A Merseyside derby to provide the balm again!

A derby to provide the balm! In the 1980s, Merseyside was on its knees but its teams were flying high… now history is repeating as the table-toppers clash again

  • Liverpool has again shown a united front after Covid-19 measures were imposed
  • Merseyside had also had its back to the wall in the 1980s due to political unrest 
  • Football provided a balm then and will again when they meet in Saturday’s derby
  • The impact from the pandemic helped the clubs become flagbearers for the city
  • To donate, visit: www.evertonfc.com/bluefamily or donorbox. org/fanssupportingfoodbanks5years or text FOODBANKFC to 70460

The night of April 30, 1986 was pivotal in a tight race for that year’s Division One title. Liverpool won at Leicester while champions Everton lost at Oxford to hand their neighbours an initiative they would not relinquish.

On returning to Merseyside, players from both teams met up for a drink. Things were different in Liverpool back then. The pubs were open, for a start.

But much was the same. Merseyside had its back to the wall in the 1980s too. Political unrest was the backdrop to Liverpool’s problems 35 years ago. In 2020, it’s the crippling impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Things were different in Liverpool back in 1986 when players from both teams met for a drink

Much was the same, however, with political unrest making up the backdrop to the city’s issues

Then, as now, football provided a balm. ‘I used to look at our fans at away games and wonder how they could even afford to be there,’ former Everton captain Kevin Ratcliffe told Sportsmail this week. 

‘Nobody had any money. But football was always the most important thing to them back then. Now, Liverpool is on the back foot again.

‘It always seems to be Liverpool doesn’t it? But we get used to it. The city and the people will get through it. They always do.’

Liverpool have presented a united face, as shown in the past (above), under Covid-19 rules

Ex-Everton captain Kevin Ratcliffe admitted he was shocked fans could afford to be at games

On learning the city was to be placed under Tier 3 Government restrictions this week, Liverpool presented a united face. ‘Back us and we will beat this’, was the clarion call on the front page of Tuesday’s Liverpool Echo.

It was similar in the 1980s. The day the two clubs met in the 1984 League Cup final, red and blue stickers handed out on the football specials to Euston carried the message: ‘I support Liverpool Council’ in their fight with the Conservative Government.

Some areas of Liverpool were suffering up to 90 per cent unemployment. Everton right back Gary Stevens recalled: ‘Football took people’s minds off it for a couple of hours. The fans would talk to us in the pub. Did the fact they had the two best teams in the country help? I’d like to think so.’

Saturday’s derby at Goodison Park is unusual not only for the fact there will be no fans present.

Everton, coached by Carlo Ancelotti (above), are heading into the derby top of the table

Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton are top of the table going into a Liverpool fixture for the first time since 1989. Liverpool, meanwhile, lost their last game 7-2 at Aston Villa.

For Everton and their Italian manager, things have flipped fast. Liverpool finished last season as champions with Everton exactly half a century of points behind.

Now, driven forwards by Ancelotti’s wisdom, the signing of players such as the Colombian forward James Rodriguez and the burst to prominence of young Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Everton are seven from seven in the league and cup.

Having already won domestic league titles in England (with Chelsea), France, Germany and Italy, Ancelotti is aware of the challenges ahead.

Liverpool’s arch-rivals have won seven from seven with ace Dominic Calvert-Lewin starring

He is also able to see the bigger social picture. Living on the coast at Formby, Ancelotti likes to ride his bike along the seafront at nearby Crosby. Born just 100 miles from Milan, where Europe’s Covid-19 outbreak first took hold, the 61-year-old knows well the damage the virus has wreaked.

Ancelotti said on Friday: ‘All we can do is follow the rules. It’s difficult for everybody but we all have to take responsibility, not complain and try and play football to our best.’ 

Everton won two league titles, an FA Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup in the 1980s. 

The match that kick started that period was a derby win at Anfield in October 1984 secured by a spectacular Graeme Sharp goal. ‘It felt like we had arrived,’ said the Scot. 

Victory on Saturday would not be quite as seismic but would feel significant nonetheless. Liverpool were defensively chaotic at Villa and will once again be without keeper Alisson.

Calvert-Lewin has taken many headlines and Ancelotti’s instruction to watch tapes of the Italian striker Filippo Inzaghi has paid off. 

However, some believe Rodriguez has been the catalyst for change. ‘He is so strong and impossible to knock off the ball,’ an Everton defender said this week. ‘You walk off from training and you are black and blue.’ 


A victory for Everton would feel significant with Liverpool reeling from their rout at Aston Villa

James Rodriguez has been the catalyst for change at Everton with even his team-mates in awe

If Liverpool look unusually vulnerable, it is understandable. The last time they travelled across Stanley Park just after the Premier League restarted in June, they drew 0-0 and Everton hit the post late on. 

Boss Jurgen Klopp on Friday described the Villa defeat as a ‘knock in the middle of our face’ and knows improvement must come on Saturday even if his team are bolstered by the significant psychological knowledge that Liverpool have not lost a derby for a whole decade. 

Klopp said: ‘I hope that continues but we never think about it. Not once. Carlo is a sensational manager and this Everton team looks really, really good.

‘It is always clear that when Carlo has time and resources he will do something like this. This game will be hard work for us but we will be ready for it.’ 

Jurgen Klopp labelled his side’s hammering at Villa Park as a ‘knock in the middle of our face’

Having lived on Merseyside for five years and one week, Klopp feels the mood of the city as well as anyone. A naturally empathetic man not afraid of dipping a toe into political and socio- economic waters, the German will doubtless have a view on the way the Covid-19 pandemic is being handled in England.

On Friday he was asked whether football becomes increasingly important at a time when people on Merseyside cannot do something as fundamental as meet a friend or relative.

‘A few months ago we were talking about whether football is really necessary and its role in society,’ said Klopp.

‘But there is an important role that we play. The people in the city are used to dealing with difficult situations. 

Klopp has lived on Merseyside for five years and feels the mood of the city as well as anyone

Liverpool has been put on local lockdown due to the rise of coronavirus cases in the city

‘Usually when bad things happen, this city comes together and they try to make the best of it. 

‘If we played Manchester City this weekend, football would still be important.

‘But we are both clubs from the city, the whole city is united and will be watching one game.

‘From that point of view, it is even more important.’

On the day last March when England went into lockdown, the phones started to ring at Goodison Park. Richard Kenyon, chief executive of Everton in the Community, told Sportsmail: ‘I had supporters from all over the world ringing that day saying they wanted to help. North Liverpool has pockets of deprivation among the worst in the country.

Everton supporters from all around the world had offered to help the city during lockdown

‘Our community programme has been well-established for 30 years but, once the virus struck, we knew we would have to step up even further.’

At Anfield, it was the same. Two clubs already wholly committed to stocking food banks, providing mental and physical health support and tackling issues such as poverty and homelessness, have found their supporters needed them more than ever this year.

‘We put boots on the ground where they were needed,’ said Forbes Duff, Liverpool’s social responsibility manager. ‘Social isolation can affect anybody and that threat will grow this winter. Everybody misses social contact but we want Liverpool to know that we are all in this together. There are 32 different community groups and charities using meals we provide.

‘We are up to 28,000 meals since April and I don’t think this will stop rising soon. The spirit of You’ll Never Walk Alone is even more important. That’s where we have the responsibility.’

Both Klopp and Ancelotti also did their bit by calling up isolated fans to help lift their spirits

Klopp and Ancelotti have both done their bit, calling up isolated fans to try to lift spirits. They haven’t been one-off calls, either.

‘Our players do all kinds of things they don’t seek publicity about,’ said Duff. ‘We are just one piece in the jigsaw in this city. Everton are there too as are hundreds of community groups and charities. We play our role along with them.’ 

Practically and financially, the list of both clubs’ commitments to those in need is endless and inspiring. Help with utility bills, PPE for NHS workers, provision of baby clothes, yoga classes by Zoom for the elderly. It goes on. Over the months, tens of thousands of lives have been touched by red and blue and new referrals arrive daily. 

‘People cannot afford to pay bills, cannot afford to eat,’ said Kenyon. ‘We have delivered food to people and gone back days later to follow up and found it uneaten because they haven’t the means to cook it.

‘When we refunded season tickets last season so many fans volunteered to donate it. It raised £400,000 and the owner and the chairman matched it. I get emotional when I talk about that. That money makes a huge difference.’

Both teams are to wear training tops to underline their support for foodbanks on Saturday

Both teams will wear training tops to underline their support for foodbanks on Saturday. Shortly after that, it will be about the football and that is only right.

Back in the autumn of 1985, the top division was striving to fight off a power grab by the top-five clubs. More parallels.

‘The big clubs are very impatient,’ said Liverpool chairman John Smith back then. It was a fight that grew ugly and eventually led to the formation of the Premier League.

This week’s failed launch of Project Big Picture will return in some guise, too, but on Merseyside this weekend thoughts and needs are understandably more insular.

‘The teams in the 1980s were flagbearers for our city,’ former Everton midfielder Peter Reid once said. Some things have not changed at all.

To donate, visit: www.evertonfc.com/bluefamily or donorbox. org/fanssupportingfoodbanks5years or text FOODBANKFC to 70460.

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