THE ‘FRIENDLY’ DERBY

No other fixture has produced more red cards today than the Merseyside derby, one of the most heated affairs in English football. It has been tagged as the ‘friendly’ derby mainly because most of families who subscribed with the local affair have supporters of both of the teams among their members.

Birth of a rivalry
Football club Everton was founded in 1878. From 1884, they played their home matches at the Anfield stadium, owned by the businessman John Houlding. Among the board members of Everton were participants of the Temperance movement, which was against alcoholic drunkenness and excess.

Houlding, on the other hand, was a professional brewer and was thus against the movement. The board members were also members of the Liberal Party, whilst the businessman was in the Conservative Party. Politics and a rent dispute had resulted in Everton’s relocation to Goodison Park, which is a mere 0.97 kilometers away from Anfield. As a response, Houlding founded another club for Anfield – Liverpool.

The affair became sensational during the 1890s and matches had reached up to around 10-15,000 attendees. The derby was soon politicized as local politicians use this large crowd as an opportunity of exposure.  

‘Catholic’ Everton, ‘Protestant’ Liverpool

Religion also plays a role in the Merseyside derby, which tells us that the rivalry is more complex than we thought. Merseyside city has a hot religious sectarian divide between Catholics and Protestants.

Everton was traditionally the club supported by the city’s Catholic community. Successful Catholic players such as Tommy Eglington, Peter Farrell and Jimmy O’Neill as well as team manager Johnny Carey flourished in the club during the 1950s and 1960s. Since then, the name ‘Catholic club’ became synonymous to the club.

As a contrast, Liverpool became known as the ‘Protestant club.’ the fact that the club did not sign any known Catholic until Ronnie Whelan in 1979 gave more significance to the moniker.

This religious contrast between Liverpool and Everton was not always true today as there are also Catholic supporters of the former as well as Protestant fans of the latter.

A ‘friendly’ rivalry

There are a lot of reasons why the Merseyside derby has been tagged as ‘friendly.’ One of the reasons is the close proximity of both of the clubs’ home stadiums, with only the Stanley Park dividing the two. The two clubs even shared the same matchday programme.

Another reason for the Merseyside derby friendly tag is its reputation as a family affair. Traditionally, the game is a rare case where there is no fan segregation as families who have both Liverpool and Everton supporters did not want to get divided as they view the match. Recently, however, the police had enforced fan segrations as a precaution to avoid heated clashes between them.

Most red cards

Back in September 1999, a sensational clash happened directly between the two clubs. Liverpool goalkeeper Sander Westerveld and Everton striker Francis Jeffers had a heated physical confrontation in the field during their match, showing embarrassing unprofessional behavior. They were sent off from the game after that. The direct conflict became iconic in its own, albeit being small and isolated.

The Merseyside derby was hailed the rivalry with the most red cards in Premier League history; Everton has 14, while Liverpool has 7.

This intense nature of the Merseyside’s Liverpool-Everton rivalry was one of the reasons why  it is one of the most anticipated derbies in the calendar of English football.

By @FitsEly

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