The Merseyside Derby has had its fair share of heroes on the red side down the years, and there’s a reason they matter so much to us still…
THERE is a period of my teenage years which has remained more vivid than others.
I can remember going to secondary school in year seven. Patrik Berger running amok for Liverpool and Robbie Williams’ chauvinist renaissance in full flow with No Regrets topping the now antiquated charts.
Music and football place pins in the map of my childhood. I’m reminded of my adolescence by Eric Cantona and Sharleen Spiteri as much as a family photo album.
There is another period, around 15 years old, when Nick Barmby signed for Liverpool which stands out.
I remember getting his name and number on the back of our mustard and navy away. I remember constantly winding up Blue mates by wearing it. I remember the Liverpool Echo headline vividly…
“Barmby: I want to join Liverpool”.
A summer of raging hormones, growing pains and some absolute Evertonian needle that nobody was expecting. As much as Gerard Houllier probably rated him, I think he also signed him to stick the boot in.
I’d had my money’s worth out of that transfer by mere virtue of it happening. When Barmby scored for Liverpool against Everton at Anfield in the October I thought the whole thing was a wind-up.
The ultimate derby anti-hero. A man who to this day baffles me with his sheer disregard of the situation he had created.
Barmby will forever remain part of my childhood and a reminder that wicked satire against our long-suffering neighbours has no boundaries, despite some valiant efforts.
Gary McAllister wrote his name in derby folklore with a last-second winner, as did Divock Origi. Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt and Daniel Sturridge were the scourge of Everton for what felt like many years. Even Andy Robertson has recently taken the mantle of boogeyman to them.
In all honesty, Liverpool have had far too much on their terms in recent years to justify panic around the fixture. Richarlison played the role of cantankerous villain and scored in their only win at Anfield in 24 years. But for those old enough to remember, he wasn’t a patch on Andrei Kanchelskis or Graeme Sharp (now famously of “Grant… and Sharpy?” fame).
That’s not to say the fixture still doesn’t elicit a deep fear of losing. Or that Liverpool should be in any way complacent.
We will have factors against us tomorrow. We await to see the level of refereeing competence which greets us.
Perhaps an unspoken positive for Liverpool is that Everton have never had to deal with Dominik Szobozslai, or potentially Ryan Gravenberch.
The Dutchman feels primed to start this fixture and could be crucial with his ability to dribble and progress the ball against what’s likely to be a low-block, rigid opposition.
It’s a fixture made for heroes announcing themselves. The club already has a number in its ranks, past and present. Every debutant should be left in no doubt that, as Peter Crouch quipped when netting twice at Goodison Park in 2006, “scoring against Everton counts as double”.
This game needs heroes and villains to make it function. You set your watch by them, sometimes your childhood.