The Merseyside Derby is special. Liverpool and Everton are like brothers. They can fight as much as they want amongst themselves, but when it comes to someone knocking the city, they are united.
The people of Liverpool have shown solidarity through so many difficulties. Hillsborough, the politicians who have tried to destroyed the city, the war, the social problems – any time someone attacks the city, they’ve stood together and that’s why to me, it’s the greatest football city in the world and this is the best derby of them all.
They’ve stood shoulder to shoulder on everything. Blue and red standing together. They stick together like nothing I’ve ever seen. They go to the game together, they take it in the right spirit and they don’t always go home together and they sometimes have a fight, but it’s not hatred. There’s genuine camaraderie. The opposing fans in Manchester, Glasgow, Sunderland and Newcastle don’t seem to get along well, but in Liverpool they do. Come derby time the banter kicks off and it’s a nightmare if you’ve to go into work on a Monday when your team’s lost the derby, it’s horrendous.
It’s Local Property
It’s become a derby for the fans rather than the players. At most we’ll see three or four Scousers play. You need local lads in the dressing room reminding everyone how important it is. Now there’s not even that many British lads, let alone Scousers who know what it means to both clubs. When you’re not brought up in it, it’s hard to get as passionate about it. They want to win it like they do any other game, but they’re not as aware of what it’s like in the city. For them it ends at around 3pm on Saturday, but for the fans it’ll run for the entire week and beyond. That’s the intensity the players need to understand. As a fan, every time you get a bit of stick, it’s like a little dagger being stuck into your body. That’s how much it hurts and it takes a long time to heal.
I used to be embarrassed walking around Liverpool after losing a derby. You could feel everyone’s eyes burning into you thinking ‘you should have done better, you should have won that.’ I knew how much it meant to the fans and it was hard to live with the disappointment of letting them down in the aftermath.
One of my first derbies was when we got beaten 5-0 at home in 1982. That was one of the worst derbies in was involved in. It got me sent out on loan to Port Vale and ended Glenn Keeley’s career at Everton after half an hour. I played in an awful lot of them and the charm is you never know what’s coming. I also learned pretty quickly that there’s no point shouting at your defence because nobody can hear you it was that loud. It was proper British football and the manager used to tell you to get the first tackle in. It didn’t really matter if you got the ball because it was a derby and you weren’t going to get booked, at least not first up. That doesn’t really happen anymore and the intensity of the crowd has dropped over the years.
There were some good ones. Whenever we won was great, but the 4-4 draw in the 1991 FA Cup fifth round was fantastic. You always want to win, but if you can’t, you hope that football wins and on that night it won. Eight goals and none of them a bad one. The only sour note afterwards was Kenny Dalglish resigned and the city lost someone they shouldn’t have lost at the time. He took so much on his shoulders that the whole city, not just Liverpool Football Club, owe him a huge debt of gratitude.
I fully understand why he did it though because the hardest Merseyside Derby of them all was the one after Hillsborough, the FA Cup Final. That was really, really difficult. We were in a no win situation. It shouldn’t have been played. I’d have rather given up the cup or postponed it into next season because morally it didn’t feel right. When the game started, we wanted to win, but it was difficult for all of us to play in. Even our fans saw the bigger picture. They wanted to win, but they all knew the more important question was ‘how does the city get over it?’. That’s the solidarity of the city.
I remember being on the team bus coming home after beating Norwich at Villa Park the same day. We got to The Rocket, a big pub on the M62 where the fans met before going to away games and we saw the Liverpool fans and knew something wasn’t right. To this day I don’t exactly know how we got that far without being told what had happened, but it was before mobile phones and instant news so I suppose it was easier done than we can imagine now. We were chuffed to bits to be in the final, but once we knew what was going on we were devastated. Football suddenly became nothing. It was such an eerie feeling.
More than a passing interest
This season, there’s similarities between the teams and it should make for an open game at Goodison Park. Both teams are playing some lovely football, passing the ball around. We’ve got Lukaku as our target up front and Liverpool have Suarez and Sturridge. I’m expecting one of the best derbies I’ve seen in a long, long time. It may not provide the excitement of others, but both teams play the right way, like to attack and the styles of both managers should make it a cracking game to watch.
Luis Suarez is key. He’s just one of those players who can create a moment of magic. It’s brilliant to watch. A lot will depend on how he feels after coming back from international duty in Uruguay. In this fixture last year, he was brilliant. He was aggressive, he was fouling people, he worked hard and he was getting in people’s faces. I can remember thinking ‘he’s bossing our central defenders. He’s pushing them around, kicking them. It’s not meant to be that way. You should be kicking him!’ He dominated our centre halves and that’s not right.
With characters like Suarez, you can handle it one of two ways. You can either clear him out the first time he misbehaves and draw the line there or you live with him. If I was in the same team, I’d be prepared to live with him. You can’t ignore he’s done some bad things, but he makes up for it with his performances. He plays on the edge and at times he just gets carried away with it. When he bit Ivanovic, you could tell it was a spur of the moment thing because he picked on the biggest player on the pitch. There’s no thought behind that. If you’re going bite anyone – and I don’t recommend that anyone those – pick somebody small! Some players just need to have that little bit of devilment to their game and the bottom line is you’d rather play with him than against him.
But he got it all wrong by looking for a transfer. The club showed so much support and he basically kicked them in the bollocks. To his credit, he hasn’t said much since, he has knuckled down and he’s been great since he came back. He’s realised he’s in a great city, playing for one of the best clubs in the world and life is pretty good right now.
Everton need to make it a Red letter day
It’s more important for Everton to win than it is Liverpool. Our record hasn’t been good in recent years and it’s because David Moyes went out with a defensive mindset to avoid defeat. We could have won a lot more of those derbies if he had been more willing to go for it. Roberto Martinez has a completely different attitude to Moyes and it gives Everton a great chance of winning. Moyes wasn’t confident and that fed through to the fans.
If Everton are to win, they need to make it a bit old school. We know Liverpool can pass, but can they pass with players in their faces and under physical pressure? The fans want to see that aggression and barring an Everton scoring a goal, the loudest cheer of the game will be the first time one of our players crunches into a Liverpool player. I’d say there’ll be a red card.
Romelu Lukaku will be very important. Liverpool are still vulnerable in the air and he can exploit that. He’s already got a couple of goals against them for West Brom and they’re just one of the teams that suit his strengths.