The Merseyside derby is special.
It is a game between two rivals who are separated by just a park. It is a game between two rivals who split a city 50/50. And it is a rivalry which pits family members against each other for 90 minutes.
But when it’s under the lights at Anfield, on a Friday night, in the FA Cup third round, it just seems that little bit more special.
This might be a rivalry that often seems reasonably one-sided to onlookers who don’t know their history. Liverpool’s dominance over English football in the late 1970s and early 1980s saw them pushed all the way by Everton, who won two league titles in that period.
In the FA Cup, too, Everton have a big history. They last won the competition in 1995, but they, too, are a decorated club in the competition. Indeed, only Manchester United and Arsenal have won more FA Cup silverware than either Liverpool or Everton.
As a result, the history of the Merseyside derby in the FA Cup is a close one. And it is a grand one: twice have these sides contested a final, though both were won by Liverpool.
The Reds shade the history of the overall meetings in the cup, too, winning 10 times to the Toffees’ seven. And at Anfield, Everton have never won an FA Cup tie. How Sam Allardyce’s men would love to change that this evening.
An honorable mention must be given to the last time these two teams met in an FA Cup tie – a closely-fought semi-final in 2012 when Liverpool came out on top thanks to a late winner from Andy Carroll. But the unforgettable match in the FA Cup history of the Merseyside derby has a clear winner: the 1989 FA Cup final.
This wasn’t just any final, nor was it just any game of football. Indeed, it wasn’t just a game at all.
Five weeks after the outrage of the Hillsborough disaster, both clubs from the city came together at Wembley to contest an FA Cup final which was really a tribute to those who had lost their lives.
A slow-burner of a game saw Liverpool take the lead only for Everton to equalise through substitute Stuart McCall with just a minute to play, sending the game into extra-time. It was there that the game burst into life. Liverpool’s own substitute, Ian Rush put the Reds ahead again minutes after the restart before McCall levelled a second time, becoming the first man in FA Cup final history to score two goals as a replacement.
But the scoring wasn’t done: just minutes after McCall’s feat Rush matched it with his second goal of the game and Liverpool’s third. That’s how it stayed, and the trophy went back to Anfield.
Gary Ablett is one of the rare players to have played for both Liverpool and Everton. And that he was well-liked and highly-regarded by both sets of fans speaks highly enough. But Ablett’s feat isn’t just rare – it’s unique: not only is he the only man to have won the FA Cup with both Liverpool and Everton, but he started in Wembley finals for both sides.
In 1989, Ablett lined up in that Liverpool defence which beat the Toffees in the Unforgettable Match above. But after being allowed to leave Anfield by Graeme Souness in 1992, he moved to Everton where he started as left-back for Joe Royle’s side who beat Manchester United to win the competition in 1995. It remains the last piece of major silverware that the Goodison Park faithful have had the pleasure of witnessing.
On New Year’s Day in 2012, Ablett lost his 16-month battle with cancer. His funeral, later that month, was attended by representatives from both clubs as well as former teammates.
Not only is he a unique footballer who won silverware at both clubs, but few men can dream of moving directly between two such close rivals, winning and keeping the respect of both sides along the way.