I met Kenny Dalglish at the Pride Of Britain awards last autumn and it was wonderful to meet such a hero. And I don’t label him that simply because of his on-field exploits; you have to understand that this man was a Celtic player when 66 fans died in the Ibrox stadium disaster, he was made boss of Liverpool in the wake of the Heysel tragedy and also managed the club during the Hillsborough disaster — for which he attended every funeral he could afterwards, at a rate of five a day at one point. So he knows how a city can be brought together by football, and it was terrific that his recent return to Anfield as manager was for a derby.
It truly is the ‘friendly derby’ because of the relationship between the two clubs. There’s a great passion and intensity to the rivalry that’s usually shown in good spirit — bar a few mindless idiots who are up for a fight. That’s because it’s always kept within the family, a household rivalry. I’m just lucky that my elder brother who got me into football was a Liverpool fan.
This wasn’t the case at school though, where a derby would split desks right down the middle. Even the secondary school which I attended with Bill Kenwright was just the same. Bill, who’s now chairman of Everton [and a theatre producer], was serious about football then and he’s the same today — he would probably surrender all his theatrical assets if it meant Everton would win the league.
The chants are always spontaneous and come thick and fast during a derby game. In a way, it is the players who sometimes tend to take the passion too far, like when Robbie Fowler celebrated a goal by sniffing the touchline in a game against Everton in 1999, a black mark on what was a great 3-2 victory [above]. It was a total misjudgment that left both Liverpool and Everton fans cold, especially when he of all people should have known what the game means to the city.
Fans always wonder if the foreign players in the Premier League quite ‘get’ derbies in the same way as the local lads. The spine of the team needs to be homegrown, the Carraghers, the Gerrards, that’s what the fans expect, so Dalglish got off to a great start by playing local boys Martin Kelly and Jay Spearing in the recent 2-2 draw with Everton.
When I was presenting the news, I would deliberately change my tone of voice to hint which way a derby game had gone if we reported it. Or else I’d have a big smile on my face and those who knew me then needed no clues to know which team had won.
(Image: Rex Features)