Category Archives: Opponents

Liverpool vs Everton – Sleeping With The Enemy? 25 January 2014

Could play a bit though

Could play a bit though

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.   

Everton and Newcastle United – Friendship clubs? 30 September

gazzaNot all football fandom is as tribal as it is in England with many German fans having a “second club” with whom the bonds of friendship are sufficiently strong to withstand the pull of competition. Fans of most English clubs can readily identify one arch-enemy and perhaps half a dozen more (everyone counts Manchester United and MK Dons don’t they?) and there’s no sign of a single club’s fans adopting another club as an alternative object of desire. But two incidents might suggest just a fleeting, coy, come-hither look that occasionally passes between the fans of Everton and Newcastle United.

Things were different in 18 years ago this weekend. Everton lined up on the first day of October with an XI so strong that Joe Royle could afford to leave out the sublime skills of Anders Limpar, a player who could beat a man by running very fast and then stopping very fast. But it was also an XI so weak that its midfield linchpins were Tony Grant and John Ebbrell. The dogs of war had delivered an unforgettable FA Cup win five months earlier but, after yet another sluggish start to the season, Everton were 14th and a long winter loomed.

Thirteen places above Everton, Newcastle had a foreign winger too, though if Everton’s erratic Swede was stop-dead gorgeous, Kevin Keegan’s Frenchman was more drop-dead gorgeous. With Les Ferdinand leading the line and waiting all of 20 minutes before scoring his customary Goodison goal, Everton were torn apart by attacking play that matched anything seen from opponents in a generation. When David Ginola was substituted after an hour, he was applauded from all sides of the ground – applause that was to be matched at the final whistle, the Blues being flattered by a 3-1 reverse. Outside the ground, Evertonians were shaking hands with members of the Toon Army and telling them to go on and win it.

Of course, history (and Kevin Keegan) was to have the final say that season with this iconic speech the turning point. “When you do that with footballers like he said about Leeds, and when you do things like that about a man like Stuart Pearce – I’ve kept really quiet, but I’ll tell you something, he went down in my estimation when he said that – we have not resorted to that. But I’ll tell ya – you can tell him now if you’re watching it – we’re still fighting for this title, and he’s got to go to Middlesbrough and get something, and… and I tell you honestly, I will love it if we beat them, love it!”

Fast-forward six years to another 3-1 win for Newcastle at Goodison and Paul Gascoigne, a late Everton substitute, trots across to take a corner and is met with a standing ovation from the Toon Army. He sheepishly acknowledged it and, once the ball was cleared, the Everton crowd acknowledged it too.

Respeck, as I think the young people say.

Why Everton fans may be unique in actually liking Chelsea 13 September 2013

The Fellaini look

The Fellaini look

It had all been so different just four years earlier. Fans had turned up from all corners of the country to Goodison’s citadel. Some perched in trees – the Park End was being rebuilt – and there was something of the carnivalesque in the air, but with an underlying fear that something really bad might just happen. It felt like the opening scene in “The Warriors”, with Dave Watson as our Cyrus, the man around whom we would unite for the common good. As in the film, things began to go wrong early, but Wimbledon were still enslaved by Dave “Harry” Bassett’s football philosophy – The Book of Harry Styles of Football had but a single page on which was written “Kick the ball in one direction – forward!” with not even a little mixing up of play allowed. Everton, with a sensational equaliser from Welsh midfielder Barry Horne – think a Lidl version of Gareth Bale and you’ve got him – survived in the greatest match I’ve ever seen.

In 1998, Everton kicked off the final game of the season in the bottom three. The Blues were led by chairman Peter Johnson – whose reputation as a Liverpool fan led some Evertonians to consider him a spy, a George Smiley figure, a view gleefully propagated on The Kop – and Howard Kendall, whose third spell as manager was taking a wrecking ball to his reputation. Even when Gareth Farrelly, the kind of player fans would rather have seen nude than in the famous old shirt, took advantage of a Coventry defensive slip to nip in with a fine shot to open the scoring, fans still knew we needed another result to go our way. Tension gripped Goodison.

The key match was at Stamford Bridge, where Gianluca Vialli’s Chelsea were playing Bolton, who needed merely to match Everton’s result to end Goodison’s long proud history of hosting top flight football. In those days before smartphones – or even mobiles – the only way to keep abreast of scores was to listen on a transistor radio; and thousands of Evertonians did. In West London, Vialli himself got one and Jody Morris the other, as Chelsea ran out 2-0 winners rendering Dion Dublin’s late equaliser, in front of a by now jubilant Goodison, academic. Everton were staying up, the two point swing enough to lift Kendall’s men out of the bottom three.

But that doesn’t tell the whole tale. Just three days after that heartstopping drama had sent Evertonians gaga with nerves, Chelsea had a European Cup-Winners Cup Final to play in Stockholm. But, in a League match that didn’t matter to his club, Vialli had fielded a full-stength team whose commitment was such that they scored two goals in the last twenty minutes.

For that dedication to a fundamental principle of football – that every game is there to be won – Everton owe a debt of gratitude to Chelsea that this Blue, and many more, will not forget.