I’m writing this article because I can’t sleep.
Why can’t I sleep? Because tomorrow is THE day. Ever since Everton secured their place in the FA Cup Semi-Final with victory over Sunderland, this weekend has been etched on the mind of every football fan from Merseyside and beyond.
And it’s almost here. Almost.
I can’t wait but I can….if you know what I mean?
You see it’s not just a Semi-Final tomorrow; it’s a Semi-Final against them. Our rivals we affectionately refer to as “the redshite”. It is as terrifying as it is exciting.
Win and the euphoria will be immense. Lose? Well it doesn’t bear thinking about.
But there is an issue tomorrow, away from the match itself.
The last time both sets of fans converged on the capital for an FA Cup match, the wounds of the Hillsborough tragedy were still gaping and whilst the rivalry remained, the solidarity in the face of adversity made for an altogether different atmosphere.
If you believe it will be like that tomorrow, you’re deluded.
The Merseyside derby was often referred to as “The Friendly Derby” and it wasn’t difficult to see why. Without a religious or geographical split between the clubs, circles of friends and indeed families could contain supporters from both sides.
The old image of rival friends travelling to the game together and then sitting side by side wasn’t a false one.
Take my family. My Granddad was a blue. My Dad’s a blue. My Dad’s younger brother is a blue. My Dad’s eldest Brother is a red.
I remember holidaying many years ago with friends who were both blue and red. A Sunderland fan in the bar was perplexed by this and couldn’t get his head around it. To him, going on holiday with a Newcastle fan was unthinkable. It was like taking your ex-girlfriend on your honeymoon.
It was the first time I understood that the relationship between the fans was perhaps different to other local rivalries.
So why the change?
Why has terrace banter been replaced by vitriol and abuse?
Why is it felt fair game to question the parentage of Steven Gerrard’s children, or previously the appearance of Joleon Lescott? Neither chant is particularly amusing or witty. Both would result in a good hiding if you levelled them at the man on the street so why do an ever growing minority think it’s ok? What are they hoping to achieve? What’s the aim? If it’s to distract players from the job at hand, Gerrards recent hat-trick would indicate that it’s not working.
From both sides of the park, rivalry is turning to hatred. It’s not there yet but it is getting there.
In my opinion, you need look no further than the trophy cabinet of both clubs.
You see both clubs are massive football clubs with a rich heritage of success. That’s not Merseyside bias, it’s fact. But unfortunately, more and more, it’s becoming a history and not a future.
It’s been a long time since either club has enjoyed a league title and if we’re all being honest, it’s not likely to happen again any time soon.
Liverpool may believe they will mount a challenge but the reality is they are nowhere near. As for Everton, without major investment, mid-table mediocrity and a decent cup run may be the best that we can hope for, for the foreseeable future.
And that brings frustration. The jump from frustration to anger is a short one.
It’s easy to smile when all in the garden is rosy. Less so easy in troubled times.
There is a whole generation of match-going fans who have never seen their club win the title. They hear the stories of yesteryear but are yet to experience it themselves. There is another generation who fear they may never see a return to the halcyon days of their youth.
Neither club is where their fans perceive they should be and that hurts. It hurts a lot.
Football fans around the world will be watching on Saturday. Despite the Football Associations best efforts to devalue their own cup competition, FA Cup Semi-Final weekend is still special.
A minutes silence will be held before the game in remembrance of those lost at Hillsborough and I’ve no reason to believe it will be anything other than impeccably observed.
Both set’s of fans then have a duty to their club and to their city to make them proud.
You don’t have to love thy neighbour. You don’t even have to like them. I certainly don’t. But don’t let your own football club down. Don’t betray the rich history and tradition of your club. In many ways, it’s all we’ve got.
The Hillsborough tragedy has been in the spotlight over the last year or so with the continued fight for justice and then agreement for release of government papers but it never ceases to amaze me the lack of understanding of the subject.
I wrote an article recently and found the response interesting. Plenty of people enjoyed the piece but plenty perpetuated the myth that the fans were as much to blame as anyone else.
You then have the recent furore surrounding Alan Davies’ comments on Liverpool’s refusal to play on the 15th April 2012.
Personally, I can’t think of a better tribute to those who were lost than to play an FA Cup Semi-Final at Wembley against your closest rivals. But then I didn’t suffer a personal loss that day, so what do I know? Who am I to tell people how to grieve and remember their loved ones?
All Alan Davies gave was his opinion. He’s entitled to it. But his initial inability to understand why stating that particular “shit” get’s on his tits was offensive and crass, shows the misconceptions that still exist in relation to Hillsborough.
He won’t be a lone in his opinion. Many, given the opportunity, would have reiterated his comments in harsher terms. Many still believe the lies printed all those years ago.
Many can’t understand why the fight for justice goes on.
Misbehaviour by anyone on Saturday will merely compound those views.
We don’t need to lose the fierce rivalry we just need to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.
Here’s to a safe journey to the capital and back. Here’s to a great game of football. Here’s to a trouble free match, inside and outside of the ground. We’ve got a great opportunity to show the rest how it’s done, let’s not waste it.
And of course, last but not least, here’s to an Everton victory.
You can only hope on all fronts!
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