NO PEACE FOR THE DERBY WICKED
Mickey Blue Eyes
"... ... ...
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
... ... ..."
W.B.YEATS (1865 - 1939). The Second Coming.
You won't like this if you are an incorrigible hater. It isn't the kind of opinion you want to read. Its subject is Evertonian attitudes and behaviour before, during and after the upcoming derby FA Cup semi-final against our age-old rivals. You pays your money, so take your choice and your responsibility. If things fall apart don't come crying or spitting excuses afterward. It will be too late.
Not an easy or popular subject, then. But let's try. It isn't necessary to get too precious or black-and-white. All you need is a sense of proportion and normal intelligence. And, most of all, a good sense of humour.
Firstly, let's forget anything the other fans might or might not do. Their problems and behaviour are no concern of ours. We are as responsible for our own behaviour as they are for theirs. There is nothing we can do about theirs, which can be just as bad and worse, but if we have a reasonable sense of decency we can and should do something about our own. The world will be watching: whatever happened in the past, let's leave it there and make this semi-final a good memory, let nobody say it was Evertonians who spoiled it. We want to feel natural supporters' pride at winning a football match, not shame because numbskulls got out of hand if we lose.
As recent release of secret 1980s government cabinet papers showed, our city has enough enemies without giving them ammunition too. Some of them can't wait to put the metaphorical boot in. You can guarantee there will be elements of mainstream media poised to do us damage if anyone is foolish enough to give them cause. Ask yourself, is that what you want?
We all know how these games once were.....full of feelings different to almost anywhere else. Not necessarily better, different. However, there is no need to sentimentalise our memories. The truth will do. We never had the sectarian religious and nationalist muck of Celtic-Rangers, none of the flat Lancastrian stuff of the Manchester derby, or the strange suburban tension of Arsenal-Tottenham. There really was a time when many Everton and Liverpool fans used to stand next to each other and wish with every fibre to beat the other, then go off home or to the pub and celebrate or take their medicine in the same company. Not all, of course. It was never as goody-goody as some sentimentalists would have it. There was too much competition for that, too much pride at stake, too much edginess. But it was different and we took a measure of pride in the fact. After all, we are each of us cut from the same cloth.
Now times have changed. What made these games different has almost evaporated. Now too often we have a kind of taut soap opera of jeering hate, a tenth-rate cheap spectacle where the only thing that matters between the fans is not the sting of spontaneous individual humour but a collective howling of poisonous and worthless insults. In the background idiot "social media" stokes the worst of everything. Too often the contemporary affect is how all this is carried over into conversation where previously the best dominant factor was give-and-take, the mark of a true scouser, and much envied elsewhere. We all knew instinctively where the line was drawn and few wanted to cross it. We didn't need written rules. We knew the nuances and cut-and-thrust. If anyone got too hot under the collar there was usually someone nearby who would pipe up, "Ah put the ball away will yer." Mostly that was enough.
Outsiders could scarcely grasp how two people could argue to the point of what looked like imminent blows - and then sit back laughing at themselves. It was spontaneous self-depreciation at its best. Some outsider ungifted stand-up comics even copied the gags we told about or against ourselves, though they had hardly any understanding of the essential irony. It wasn't that other areas were devoid of the trait, just that we had more of it, almost all of it nurtured in the raw environment of working class casual port employment and a heady mix of Celtic peoples and cultures. Gawd help any antiseptic middle class outsiders who wandered in and tried to take part; usually they ended up not understanding, reeling away with life-time scars and resentment. Which is why these days some strangers try to get the first verbal blow in even though it is a virtual certainty they will end up nursing a bruised ego. But, really, cultural incomprehension is mutual. It doesn't do to fall into the trap of exceptionalism.
In a few cases the derby situation is worsened by some non-Merseyside fans who think they have to prove their "loyalty." This might even be because the enemy has some fans in their same locale, but without Merseyside instincts. (Example: at the recent analfield derby disaster six Ulster Blues behind me tried to change the words of Grand Old Team - copied from Scotland anyway - to anti-Celtic, not anti-Rangers. All extremely tedious and needless.) Of course they too miss the point: vehemence is one dimensional. Reaction and counter-reaction become inevitable, until it becomes a vendetta in which everyone forgets the origins of the mayhem, which becomes an end in itself. Then it proves nothing but how stupid some people can be. Over the years there has been a gradual increase in the number of non-Merseyside fans due to cheaper and easier travel. Thus, a logical conclusion,.a downward spiral of behaviour that includes too many on both sides. How sad we came to this. What a horrible, horrible mess.
The worst development for Evertonians is the sick howling of, "Murderers!" and, amongst other things, the new, "Always the victim, it's never your fault!" None of it has anything to do with genuine football banter or humour, or even the sport itself. It is the impotent rage of fools who want only to inflict maximum vindictive damage. They relish their own hate more than any feeling for Everton or the simple game of football. There is no give-and-take and sport is of no consequence. What kind of legacy is that for our children, let alone Merseyside football?
At this time of the year we cannot and surely should not avoid mention of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. Some of us lost family or friends. The memory must never be allowed to fade because the victim families still seek justice from a cowardly British Establishment. The released cabinet papers I mentioned earlier show men and women of power unwilling to accept their democratic responsibilities, so is it any wonder they displayed the same characteristics over the Hillsborough disaster and then attempted to cover it up by blaming the victims? And let this not be forgotten: some of those lost weren't Merseysiders. In fact Hillsborough was a national disaster that affected the whole nation. It should be respected accordingly. Chauvinism shouldn't enter into it, anymore than it should for the equal horror of Heysel. Why should we allow football to become a mere vehicle for mindless hate? Why should we lose sight of our common sense and common humanity? Why let crackpots win, as they once almost did in the 1980s?
So what is to be done?
Well, there are no easy answers. However, as Nelson Mandela said in a much, much worse set of circumstances, "If people can be taught to hate they can be taught to love." Okay, perhaps "love" is too much to expect at short notice, but is there any authentic reason why we should accept less than reasonable decency?
At this point I think we can only start with individual behaviour. If some people kick off with sick garbage, ignore them, just don't join in, let them wither on their own. If asked, tell them what you think - you might be surprised how vacuous, empty headed and cowardly they can be. Most of them can only act in crowds anyway. You can take as your example how the club defeated minority organised BNP racism in the early years of the millennium. Thus, the task is far from impossible.
I wanted to gauge opinion before I wrote this so I chatted with some friends on both sides. There was an even division. Some thought it worth the effort, some thought it a waste of time. One line was, "Wait and see what happens if we go a goal down," which seems to me to be the real litmus test. If all we get is a stream of abuse then that will tell us a great deal of where the match is going and what the future is likely to be. Me, I hope the only thing we hear is encouragement. For who knows when we will get another opportunity in a Cup semi-final?
Remember, the whole world will be watching. It's up to us what memory they too are left with.