Fan Diary #18 – Derby Day
Why do I love a derby? I nervously await each Merseyside derby as if it is the most important match of the season. I bite nails. I refresh webpages. I await injury updates. I lose sleep. This doesn’t make sense for two big reasons:
1.) I am not from Liverpool.
2.) The Merseyside derby is almost never pretty. (Every Liverpool victory I’ve seen over Everton inevitably ends with Red supporters in our pub agreeing: “That was an ugly win but I’ll take it.”)
And yet, for me, these fixtures are as exciting (and as anticipated) as battles against Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea, even if the match itself turns into a bloodbath with more red cards than convincing attacks.
The thing is the local derby is not a widespread for professional sports in the States. I love it because we barely have them over here. We don’t have many to even mention.
In Major League Soccer the only true derby is between LA Galaxy and Chivas USA who share the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, but neither have really been around long enough to have the deep history of a traditional European derby.
In baseball, the cities of Chicago, New York and LA each have two teams as does California’s Bay Area (the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics), but these pairs are all split between Major League Baseball’s two leagues, American and National, and since inter-league play wasn’t introduced until 1997, the few contests that arise within these cities don’t have anything close to the feel of a longstanding derby in London or Liverpool or Manchester.
The closest thing in baseball today is probably the Giants and the Dodgers who used to both reside in New York and still play in the same league today. Though they’ve relocated to different parts of California they still enjoy a long-standing rivalry that dates back to when they shared a locality. Hey, at least they’ve got the history down, even if they couldn’t stay put.
The National Football League (gridiron) boasts “the Turnpike Rivarly”, meaning there is only a two-hour drive between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers. This may seem a long trek compared to the commute from White Hart Lane to Emirates Stadium, but plenty of fans won’t blink before making that journey and it makes it easy for a sizable away contingent: a key ingredient for a good derby.
In basketball, the New York Nicks and the New Jersey Nets are near enough to be considered a derby and are in the same conference as are the Los Angeles teams (Clippers, Lakers) who share the same stadium. But since basketball is a relatively young sport and since all of its teams but two (Boston and New York) have changed cities at one time or another, the local rivalries are missing that deep-rooted history that makes the best football derbies so intense. Someday, we’ll get there.
Of course these handful of stateside derbies or near-derbies don’t pertain to me. I live in Boston. Our big rivals all have some distance between stadiums. I eat and breathe association football (soccer), baseball, basketball and American football (gridiron). (I enjoy hockey but I cannot spare any more brain cells to stressing out over a fifth sport.) Of my favorites, three of our pro teams enjoy rivalries with New York: Revolution/Red Bull, Red Sox/Yankees and Patriots/Jets. (Wait…Is this a sign of New England’s yearning for a derby? Just give us someone closer than New York!) The Revolution also consider Houston a big rival because of the finals we lost to them and Patriots have taken on the Indianapolis Colts/Peyton Manning rivalry. Nothing close to a derby in any of those.
Then there’s Celtics/Lakers. Unless Hawaii or Alaska get a franchise, Boston to Los Angeles is about as far apart as domestic rivals can get. So as you can see: I’ve got derby envy. Thus my love for the Merseyside fixtures.
My favorite so far was the Goodison Park fixture in 2007-08 when we went down by a Hyypia own-goal and then came back with two penalties that each included a blue sending off – this sums up the emotional range of a gritty derby. One of your otherwise most reliable defenders sets you back (with a strange mis-hit clearance that ended up in the roof of the net), then the road to recovery sees your opponents reduced first to ten then to nine men, with the final red card/penalty coming in stoppage time after a Phil Neville handball. (This event also coincides with me adopting the Phoenix Landing as my spot for watching the matches as strangers were hugging me and lifting me off the ground after Kuyt converted his second penalty. Talk about feeling at home.)
This most recent derby was somewhat tame by comparison. Only one yellow card in a Merseyside derby? What were the bookie’s odds on that? Normally these matches are real scrapes, but with both sides looking beleaguered with recent injury woes, we witnessed one of the least physical Merseyside derbies in ages.
When Mascherano took his shot from distance I thought nothing of it at first. He’s been attempting long-range missiles all year to little avail. But next thing I knew it was in the back of the net. We lost our minds in the pub. Jumping and screaming and breaking out “Jav-i-er Masch-er-a-no” (to the tune of “Seven Nation Army” which would be stuck in my head all that day). Later the replay showed the shot wasn’t going in without Joseph Yobo’s deflection. What I don’t get is Yobo was given an own goal – can we get a ruling on this? It bounced off his stationary leg. Just because his leg kicked out afterwards like he’d been hit in the knee with the doctor’s mallet doesn’t mean he scored the goal. It should be called a deflected goal with credit going to Masch. I’m certain Yobo will agree with me.
The rest of the match was predictably nervy. Everton’s Bilyaletdinov missed two clear chances, kicking the ball well wide both times. Leading to me screaming, “Give it to number 7!” whenever Everton had possession. (“Give it to Bilyaletdinov!” just doesn’t roll off the tongue in the heat of a match in a packed, noisy pub. Sorry, Diniyar.) They also had two go in that were each ruled offside. One call might have been over Jo’s afro. I haven’t gone back to double check. Relief in the end, but moments like these give no reprieve for the football ulcer.
Liverpool looked much better with the additions of Benayoun and Riera in the 75th and 78th minutes and it was Riera who fired a low bullet at Tim Howard allowing Kuyt to plunk home the rebound. The match ended two-nil.
I like that it was Mascherano and Kuyt who secured the points. Two of our hardest-working players in one our traditionally hardest-fought contest. We certainly didn’t play our best football, but in the scheme of the season, with all the injuries and setbacks, those were three much-needed points, and we got them through grinding out a win. That’s the Merseyside derby. It wasn’t pretty, but I’ll take it.