So, here we are. It's nearly upon us, and guess what? We can beat them, we should beat them, and we have every reason to believe we will beat them.
I'll level with you here - I hate the redshite. I have what I like to call a "healthy hatred" for them. There's nothing wrong with hating them, its part of being an Evertonian, as long as we know where to draw the line (see Mickey Blue Eyes' recent article "No Peace for the Derby Wicked"). Hatred isn't a particularly nice thing, but it's a fact of life, and one of the great things about football is it can be an outlet for the kind of unsavoury emotions that can otherwise land us in trouble in everyday life. Some of my closest friends are kopites, and obviously I don't hate them, but on the whole - the club, the manager, the players and the fans... yeah, I just don't like them. All over the world, football fans detest their local rivals, and where there aren't really any local rivals an informal agreement is made with some club forty miles down the motorway to constantly exchange hatred. Its clearly part of being a football fan. We've been born as Evertonians, so naturally most of us hate Liverpool, and want to win that semi final for reasons other than the ticket to the final that would provide.
The lead up to next Saturday's game has been a mixture of nervousness and excitement for most of us. First there was the delight at beating Sunderland, a result which I'll admit surprised me a little. But what a performance that was - we continued what we had started at Swansea and simply outplayed the opposition. And as soon as the final whistle was blown in that game, of course attention turned to our pending semi final against you know who. Initially I had two thoughts - "Shit, what if they beat us?" and "Shit, what if we win?", in that order. I'm not really bothering to entertain the first of those thoughts anymore. We're bang on form, and they're not. Regardless of what happens over the Easter weekend we should be approaching next Saturday full of confidence, both players and fans.
Confidence is a remarkable thing. Everton, more than most teams it seems, are "a confidence team". Our players clearly have ability - they've proved that over and over this season, at least since the new year. However when we don't perform I often get the feeling that the players' heads have gone down. They've stopped believing in themselves, and even from up in the stands you can tell that. Low on confidence, players will opt to play the easiest pass available, the pass that they are least likely to make a mess of. They'll jog rather than sprint. Their body language says they've had enough of this game. The pressure has got to them, and they want to go home. But recently when we have had confidence, we have played with a brilliant swagger. When confident, the players try things, and if they don't come off they shrug their shoulders and move on. And when things do come off, that's when we create chances and score goals.
Take Leon Osman's deflected strike against West Brom last week. On the back of two great victories, and with the whole stadium already buzzing at the prospect of a trip to Wembley, Ossie opted to have a dig with his weaker foot from a good 25 yards out. I'm convinced that had this been some other game at Goodison, when confidence was not so high and the crowd impatient, there is no way he would have struck it from there, and so we wouldn't have scored. Now obviously its not always the right thing to do to shoot from distance, but the point is that when we're confident, things happen. Add to this the fact that Everton are a team as lifted by the fans' support as any other, and we should have no doubt that we have to make all the noise at Wembley. Sing your heart out, and if you're not the singing type then shout - let's make as much noise as we can and turn Wembley into a bear pit.
Of course, there's only so much we can do as fans. Ultimately it will be up to the players to perform to see us through. So they need to approach the game with belief and fearlessness. So many times I have seen us (and other teams) "roll over and die" against the redshite. It's like giving them a head start, and this time more than ever it would be completely irrational, as they have been more dire than ever this year. The 2012 form table has them in the relegation zone, and the league doesn't lie, as they say. Our recent run of form should reassure our players that we really are every bit as good as they are, and right now we are in fact far better.
Here's to winning that semi final in style, a brilliant weekend or day trip for every travelling Evertonian, and fans from both sides getting home safely.
Can't wait. Monsieur Bleu