I WAS going to write this piece predominantly on the euphoria of Sadio Mane’s goal on Monday night.
It has been said many times since, but there really is no better way to reaffirm your own title credentials than inflicting yet more unbearable anguish in the dying ethers of Goodison Park’s resentful blue mushroom cloud. However, in the midst of our unbridled joy at the final whistle, my mind somewhat nostalgically gave thought to a ghost of Christmas past as I looked around the ominous and permanently scowling home supporting faces that had bothered to stay until the end of the match.
When I was a young teen, one of my best friends was a lad called Joe, a great lad. We would roam the streets of North Liverpool with all of the adolescent innocence you have as a child. We would believe the world did not exist past the Showcase cinema and that Ibrahim Ba was the best player in the world due to Championship Manager 1999. That thing called the internet? Nah, swerve that, lad. Turbo shandy on a Friday night and endless games of heads and volleys. In many ways, we were so similar, but we were also very different.
Joe was intrinsically traditional and followed the same pathway as what had gone before him. He was married with two children at the age of 23. He superseded his father in the same manual laborious job trade and lives in the next street to where we grew up. This is all perfectly fine and I’m not suggesting for one second it isn’t, I’m just stating we grew up to live our lives in a different way and given our personalities we were always likely to go on to.
But, another way in which we were different involved the football teams we supported. Joe’s dad was a lifelong Evertonian and his son uniformly followed suit. Season ticket from the age of about six, he was born not manufactured, it was in his heart and in his soul, his shoes and his socks. He was habitualised into the Everton matchday experience at such a young and impressionable age, whereas I simply looked at Anfield and these god-like colossuses that strode around it as my ultimate Shangri-La, such was the difference in access and the ability to simply go and watch my team. Nevertheless I, put simply, was a Liverpudlian. A decision that made my life, even at such a tender age, so objectively less complicated and down trodden, the choice was simple: there was no choice.
This shouldn’t have mattered at 13 years of age. Footy was footy, girls were girls, school was school and life was lucid and incomplex in its make-up. However, Joe became different when it came to the subject of football. He would talk with absolute assurance of things we both had not lived through, or were old enough to remember, with an assurance and certainty that suggested he knew it to be true incontestably.
Whenever we would talk about the partition of red and blue that cuts through the city like Queens Drive and its litter of Everton taxi drivers, Joe would become increasingly angry, unreasonable and very anxious. Almost frothing at the mouth about how the mystical street whispers of all good things we had heard in yesteryear, like the binary chanting of “Merseyside” at Wembley was all bullshit and not true. How Liverpool had stopped Everton from conquering the world and how Nick Barmby made the likes of Hitler and Stalin look like a pair of demigods.
There is something frankly disturbing about seeing a Evertonian spewing full tunnel-visioned anti-Liverpool bile. It’s like they’ve been overtaken by an Exorcist-like demon or bitten by some kind of rabid walking dead zombie with their arms held out in front of them and wrists flopped down, constantly mumbling ‘Redshite bastards’ with the sheer ferocity of negativity in their faces (no blood from their mouths though, red isn’t it so it’s not allowed).
This is what would happen to Joe, a morphed transition into his drained and regretful-looking father who was some 30 years older, talking about events in the past that had already shaped his future like some ill-fated kismet destiny that meant he would live eternally angry and small-minded. He didn’t look like he enjoyed it at all, but that was him: Born, chosen, destined, Lower Gwladys, Sharpy Annie Road, Big Dunc’s tattoo, married to the job, longing for yesterdays before he’d had a tomorrow, the weight of the crest, them, them, just beat them and nothing else matters.
This inevitably left my relationship with my mate somewhat tainted. I’d seen this side to him develop at such a frantic rate I wasn’t sure it was something I was ready to face at my age and we began to grow apart the older we got, maybe naturally, I don’t know. I wanted the innocence back for just a bit longer without this hint of detestation that is all too commonplace when the awakening of adulthood quickly creeps up on you.
This was all around the time of the Gary Mac derby at Goodison and for all that happened in that game, what stoked it and left a huge amount of distaste was the fact the minute silence for Hillsborough had to be cut short due to it being disrupted by a minority.
It could be argued this was perhaps a watershed moment in the relationship between Liverpool and Everton. It had certainly been boiling and not always, if ever, could you use the word “friendly”, but a line was genuinely crossed that day. Let’s be balanced, there are a hell of a lot of Blues who would never condone such behaviour and have rightly called out others who have stooped to such deplorable lows, and there is a minority of our own fans who have never covered themselves or the rest of us in glory as a result, but the issue remains that these chants and accusations not only still exist, but are intrinsically cemented in the heads of some as being the most upheld truth they know without reservation.
There are a lot of things I still don’t know and physically can’t feel for the simple reason that in 1985 I wasn’t born and in 1989 I was two years old. I have learnt things as we all have through self-education and the general rite of passage you have as a Liverpool fan, especially one from the city. You also see the pain and the anguish of both Heysel and Hillsborough etched on the faces of a lot of people that were affected directly on both sides that lived through the fact 96 people so close to our city, and therefore seemingly ourselves, went to a football match and did not come home. These people still feel the pain and the void it left so badly that they would never attempt to point score off it in any way.
This is the bit that I can’t understand, the fact that lads who probably weren’t even born when McAllister scored at Goodison, let alone before that, now seem to be the ones who are the angriest.
The ones who are seemingly first to resort to Heysel chants without any actual knowledge of events in Belgium that night is baffling to say the least. As I was scouring through Twitter voiceless and in a state of head pounding intoxicated joy late Monday night, I was greeted with retweets from adolescent ket-wigs, stating how the “murderers” were “runners” outside the ground as well as all the usual sudden homages to the Heysel victims that only comes on when the football is, as has been replicated down the years, something they can’t win at in any way.
Maybe the fact these youngsters haven’t lived through the pain for them offers them some form of mental absolvement from it. It shouldn’t, it’s baffling and defying of responsibility and logic. We also need to acknowledge that Twitter exists in a vacuum for some of the most self-serving and frustrated in society and does not represent the majorities.
I’ve always wanted to beat Everton more than Manchester United. It is the people around you every day, the one-upmanship if you win and the months of DVD releasing anguish if you lose. This was always why, for me, it hurt more when the line has been crossed in a derby rather than a Liverpool/Manchester United fixture. I’ve made peace with the fact that despite how liberally and socially alike Liverpool and Manchester are as cities that we view each other as different species almost when it comes to football, we might as well be on different planets still vying for the title of most successful English team of all time.
People will disagree with me, but that is why it didn’t bother me as much when things turned sour on the terraces in these games. They just didn’t get us, they have no affinity to us or the city we represent and vice-versa. To me that rivalry will always have the underbelly of the fight to be crowned the best. Its foundations are built on trophies acquired and everything that comes with it, of which a lot crosses the same line, yet is something we all still must persevere and can somewhat separate ourselves from.
I can’t make the same peace with it when it comes to Everton, they are so much better than that. The club have shown a unity in the fight for justice the city still prides itself on. We are a city that loves our independence. Cross us, cross everyone. Good people looking after each other. The shame in that remains the fact that this absolute hate that has festered under the title of football rivalry means, to this day, myself and others can’t go for a pint with certain people we call friends, with work colleagues, in some cases family members. It is a shame that I almost feel that to break down this barrier in some way Everton either need to become world beaters or get relegated just to get some form of other emotion back and get Liverpool out of their subconscious, and yes, I’d prefer the latter given the choice.
As I looked around Goodison the other night, with its blue Santa hats and them gigantic blue and white Roses wrappers they held up before the game, all that was left and thought of my mate Joe, my next feeling was instant apathy for him and the rest of them. Knowing they have never danced in the rain, never experienced unbridled liberating passion without agenda and are permanently trapped in an internal microcosmic prison on County Road. If I could go back to when me and Joe were kids, I’d fill up our lives with as much gay abandon as imaginably possible and tell him to cup every last bit of it in his arms and remember what it feels like, remember it before electricity bills and house prices and David Moyes. I hope, wherever he is, he one day finds that child within and takes him the match, because it’s a great feeling, the best feeling.
Until that day, I will live in the aspiration that the repugnant taint on this fixture somehow eradicates itself and we can have all the gnarl in the world without it ever resorting to these lows again. More importantly though, I will continue to live my life as an embodiment of my football team: with energy, in the moment, a believer in everything good that can come with eight minutes of stoppage time. Sadio’s glide, Gini’s smile, Jordan’s needle, Jürgen’s fist pumps. Look into their eyes and try not to enjoy it. My Liverpool, my liberation, a love without condition.
Up the Reds.