Dickie Felton

I write about music and football

Thatcher ruled the country, the Bee Gees topped the charts, Britain was devastated by a once in a 300-year-storm.

And I sped from school one late October Wednesday ecstatically eager for my first ever Merseyside derby.

I sunk a slag heap of scouse as the kitchen wireless bellowed Crazy Crazy Nights by American rock band Kiss.

Me and my ma grabbed our coats and bound into the darkness for a Littlewoods Cup 3rd round tie: Liverpool v Everton at Anfield.

Back then, the League Cup - to give it is rightful title - felt every bit as important as any other trophy up for grabs.

Liverpool had won it four times in the previous seven years.

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In 1981 and 1984 the League Cup sat alongside the European Cup in the trophy cabinet. The attitude back then was ‘you only enter four competitions each season, you may as well try and win them’.

I guess there was an extra weight to the competition post-Heysel. With English clubs banned from Europe the big clubs entered the domestic cups with eyes on winning them - there was no using the occasion to road-test youth or flex fringe players.

Prior to Wednesday 28 October 1987 I had never seen Liverpool lose.

Admittedly, I’d only been to a dozen or so games prior to this point. But any notions of ever witnessing a Liverpool defeat seemed ridiculous. Especially when they were at home. 

Going into the tie Liverpool were top of the league having won eight out of nine. The football played by Kenny Dalglish’s men had been sensational. Colin Harvey’s Blues were reigning league champions but went into the match underdogs.

I was 14. This was my first year as a season ticket holder.

With Ian Rush departed to Juventus the Reds’ thrilling new forward line consisted of John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and John Aldridge. And they’d started the season on fire.

There was also fireworks in the air walking past Stanley Park and up Anfield Road.

With Bonfire Night a week off the night sky was punctured by rockets, screamers and bangs adding an air of menace.  

For the game we’d moved from our usual Anfield Road seats because the entire end had been allocated to Everton.

Demand for tickets had been crazy in the weeks beforehand.

There were to be just shy of 45000 at Anfield and a further 30000 at Goodison watching on a big screen.

TV cameras were at Anfield but only to catch the highlights.

Fans were desperate to see this epic duel in the flesh. 

We sat in the Paddock, row G, seats 11 and 12, giving us a tremendous view of the swaying, singing Kop

In the 80s it was usual for a large bank of Evertonians to be in the Kop among the Liverpool fans.

They would always go in the same spec - halfway up - Main Stand side.

There must have been 2000+ of them in there that night. 

The 1980s has a bad reputation for violence, but the insurgence of Evertonians onto the Kop was largely accepted on Derby Day.

Likewise, in subsequent years I’d often find myself stood on the Gwladys Street for the Goodison derby.

I remember some coin throwing and a nasty incident where a Liverpool scarf was set alight - but mostly it was safe to stand in your neighbours backyard without too much threat to personal wellbeing. 

For the Littlewoods Cup tie there was the remarkable spectacle of Everton noise from the Kop, drowned out by the Liverpool fans, supplemented by the chanting from 5000 or so Evertonians down the other end. 

There were pockets of Blues all over the ground from the Kemlyn to the Main Stand.

It felt like an invasion of sorts.

And made for an absolutely raucous and relentless wall of noise throughout the 90 minutes. 

John Barnes was my new hero.

The left winger signed from Watford that summer, was the most daring, dashing, super-skilful player I’d ever live to see.

A few years earlier he’d waltzed past, what seemed like the entire Brazil team, to score for England at the Maracanä. 

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The weekend before the Everton game Barnes scored two sensational goals against QPR.

One was a mesmerising 50-yard run and finish. Poetry in motion indeed and probably the greatest goal I’ve ever seen at Anfield. 

Barnes was also the only black player on the field.

And in his early days in a red shirt he was subjected to racist abuse from opposing fans. 

As team teams warmed up I flicked through the programme. There was a message from the competition sponsors: 

“The Littlewoods Challenge Cup is not just a challenge to the teams competing for this magnificent trophy but is a challenge to us all. That challenge is to restore football to its rightful place in British society as the traditional family game”.

There was no happy families come kick-off.

It was an intense, oppressive atmosphere.

A wall of noise and not a moment to draw breath.

Welcome to neighbours at war, welcome to the Merseyside Derby. 

The frenzy got to the men in red and blue.

Mark Lawrenson made a hopeless pass direct to Graeme Sharp who was so surprised to find himself bearing in on goal be missed. 

Meanwhile in the second half a horror back pass from John Barnes let in Sharp again.

Inexplicably, the Scot put it wide in front of the Kop. Probably the miss of his career.

John Barnes was subject to boos and the odd banana thrown in his direction by the away fans.

He found himself close to the Evertonians in the second half when he took corners at the Anfield Road end. 

Their chant was impossible to miss: “Everton Are White, Everton Are White, Hello-Hello, Everton Are White”.

Barnes just ignored the abuse and got on with the match.

There was no supportive colleagues making a stand, and leading the teams off in protest. 

In the closing minutes I was parallel to Everton’s Gary Stevens as he hit a hopeful left foot shot which somehow found the corner of Liverpool’s net. 

It was the first time I’d been subjected to a Liverpool defeat.

And the first time I’d ever witnessed such overt racism.

 

 

 

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