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.
Horrors like the ‘Origi’ Derby, the ‘Curtis Jones’ cup tie, the Silva 5-2 clusterfuck, the Martinez 4-0 shellacking part one, the Martinez 4-0 shellacking part two.
Such is the degree of bad joojoo that surrounds the Merseyside Derby nowadays, particularly at Anfield, 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.
The arrival of these fixtures often throws 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 work? Not really. You can never completely 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 before Klopp rolled into town, they stood as a reminder of how much Everton had fallen short, a propensity for self-immolation denying the club the opportunity to match even their more modest haul of trophies in the pre-Teutonic age.
Off it, they represent a road not yet travelled, something to perhaps define ourselves against. Liverpool’s untethering from the local bonds that once held them so tight, stands as a cautionary tale perhaps of the perils that modern football’s love affair with the bottom line can potentially 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 alone, one to be enjoyed and never 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.
In short, 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 alliterative 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 the club 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 pretty much one-way traffic, the complete absence of victory 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.
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.