On this day in 1999, Liverpool Football Club lost a chaotic derby to Everton at Anfield. It was once known as the friendly derby. Games between Liverpool and Everton in the 1980s conjured memories of a city united by politics and sadly, by tragedy. And also of two teams who contested for the highest honors.
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Certainly, there were just two red cards shown in derby games in the 1980s, and even after the turn of the decade and a slide down the league table for both sides – it wouldn’t be until 1997 that either side chose up a red card during a derby game. But as a new millennium dawned, tensions rose amid the two sides. For recent Liverpool fans, the derby was always a successful, if nervous, event particularly at Anfield, where the Reds went over 21 years without seeing overthrow.
And when that unbeaten run was ended in February, it was done so in front of an empty stadium. It wasn’t always that way, Liverpool won just once in six attempts between 1995 and 2000 and it was Everton’s last triumph, a 1-0 victory on this day 22 years ago, that appeared to be the final straw for the Reds and their new manager, a disciplinarian Frenchman who was trying to return a winning culture to the club.
In a way we lost the plot, he’d explain in the aftermath of a defeat that saw Everton fans taunt their local rivals with chants of ‘going down and ‘can we play you every week? Houllier was right. And there was nowhere for Liverpool to hide. Kevin Campbell scored for the visitors in the fourth minute. Liverpool’s response? They huffed and puffed before losing their cool.
Two Liverpool players saw red during the 90 minutes, with a young Steven Gerrard getting his marching orders for a wild lunge on David Weir after Sander Westervelt had been sent off for fighting with Everton striker Francis Jeffers, who was also red-carded. Irish full-back Steve Staunton would be required to go in goal after Houllier had used all three substitutes as Liverpool chaotically ended the game. It was the least they deserved.
Earlier in the match, Michael Owen, then Houllier’s great hope, was lucky to stay on the field after his dangerous challenge on Weir. A challenge that resulted in fury from the visiting bench but only a yellow card from referee Mike Riley. For more to know about Liverpool Football Tickets.
“If you cannot keep your self-control then you cannot control a game,” was Houllier’s succinct assessment following the final whistle.
We did not play well tonight. Quite. Houllier had it all to do. The defeat was his team’s third at Anfield in that season alone and left their Champions League ambitions hanging by a thread just weeks into the season. But he would learn from the match and his Liverpool team would only see one red card in derbies until the end of his reign five years later. Trophies and a place at Europe’s top table soon followed.
And they wouldn’t lose another derby under the Frenchman, winning five of the next nine as the Reds embarked on an Anfield unbeaten run that would last for two decades. Liverpool and Everton meet again on November 30 in front of fans for the first time in almost two years. It won’t be friendly, in truth derbies never were. But it surely won’t come anywhere near as close to that chaotic September night in 1999.
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