It’s time for Liverpool and Everton to start their engines – let the CL race begin!

Football FanCast columnist and Everton fan Joe Jennings looks ahead to the most eagerly awaited Mersey derby in recent memory.


Though they might call it the "friendly derby" because of the intermingling of the fans in the stadia, there is no room for charm on the pitch as local pride takes centre stage. Quite simply, it's do or die for Everton.
 
If we harbour a Champions League dream, avoiding defeat is an imperative. We must have belief, not be mentally effected by entering the enemies' lair.
 
It's difficult to grasp the full reality of the Merseyside derby unless you are in Liverpool the week beforehand, the complete experience of it. Historically it's the "Friendly Derby" or some such rubbish, but the relationship between the fans, at least, hasn't lived up to that moniker in recent times. Liverpudlians are simply smug; Evertonians are the bitterest of bitters, allegedly.
 
The adrenalin, emotion and passion will be prominent from the off and undoubtedly the game will be high tempo affair for the first fifteen minutes. The city will be split down the middle. Is your family an uneasy mix of Liverpool and Everton this week? Are you and your best mates on opposite sides of the fence?
 
Admittedly in recent times there has been unparalleled unity between both sets of supporters, but not this weekend, victory means everything.
 
The Merseyside derby is always a football hotbed, with emotions running unbelievably high both in the stands and out on the turf, so it's up to the man in the middle to ensure things don't boil over with a commanding display. Howard Webb has a duty this weekend to fulfil, he cannot be affected by the passion and sheer desire of the players, he must remain level headed.
 
In Merseyside you are not dealing with an ordinary local sporting rivalry; you are dealing with a full spectrum of emotion, ranging from intense passion and, from time to time, blind hatred, to familial love, friendship and camaraderie passed down and built upon through the generations for over a century.
 
The two bands of supporters are as proud of how the combined achievements of the respective clubs have made Liverpool the most successful city in English football – despite the evident challenges that have weighed down the Merseyside area since the rapid decline of Britain's primary industries – as they are of the clubs' individual achievements at the expense of each other.
 
Liverpool legend Bill Shankly once stated that "Football is not a matter of life or death, its much more important than that". Everton and Liverpool is all about emotion and Shankly's famous quote demonstrates that for the fans in the city of Liverpool, football isn't just a passion or a weekend distraction; it is clearly a way of life.
 
Unlike Old Trafford's prawn sandwich brigade or the "johnny-come-lately's" of Stamford Bridge who rode in on the back of the Sky Sports backed Premier League revolution, for many it's all they have and all they live for. It's pathetic to the outsider but understandable to Liverpool residents.
 
The Merseyside Derby remains one of the most eagerly anticipated fixtures of the footballing calendar. Stanley Road is simply over run by hoards of red and blue jerseys making their way towards either their version of Heaven or Hell. Plenty belong to the same family, have been brought up together and spend lots of time together, happily existing, with no trouble whatsoever.
 
The day finally arrives. Families are at loggerheads, friends become enemies and for ninety minutes, all that matters, is that your team win (more so than ever this Sunday). Losing is unthinkable; the abuse that will follow on the resulting Monday is literally painful. The belief that football is a religion, a way of life, is evident more so in the City that is currently hosting 2008 Capital of Culture celebrations than anywhere else that I know of.
 
The Merseyside Derby has been and will remain to be one of the world's greatest meetings. As you wait for the players to emerge you relish the prospect of defeating the old enemy in the devil's lair of Anfield, a sensational feeling. Your blood tingles, imagination soars, the game finally begins. The roar of the crowd as the game commences is truly spectacular, the quest for bragging rights begin.