This weekend’s Merseyside derby is arguably the biggest in years and certainly its outcome could carry particular significance for Brendan Rodgers and his future as Liverpool manager. So, in a break from all the pressure and speculation surrounding the current position of the club, I decided to take a nostalgic look back some of my personal favourite Merseyside derbies.
FA Cup Final 1986, Wembley
This will always be a special game to me for many reasons, not only was it the first ever all-Merseyside FA Cup Final, but it was the first time I ever watched an FA Cup Final televised in its entirety. From the players leaving their hotels, to interviews with Liverpool and Everton fans, side by side, travelling down on trains, to all the pre-match analysis and post-match celebrations. I was glued to the TV for over 6 hours and it was magnificent. The game itself followed the League title being wrapped up by Player-Manager Kenny Dalglish’s winner at Stamford Bridge the previous weekend. As Champions, Liverpool were favourites, but after a frenetic start, it was Everton who took a first half lead through Gary Lineker, who got in front of Alan Hansen and despite Bruce Grobbelaar saving his initial effort, Lineker put in the rebound. Everton were on top from then on and I was worried as my team seemed to be crumbling, but an equaliser from nothing just after the hour mark from Ian Rush put The Reds back in it. Not long after that, a fantastic scrambling save from Grobbelaar seemed to be the turning point in the game; Liverpool regained their composure and a neat interchange between Rush and Jan Molby set up a goal for Craig Johnston. Suddenly, it was Everton on the rack and Liverpool in the ascendency, chances followed before late in the game, Ronnie Whelan set up Rush for the third goal that sealed the game, the FA Cup and with it, the double.
FA Cup Final 1989, Wembley
Coming just a month after the Hillsborough disaster, this was one of the most emotionally poignant matches in history and perhaps the most fitting of opponents for such an occasion. This was the era of probably my favourite Liverpool team: Rush, Whelan, Steve McMahon, Ray Houghton, John Barnes, John Aldridge and my hero, Peter Beardsley. The game started with a bang, it took just a few minutes for Steve Nicol to hit a ball through to McMahon, who tipped the ball across for Aldridge to finish with aplomb. We went on to dominate, but miss chances and after sitting back late on, Everton snatched an equaliser through Stuart McCall. Rush had come on for Aldridge and it didn’t take him long in extra time to make his mark, he controlled and swivelled on a cross from Nicol, before putting it beyond Neville Southall. However, Everton came back once more and again, it was via Stuart McCall, who this time hit a dipping volley from just outside the box. The drama didn’t end there though, a lovely ball in from Barnes was deftly headed in by Rush – so often the tormentor of Everton.
Premier League 2000/01, Goodison Park
Whilst the 2000/01 season will rightly be remembered for the treble trophy haul of the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup, it was also the season that saw one of the most dramatic Merseyside derbies in living memory. The atmosphere intensified when Emile Heskey gave Liverpool the lead and spiked further with a Duncan Ferguson equaliser. The fantastic Markus Babbel restored Liverpool’s lead, before Robbie Fowler missed a dubious penalty and Igor Biscan was sent off for a second bookable offence. Everton got a questionable penalty of their own, but David Unsworth dispatched it to make it 2-2. At this point, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the 10 men of Liverpool would be desperate to hang on, that with home advantage, an extra man and the momentum, that the game was Everton’s for the taking. Well, what you wouldn’t have considered in all of that was the brilliance of one veteran midfielder, Gary McAllister. With seconds remaining, a free-kick 35 yards out would normally be floated into the box, but McAllister instead curled it inside the near post for one of the most exhilarating match winners I’ve ever seen.
With this, I’ve had my chance to look back over our legacy in these passion-filled games that can split family and friends, but now it’s over to our current crop of players to cement their places in the history books; perhaps they can add October 4th 2015 at Goodison Park to Liverpool Football Club folklore.