My Top Five Merseyside Derbies

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IN recent years the Merseyside derby has been tainted by bitterness between the two sets of supporters. However it has always been my favourite fixture of the football season. It is consistently the game I look forward to the most every year. Putting aside the (sometimes) race for the title with the likes of Man Utd and Chelsea, the rivalry with Everton will always be the most important one. That’s true for the majority of the people on Merseyside where Reds and Blues work alongside each other every day & family members are often split with support for both teams. My dad has 5 brothers and 2 of them are Evertonians & the other 3 are Kopites, try telling them that the derby doesn’t mean as much as the more glamorous fixtures.

To get us in the mood for the first derby game of this season I want to share my own personal top five matches between Liverpool and Everton. As always with these types of lists, everybody will have their own favourites. Some of you will agree with my choices and some of you will disagree and prefer other derbies. There have been loads of classic derby games over the years, each with their own share of special moments. The five games that I have chosen for my top five have all given me special and personal memories. As an interesting aside, you may notice that none of my choices took place at Anfield, this is merely a coincidence and not deliberate.

5. Everton 2 Liverpool 3 – August 1985

This was an absolutely superb game, near the start of the 1985/86 season. It’s a game that doesn’t seem to feature very often on Liverpool compilation videos or DVDs, but it really should. I will never forget watching the televised highlights on the Saturday night afterwards and keeping them on tape for years afterwards. In fact I think my dad still has a copy of it.

To coin a cliche this really was a game of two halves. Liverpool raced into a 3 – 0 first half lead before Everton staged a dramatic comeback in the second half. The game started out in incredible fashion with player-manager Kenny Dalglish opening the score after just 20 seconds. It was a spectacular strike from outside the area and the ball seemed to fly in slow motion. The second goal was another belter scored by Steve McMahon. This was McMahon’s first goal for the Reds after signing just one week previously. Ian Rush completed the rout with a typical finish going one on one with Neville Southall. The second half was a totally different story as Graeme Sharp and Gary Lineker struck for Everton and made the scoreline far closer than the fans had imagined at half time.

4. Everton 2 Liverpool 3 – 1989 F.A. Cup Final

rushbarnes_1989.jpgThe 1989 F.A. Cup Final was a very special game after the Hillsborough disaster. The city deserved another all Merseyside final as both teams players & fans came together united in grief & support for each other. The fans and families of those who died deserved a tremendous game and that’s exactly what they got as both teams fought to the bitter end, with the game going into extra time.

The game was preceded by moving versions of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and ‘Abide With Me’ sung by Gerry Marsden on the pitch, accompanied by eighty thousand fans of both Red and Blue. Once the game got going it was John Aldridge who opened the scoring from a terrific Steve McMahon through ball. After that early goal, the game was tense and dramatic as Everton pressed for the equaliser. As the game ticked into the ninetieth minute Everton made a last gasp effort to get the ball into the Liverpool area. Time seemed to stand still as Stuart McCall’s toe poke trickled into the net through the legs of Tony Cottee.

So the game went into extra time. Substitute Ian Rush had come on late in the second half to replace John Aldridge. The substitution from Kenny Dalglish proved to be inspired in the first half of extra time as Rush turned with pace on Everton captain Kevin Ratcliffe and fired Liverpool into the lead. However the lead was only to last a few minutes as Everton won a free kick. It was delivered high into the Liverpool area and headed out by Alan Hansen. Unfortunately it fell straight to Stuart McCall who volleyed it first time into the corner of the net giving Bruce Grobbelaar no chance. Then minutes later Rush struck again, this time with a lovely header from a John Barnes cross. It was unbelievable stuff, three goals in less than ten minutes.

This was to be the winning goal and stand in captain Ronnie Whelan got the glory of lifting the famous trophy. The memorable image I remember from this game was the sight of Everton goalkeeper, Neville Southall, sitting alone in the goal for quite some time after the game ended.

3. Everton 2 Liverpool 3 – April 2001

macca2001derby.jpgThis is the match most remembered for Gary McAllister’s long range free kick in the dying seconds. I remember watching this game with my dad at a neighbour’s home where we had gone for drinks because it was on a long weekend. Incidentally these particular neighbour’s were all rabid Evertonian’s so the atmosphere was great and the banter flowing in a hilarious style that only Scousers do so well.

Liverpool took the lead with Emile Heskey going one on one with Everton keeper Paul Gerrard. Everton equalised soon after through Bluenose hero Duncan Ferguson. Liverpool went back into the lead in the second half with a goal from Marcus Babel. Soon after this Robbie Fowler missed a penalty that surely would have put the game out of Everton‘s reach. Everton capitalised on this penalty miss by going up to the other end and winning one of their own. David Unsworth didn’t miss and me and my dad had our heads in our hands wondering how we’d thrown the game away.

Iit looked to be heading for a 2-2 draw when we got a free kick in the dying seconds. Surely this was to be our last chance to snatch the victory. Everyone in the room was expecting McAllister to float the ball in to the box because it was so far away from the goal. However I saw the look in his eye as he put the ball down and said; he’s going to hit this’. My prediction was correct as it sailed straight into the bottom corner of the Everton goal. The Liverpool fans, the bench and the players went absolutely berserk and my dad and I matched them well as we trampled over the Bluenose’s furniture wagging our fingers in their faces! This was an extremely crucial win as we needed every point we could get on our chase for that crucial third Champions League place. This victory, and that goal, gave us that extra bit of confidence we needed for the exciting climax to the treble season.

2. Everton 4 Liverpool 4 – February, 1991

Even if this game had finished 0 – 0 it would still have been memorable simply for the fact that it was Kenny Dalglish’s last as Liverpool manager. This is also the first time I can recall a game (that wasn’t a cup final) being so amazing that it was released on video soon afterwards.

It was the fifth round of the F.A. Cup and it was an incredible game. Liverpool took the lead four times through Ian Rush, John Barnes and Peter Beardsley and Everton kept coming back. Steve Nicol messed up for one of Evertons goals from Graeme Sharp. Sharp scored again to take the game into extra time. Liverpool went 3-2 up and then Everton substitute Tony Cottee equalised. Barnes scored one of the best ever Liverpool goals to make it 4-3 before Cottee equalised again in dramatic fashion.

Unfortunately this amazing game was overshadowed by the resignation of Kenny Dalglish almost immediately afterwards. I remember it was during the half term holidays from school so I was watching the lunchtime news on television when I heard the news. At first I thought I refused to believe the news, thinking it was either a lie or a rumour, but when I saw my dad’s face when he got home from work that night I knew it was true. Liverpool lost the replay 1-0 with a goal from Dave Watson.

1. Everton 1 Liverpool 3 – 1986 F.A. Cup Final

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This is my favourite football match of all time. It was a massive game in which Liverpool where going for their first ever double and Everton were looking for revenge for the league. Anybody who lived in Liverpool at the time will know just how truly massive this game really was. I remember the day before at school, the day was devoted to the game &andwe all wore Liverpool or Everton colours. We had a special assembly were we sung ‘Abide With Me’ and then we had a Liverpool V Everton game of our own on the school field in the afternoon. The day of the game there were many areas that had ‘street parties’ including where my family lived in Bootle. Decorating tables were laid out along the street & filled with buffet food & there were streamers and flags hanging from the lampposts & people had posters & flags in their windows. An absolutely brilliant day and something I think could only ever of happened in Liverpool.

I still think that was the best FA Cup Final ever and I don’t even think the 2006 final can better it. Apart from the fact it was Liverpool V Everton when both teams were the best in England it really was a tremendously exciting game played at a great tempo. It had plenty of goals & memorable moments such as the Bruce Grobbelaar save from Sharp’s header & the little row he had with Jim Beglin.

Gary Lineker put Everton into a first half lead and by half time the Blues had the game well under control. Liverpool scored three times through Ian Rush with two and Craig Johnston. The second half was a totally different story. Jan Molby put in a career best performance as he dominated midfield. He ran the second half setting up the first and second goals and then having an important hand in the third goal too with a sublime blind pass to Ronnie Whelan who chipped it over the defence to Ian Rush. He almost scored himself when he went one on one with the Everton keeper Bobby Mimms, but unfortunately he hit his shot straight at Mimms.

Liverpool took home the trophy that day but the entire city of Merseyside were winners that day. It still excites me when I watch that game and reminisce about the days before bitterness took over and spoilt the atmosphere of the derby.

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