LIVERPOOL FC great Alan Hansen once said that he hated the derby. I hate the derby. We should hang out more, Alan.
I can tell you why I hate the prospect of the game itself — the ratcheting up of tension, the strain of watching a match in which you fear the opposition will never yield to you, the nightmare of defeat — but it would be harder to describe the fullest context of all of these anxieties.
There’s Scouse shorthand for why the derby matters. About why we must win:
‘COS IT’S THEM.
As though it is all implied within this cursory statement. And maybe it is. We take the derby being important as an act of faith.
But ask a Liverpudlian why they badly want to beat/not lose to Everton, and you won’t ever get a detailed convincing answer. Let alone one that approaches something rational.
I bristle at the term ‘bragging rights’ in the way it has been ascribed as a derby motivation for years. It’s all about the bragging rights see. The what? Bragging rights. Y’know? The right — the inalienable *right* to brag. That’s something to cherish, is it? Something to get out of bed for? The mightiest of prizes. I brag. Therefore I am. You brag. Therefore I am diminished.
Bragging, though, is boasting. I was raised to see boasting as a bad thing. A poor show. I wasn’t brought up in a religious home so most of my morality was shaped by 1970s British sitcoms. These ensemble pieces always positioned the lead character (virtually always male) as a tragic – often vain figure. Always undone by his own hubris. I’m thinking of (for those old enough to remember) of Terry Scott, Sid James, Ronnie Barker and more latterly, Del Boy. The scrapes these lads got involved in. Their ultimate demise, though, encapsulated in David Sylvian of the band Japan’s haunting and unlikely 1981 chart-topping ballad, ‘Ghosts’.
Just when I think I’m winning,
When I’ve broken every door,
The ghosts of my life,
Blow wilder than before…
Just when I thought I could not be stopped,
When my chance came to be king,
The ghosts of my life,
Blew wilder than the wind.
Dave knew the score. He’d been round the block. I don’t think he was the kind of lad who got to many derbies, though. A south Londoner before becoming an international electro-ponse, he may have taken in the odd Crystal Palace or Wimbledon clash, but I doubt he ever fully committed to a derby’s passion.
Still, like me, he will have grown up scarred by the TV experiences of Tom out of Tom and Jerry, and Wile E. Coyote out of Road Runner, Sylvester the Cat and countless other (mainly) Warner Bros luminaries. Nothing ever turned out for the best for these sad heroes. They came, they surveyed, they gave it the big one, and then ended up with an anvil on their head.
The lesson — the message — was clear. Brag not, because in the next scene you will be flattened.
I’m sure the bible probably preaches a similar thing, albeit in more long-winded ways, but childhood television worked as a swifter moral delivery mechanism for me.
People who want to win the derby because they accrue ‘bragging rights’ are the people who only ever watched Top Cat. Or those that think boxers are cool guys when they’re indulging in all that pre-bout sledging. Those that think Clarkson and Edmunds had the last laugh because they’re still kind of on telly.
Bragging rights are shit. Think about it a bit, please. Imagine — in a universe that just right now in the haze of my pre-derby anxiety seems implausibly utopian — that we do beat Everton. What’s the first thing you want to do by way of celebration? Do you:
a) Want to text a gif of Nelson Muntz out of the Simpsons going ‘har har’, to Evertonians that you know?
b) Want to look at the league table to see where the three points have raised the Mighty Reds up to?
Trust me, I understand the urge to want to do the former. I am but flesh. But it would swiftly feel a shabby reward for so much emotional energy expended.
I will be more nervous about the outcome of us v the Blues this Saturday than I was about my first date, A-Levels, and births of all of my children combined. I won’t sleep on Friday night. I’ll be out of bed 5am on Saturday. I will be digging my nails into my thighs, grinding all of my teeth, and holding one gigantic breath for the longest 90 minutes that nature knows, from 12.30pm onwards on April 1.
Just typing the date has only made the anticipation worse. I’ve just realised it’s the first of the month. The fool’s day. The fool’s derby. Oh the agony to lose the April 1 Derby. To be defined by the tabloid back page sub-eds as the April fools team. Our bragging rights would be in tatters.
And there lies my truth. I don’t want any bragging rights, none, you can keep them. But mainly — far, far more desperately — I do not want *them* to have any either.
And so I find myself ironically caught up within a paradox of my own making. I admit it. I confess. I do really want those bragging rights. I want them so bad that it hurts. I want them because I don’t want to be bragged at. Imbued within my deep rooted loathing of the brag is the fear of it. Better that I morally fall, and become the bragger, then live even one second as the wretched bragee.
Meep meep. Come on you red runners.
The humble Reds: Mignolet; Clyne, Matip, Klavan, Milner; Can, Wijnaldum, Coutinho; Mane, Firmino, Woodburn.
Kick-Off: 12.30pm live on Sky Sports 1
Last Match: Everton 0 Liverpool 1
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Odds: Liverpool 8-11, Draw 3-1, Everton 9-2
Here is our ‘The Rivals’ show which we’ve released as a freebie as part of our build-up to the Merseyside derby — to listen to more shows like this SUBSCRIBE to TAW Player