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Toxic Goodison and Everton’s lost identity as Reds avoid stereotypical derby

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Some Merseyside derbies can be utterly prosaic, stubborn non-events, those ones where our blue cousins embrace a goalless or low scoring draw as a victory.

Others are astoundingly surreal. The 239th playing of the game fell delightfully into the latter category.

This one was always going to be a bit ‘out there’. Firstly, there was the shadow of last season’s injuries to Virgil van Dijk, and Thiago to consider.

Secondly, there was the unsettling issue that we had lost the 238th playing of the game.

Then there was Jurgen Klopp’s insistence that he would like his team to rise above the typical derby day maelstrom. And added to this heady concoction, there was the presence of Rafa Benitez, the current Everton manager and former Liverpool European Cup-winning manager.

As usual, Klopp was correct. The key to winning this game was all about remaining calm and avoiding being dragged into a stereotypical derby, refusing to adhere to the well-worn football cliches of the form book being thrown out of the window.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 1, 2021: Everton's Abdoulaye Doucouré, Allan Marques Loureiro, Salomón Rondón and Lucas Digne surround referee Paul Tierney during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 239th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Everton might have rallied for a 25-minute stretch of the game in a bid to turn this one into a traditional neighbourhood bunfight, but ultimately the window wasn’t open, and the form book bounced back to hit them square in the face.

 

Light years ahead

There was so much to like about this win; be it Andy Robertson with a couple more assists; Mohamed Salah scoring a brace, despite missing out on a genuine chance of emulating Ian Rush, circa 1982, in scoring four at Goodison Park; Jordan Henderson’s imperiousness; Thiago leathering that stray ball into the Gwladys Street; Seamus Coleman’s gifting us the third; Diogo Jota’s turn and finish; or Van Dijk’s Firmino-esqe kung-fu kick in celebration of our last goal of the evening – to name but a few of the many, many highlights.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 1, 2021: Liverpool players look at a smoke bomb as Mohamed Salah celebrates after scoring the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 239th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It all meant a certain state of balance was required. Yes, go out there and settle a few scores but do it with intelligence.

Liverpool are light years ahead of their dysfunctional neighbours, and we needed the game to reach its organic conclusion. It was a case of letting the ball do the talking, while the travelling reds in the Bullens provided the soundtrack.

On an evening when it was all too much for many of the home support, a significant number of blues made their excuses and left within 20 minutes. It was something akin to going to your work’s Christmas party when you can’t stand most of your colleagues. You know how it goes, tip up, show your face, then get off home, or to your next destination, as soon as possible.

There is undeniable toxicity at Goodison that just isn’t healthy.

This was an occasion where one irate member of the congregation was restrained when trying to enter the field of play, projectiles were regularly thrown onto the pitch, inclusive of that ball that was intended to disrupt a Liverpool attack. Everton are a club that is steadily consuming itself.

This is an arena where the majority see it as perfectly sound behaviour to be booing a player who lost nine months of his career, thanks to a reckless challenge by their goalkeeper in last season’s playing of this game.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 1, 2021: Everton supporters react to Liverpool's Mohamed Salah missing a chance during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 239th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I’m all for rivalry, I’m all for belligerence, I’m all for black humour, but that is simply weird shit to be doing as a fully formed adult human being.

Despite the devastating and sobering events of the death of a 12-year-old girl last week, a shockingly sad chapter in the history of our wonderful city, and both clubs losing historical icons in recent days, football still had the power to bring out the very worst in some people on an evening like this.

 

Everton have lost their identity

Goodison is an increasingly incendiary place, an environment where Everton continue to stumble around in the dark ages, in terms of what goes on both on and off the pitch sometimes.

Lumbered with a support base that is consumed with an escalating hatred of the red side of the city, and their upwardly mobile football movement, while they themselves are stymied by a lack of vision in the boardroom, and have gone 27 years without a trophy, Everton are a club that has lost its identity.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 1, 2021: No more knives banner during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 239th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It is difficult to decipher just what they want from football. There is no discernible direction, no hallmarks they can call their own – other than their generation-long quest to shift themselves from their admittedly iconic long-term home to a new-build Meccano structure as if it will magically cure all the club’s deep-rooted ills.

Appointing Rafa in the summer was an invitation to new levels of rancour.

Four games into the new campaign, Everton supporters found themselves to be pleasantly surprised. They stopped calling him “Benitez”, and started to call him “Rafa”, as they began to lay a tentative claim to him.

Suddenly, revisionism kicked in, and Carlo Ancelotti, the man who cast them aside in favour of a return to Real Madrid, was branded as having been a false idol all along. In the space of four games, Rafa had shown the blue faithful a coherent brand of football. This was the way forward.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 1, 2021: Everton's manager Rafael Benítez looks dejected as his side lose 4-1 during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 239th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Obviously, with no scope to bring in significant players, other than cheap or free options, the first retrograde steps would bring an avalanche of criticism from that strand of Everton supporter who would never accept Rafa’s appointment, even had he donned the Toffee Woman dress and thrown free sweets to the crowd on the opening day against Southampton.

Everton are a club that has swung from fanciful notions of expansive football to the most extreme versions of pragmatism, and back again. Eight managers on from the days of David Moyes, and they would still take him back in a heartbeat if they were offered the option to do so.

It is a self-destructive pattern that has only been amplified by Rafa’s presence, at a time when results have dipped dramatically and they’ve just been rolled over in the derby on home soil. Nuclear levels have been reached, and I’d advise you to grab some popcorn.

Liverpool’s win at Goodison came with an unsubtle sense of cold vengeance, but they didn’t need to resort to pantomime tactics to get there. The self-destruct button was always likely to be hit, and sure enough, it was.

To Wolves we head next, while Everton go to the dogs.

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