Last month saw the release of Tony Evans’ Two Tribes book.
It looks at the 1985-86 season set against the backdrop of social and political turmoil in and around the city at the time. Despite the shame of Heysel, the impact of Thatcherism and a city still reeling from Liverpool City Council’s war with Westminster, there was plenty to be proud about. The music scene – both here and in nearby Manchester – had never been stronger as young Liverpool turned its anger into a creative tour de force.
And, of course, we had the football. Not just us, clad in red, but the other half of the city.
Merseyside ruled football.
As you’ll be aware, Liverpool won the League and Cup double in May 1986, beating Everton in both competitions and, though no one would say as much at the time – least of all me, 17-years-old at the time – Everton had the stronger side. Liverpool won both trophies simply because we knew how to.
West Ham were also in the mix thanks to the striking partnership of Tony Cottee and Frank McAvennie, but everything was geared towards our city. Collectively, we ruled all. Every derby was an occasion and pretty much every game contested between the Red and Blue was a classic and to be discussed in decades to come.
The game at Goodison on Saturday was the very antithesis of those encounters.
It was a muted affair from beginning to end, played out in dismal weather. Ordinarily, Goodison rises to the baiting of the Reds in the Bullens Road stand, but it was almost like they had other things on their mind than the overturning of an embarrassing derby record.
Since August they’ve gone from the early optimism of Ronald Koeman to wanting him out. Then came Allardyce, who gave the Toffees a seven game unbeaten run at the start of his tenure only to see them resort to form. Now they now can’t wait till to show him the door despite him having a contract till June 2019. Everton are in limbo.
We too had thoughts elsewhere and while people stood in the rain awaiting entry, many attempted to work out who the hell was playing where come kick-off.
Liverpool’s day was all about avoiding injury and defeat. Everton have not won a derby since October 2010 and while we would swap a Derby defeat for safe passage into the Champions League semi-final, no one wants that record to end.
And, in truth, Jurgen Klopp did everything to help the Blues in their endeavours. Mo Salah and Andy Robertson sat out completely. Firmino was on the bench (and should have stayed there, given his, shall we say, less than enthusiastic cameo) as did Trent and Chamberlain. With Ragnar Klavan at left-back, the return of Danny Ings and a second Derby start for the inexperienced Dom Solanke, the Blues should have grasped the opportunity with both hands. Instead, they merely kept the visitors at bay thanks to a couple of Jordan Pickford saves. It was only when Sadio Mane went off that they decided to push up and make it an uncomfortable last ten minutes for the Reds. Come the end though, Liverpool got the result they wanted – no injuries and no defeat. Chelsea’s draw with West Ham United now means that eight points from our last five games should be enough. We face the bottom two clubs in that time.
Gary Lineker made reference to the fact that Everton v Liverpool was the last game to be shown on Match of the Day. That said everything. The game was absolutely dire.
What is did show was the drop off from the first team to the rest of the squad. Dom Solanke is young and will clearly improve given a chance, but he really struggled at Goodison with either the pace of the game or a lack of confidence. Likewise, Danny Ings was exhausted – hardly surprising given his time out with injury.
The deeper problem is a lack of playing time for the second string. Liverpool cannot afford to play them regularly and hope their sharpness returns and no game behind closed doors can replicate match day.
Perhaps this says even more for Everton. They could not take advantage of Ragnar Klavan at left-back despite Theo Walcott being on the pitch who is, to my estimation, fourteen times quicker than the Estonian. Equally, Gini Wijnaldum, intermittently playing as the 6 with Henderson, might as well have had a deck chair for all the trouble he was given.
For all their pre-season promise with the return of Rooney (a shadow here) and the capture of Gylfi Sigurdsson, the Blues have experienced another ‘meh’ of a season. They may have drawn both derbies, but it is the shortest straw. It must hurt that their neighbours are a draw away from being in the last four of Europe’s premier competition.
Circumstances have taken away from the excitement of the Goodison derby this season. That will be fine with both clubs as they have different battles to fight. Liverpool face an onslaught from a wounded Manchester City, Everton have to determine what happens next.