The Merseyside Derby is one of 90min’s 50 Greatest Derbies in the World
Do ‘friendly’ rivalries really exist? Can they really exist? Well, perhaps not in the purest sense, but the closest thing you’ll find to a friendly derby in England is Liverpool vs Everton.
The Merseyside derby is a tale of two staples of English football, vying for dominance in the city of Liverpool. While the Reds have undoubtedly enjoyed this fixture more than their counterparts throughout its long and arduous history, there is an undeniable camaraderie between these two old foes.
After all, families are divided by their undying loyalty to one of these two historic clubs, ultimately having to set their footballing differences aside to keep the peace. As a result, an Everton supporting father and a Liverpool supporting son may travel to Goodison Park or Anfield together, butt heads for 90 minutes, before returning to their family home as if nothing had ever happened.
This rivalry has so often put the lives of people before football, with the two clubs working together to promote harmony and justice within the city of Liverpool. Such solidarity and commitment has helped defuse the tension between these old adversaries, instead focusing on things in life more important than football – despite Bill Shankly’s famous life or death quote.
To discover the origins of this rivalry, however, you actually have to travel back to a time in which Everton played their football at Anfield. We know, unthinkable right?
Well, having formed in 1878, the Toffees played their home matches at Anfield from 1884 onward. Following differences in opinion between club chairman John Houlding and his board, Everton soon crossed Stanley Park to ply their trade at Goodison Park instead.
With nobody to fill the void left by Everton’s departure from Anfield, Liverpool FC were created in 1892 to use the ground, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Goodison and Anfield are situated just under a mile away from one another, hence why Everton and Liverpool quickly developed a rivalry. There were very few societal, political or cultural factors that played a part in the development of this clash, with the Merseyside derby being more or less solely based on proximity and an unwavering passion for football.
The debut meeting between these two sides dates all the way back to the late 19th century, with Everton hosting Liverpool in October 1894. Everton enjoyed a commanding 3-0 victory at Goodison, with the reverse fixture that season ending all square.
Considering Liverpool’s relative infancy, it was hardly surprising that their older, wiser city neighbours enjoyed the majority of clashes between these two sides in the first few decades following the rivalry’s inception.
“I used to stick the ball in the net and bow three times to the Kop. They never liked me doing that.” – Dixie Dean (Everton forward).
Almost exactly 20 years after the two teams’ first meeting, Everton and Liverpool had faced off 43 times in various competitions. A 5-0 victory for the Toffees in October 1914 saw the club win their 23rd clash with the Reds, having drawn 11 and lost just nine.
It wasn’t really until the 1970s that Liverpool took an unquestionable stranglehold on this fixture – as they did on English and European football at the time. For 55 odd years up until that point, this fixture had been incredibly competitive, toing and froing between Everton and Liverpool with both sides boasting spells as the best team on Merseyside.
Perhaps the most notable fixture from that period took place in 1933; an 11-goal thriller that Liverpool ended up winning 7-4 courtesy of a superb hat-trick from forward Harold Barton. The Reds had also enjoyed 5-1 and 6-0 wins, while Everton’s success in this fixture was a little less flashy, but equally as important.
Shankly’s arrival as Liverpool manager in 1959 laid the foundations for the turning of the tide, while his successor Bob Paisley helped establish that Merseyside was indeed red.
Shankly and Paisley won a combined 31 trophies at Anfield, while in that same 24-year period Everton won just six pieces of silverware. The Toffees did enjoy a greater share of trophies in the 1980s than they had previously, but their achievements were still eclipsed by Liverpool’s success both in domestic competitions and on the European stage.
“I always said we had the best two teams on Merseyside…Liverpool and Liverpool Reserves.” – Bill Shankly
Nowadays, Liverpool boast arguably a better record in this fixture than they did from the 1960s to 1990s. Everton haven’t beaten the Reds in a competitive fixture since 2010, while their last win at Anfield came in 1999.
Simply put, Everton have been no match for Liverpool in modern times. Whether it’s been the passion of Steven Gerrard, the late heroics of Divock Origi or the magic of Luis Suarez, the Toffees haven’t been able to cope with the strength of their Merseyside rivals.
But, while results matter a great deal in the Merseyside derby, there have been countless occasions on which these two sets of rival supporters have come together for the greater good.
The Hillsborough disaster in 1989 – a tragic incident which saw 96 football fans die – saw the city come together as one, with both sets of fans boycotting The Sun newspaper and stretching both Liverpool and Everton scarves side by side across Stanley Park to commemorate those who lost their lives.
While the Merseyside derby may not be the most competitive derby on or off the pitch, the camaraderie and companionship shown by both Everton and Liverpool supporters during dark days is worth celebrating more than any individual result.
The ‘friendly derby’…may it never change.