Football's Greatest Rivalries: The Merseyside Derby

Is there any greater local rivalry in England than the Merseyside Derby? It is a debatable question and no doubt is one which would split opinion throughout the country. Manchester and North London would push this statement the distance - so why have we decided to write about Liverpool and Everton before any other domestic rivalry? Simple. No top-flight derby fixture has been played as many times and for as long as that on Merseyside. For many it is even dubbed the 'friendly' derby, a match which sees fans mingle together as well as family divisions. But what about on the pitch? There, is a different story - The Merseyside Derby on Sunday will be the 236th meeting between the sides and one which promises to once more produce a fixture like no other in British Football History. 

So where to begin? At the beginning. It was Everton who were first to be formed in 1878 as St Domingo's F.C. playing at Stanley Park before eventually moving to Anfield. Yes. Anfield. Liverpool as club were not to be formed until 1892. After the founding of the professional 'Football League' in 1888 - Everton were involved from the start - finishing 8th out of 12 in their first season - Anfield proving to be something of a fortress as they secured 16/22 points there. The following season they were serious challengers to the mighty invincibles - Preston North End, only losing out on a first domestic title by two points. One year later the places were reversed - Everton won their first league championship in 1891 and twelve months later, a certain Liverpool F.C were established.

Surprisingly it was from Everton that Liverpool were created. A issue over rent at Anfield meant the owner of the ground, John Houlding, created a new club to play at the stadium - Everton Athletic. However, a refusal of the F.A to recognise the team as another  'Everton' meant the club were renamed as 'Liverpool' - becoming officially recognised on the 3rd June 1892. The Sunderland Daily Echo reported on the "Everton Dispute" in April 1892,

"The prolonged dispute between the Everton Football Club, Liverpool, and Mr Houlding, owner of the club's ground, has been settled at a conference held at the Football Association, London, on Monday, between representatives of the club and of the opposition company. The Chancery action to determine the right to the stands is withdrawn, each side paying their own costs. The club receives £250 for the stands. The new company became affiliated to the association under the title of the Liverpool Football Club." [1]

Everton subsequently relocated the Goodison Park - just a short trip across Stanley Park. From this dispute a rivalry was born. Everton at the time were one of England's finest teams with Liverpool having to first win the Lancashire League and then the Second Division to reach the dizzying heights of the nation's elite - where Everton were waiting for them. The first result between the pair? 3-0 to Everton at Goodison Park in 1894. In fact it was not until 1897 that Liverpool first managed to beat their local rivals - 3-1. The red half of Merseyside were the next to celebrate a league title - in 1901 and then in 1906 as Liverpool cemented their place as one of the Football League's strongest teams. Everton had the upper hand in the Derby however, with a record of (L-D-E) 10-11-23  before the First World War halted the Football League (with Everton as champions).

Dixie Dean and Elisha Scott
Following the horrors of the First World War - a conflict which saw players of both sides go off to fight - the battle on the pitch could resume. The first derby after the War saw 30,000 people cram into Goodison Park to see the two sides. Football had become the sport of spectatorism becoming a cultural pastime in the process. Goodison Park in fact was also to play host to women's football in 1920 - seeing 53,000 people pack in to see the mighty Dick, Kerr Ladies. The 1920s saw both scouse sides once more return to the forefront of English Football - Liverpool won the title in 1922 and 1923 before Everton emerged victorious in 1928. The star man - Dixie Dean.

Dean fired in 60 goals as Everton won their third English title - with Dean in their XI the Toffees began to dominate the derby as well as the league. Liverpool only registered 2 wins between 1926-1933 with Dixie Dean managing to score 14 goals against the Reds in this period. Later in 1933 perhaps the most exciting meeting between the two took place as Liverpool ended their drought and won 7-4 at Anfield. Dean still managed a brace in this game - his exploits second to none in English football - in October 1932 the Edinburgh Evening News wrote of the derby,

Fast, exciting football thrilled 50,000 spectators Goodison Park, Everton were more accurate in their work, but Liverpool defended finely, and after having a goal disallowed, GUNSON gave them the lead in 22 minutes, following a mistake Williams. Everton's weakness was the entire lack of shooting power. Scott, clebrating his 400 th League appearance, had no direct shots to deal with. Liverpool appeared the more dangerous, SAGAR saving magnificently on three occasions. CRITCHLEY, however, gained a brilliant equaliser in 60 minutes, after which Everton dominated the play. DEAN scored twice within minute in brilliant combined football."[2]

With 50,000 people in attendance it is clear that the derby was more than just a football match - by 1938, the Everton Match Day Programme wrote that, "there is a continual 'bite' about matters and matches in which the two local clubs engage, but it is safe to declare that no 'Derby' games have equalled those between Everton and Liverpool for decency and interest and genuine sport in the last thirty odd years."[3] This 'decency' and sporting attitude is something which the Merseyside Derby has been proud to boast from its earliest of days to the present. As we will read later the rivalry between the two has often been put to one side as the city comes together like no other in the country.

Following the Second World War (1939-45) the derby entered into a period of uncertainty. Liverpool won the league title in 1946-47 before Everton were relegated in 1951 and stayed in the second division until 1954 - funnily enough the year they regained promotion, the red half of Merseyside saw their side relegated to division two. In fact, between 1951-62 there were no league derbies - only one FA Cup fixture in 1955 which Liverpool won 4-0 at Goodison Park. Liverpool were amongst the top flight once more in 1962 (where they have been ever since) with a new manager at the helm - Bill Shankly.

In 1950 - a queue up to two miles long was found as fans rushed to get tickets,

"A question is to be asked in Parliament next Thursday about the incident at Goodison Park, Liverpool, last Sunday, when a two-miles-long queue of people wanting tickets for today's F.A. Cup semi-final (Liverpool Everton) broke up, and many rushed towards the turnstiles."[4]

Despite the beginning of Shankly's reign seeing a mixture of results, the emergence of Liverpool under his leadership brought with it an eventual dominance in the derby. Since 1962 the derby record stands at (L-D-E) 55-45-27 - substantially in the Reds' favour. In 1966 when the two sides met in the Charity Shield at Goodison Park both teams paraded their respective trophies before World Cup winners Roger Hunt and Ray Wilson showed off the famous Jules Rimet trophy to the 63,329 spectators. The score? 1-0 to Liverpool - a victory to savour.

"How delightfully fortunate are we football fans of this city, three league titles and the cup twice all in the space of four seasons! That is not all, for what about the triumph of the World Cup? We hasten to congratulate our lads on their glorious success as today we pay a special tribute to our own Ray Wilson, and Liverpool's Roger Hunt and Ian Callaghan who played such important roles in once again making England the kingpins of the game."[5]

World Cup Winners
The 1970s truly were Liverpool's decade - alongside domestic achievement, by 1977 they were also the champions of Europe. The derby became a one-sided affair with Everton winning just three matches in this period compared with Liverpool's ten. The most notable games of the decade were the FA Cup semi-finals in 1971 & 1977 - both won by Liverpool only for the Reds to lose the resulting finals. The 1970s was a decade of great achievement for English football but it was the 1980s that was to be the decade of Merseyside. Liverpool can boast the title of England's most successful footballing city and it was the 1980s which helped cement this legacy.

''I played my first Merseyside Derby that November at Anfield. I still have a nice souvenir from that game on my shin, a scar from the five stitches I needed after Eamonn O'Keefe chopped me in a tackle. It was a sort of right of passage, your first Merseyside Derby. I had no idea how big it was or how much it meant to the city. Everywhere you went people wanted to talk about it. They left you in no doubt that you had to win it. You just could no escape the pressure or the excitement. Nothing prepared me for that."[6] 
Ronnie Whelan

Liverpool, Villa, Liverpool, Liverpool, Liverpool, Everton, Liverpool, Everton, Liverpool, Arsenal. The list of league winners from the decade sums it up. Merseyside was where football lived. Under Howard Kendall, Everton managed to upset the odds by winning a first league in fifteen years in 1985 - ending a run of three consecutive titles for Liverpool - the notable derby match being at Anfield where a certain Graeme Sharp goal stunned the Kop into silence.

1989 FA Cup Final
In the league the sides were never far apart and so it was in the cup also. In 1986 & 1989 the sides clashed in English football's showpiece event - The FA Cup Final. The first final was a rather one-sided affair with Liverpool running out 3-1 winners - Ian Rush scoring a brace. The win helped the Reds to secure a first league and cup double much to the dissatisfaction of their Merseyside rivals. The match has gone down in British football folklore due to the legions of fans which travelled down to London, often alongside each other. Everton's Kevin Sheedy recalled the atmosphere, "I remember on our way down to Wembley seeing cars with blue scarves hanging out of one window and red ones out of the other. There was a lot more friendly rivalry between the two teams and it was a 'friendly final', so to speak."[7]

If 1986 was to be remembered for fan unity then 1989 would take this to a whole new level. The disaster at Hillsborough during the semi-final shook the footballing world as 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives in a crush due to police incompetence. The media's quickfire, naive response to blame Reds' fans for the tragedy affected supporters from both sides leading to a boycott of The S*n newspaper which is still in effect today. The vast amount of families with both blue and red in them saw a city unite in the face of devastation - perhaps it was fitting that the 1989 final was once more a Merseyside affair. Liverpool won the match 3-2 (a.e.t) but it was a win which meant more than the 120 minutes. Such togetherness has been seen in recent years too - in August 2007, following the murder of Everton fan Rhys Jones - the famous "Theme From Z Cars" rang out around Anfield for the first time as a mark of respect - Once more a city united.

The Premier League era has seen the 'friendly derby' title come under real pressure - no fixture has seen as many red cards between 1992-2015 than Liverpool vs Everton - 20 to be precise. In the recent years the tie has seen a number of classics - notably the 3-2 red victory at Goodison Park in 2001 when Gary McAllister's 94th minute free-kick broke Evertonian hearts and helped Liverpool on their way to Champion's League qualification. Everton's 1-0 victory in 2004 saw the blue half of Merseyside on top of their rivals for the first time since 1987. Liverpool have generally dominated the fixture doing the 'double' five times since 2000 - even a treble in 2012 as the sides met once again at Wembley with the Reds winning 2-1 in front of 90,000 fans. Later that year, the opposing sets of fans came together to help the Hillsborough Charity single "He Aint Heavy; He's My Brother" reach Christmas number one in a display of unity rarely seen in football.

As common a site as any in modern clashes
The Merseyside Derby is a rivalry like no other - it is a fixture which has the power to split families, divide a city yet at the same time display the most awesome examples of unity and togetherness. Of course on the pitch it is a game which has offered a wealth of stories (and red cards) which has added to the prestige of the tie - but the adoption of the title The Friendly Derby could not be more accurate. How common is it to see sets of local rival fans sitting side by side? Not very. Does this mean the Merseyside derby loses any of its passion? Not a chance.  Sunday will be the 232nd meeting between the sides - the 232nd meeting of one of football's greatest rivalries.

By Ben Jones - TFHB (Follow me on Twitter @Benny_J or @TFHBs) 

[1] Sunderland Daily Echo - 27 April, 1892
[2] Edinburgh Evening News, Saturday 01 October 1932 ,
[3] Everton Match Day Programme, 'Everton vs Liverpool', 01 October 1938, (796 EFC/6/53/16)
[4] Gloucestershire Echo - Saturday 25 March 1950
[5] Everton Match Day Programme, 'Everton vs Liverpool', 13 August, 1966 (796 EFC/6/81/1)
[6] Ronnie Whelan, Walk On: My Life in Red, (London: Simon and Schuster, 2011)
[7] Kevin Sheedy, BBC Sport, 2009


Unknown said…
Hey Ben Jones

Thank you for the insightful article as football fan born in 1990 I was not really in the know when it comes to the history of the two rivalials and I always thought manchester united vs liverpool had more history

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