Liverpool and Everton will meet on Sunday for the 207th competitive meeting of one of the world’s biggest football derbies. The shared history and passion of the two clubs and their supporters is unmatched by any other fixture. Since the first league clash in 1894 there has been a mixture of success and tragedy that has captured the hearts and minds of people in the city.
English football was dominated by Liverpool in the 1970s and 1980s and Everton began to join them at the summit in the 80s. The league title remained on Merseyside for seven consecutive years from 1982 and the two teams have won 27 championships between them, making Liverpool the most successful city in English football. On several occasions both sides reached a cup final at Wembley and saw huge numbers of fans travelling to London from Merseyside. Famously at the 1984 League Cup final, both sets of supporters joined together to sing ‘Merseyside, Merseyside” and “Are you watching Manchester?”
This led to the fixture being commonly referred to as the 'Friendly Derby'. Unlike other football derbies around the world, prime examples being Celtic-Rangers, Lazio-Roma and Boca-River, there are no religious or geographical disputes between Liverpool and Everton. Less than a mile separates the two clubs – the two stadiums are either side of Stanley Park – and many families are divided by loyalty to different teams. It is common to see opposing fans travelling to the ground and sitting next to each other at derby fixtures.
The relationship between both sets of fans has soured since the 1980s however, largely due to the Heysel stadium disaster and its repercussions. In reaction to Liverpool fans’ behaviour at Heysel, UEFA banned not just Liverpool, but all English clubs from European competition for five years. This prevented Everton from challenging for the European Cup in 1985/86 after they had won the league championship the season before. Many Everton fans blame Liverpool for that and there has been a feeling of bitterness and resentment ever since.
While Everton began to struggle in the 1990s and staved off relegation, Liverpool remained in contention for trophies, which exacerbated the rivalry. Recent seasons have seen Everton’s fortunes turn around and they are once again finishing at the top of the table without seriously challenging for honours. This has helped stoke the passions of the derby further as recent meetings between the teams have always had something at stake.
Sadly, the ill feeling that has appeared in the past few years does have some unfortunate side effects. Players have been subjected to nasty personal abuse, as was the case for Phil Neville and Steven Gerrard during recent fixtures. Very few players now “cross the park” (switch from one club to another) because of the cold relationship between the two clubs. There have been notable exceptions in recent years, such as Nick Barmby and Abel Xavier, but Liverpool have not sold a player to Everton for nearly 20 years, while Everton once went more than 40 years without trading a player to Liverpool.
Despite the issues between the two clubs, and particularly the fans, football is always put to one side if a tragedy takes place, no matter how strong the rivalry. After the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, Liverpool as a city came together in a mutual outpouring of grief which saw supporters forget their allegiance. Everton fans took part in the boycott of The Sun newspaper over their allegations about fans' conduct and both Liverpool and Everton scarves were laid across Stanley Park. More recently, Liverpool paid tribute to Rhys Jones, a young Everton fan who was shot dead in Liverpool, by inviting his family to Anfield and playing Everton’s club song 'Z-Cars' before kick-off.
Although clubs from Manchester and London would argue they now dominate the landscape of English football, both Merseyside clubs are in strong positions. Neither set of supporters would admit that the other team doing well is a good thing but a thriving rivalry and both teams battling for trophies is an ideal situation for football in the city. Do not expect anybody to be thinking about that when the sides meet on Sunday, however.
By Chris Shaw, Chief Sports Reporter
Fans supporting either side often sit together at the derby but relations have become strained and bitter