THAT FRIENDLY DERBY | The Anfield Wrap

IF you hold your ear close enough, you can hear it. You can hear it on buses, in office blocks and pubs. It’s heard in north Liverpool, south Liverpool and across the ripples of the River Mersey. There’s a hushed whisper around the city of Liverpool; a silent acknowledgement of what lies ahead at Wembley.

Wembley. The word alone, so attached with splendour and success, brings a clubbing, incapacitating blow to the sternum. Each step taken down Wembley Way is a stride closer to euphoria and utopia, anguish and despair. Each ticket through the gate another notch on the bedpost of ultimate happiness or sadness.

No one knows what lies ahead. No one knows whether Kenny Dalglish will select Andy Carroll to partner Luis Suarez. No one knows if David Moyes will decide to play the wildest wild card of Royston Drenthe. No one knows where Gerrard will play or who’ll partner Fellaini; no one knows anything about Brad Jones.

No one, bar a few brave souls intoxicated with alcohol or pride, knows who will win the game of football.

Football. The word alone, so attached to memories good and bad, brings a strange sensation. In a game of so many variables, one thing is certain: there will be a winner, there will be a loser.
Wembley
Few know who that is for certain other than those gifted with ill-advised, tribal bravado. Liverpool fans exuding with confidence know the Reds will return to Wembley Way on May 3; the more tentative ones foresee anything but a Liverpool win. The same applies on the other side. Rare common ground.

There’s something else Liverpool and Everton share when it comes to predictions. It’s that hushed whisper around the city; it’s whispered in more confidence than any full time score. When Reds meet Blues in London, it will be a black day for Merseyside. To paraphrase something Danny Dyer probably wouldn’t say: it’s going to kick off at Wembley, lad.

The prediction doesn’t require a giant iPad. There’s no OPTA or Guardian Chalkboards upon the giant, multi-panelled video wall. Instead, the proof resides on brick walls around the city in red and blue paint.

Graffiti is a strange concept of dichotomy. Most of it is ugly, yet artistic. It’s a display of passion but requires pre-meditation. It’s permanence morphs into transience with a fresh lick of paint.

Parr Street, Liverpool, 2012

The graffiti around the city of Liverpool is mainly standard fare. Some proclaim a long-forgotten love of 20 years ago, others a forlorn attempt of social commentary. But a few chisel away at the perception of Merseyside’s friendly derby.

’17 years mongrels’ reads one near Anfield Road in the shadow of the famous stadium. A football insult mixed with vitriol, dabbed in dripping red paint like the venom from a red snake’s fangs. Over in Garston, ‘Steaua Bucharest 5-0 Everton’ can be read; in Kensington, ‘Fuck the Blueshite’.

It’s no better on the other side. ‘Dalglish is gay’ appears in Mossley Hill, juvenile but acerbic; reports of ‘Murderers’ around several areas arise as rapidly as the words are brushed over.

To think a few splashes on a wall dictates the behaviour of 70,000 supporters is naïve – but it’s just one representation of how the Merseyside derby now is.

To hark back to the cup finals of the 1980s would be impotent and inconsequential. To compare the rivalry now to what it was is as futile as selling half-and-half scarves outside the stadium.

This match takes place in the present. It takes place amidst a backdrop of nastiness, maliciousness and genuine hostility. Football has taken a back seat to the behaviour of some supporters over the past few years.

Songs about Gerrard’s paternity and Joleon Lescott’s unfortunate deformity dominated the post-match talk, not Kuyt’s winning penalties or Gosling’s goal. The hatred extends beyond players, too; the ideologies of both clubs are mocked and took beyond the point of decency. Evertonians are referred to as ‘mongrels’ – a term as offensive as it is crass. The death of 39 football fans at Heysel are trivialised – first by some Everton fans in bitterness over their European exemption, and then by some Liverpool supporters as an ironic riposte. Hillsborough has also been used by an unsavoury few as a point-scoring exercise, with copies of The Sun being waved as bile pours from their mouths.

Red or Blue. Don't Buy It.

These unpleasantries go largely undetected by most. One stock image of a red and blue sitting together legitimises the claim of the friendly derby. But at Wembley, the whole world will be watching; at Wembley, microphones are louder and the camera’s gaze more intense. The world will be watching on a day it sees as a day for the city of Liverpool. As an exodus is lead by thousands at Liverpool Lime Street to London Euston, plenty will be coming from London, Birmingham, Newcastle and elsewhere to watch a celebration of Liverpudlian culture – the Grand National.

The Merseyside derby should also be a celebration of the city. Both clubs have an intrinsic link to where they are from. Both clubs, regardless of winners and losers, should be proud to represent their city. To expect perfect behaviour from tens of thousands of fans would be wrong in any game, let alone a derby with the history of this one; but to expect an afternoon that is a proud reflection of Liverpool as a city is not too much to ask.

Those whispers about trouble at Wembley are yet to raise in volume; it’s spoken about in future tense, not past. It doesn’t have to be that way. If the city of Liverpool believe they are different to the rest of the country, there’s no better time to show it than at Wembley. Once the full time whistle blows, all words – both in public and private; both in the immediate aftermath and for years to come – should be about the football.

Football. The word alone, so attached to memories good and bad, brings a strange sensation. In a game of so many variables, one thing is certain: there will be a winner, there will be a loser.

But there’s no certainty over what happens before and after someone loses and someone wins. No one expects a chorus of Merseyside; nor should hands be held en route to the stadium. But family ties and friendships should not be forgotten; April 14 should be a day the entire city of Liverpool should be proud of, reminisced by one half of the city for the right reasons.

The fact those whispers exist is the most lamentable of all. If they become bellows heard around the world, the writing is on the wall for the friendly Merseyside derby.

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