By Simon Meakin
OK. So at the start of an insanely busy and hugely crucial month it’s that lot from down the road up next. Despite Alisson clearly getting a bit bored and deciding to liven things up by channelling his inner Grobbelaar, we start December maintaining our eight point lead at the top but more crucially are now 11 whole points ahead of Man City (and 14 clear of an increasingly irrelevant Chelsea). Leicester may now be our nearest rivals but it’s still City I’m most wary of. I simply don’t trust the blighters not to suddenly perform some sort of witchcraft or hocus-pocus like deciding to reel off 20 wins on the bounce. Can’t take your eyes off them for a second, I tell you.
If we can make it past the Sheff Utd game at the end of the Christmas and New Year period with our lead more or less maintained, and hopefully having (finally) won the World Club Championship, got through to the knock-out stages of the Champions League and our kids having got us through to the semis in the League Cup then I’ll be a very happy man (I don’t subscribe to this trying to get knocked out of cup competitions early to concentrate on the League – I want to win everything! In particular it would seem a waste of the lunatic win over Arsenal if we went out with a whimper).
And so we’re in rude health as we face our blue-hued friends (I suspect I mean friends here in the same way that Boris Johnson constantly refers to “our European Friends” every time he talks about Brexit). Although I have made them sound more like the Smurfs. Proper or Barron Knights version (“Where are you all coming from? We’re from Dartmoor on the run!) available.
It’s still not clear by the time we get to Wednesday whether Marco Silva will still even be in charge as Everton are clearly not in rude health (lots of rude words raining down from the Gwaldys Street yes, I’ll grant you that). This is despite allegedly winning the last couple of transfer windows. I hadn’t previously been aware this was a thing and I’m not sure whether it means they get awarded an actual window to go into their ever bulging trophy cabinet, along with the arched window from Playschool and some of those ones Ted Moult used to flog possibly?
Or, maybe their trophy cabinet is just made out of windows? All the better to see their massive haul of big shiny cups. They’ll be searching for their first win at Anfield since approximately 1276 when Oleg the Serf, returning after six weeks out with bubonic plague, scored a controversial winner which was allowed to stand after Martin Atkinson’s VAR review took two hours, mainly because he had to catch and slaughter his own chicken in order to read it’s entrails.
I have to admit at this point that I had a narrow escape from being a poor benighted Everton fan myself, given that my Mum came from a long line of Blues (despite having been born in Anfield). Luckily she was never really interested in football (as far as I can work out she has only ever been to one match, the main highlight of which was “Rowdy” Yates attempting to throttle a Fulham player.
She still gets affronted when I tell her that Everton are not my second club (or third club really – she does accept the Hereford supporting bit) as she seems to work on the principle that how much you support a club should be in direct proportion to how close the ground is to where you were born. I’ve decided to go with this and adopt an irrational hatred of Robbie Fowler’s Brisbane Roar on the basis that Brisbane is a “good hike” from Fazakerley Hospital.
My Mum also claims that my Dad’s family must have been the Black (Red?) Sheep of the Scotland Road catholic community, given she swears blind that Everton were the catholic club, but I’ve met many people who seem to think it was the other way round. I’m beginning to suspect that there was no actual religious split at all. Liverpool were famously formed by a breakaway group from the Everton club (after an argument about whether it was better to win the Champions League on a regular basis vs winning the transfer window and sacking your manager every October) so I’m kind of guessing they probably all went to the same church anyway. But I’m sure someone with far more knowledge of the history of both clubs can put me right on this.
Highlights against Everton? Too many to choose from, from Rushy’s four goals to Origi’s comical winner last season. But one of my favourites has to be Gary McAllister’s 40 yard last minute winner in 2001 which was crucial in sparking off the late surge to snatch our first ever qualification for the Champions League (although I’m told we might have previously done alright in the same competition in a previous guise).
It’s interesting to speculate what would have happened to Gary’s old club had he not scored that goal as it effectively condemned Leeds to their near-death spiral given it turned out “Publicity” Pete Risdale had mortgaged the house, including posh goldfish and Seth Johnson, on Champions League qualification. We probably wouldn’t have got Harry Kewell for a start and then where on earth would we be?
Another favourite memory dates from the last Merseyside derby with standing on the Kop, when leaping forward to celebrate coming from behind to lead 2-1 courtesy of Brisbane Roar’s (Booo!) Robbie Fowler, the entire Kop seemed to part in front of me and I went hurtling about 20 rows forward before actually finding some supporters to crash into. It took me most of half time to actually battle back up to my mates. And looking at the fixtures that season I think that must have been the last ever goal I celebrated on that old Kop. Don’t think I made it to another game until the last day against Norwich when we failed to score at all. The last goal that standing Kop ever did celebrate turns out to have been by Julian Dicks of all people. Penalty against Ipswich. Now there’s a quiz question you never knew the answer to.
I do have to admit that this game doesn’t quite carry the same weight it did when I was living in Liverpool and surrounded by Everton fans at work (along with a Stoke fan who pooh-poohed the idea of it being a proper derby at all on the basis that the players never got hit in the face by pasties hurled from the crowd – apparently par for the course in the world famous Potteries derby – I do wonder if in the big Truro-Falmouth Cornish derby they throw Wedgwood China at the players instead?).
But we still need to win it of course. I’ve given up trying to predict clean sheets at Anfield so I’m going to go for a 2-1 win because that’s what we win all our games by these days. Let’s say Firmino and Wijnaldum. Late scrappy consolation from Richarlison. Everton manager sacked again (Where is Marco Silva coming from? He’s from Goodison on the run!).