Tony Evans: Man Utd Will Always Be Reds’ Biggest Rivals

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Increased Capacity for Red Devil’s Visit

What a day Sunday will be. The opening of the upper Anfield Road will bring the capacity up to 57,000. Those 7,000 extra voices will welcome Manchester United with the respect the visitors deserve.

There’s often debate about which team are Liverpool’s biggest rivals. For me, it will always be United.

Lots of people make a case for Everton. But growing up, you had friends, family, schoolmates and workmates who were Blues. It’s hard to truly hate people like that (modern Evertonians give it a good go, though).

In the 1970s and 80s there was much less interaction between Merseyside and Manchester. The only time you heard a Manc accent was when you played them. Plus, there was historical enmity between the two cities. Both Mancunian clubs have a sailing ship on their badges. The Manchester Ship Canal was built to take trade away from the port of Liverpool.

Biggest Rivals

We are also the two biggest clubs in the country, by a long margin. No one else comes close. It’s the first game I look for when the fixtures are released.

United are in a mess and things will get messier over the next few months. The Glazers have been appalling owners (take note FSGOuters) and the dressing room has got used to getting managers sacked. Only a serious clearout will change that. The arrival of Jim Ratcliffe and Ineos is only likely to exacerbate the problems. They are ripe to be taken apart.

Last season’s 7-0 was a highlight in a drab campaign. Yet Liverpool were poor in the first half and could have gone into the break a goal or two down. Despite being top of the league our performances have been patchy so far. Sunday would be an ideal day for the team to click.

So, Jurgen, here’s a challenge. Two good halves. Seven in each would be nice. These are the enemy. Show no quarter on the pitch and make tons of noise off it. Ramp up the volume in the new seats. Make Manchester miserable for Christmas.

Souness’ Sun ‘History’

Graeme Souness spoke at a supporters’ night this week. He was understandably nervous.

For more than three decades, the 70-year-old has been a pariah. While other legends have enjoyed the status they deserved, Souness was consigned to a metaphorical exile. For all his greatness, there have never been banners with his likeness displayed on the Kop.

On the third anniversary of Hillsborough, Souness was splashed across the front page of The Sun. The headline, ‘Loverpool,’ was a shocking insult.

The Scot failed as a manager at Anfield but that is easily forgiven. The betrayal is much harder to overlook.

Yet Souness is much more thoughtful – and sensitive – that he appears. He recognises the gravity of his actions and appearing in that reviled newspaper is his biggest regret.

I was relentlessly critical of him. When I was writing a book about the 1984 season – his final and finest year at Anfield – I approached him expecting to be ignored. Instead, he made contact and we agreed to only talk about his playing career.

After the last interview – and he was very generous with his time – the moment came to address the elephant in the room. “I’m not a man who has regrets…” he said. Here we go, I thought, ready to tell him exactly my opinion of that.

“… But,” he continued, “there’s one thing I’d change.” There was no need to tell me what it was.” For me, at least, it was a big moment. The leader they called Champagne Charlie was apologising in his own way.

Photo: IMAGO

Forgiveness

He got £50,000 from the newspaper. It’s a paltry sum for the impact it had on his legacy.

The midfielder is the bravest footballer I ever saw and the best captain in the club’s history. I described him as having a ‘mean streak a hitman would kill for.’ He liked that. It’s true, too.

His last game for Liverpool was the European Cup final against Roma in 1984 in the most hostile setting imaginable. Rome was decorated for the victory parade; it’s as if the city forgot they had to play the game. Joe Fagan’s side – and the 8,000 of us there to support them – were just a despised inconvenience and the hatred in the Stadio Olimpico was on a different level to anything I’ve seen.

The team were nervous when they looked at the pitch before the match. They wanted to get back into the dressing room as soon as possible. Souness was not having that. He walked – no, swaggered – up to the Curva Sud and eyeballed the ultras close up. It was the first of many markers he laid down that night. Champagne Charlie was not going to lose. Under any circumstances.

It’s time to rehabilitate him. We can’t airbrush anything, good or bad, from our history. His story is one of overlooked greatness. It would be wonderful if, in 2024, 40 years after he dragged the team to a treble of the title, the League Cup and the European Cup, he could be accepted back into the fold.

Ferguson’s Respect

Talking of legends and rivalries, they can come with respect. Once, I made a snide comment about Alex Ferguson to Kenny Dalglish. I expected The King to agree. He shot me down.

“He was the first on the phone after Hillsborough asking what he could do,” Dalglish said. “When you’ve got a crisis, he offers his help.” I got told good and proper.

They will never be mates but Kenny made sure he gave the (red) devil his due. And no one should argue with The King.

Foodbanks on Screen

Everton had a great idea by putting the Fans Supporting Foodbanks logo up when Chelsea started singing ‘Feed the Scousers.’ We should go further.

For every team we play from whom we expect to hear chants about hunger, poverty and unemployment, we should have statistics ready to run on the scoreboards showing the levels of inequality where that club is located. United on Sunday? “249,825 children are living in poverty in Greater Manchester according to Greater Manchester Poverty Action.” That would be even better than seeing 7-0 up on the board.

West Ham on Wednesday? “An estimated four in 10 households in Tower Hamlets are living below the poverty line according to the council.”

Would it shut them up? No. But it would expose their stupidity.

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