There is a term in mental health circles called catastrophising, the tendency by the anxious to sprint to the worst possible outcome, however improbable, and then mentally prepare accordingly. In reality, such outcomes are uncommon and so, part of the healing process is about realising this, releasing the brain from its state of near-permanent fight-or-flight by incorporating a sense of perspective.
But Derby Day might be one of the few examples, at least from an Evertonian’s point of view, when catastrophising appears to be a proportionate response. In fact, it’s fair to say that some of the recent defeats were beyond anything that even the most fevered of Evertonian brains could have dreamed up.
Take the ‘Origi’ Derby. Who could’ve predicted that? Injury time winners, of course. But bizarre, once in a lifetime ricochets off the bar? No chance.
And now there’s the possibility, thoughtfully arranged by the Premier League, that Liverpool could very well claim the title against us. It’s a horrific outcome that comes with the added bonus for the Shite of not having Evertonians on hand to ruin ‘the optics’ with a near constant chorus of abuse.
Were this to happen, us Blues could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that the worst has taken place, that we had essentially bottomed out when it comes to Derby day anguish. But it would be wrong to take solace from that. Such is the degree of bad joojoo that surrounds these fixtures nowadays, it would probably be naive to think there is ever a floor to our suffering. It is best to assume that the Derby can always invent new and unusual ways to torture us.
These fixtures often throw into sharper focus the question of how to deal with the neighbours. While Liverpool remain an ever-present problem, like a chronic health condition, the Derby inevitably acts like a flare up, a time when the condition hints at destructive potential.
The ways in which Blues deal with this are varied. Some try to blank them, the head in the sand approach. If you can’t see them, they aren’t real. Others go for the ‘tourist club’ slight-of-hand. The anti-People’s Club. If they lack authenticity, the gambit claims, then their dominance is diminished. And then there’s acting like you don’t really care, a sort of conscious uncoupling, an attempt to stop seeing them as different to any other club.
Does any of it really work? Not as much as you’d hope. You can never really suppress that sense of visceral loathing Liverpool conjure up, no matter how hard you try. They are the yin to our yang, an elemental part of what it means to be an Evertonian; an experience that is as much about dark as it is about light.
Liverpool have undeniably played a part in the formation of the modern Blue. On the pitch, even diminished for a generation, they are a reminder that Everton have fallen short, a propensity for self-immolation denying the club the opportunity to match even their more modest haul of trophies.
Off it, they represent a road not yet travelled, something to define ourselves against. Liverpool’s untethering from the local bonds that once held them, a cautionary tale of the perils that modern football’s love affair with the bottom line can bring.
And underwriting the whole relationship, simple hate. A pure and undiluted loathing that has become an indelible part of the Blue psyche. Loathing not of individuals, although that can sometimes be the case, but of the body, the great heaving Kopite mass.
It’s a hate that often sits uneasily within the anodyne landscape of the Premier League, the happy clapping, smiling faces that people its back-drop. As football morphs into an entertainment product, one there to be enjoyed not endured, the place for such deep-seated animosity is uncertain. While the Premier League and Sky will happily promote rivalries, you are meant to wear them lightly. A kind of ‘banter lolz’ sort of rivalry.
You’re not meant to scream ‘murderers’ at rival fans. You’re not meant to call them ‘scum’. You’re not meant to fucking hate them.
But why not? As long as it doesn’t revisit the bad old days of football’s violent past, there’s little wrong with loathing the neighbours. In an increasingly bland football world, it’s part of what makes the game interesting. It’s that deep-seated emotional pull that allows football to transcend other, more conventional ways to spend 90 minutes. A film or a play will never move you in the same way a match will. Football grabs you and conjures up extremes, light and dark.
And, despite what they and others say, our loathing functions independent of any sense of ‘bitterness’. That’s Liverpool’s very own sleight of hand, a neat trick to try and diminish us further. The truth is that Evertonians hated the neighbours long before Heysel. We loathed them when we were successful. We’ve loathed them for generations. And we always will. Everton could spend the next 20 years winning every trophy put before them and we as fans would still hate Liverpool. It’s in our DNA.
But that’s not to say that our relationship with them could not do with a shade more light. For a decade now it has been one-way traffic, an unremittingly grim succession of outcomes, defeat after defeat only further fuelling our animosity. It’s become bleak, turning the Derby into a fixture that is dreaded. More than any other time in the club’s history, Evertonians need something to cheer about in our dealings with the red half of the city (or wherever it is they actually come from).
When every season begins, we talk about this being the one when silverware is captured, ending that long drought. But victory over the Shite is almost as important. Supposedly, we now stand on the precipice of a new era for the club, one where the idea of finally crashing the elite is becoming more tangible. For this new era to begin to mean something, it’s about time we finally sent them packing, adding a little bit of smugness to all that hate.