The Merseyside Derby is a unique fixture. Granted, the ‘friendly derby’ tag is a little tired and not wholly accurate in the modern game. But supporters of Everton and Liverpool are a lot more accommodating and accepting of each other than a host of English football’s other city rivals.
Resultantly, the build-up to the game is rather full-on. You chat about it in work and with your family; reds and blues alike. It’s on the radio. It’s in the papers. It’s oozing out of every pore of social media.
As a supporter, it gets embedded into your mind. You run through scenarios in your head over and over: “Should he play there?” “How will he match-up against him?” “Maybe we should play this system?”. It’s a cyclical search for anything that may offer a slight crumb of comfort ahead of the weekend. Anything that might help quell those nerves.
The thing about Everton vs. Liverpool is that, in recent times, they haven’t been very enjoyable contests. The Merseyside derby is typically a tight, tense affair. Tackling, battling and passion usually reigns over the ‘beautiful game’, so they aren’t aesthetically pleasing contests for the neutral.
But for me, the main reason these games aren’t all that fun is because Everton usually lose them with a whimper: “We’ve bottled it against Liverpool again” I’ll often find myself muttering in the pub post-match. For the entirety of my time as a match-going Evertonian, the Toffees have been awful against the team from across Stanley Park. Under the previous regime, those off to the game donning blue would adopt a mentality of ‘expect the worst and hope for the best’.
This year, with David Moyes weaving his magic at Manchester United and the infinitely positive Roberto Martinez taking charge of Everton, I was expecting something a little different. Renewed blue belief and confidence for starters. An Everton team bereft of the inferiority complex that has long hindered them, I hoped.
The best thing about the derby in years gone-by has been the day itself. Not the seven day build-up which leaves you clockwatching in work. Not even the match itself. But making a day of things. The early kick-off means that if you want a couple of pints beforehand, you need to be in the pub early. So we usually have a substantial breakfast followed by a few beers. Obviously if you win, you’re straight back out.
We usually head out about three hours before kick-off on derby day and get a taxi from the pub up to the ground about half an hour before the game gets underway. So at about 12:15pm, feeling particularly, well, lets say “refreshed”, we flagged down a taxi and were in the ground for 12:30pm.
There is an extra buzz in the air on derby day (not just because of the booze); it’s like any other game in most respects, but everything is cranked up by about 10%. Chants start to ring out a little earlier than usual. The ground, typically half empty five minutes before kick-off before a swell of spectators take their seats, fills up quicker. Anticipation is heightened , your heart beats faster and the roar when Z-Cars starts is just that little bit more raucous and hostile.