry has gotten fiercer since the gulf in quality between the two clubs has grown.

The fixture also has more red cards than any other game since the Premier League began, outdoing the North London derby and Liverpool vs Manchester United.

Clearly, it’s a derby that is fuelled by passion and a desire to perform for the supporters on the day. Anything can happen in the Merseyside Derby.

 

The Friendly Derby

Despite the red cards, the Twitter spats, and the numerous controversial incidents, the Merseyside Derby could still be considered the friendly derby. Fans of the two clubs co-exist so closely that their bonds run deeper than football.

This has been highlighted many times throughout the years, from the 1984 League Cup final in which supporters of both clubs chanted “Merseyside” together, to the displays of solidarity regarding the Hillsborough disaster.

The most poignant image that comes to mind is that of two children adorned in the respective club's kits, holding hands, with the number 96 etched onto their backs.

Whether things get heated on derby day or not, the city of Liverpool has shown time and time again that it comes together when things get serious. Because of this, the friendly derby goes beyond what happens on the football pitch.

Liverpool and Everton play their next fixture at Goodison Park on 1st December. Get your tickets to the Merseyside Derby here.