Wednesday 20 April 2016, 09:52

Guaranteed magic on Merseyside

Many people believe London is England's most successful footballing city. Not so. Not even Manchester can quite match the record of Liverpool, the country's foremost soccer metropolis. Boasting two of Europe's most famous teams, Everton and Liverpool, the league title has made its way to Merseyside on no fewer than 27 occasions.

Everton are founder members of the Football League and have a proud history. With nine championships, five FA Cups and a UEFA European Cup Winners' Cup to their name, their Goodison Park home has been graced by some of the game's greatest talents, such as legendary striker William Ralph 'Dixie' Dean, who once netted a record-breaking 60 league goals in one season.

Across Stanley Park, the piece of land that separates the two clubs, is Anfield, home of Liverpool Football Club. The Reds also have a remarkable history and were, until recently, England's most-titled team. Their 18 championships are only bettered by the 20 currently held by bitter north-west rivals Manchester United and no other British side has matched their incredible five European Cup wins.

Everton and Everton Athletic Bill Shankly, the Liverpool manager between 1959 and 1974, once said with a smile: "There are two teams in Liverpool: Liverpool and Liverpool Reserves." In fact, the two teams in Liverpool should have been known as Everton and Everton Athletic.

Everton Football Club were formed in 1878 and played at Anfield from 1884. Seven years later, John Houlding, the leaseholder of Anfield, purchased the ground outright and proposed to increase the rent from £100 to £250-a-year. The Everton members objected, left Anfield and moved to Goodison Park.

With an empty ground and just three players remaining, Houlding decided to establish his own football club and in 1892, Liverpool Football Club were born. The original name was to be Everton and Athletic Grounds Ltd, or Everton Athletic for short, but this was later changed to Liverpool.

Unlike many other famous footballing rivalries, there is no political, religious or geographical divide between the sides. It is for this reason - and the spirit between both sets of supporters - that the all-Merseyside affair has traditionally been regarded as 'the friendly derby'.

When 96 Liverpool fans died at the Hillsborough stadium in 1989, fans of both clubs rallied round in a period of unparalleled unity; a chain of blue and red scarves stretched for the mile or so across Stanley Park from the gates of Anfield to Goodison Park in memory of those who lost their lives.

Yet there is no room for niceties on the pitch as both teams produce a fast and furious encounter, which is never lacking in passion or entertainment. There have been some memorable matches over the years, but perhaps the pick of the bunch came on 20 February 1991.

An unforgettable night at Goodison The fifth round of the FA Cup paired the rivals at Anfield, but the first game was an uninspiring 0-0 draw. The replay, however, was a different matter entirely. Peter Beardsley twice gave Liverpool the lead, but Graeme Sharp levelled on both occasions. Ian Rush, the top scorer in derby matches with 25 goals in 36 games, then glanced a header past Neville Southall to put Liverpool ahead.

With seconds of normal time remaining, Everton substitute Tony Cottee slid home a dramatic equaliser. But still the excitement was not over. In extra time, John Barnes put Liverpool back in front, but once more, Everton refused to lie down and Cottee netted again to complete the scoring. The fans were breathless, the commentators all but speechless, and Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish resigned the next day.

Another memorable occasion was in March 1984 when 100,000 Merseysiders crammed into Wembley Stadium for the League Cup final. In 90 years of derbies, it was the first time Everton and Liverpool had met in a major final. Although the game ended goalless, the chants of 'Merseyside, Merseyside' which greeted the final whistle were simply magical.

As Everton full-back John Bailey recalled:  "I wish we could have moved Wembley to Merseyside and had a bigger stadium.  We could have filled it with 200,000 people from the city." Indeed, that match signalled a golden era for Merseyside football, as the two teams dominated the English game until the 1990s.

Klopp and Martinez: the new breed Merseyside has boasted some of the country's top managerial talent; Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan were founding members of the famed Anfield 'Boot Room' and Rafael Benitez brought the club their fifth European Cup. At Goodison Park, Howard Kendall was fundamental to Everton's success in the 1980s.

Now, the two men in the dugout are two of some of the hottest young properties in football management. Roberto Martinez, fresh from winning the FA Cup with Wigan Athletic, took charge of the Toffees in the summer of 2013. His rival in the Reds' dugout is former Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp, who arrived with great optimism midway through the season aiming to bring Liverpool back in the title conversation in years to come.

"It is a massive game. First and foremost, it’s a glamorous fixture," the former Wigan boss said ahead of his first Merseyside clash. “It’s one of those games that is followed worldwide and the significance, the passion and the history is reflected in the game. All in all, it’s as big a game in football you can get."

A man who knows the city, and this particular match, inside out is recently-retired former Liverpool defender Jamie Caragher - who appeared in 30 Merseyside derbies during a 17-year Anfield career.

"There is no game like it," he said of the derby. "It's played at an incredible pace and everyone is desperate to win. A draw is a bit of an anti-climax for the fans - they are desperate to have the bragging rights in the pubs, offices and schools throughout the city. A derby win means so much. This city lives, eats, sleeps and drinks football - there's no place in the world quite like it."

And there is arguably no derby quite like it. The city last saw a league title paraded through its streets in 1990. With two fresh-faced managers hoping to return former glories to Merseyside with forward-thinking footballing philosophies, these fixtures over the next few years will surely have attractive football added to the frenetic pace, energy and passion that embodies a typical Merseyside derby.