JUDGING the collective psyche of thousands of people is always a dangerous game. And yet, it happens every day. Especially in football, or more specifically in football supporter culture.
Take the derby this coming weekend. Anfield will be a sellout for the visit of Everton, with a crowd of 54,000 present for Saturday’s early kick-off.
Between now and then, and on the day itself, the judgements will fly unbounded. About locality of fans on both sides of the park, about who is more ‘obsessed’ or ‘bitter’ about the other, about whose ‘head has fell off’ (why?) and — a relatively new one for me this — how ‘arsed’ everyone is about each other and each other’s team.
The ‘being arsed’ factor seems to have ramped up a notch and is now consistently referenced by a significant throng of Evertonians. It’s a concept I’m struggling with to be honest.
I haven’t got the best of memories but having been born in 1976, the first era of footie I can really recall is the mid-80s. Everton were a good side then — they won trophies, including two of their nine league titles, they had good players, they had money to spend. Once upon a time they were ‘The Mersey Millionaires’. And, in my early memories, they were always going head to head with Liverpool for silverware. Everyone was definitely ‘arsed’ – us about them, them about us.
I remember endless, ultimately pointless, arguments in school – whose ground was better (‘Yeah, but yous haven’t got a scoreboard’), whose kit (or kit manufacturer) was better, which player was harder or faster, or better in front of goal (it was Rushie). Every position, every aspect was discussed and dissected. Who was the better ‘keeper (it was Southall), whose fans were the loudest.
Everything. Honestly, everything. We were all ‘arsed’.
I’ve never stopped being arsed either. There’s a relativity involved, of arsedness if that’s the word, but I’ve never been ‘not arsed’ about Everton. You’re going to be more arsed, I’d say, if your team is going head to head more often than not, aren’t you? So when it’s cup semis, finals and final replays, when it’s top two battles in the league, well levels of arsed will be will off the scale, no? When it’s twice a year, in matches your team in the main does OK in, and there hasn’t been huge amounts riding on, well…
It’s why the manufactured rivalry with Chelsea happened (still not for me) – we simply played them loads of times in a short space of time and the media focus began to concentrate on rivalry. Everyone was arsed apparently.
The rivalry with Everton though, that’s something that’s born, not manufactured…
I’m arsed about Everton, I always have been. I want Liverpool to be bigger and better at everything. They want the same. Those school kid arguments we had then – the same standards still apply now. And now – right now – well, what? Liverpool are the more successful club, with a bigger stadium, more supporters, more money, a better squad and a better manager.
Everton haven’t won a thing since 1995, Paul Rideout scoring the winner at Wembley when Oasis and Scatman John were in the Top 10 and Braveheart was on at the pictures.
We haven’t got to where we want to be in the 22 years that have followed their last silverware – namely top of the league – but we’ve managed two FA Cups, three League Cups, the UEFA Cup and the European Cup.
Three runners-up spots in the league is also not the required standard for Liverpool in that time, but Everton’s highest finish in the same period is fourth. In the 21 full seasons that have been played since Joe Royle’s side triumphed over Manchester United in London, the Reds have topped the Blues in the league 18 times.
And what about the Derbies themselves? Again, taking Everton’s last trophy as a jumping off point for ‘arsedness’ – because, you know, despite winning a bit of money on it, I didn’t enjoy them winning something even if it was against the Mancs – there have been 46 matches played between the sides. Liverpool have lost seven of them, and the last defeat at Anfield was in 1999.
We might well lose that record this weekend, Everton are on a good run and have one of the league’s best strikers in their ranks – they have more than a puncher’s chance of victory. But if Liverpool fans have been getting a bit blase about having one over the Blues can you blame them?
We’ve been moaning about not winning a trophy since 2012. About too often finishing outside the top four. But we’ve still regularly achieved a higher standard than Everton, who ended up clinging to concepts like ‘The People’s Club’.
Not arsed? No I am. Been quite enjoying it as it happens.
So now then, this season. The Reds are fourth, the Blues are seventh. Only six points between the two. Liverpool edged it at Goodison in glorious fashion and will be keen to protect an Anfield record in the league that reads just one defeat all season plus the aforementioned 18-year home record versus the Blues.
Arsed then? Yes. Want to beat them more than anything, to help Liverpool achieve top four this season. To win the Derby in its own right. To demoralise them. To keep the ‘hoodoo’ going. And to maintain the feeling that we’re in their heads – that there’s a mental block. That the hangover from the David Moyes’ losing mindset remains.
The actual football aside, though, is the renewed frequency of the “arsed” thing just down to Moshiri and his millions and our collective — or lack of — reaction to that and the plans for a new ground?
Some fella had a rant about it apparently. I haven’t heard it. If he was fuming, sound. That’s him.
On the evidence of things I’ve read over the last couple of days, apparently Kopites’ (whether you’re in the Spion Kop or not like) heads have “fell off” because Everton *might* get a new ground. Just like they fell off when Moshiri was funding bids for every top-class footballer in Europe. Only…
As it is, there’s a long way to go before any new ground surfaces next to Liverpool wastewater treatment plant. The star striker seems to want off. And even if Everton do have a summer ‘warchest’ the Blues will face the same problems Liverpool have when it comes to recruiting top talent – there are richer clubs out there, who can bid more and pay more. And there are no secrets when it comes to which players are the difference makers. Then there’s the question of revenue to sustain it all. Everton, on the basis of the last calculations, are 23rd in the Deloitte Money League. It’s a horrible way to look at football. It’s also a reality: How do our friends from across the park become sustainable competitors at the top table? They’ve been trying to crack that one for a long time. So have Liverpool. There are no easy answers. And their struggle for relevance in modern football outstrips ours.
If the ground happens, good luck to Everton. It will breathe life into a part of Liverpool that desperately needs regeneration. But will it be a game-changer on the pitch for the club? There’s a long time until we find out.
The go-to shout about Merseyside derbies for years was that it was Everton’s cup final. That with consistent finishes around 15, 16 and 17th in the league, it was all they had. The evidence right now is that they are on the up, certainly from those dark days. Ronald Koeman is a good manager. The dock plans — realistic, flawed, brilliant, pie in the sky — whatever they are, they’re exciting if you’re a Blue. But maybe, just maybe, in a city that has seen a lot of failed football stadium plans, there should just be the mildest air of caution about it all rather than the continued insistence of Kopite brain fail.
Saturday then. Arsed? Yes. Are they arsed? Yes. That’s how it should be. How it always was. How it always will be. They’re in our hearts and in our souls. In our schools and in our work. At your nan’s at Crimbo.
Everyone’s arsed, alright?