Just before the start of yesterday’s Everton-Liverpool match, the television camera focused on two fairly young men sitting together — one wearing Liverpool red and the other wearing Everton’s royal blue jersey. The two resembled each other so much that they must have been brothers. Television commentator John Gregory, a veteran of many a Birmingham derby, observed that this is what makes the Liverpool derby so special — supporters of the opposing sides sometimes sit together, and members of the same family often support different sides.
It’s not that way in Glasgow, where one’s support for Celtic or Rangers depends basically on one’s religion. It’s not that way in Rome, where (as I understand it) one’s support for Roma or Lazio often depends on one’s politics. It’s not that way in most other cities with two or more clubs, where one’s support tends to be determined by where in the city one lives. The stadiums of Liverpool and Everton are just a short walk across Stanley Park from one another.
If my time in Liverpool is any indication, the division among Liverpool and Everton fans isn’t a matter of economic or social class either, notwithstanding Evertonian claims that we’re “the people’s club.” It’s not even necessarily a matter of which club your family members support, as the two brothers from yesterday showed. If you’ve never lived near Liverpool (especially if you’re from Devon or Norway), then, if you favor either team, you very likely favor Liverpool because they’ve been so much successful in modern times. But that’s the only rule I place much stock in.
So what does determine which Liverpool team a native supports? The answer I think is that one just is an Evertonian (or not), in the same way that in the Harry Potter books Hogwarts students just are Gryffindors, Slytherins, or whatever. There may not be an official sorting hat, but it’s still true that you don’t pick the team, the team picks you.