Mersey derby to feature some culture

Today’s Anfield derby kicks off at 12:45 for the benefit of pay-per-view television on Sky TV. One player itching to get back into derby action is Liverpool “new boy” Robbie Fowler. The striker, brought back to the club in Anfield, was an Everton fan as a boy but dislikes the bitter half of the city as much as any Red nowadays.

Jamie Carragher was also a blue during his very early days, but soon saw sense to become a Red, and eventually a Reds hero. Steven Gerrard, Liverpool captain, was always a Reds supporter, and he’ll be wearing the number “08” on his back today, along with Everton’s James Beattie, in a bit of publicity for the city of Liverpool’s successful bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2008. Call us biased, but we feel that the Red portion of the city is the most cultured. The blue side is there to make us realise how lucky we are.

Forget talk of a friendly derby. Everton fans and also former players and staff spend most of their time blaming Liverpool for anything that goes wrong for them. Liverpool and Everton fans do generally get on with each other, just as long as you don’t get the Evertonian started on anything to do with football.

Everton fans will have had some extra ribbing in recent days. So pleased are they with the fact that they managed to win some games after Christmas that they actually brought out a DVD of the return to form. Find it in your local video store in the same section as Everton’s “Great Escapes” DVD, not too far away from Liverpool’s various European Cup winning videos.

Everton’s return to form has been credited to the return of Alan Stubbs, the former captain they had let go in the summer over some clause to do with his new contract being void if he got a recurrence of his testicular cancer. David Moyes, Everton manager, said of the new-found form: “I don’t think it’s anything I’ve done, or anything we had or hadn’t done on the training ground. Since Christmas players like James Beattie, Mikel Arteta and James McFadden have had the most consistent form of their Everton careers. Alan Stubbs’ return has also steadied the ship.”

Moyes was linked with a move North East to take the Newcastle job earlier in the week, a rumour that horrified both teams. Everton wouldn’t want to lose him now (even though most were demanding his sacking as recently as December) and blamed the story on Liverpool trying to unsettle the blues. Newcastle quickly rubbished the story before any of their fans started to call for the heads of the board to be displayed on the Tyne Bridge. Liverpool fans mainly laughed.

Rafael Benitez is looking forward to the game today. He knows what it means to the fans and is hoping to win it for their sakes if nothing else: “I enjoy the derby and it is a fantastic and amazing occasion, and we want to win for our supporters. We know if we can win it will make the people happy and we have confidence and we are scoring goals. Everton are also playing well and it will be a tough game as they have a good manager in David Moyes who is doing a good job. We must work really hard and keep up the pressure on Manchester United and we need to win on our home ground.”

Liverpool have scored 15 goals in their last three games, Everton seven in their last two. All the signs of a goalless draw for today’s game then. Today’s referee is Phil Dowd, who sent Liverpool’s Momo Sissoko off at Sunderland earlier in the season.

As with any Merseyside derby, the cliche book comes out and the form book goes out of the window. Referees generally let things go that in other games they’d hand out punishments for. This can lead to more and more anger building up, and a referee to make a mistake or a misjudgement. A missed handball or a controversial red card can be talked about for years. Today’s result will have an impact on both Everton’s late rush for European qualification and Liverpool’s efforts to try and finish second, but the biggest impact is on bragging rights tonight in the pub, on Monday morning at work and for the rest of this season and into the next for whoever wins the game.

Derbies – love them and hate them.