Friendly Derby be damned! Okay, the Merseyside rivalry is not sectarian nor bound by geography nor fuelled by envy resulting from any great discrepancy in history – but there’s an edge all right, one that’s never far from bubbling over. Which, if truth be told, is how it should be.
But amongst the jibes, the chants and the vitriol, there have been a few Liverpool players whom (I venture to suggest) have been more than just respected by Evertonians – we even liked them.
Terry McDermott was a model for Harry Enfield’s famous Scousers – all bubble -permed excitability topped off with an ill-judged Village People style moustache. He made the “late run into the box” his own and worked all day for his team. I think Evertonians appreciated the local kid made good, who had served his time at Bury and Newcastle before striking it big. Or maybe it was just that Terry McDermott was not Jimmy Case.
John Barnes was the subject of terrible racist abuse at derbies – I was there, I heard it – but he was a player many Evertonians feared and liked in equal measure. In the Autumn derby of 1989, Mike Newell gave the Blues an early lead, but Barnes was magnificent, holding the ball, carrying the ball and scoring the equaliser before Ian Rush (who else?) knocked in a couple to finish us off. That John Barnes seemed to be somewhat equivocal about playing for England – a team that felt more London-based than national before Italia 90 – only promoted his cause with the Goodison faithful.
Like Kevin Sheedy, Peter Beardsley looked like no sort of player at all – until the ball was at his feet. He could go either way with equal facility, could pass or shoot as he saw fit and always came back for more, despite his being about half the size of the bruiser centre-halves that every team had in those days. There was something of the playground footballer in the Geordie and we loved him for it – especially when he came to Goodison late in his career. He was criticised for being inconsistent, but if he were at his best all the time? Well, he’d be Lionel Messi.
Jan Molby copped plenty of stick for his portly frame and for his spell in jail, but those raised in The School of Science recognised a ball player when they saw one. He played one derby as an emergency centre-half and gave a fair impression of Franz Beckenbauer, reading the game perfectly and spraying passes short and long to set up attack after attack. In the hurly-burly of the English game at that time, Molby felt like he had arrived from another planet rather than another country.
Of today’s enemies, who might be added to this list in the future. Wholehearted Henderson, once reviled, now redeemed? Phillipe Coutinho, the darting Brazilian raised on futsal? I’m not sure – but I know it won’t be Steven Gerrard.