Two of England’s most-storied clubs play Tuesday in a derby that’s taken on much more significance the past few years. At least on a broad scale.
The Merseyside derby has always been a big deal to the people of Liverpool.
Just one point separates the rivals in the Premier League table. Less than one mile separates the two teams stadiums across Stanley Park, and they share one city.
But this derby is bigger than most. It will impact a top four Premier League spot that would seal Champions League qualification, a dream for both clubs (and would bring roughly $100 million in revenue).
With Liverpool boasting the deadly strike duo of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, many would say they’re the favorites at home against Everton’s young and exciting side led by ambitious manager Robert Martinez. So how did they get to this point?
This is the tale of one of the world’s most famous soccer cities and how its intertwining clubs define the people of Merseyside.
HISTORY OF ‘THE DERBY’
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Until 1974, the county of Merseyside didn’t exist but then the boroughs of St Helens, Sefton, Wirrall, Knowsley and the city of Liverpool came together as one. The metro area now has a population of 1.38 million people and has three professional soccer teams. The two biggest teams are Liverpool and Everton; Tranmere play in England’s third-tier and are located across the River Mersey, toward Wales. People from this neck of the woods are known as ‘Scousers’ and their harsh Scouse accent is something you have to experience for yourself. Trust me, when you hear it spoken loud and proud by a Scouser you will know exactly what I mean.
Everton were founded in 1878 and were originally based at Anfield before being moved out after the clubs committee and John Houlding, club president and owner of the land at Anfield, couldn’t agree on a dispute. So Liverpool Football Club was born and moved onto the Anfield site in 1892, and the two have been rivals ever since.
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Today they’re both Premier League giants and since 1955 matches between the two have been referred to as the ‘Merseyside Derby.’ Before that it was simply known as ‘the derby’ around Liverpool.
Since the first match was played on Oct. 13, 1894, there have been 221 games played, with Liverpool winning 88, Everton taking 66 and 67 draws between the two.
Since 2009-10 both teams have had remarkably similar fortunes, as Liverpool have gained 277 points from 174 games, while Everton have earned 276 points from 174 games. This year Liverpool sit in fourth on 43 points, while Everton are in sixth place just one point behind with 42.
Great players such as Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, Dixie Dean, Robbie Fowler and Graeme Sharp have graced this game with plenty of dazzling performances over the years, as Liverpool and Everton have always been embroiled in a titanic tussle for superiority in the city of Liverpool.
Dalglish was voted Liverpool’s best player of all time, as he won six league titles and three European Cups during the Reds heyday in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. Around the Kop he is known as “King Kenny” and despite an unsuccessful period as manager of the club in 2011-12 when new American owner John W. Henry first arrived, Dalglish is still revered around Anfield and is currently working as a director for the club.
While Everton legend Graeme Sharp, who now works as a liaison officer between the club and its fans as well as various forms of media work in the city, was voted onto Everton’s “Greatest Ever Team” side after a glittering career that sees him second in the all-time scoring charts behind Dixie Dean. Dean scored the most league goals, 18, in derby history and a statue in his honor stands outside Goodison Park.
Both teams are immensely proud of their pasts, as you wander around the outside of both Anfield and Goodison you can see the admiration for their heritage as famous managers and players from a bygone era are honored. There’s a joke going around England at the moment that you can only have played for Liverpool if you’re a pundit on TV; with the likes of Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler, Mark Lawrenson, Alan Hansen, Phil Thompson and numerous others all on Sky, BBC or ITV in the UK.
(WATCH: ‘I Was There’ the fan experience of the Merseyside Derby)
In recent years this fixture has been explosive. Twenty red cards have been dished out since the Premier League era began in 1992, more red cards than in any other PL fixture. A volatile and feisty atmosphere encapsulates both Goodison Park and Anfield on derby day, and on Tuesday, both teams square off after a 3-3 draw earlier in the season. Bragging rights are still up for grabs.
It will be intense. It’s perhaps the most significant contest between Liverpool and Everton in decades.
Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen played in the memorable draw at Goodison Park in November, as Everton had a lead snatched away from them late on by Liverpool’s Sturridge in front of their home fans. The diminutive Reds midfielder said this match is the one all of his teammates are looking forward to.
“The last few seasons the rivalry between Everton and Liverpool has become even more fierce especially in the league table,” Allen said. “That gives it even more excitement and build the game up even more. These are the sort of games that when the fixture list comes out, you look for them straightaway.”
ARE YOU A BLUE OR A RED? FAMILIES DIVIDED
When you stroll around the city of Liverpool, it’s sometimes difficult to see that there are two teams. In the commercial hub of the city I wandered past three huge Liverpool FC merchandise stores in a short space of time. No Everton club shops. There was also a huge sign of a Liver Bird near the bus station with the YNWA slogan, made famous by Liverpool’s fans who sign the famous “You’ll Never Walk Alone” anthem by Gerry and the Pacemakers before every single home game.
Despite Everton’s omission from the high street, in the streets and districts of Liverpool they are heavily supported. Known as ‘The People’s Club’ the blue half of Merseyside have had to put up with a lot over the years as their rivals have taken most of the limelight. In U.S. sports terms, think New York Yankees and New York Mets. Yankees fans have had bragging rights in the Big Apple for some time, but still Mets fans pop up and remind them about the few World Series titles they won, like a little brother poking his elder sibling in the ribs to remind him he shouldn’t be ignored.
Everton resemble the Mets. Liverpool, the Yankees.
“There’s households where one child has decided to support Everton. I know households were my friend is a Red but his Dad and his brother are Blues. They are both season ticket holders at Goodison Park and he’s a season ticket holder at Anfield,” explains James McKenna, spokesperson for Liverpool Supporters Group the ‘Spirit of Shankly.’ “The people you interact with for the other 363 days a year, they are your mates or work colleagues. You are from the same city and have the same attitudes I suppose. It is slightly different.”
In Liverpool, there’s a dichotomy that exists like nowhere else in England. Entire families are often split down the middle as to who they support. A father can support Liverpool, but his kids and wife cheer on Everton, and that extends to grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Everyone has their reasons for choosing a side, but in this city the choice to support Everton or Liverpool is intensely intertwined.
The big question being: are you a Blue or a Red? It’s a question unique to Merseyside.
“I’ve known people from Sheffield and they couldn’t imagine the idea of being friendly with a Sheffield United or Wednesday fan,” McKenna said. “Glasgow is the same with Rangers and Celtic and it is almost like divided cities. On derby day it’s like that here but any other time I don’t really notice it.”
Everton boasts nine league titles and five FA Cups, making it one of the most successful teams in England over the past 50 years. But the last time they won a trophy was the 1995 FA Cup. Over the past two decades they’ve had to sit back and watch Liverpool fight for PL titles, win the Champions League and other European trophies and turn green with envy. Liverpool have won five Champions League titles (more than any British side), 18 league titles, seven FA Cups, eight League Cups and three UEFA Cups (plus countless other pieces of silverware). There’s a lot of envy from Everton fans as their illustrious red clad neighbors like to remind them of their dominance at every opportunity.
“We’re always the top dogs on Merseyside,” said Richard Pedder, Chairman of Liverpool’s Merseyside Supporters Group, with an air of annoyance on his voice. “People disagree, but we are the top dogs and they won’t accept it. At the end of the day they’ve got to accept it. We will prove it on Tuesday.”
Often all of this ‘banter’ happens within the same household.
“The games come round twice a year, we have families who are mixed with Evertonians and Liverpudlians in the same household,” Pedder explains. “That can be rather strange if you’re not winning, one won’t talk to the other, this type of thing. We always look forward to this because this is our match. Manchester United are a big team but this is our local derby, it’s a city within a city.”
REGENERATION – CITY AND CLUBS BOTH RISE
Strolling through the center of Liverpool on a midweek afternoon, the bustling streets around Albert Docks are lined with sparkling new shops, restaurants, bars, hotels and snazzy apartments. This isn’t a place deserving of its reputation of being a harsh place and one where outsiders aren’t welcome.
I first visited Liverpool in 2001. On my recent return, it has changed. Chatting with locals over a coffee, they swooned over the new shopping districts, museums and dockland areas opened up when the city won the European Capital of Culture award in 2008.
That accolade brought a huge amount of funding to build the city back up even more. Britain’s decline during the ‘80s hit Liverpool particularly hard. In the North West of England Margaret Thatcher is not remembered fondly by many, as tough times saw Liverpool become a desperate place in the latter decades of the 20th century. Unions stood up against the regime and the industrial strongholds of England fell by the wayside.
But through that struggle, both Liverpool and Everton Football Clubs were in enjoying their heyday.
One can sense renewed hope for the city and both their teams from the citizens of Merseyside.
“You go around the city… it’s quite fitting with the football I suppose because we’ve come out of that ‘80s slump and neglect and there’s been a renaissance,” McKenna said, as he struggled to wipe a proud smile off his face. “The city now is fantastic, growing all the time. It’s a lovely place to come. The Merseyside derby epitomizes that. That idea where we said about the fans of both teams getting on for 363 days, then the other two days they don’t, that shows the city’s spirit and passion. That’s shown in how it has dragged itself up and has grown again as a city and become a huge port and is improving all the time.”
Still, as McKenna, notes, there is plenty of improvement needed. The glistening city center papers over the cracks of the harsh council estates that line the road to Liverpool’s training ground, barely two miles from the swanky new developments. Dilapidated and boarded up buildings, scruffy looking corner shops and clapped out transit vans are all easily visible as plenty of areas in Liverpool still struggle with poverty. It is amongst the most deprived areas of the UK, as a study released in 2012 showed that five of the UK’s top 10 most deprived areas were in Liverpool. But with the city rebuilding itself and its soccer teams flourishing once again, that air of optimism can be felt on Merseyside.
(MORE: NBCSN’s Rebecca Lowe discusses the Merseyside divide – video)
During derby week, talk of the upcoming game dominates chatter in the cafes, pubs and shops as the Blue and Red halves of Liverpool get anxious. All roads point towards the docks, as museums honoring Liverpool’s most famous export, The Beatles, line the way as well as a fine array of art museums. The Liver Bird buildings hang over the city – the famous bird also happens to be Liverpool’s FC’s club symbol and adds to the inferiority complex felt by some Evertonians – adorning the very summit of vast limestone buildings that have welcomed travelers from across the globe to one of England’s finest ports.
With all of this culture, commerce and tradition flowing, I wander past a newsstand that brags about Everton snapping up a young Irish soccer player ahead of Liverpool. In the air, there’s a sense of building anticipation. In a local bar I went to order a burger, every type of burger imaginable was named after a soccer player. I chose a ‘Gerrard burger’ named after Liverpool’s captain (I had to, right?) There’s a special buzz during derby week, as this soccer mad city is on edge.
Recently I went to watch Arsenal host Everton play at the Emirates Stadium in North London, and the traveling band of 4-5,000 Everton fans didn’t shut up for the entire 90 minutes. Blue smoke flares went off after Gerard Delfoeu scored a late equalizer, as the fans made one hell of a din which drowned out the songs of Arsenal’s 55,000 home fans. On the pitch, Everton dazzled and out passed Arsenal at their own game. That doesn’t happen often. That realization that Everton can actually outplay and beat Liverpool this season means an extra spice has been added to this clash.
Liverpool’s players pick up on that special vibe, and with the Reds at home in front of the famous Kop end on derby day, midfielder Allen knows he and his teammates have to put in a top performance. Add in that this particular derby gives both sides the chance to cement their place in the top four, and it should be a fiery cauldron of noise inside Anfield on Tuesday.
“In the week leading up to the game it is the talk of the city and the people,” Allen said with a ponderous glance into the middle distance, then a smirk on his face. “Everyone is hoping their team comes out on top and they will have the bragging rights that follow that. It adds to the intensity and the importance of the game. The derby and the rivalry is one thing but we’re competing for similar positions in the table, so it gives it that added spice. There’s certainly much more at case when that’s at stake. We realize the importance of the match both from the rivalry point of view, but from picking up points off each other.”
That’s what Liverpool’s players think, but what about the fans?
People who don’t even watch soccer or like it know a derby game is on the horizon, as it dominates discussion and is on the minds of every Merseyside citizen weeks in advance. Liverpool and Everton’s fans both get incredibly anxious way before a ball is kicked in anger.
“You talk to a lot of people and there’s a well-known illness that goes around Liverpool called ‘derby belly’ where everyone has this slight butterflies and nerves in them,” McKenna said. “It takes over your being. We both talk about football and matches we have coming up, then Everton and Liverpool fans then have a mutual thing to talk about. It just because a big discussion about who is playing for who. Then you say ‘we won’t talk about it…’ then you end up talking about it. It just dominates.”
As I spoke at length with Liverpool and Everton fans about their favorite derby memories from over the years, I kept getting the same response. They’re all good.
But there was one game mentioned by most. Liverpool striker Ian Rush, who holds the record for the most goals scored in Merseyside derbies with 25, wrote himself into Merseyside folklore with a sublime display of finishing across Stanley Park. A famous 4-4 draw at Goodison Park in 1991 saw the ‘divine moustache’ score four times as Liverpool forced a replay in the FA Cup, ‘Rushy’ was a clinical striker who is a symbol of Liverpool’s domestic and European success. Whenever people of a certain age in England see a moustache, a dodgy perm or a brightly-colored shell suit, they think of the City of Liverpool in the ‘80’s and the players like Rush who helped the Reds win just about everything.
(MORE: Was Everton 3-3 Liverpool the best Merseyside derby in history? Here’s a few contenders…)
Other memorable games have occurred recently, as Liverpool and Everton met in the FA Cup semifinal in 2012 when a late Reds comeback, courtesy of goals from Suarez and Andy Carroll, broke the hearts of Toffees fans.
“We’ve had some fantastic derbies, with the Steven Gerrard hat trick (in 2012) and the Gary McAllister late winner at Goodison in 2003, Fowler scoring in derbies. But at Wembley, to win and get to the FA Cup final by beating Everton. They take the lead and they battered us in the first half, but Andy Carroll heads home while Marouane Fellaini is still trying to figure out where the ball is and that was that. We were just too busy going absolutely wild. Not only have you knocked Everton out of the cup, but in the semifinal, at Wembley. They felt terrible, we felt brilliant. Happy days.”
The Everton fans I spoke about recall the special day at Wembley, but pointed towards it being a “misery” and something you’d rather forget. Andy Carroll had a rather unforgettable time at Liverpool but he will forever be remembered for that late headed winner.
There have simply been too many tremendous battles over the years to list them all, as players are just one kick away from being forever etched into the rich tapestry of one of soccer’s greatest rivalries. Who will be the next hero on Tuesday?
AMERICANS ON THE MERSEY
Both clubs have had huge links with the United States, which remain present.
Liverpool are currently owned by Americans John W. Henry and Tom Werner. Their Fenway Sports Group have had a calming and progressive influence at Anfield since they took over the club from two other Americans in 2010; the previous two weren’t exactly crowd favorites.
As for Everton, their links with America are also strong as U.S. international Tim Howard is their starting goalkeeper, while in the past USMNT stars such as Joe Max-Moore, Brian McBride and Landon Donovan have all dazzled for the Toffees. There’s also a strong band of Toffees emerging in the U.S. too, as fans of the Blues have come together to create a fans network known as ‘Everton USA.’
Using social media, the Evertonian group now has 45 clubs across the USA as Americans gather together in bars from California, to Nebraska to Boston, to watch their beloved Blues play every Saturday.
The two men behind the network are Dermot O’Reilly and Dave Kurtz. They’ve been using the wonders of modern technology to help Evertonians supporting the club from thousands of miles away feel like they’re on Merseyside.
Looking ahead to the derby, O’Reilly has been lucky enough to attend games at both Anfield at Goodison while also traveling from Boston to London three years ago for the FA Cup semifinal between the two sides.
A derby, no matter the match location, is a unique atmosphere.
“It is hard to explain the intensity, you have to experience it yourself in the derby,” said O’Reilly, a Dublin native who began supported the Blues in his childhood to annoy his older brother who was a Liverpool fan. “It’s not always about singing in the ground, it’s about following everything that occurs. The kind of reactions you get at Anfield and Goodison to things happening on the pitch, it’s not just about tifos and banners. It’s about the will to win that game and get one over your rivals.”
Kurtz began supporting the Toffees in 2004 from Los Angeles, following Wayne Rooney’s wondergoal as a teenager vs. Arsenal. He is pretty blunt about Tuesday’s derby implications.
“It’s number one across the board. We’ve had these two games circled for a very long time,” Kurtz said. “This is life or death for all of us. A great goal in this derby will make you immortal forever. I will always love Dan Gosling, wherever he ended up, for taking down Liverpool a few years ago.”
Everton’s growing band of fans don’t stay state-side, either. About 50 members are making the pilgrimage to Merseyside to take in a few games this March. O’Reilly is delighted with how Everton are resembling their nickname as the ‘School of Science’ as Martinez’s innovative approach to management is flourishing and believes the only way is up for the Toffees.
Kurtz believes the future of the Merseyside derby and Everton is going only one way — up. Well, just as long as they finish above Liverpool in the PL.
“Finishing ahead of Liverpool has to always be on my list,” Kurtz said. “For a transitional year, with a lot of loan players, Martinez couldn’t have done a better job. We have been playing beautiful football and to be honest I can’t wait to see what year two is and the players we plan to bring in. For Evertonians this season seems like a preview for at least five years of good football ahead for us.”
As for Liverpool, the future is looking bright after several turbulent years which saw American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett (former owners of the Dallas Stars, Texas Rangers and Montreal Canadiens between them) angered many fans with their outlandish remarks and broken promises in 2007, as outraged supporters demanded them to leave the club.
One group hell-bent on removing Hicks and Gillett started in 2008 in the Sanford Pub, the birthplace of Liverpool Football club back in 1892. Their aim was to remove the two controversial American businessmen. The ‘Spirit of Shankly’ became an iconic group in the struggle Liverpool’s fans faced to try and force their owners from doing anything they wanted to the club. Against all the odds, they succeeded as Hicks and Gillett walked away.
The fact that the group was named after legendary Scottish manager Bill Shankly, who delivered several European Cups and English league titles, shows how entrenched in history Liverpool’s fans are and how prestigious past glories are still remembered. Their rich history is a badge of honor, that they aren’t letting any owner or group of people strip away.
Spokesperson for ‘Spirit of Shankly’ James McKenna recalls the impact American owners have had on the club.
“They are very different American owners” McKenna says with a puzzled look on his face.” I’ve got an Evertonian friend who laughs and says you were the only campaign group that was successful in getting rid of two American owners… to replace them with two more American owners!”
That joke of course refers to the Fenway Sports Group.
“If you look at the back record of Hicks and Gillett and how they acted in American sports compared to John Henry, they are very different,” McKenna said. “The view so far is that they’ve [Henry and FSG] moved the club forward an awful lot. We are now beginning to see what looks like a philosophy and an idea of how the club should be, with a young manager like Brendan Rodgers in charge and a clear idea of how we should play. For a lot of people it’s still a case of cautious optimism. We are progressing and we’ve closed that gap to the top four.”
UNITED AGAINST MANCHESTER
A loud roar went up from a large group of fans congregated in a sports bar. Everton were not playing, neither were Liverpool…. But Sunderland had just scored in the League Cup against Manchester United.
That ascent toward the top four is being made that much sweeter by the sharp decline of Liverpool’s fierce rivals to the north: Man United.
Everywhere I walked around Liverpool I heard conversations about United’s demise. “I thought Christmas was over,” cried one cameraman at Liverpool’s training ground. “It’s the end of the January and United are still shocking… it’s the gift that keeps on giving!”
The messy aftermath of United’s loss to Sunderland continued, as an upset and drunken fan called 999 and spoke to a Police operator. He asked to be put through to Sir Alex Ferguson to discuss United’s demise.
Somebody amongst the assembled media, played the audio of that call and roars of laughter filled the air as the tribulations of Manchester United this season have been gleefully celebrated by Liverpudlians of all ages.
Despite the smugness of Liverpool’s fans, as United struggle to make it in the race for the top four after winning the Premier League title last season, this rivalry runs much deeper than on the soccer pitch.
“It isn’t just football based but it is Liverpool and Manchester based,” McKenna said. “It is the divide between two big cities so close to each other that goes back to the industrial revolution and the ship canal, they were famous for cotton and we were a port. Manchester as the city has grown, there is almost a feeling from us that we want to poke and prod at them and show them that we are still here. Obviously we were both competing for honors and were the successful side in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, they then took over and dominated in the mid-‘90s.”
Still, the soccer savvy folk of Liverpool, of which there are many, know United will rise from the rubble and be a perennial powerhouse of English and European soccer once more. Fans of Liverpool are the most bitter towards United’s recent success, but Everton’s faithful aren’t far behind after the Red Devils poached Moyes as their manager and keep trying to nab the Toffees best players. That Liverpool vs. Manchester battle continues.
It always will.
But Liverpool and Everton fans are enjoying the demise of United, while it lasts.
“You’ve got to remember in the ’60’s, ‘70’s and ‘80’s Liverpool had an incredible time in music, football and I suppose in some ways this last 20 years has been Manchester’s time,” said Manchester United legend Gary Neville. “With bands like the Stone Roses and Oasis, United winning the league… it has been Manchester’s time. But the two cities have got a lot of similarities. Lots of spirit and fight, the honesty and integrity of the people and there’s a tribalness to it. Why shouldn’t there be?”
BACK TO THE FUTURE?
The Liverpool-Everton rivalry was right up there with the biggest in English soccer for over two decades as Liverpool marauded around the continent winning European Cups, while Everton tasted success on the domestic stage.
Statistically Liverpool is the most successful soccer city in England, with 27 league titles going to either Liverpool or Everton and not one top-flight campaign has taken place without one of Liverpool’s two sides being present. Winning has become an obsession, and a reality, on Merseyside for generations.
But since the early ‘90’s there have been no league championships for either side. Yes, Liverpool have won the Champions League, UEFA Cup and other trophies, but no champion of England has been crowned on Merseyside for almost 25 years.
Everton won the FA Cup in 1995, and then most years it was a struggle just to stay in the Premier League. Since the turn of the millennium and under the tutelage of Moyes they turned into a top 10 team, and only recently have both teams began to get back to the ‘80s heyday.
“Both Liverpool and Everton have got new managers in the last few year, they are both very positive,” Pedder said. “They’ve been astute in the signings they have signed. The future looks good for Liverpool and Everton.”
(MORE: Tim Howard on Everton vs. Liverpool – “We’ll be heroes if we win”)
As things stand after 22 games of the PL season, Liverpool occupy fourth place on 43 points, while Everton are in sixth place with 42 points. Both are battling it out for a Champions League berth that finishing in the top four brings and with young, ambitious managers in charge of vibrantly talented squads, soccer in Merseyside may be about to enter another heyday.
Liverpool midfielder Allen, who spurned a glorious opportunity to score in Liverpool’s pulsating draw with Everton in November, knows better than most what the pressure cooker atmosphere of the derby is all about. Is he expecting a similar test vs. Everton under the floodlights at Anfield on Tuesday?
“I’m sure from a tempo point of view and the pace of the game it will be very similar, almost every derby game is,” Allen said. “I was impressed that Everton had the courage to fight back from a losing position but then so did we. That game had everything. Hopefully it will be as exciting, but that Liverpool come out on top and we win quite comfortably.”
More often than not, at least recently, Everton have come out on the losing side as they’ve recorded just two wins in the last 17 contests between the two famous English clubs.
As we keep hearing, this season the battle for Merseyside is tighter than it has ever been. Everton’s USMNT ‘keeper Tim Howard told me his thoughts on the rivalry before the last derby match.
These sentiments still ring true as the two giants of Merseyside lock horns on Tuesday with pride, and the potential to achieve their Champions League dreams, on the line.
“I think it will add something extra,” Howard said with a smile on his face. “I don’t think the derby ever needs extra motivation… but yeah I think both teams have been doing brilliantly. I think we’ve quietly crept in there and Liverpool have stayed quite near the top and we’re maybe one result from really getting to that top level. It will be a really good derby, in that regard.”