Everton’s show of Merseyside solidarity is good for the game
The billionaire ball is back. The Champions League cavalcade resumes tomorrow and will stretch from Madrid to Manchester, Milan to Montpellier. But football’s most enriching occasion of the week, spiritually rather than financially, will be staged tonight when Everton play Newcastle at Goodison Park.
The first major match played on Merseyside since the bitter truths of the Hillsborough cover-up became apparent will be a uniquely emotional reiteration of faith in the game’s finer qualities. Everton’s status as the ‘people’s club’ may be self-proclaimed, but it has never been more relevant.
In many ways, Newcastle are Everton’s perfect opposition. They, too, are a club rooted in their community and reflective of it. Their fans will travel in numbers, as always, and can be relied upon to understand the subtext of a game which will pay unashamed homage to the ordinary heroes of the city of Liverpool.
Everton’s solidarity with their neighbours across Stanley Park has been unforced and deeply impressive. David Moyes has spoken with quiet dignity of the need for red and blue to stand shoulder to shoulder. The sense of brotherhood has been striking.
A child wearing a Liverpool shirt will lead the teams out. Photographs of the Hillsborough victims will be run, in sequence, on giant screens. The mascots will wear Everton shirts with 96, in red, inscribed on the back. The symbolism of a city unified in enduring grief and understandable outrage will be inescapable.
Loyalties are regularly blurred. Jamie Carragher supported Everton as a boy. Leighton Baines’ father is a Liverpool supporter who was at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989. Though Merseyside derbies are not as friendly as folklore suggests, there are ties that bind.
Football needs a feelgood occasion. Expect passion, but a sense of perspective. Expect celebration and contemplation. The debate about the tribalism of the English game is for another day. This is a night to remember, a night to count your blessings. Enjoy and pray for justice.
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Watch Everton live on BT Vision:
Everton v Newcastle, 7pm, 17 September, Sky Sports 1
Swansea v Everton, 12.30pm, 22 September, Sky Sports 2
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