I once pulled my hamstring just while watching a Merseyside derby on the telly. That’s how tense I get while viewing this fixture. It is nothing less than physical and mental torture.
As a sporting occasion, they just aren’t great spectacles anymore. The best of the lot has to be that 4-4 FA Cup fifth-round draw. It was so intense that Kenny Dalglish quit as Liverpool boss the very next day. I am a big bag of nerves from the first whistle to the last, unable to put two comprehensible words together while glued to the box and come full time I am totally drained and need to be seated in a dark room for an hour to regain some composure and for the pain in my chest to go away.
A quiet place to reflect is required even if we have won — not that I remember what that feels like anymore as it’s been 10 years since my Toffees last tasted derby-day success. I was 31 then but the following 22 games where we have lost 11 — some of which in the cruelest manner imaginable (I still wake up in the middle of the night screaming “Tip it over, Pickford!”) and drawn 11 has me feeling like I am 91 now.
Things used to be very different. When Arteta put the gloss on our 2-0 triumph back in October 2010 that sent Liverpool — then under Roy Hodgson — to 19th in the table, I thought winning would become a regular affair. Or at the very least we would replicate our run in the 90s under Joe Royle where we were unbeaten in nine and actually looked forward to the game because our Dogs of War — Horne, Ebbrell and Parkinson — always giving us a fighting chance.
Instead, the stress of this ghastly run is showing; I’ve got wrinkles and a bald patch but surprisingly the 236th meeting between the two didn’t make either any worse because for the first time since I became a Blue Nose in 1984, the game was not played out to the backdrop of sound and fury.
This one was surreal. The two teams emerged from different parts of the ground. “Z Cars” and the blaring air raid siren were still in evidence but there was no roar from the crowd this time. Due to the coronavirus and social distancing protocols meaning only 300 people were allowed in to the grand old stadium (players, staff, match officials, TV crews etc — but no fans) it felt like a practice match.
Sadly, that is how football will have to be for now. The occasion lacked the noise and passion which is integral to this fixture but still, both sides flew into early tackles like they always do. Because Manchester City beat Arsenal, there wasn’t as much at stake as there could have been and in the end Liverpool stole a point to edge closer to the title which as we all know was won months before lockdown.
Still, I’ll take solace from the fact that we had the best chances (Calvert-Lewin, Davies and Richarlison almost broke that decade-long run) we kept our shape and we looked comfortable throughout. Once Ancelotti has put his stamp on the team and with the addition of some new signings, we will break this winless run. Hopefully, it’ll take years off me.