The summer of statues took another depressing turn outside Goodison Park. Pictures on social media showed a red flare burning on the effigy of William Ralph Dean. The act of vandalism and disrespect towards the Everton icon is another dispiriting low in the deteriorating relationship between supporters of Merseyside’s two Premier League clubs.
Interaction between Everton and Liverpool was never quite as cordial as the phrase “the friendly derby” suggests. Families are often split in their alliances but there have always been elements in both fanbases who hated their rivals. A small proportion of Kopites refuse to set foot in Goodison and vice versa. Almost everyone in the city can recount a tale about someone who has never worn blue jeans because of the colour. Just last week an Evertonian told me a story about his father, a man who would not have tomato ketchup in the house. There are many variations on the theme.
Traditionally these were amusing aberrations that did not reflect the wider attitudes of fans. The big cup finals of the 1980s were as much celebrations of the city as football matches. In the years before seating was introduced in stadiums, thousands of Evertonians stood on the Kop at derbies and the Gwladys Street End had pockets of red dotted across the terrace. In some cities this would have led to serious disorder. Not in Liverpool.
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It is understandable that Everton’s lack of success in the past 25 years might have caused some hearts to harden towards their more successful neighbours. A small but unpleasant minority have come to blame the Heysel Stadium disaster – where 39 mainly Italian supporters died as a result of disorder by Liverpool fans at the 1985 European Cup final against Juventus – for their club falling on hard times. Everton were punished unfairly by the subsequent ban on English clubs competing in Europe but to attribute their decline to the tragedy does not make sense.
Everton, for numerous reasons, have become the second club in the city in recent years. It makes sense that some of their fans might feel resentful. What is less explicable is that Liverpool supporters have become more unpleasant and provocative at a time when they should be enjoying the glory rather than baiting Evertonians.
A certain amount of gloating is acceptable – enjoying your rivals’ misery is part of the football experience. In the past few weeks Liverpool supporters have seriously overstepped the mark. It is not only Everton supporters who were aghast that fans flocked to Anfield despite the pandemic in the hours after the title was secured. Events the following night, when thousands gathered on the waterfront and a flare was fired into the Liver Building, felt like a more direct insult. The globally recognised property is owned by Farhad Moshiri, Everton’s majority shareholder, and contains club offices. The latest outrage is an act of sheer malice.
Dean was not just a Goodison hero but a huge figure on Merseyside. He was born in Birkenhead and played for Tranmere Rovers before moving to Everton. His 60 league goals in the 1927-28 is a record that is unlikely to be beaten. A change in the offside laws led to a glut of scoring during the campaign but even in this context Dean’s feat was remarkable.
He was the epitome of a local hero and, like Bill Shankly, drew admirers across the divide. Dean transcended factionalism and when he died during the 1980 derby at Goodison Park, there was widespread sadness and dismay. Earlier that day Shankly, his great friend, had paid tribute to the Everton legend during lunch at a city centre hotel. “Dixie was the greatest centre forward there will ever be,” the Scot said. “He belongs in the company of the supremely great, like Beethoven, Shakespeare and Rembrandt.”
The people who placed the flare on Dean’s image undoubtedly idolise Shankly, which makes the behaviour even more unfathomable.
Statues have become an issue because of the Black Lives Matter campaign and the connections with slavery and racism to many of the figures on plinths. Dean, too, was on the receiving end of bigoted attitudes.
His nickname was ‘Dixie,’ a term used to describe the group of slave-owning states in the American south. It is thought to have been bestowed on Dean because of his dark skin tone and black curly hair. While he is said to have hated being called the name because he understood its deeply racist roots.
Dean deserved better. His memory deserves more respect.
Liverpool and Everton supporters have achieved so much when they have come together. Their unity over Hillsborough has been magnificent and their work in unison in creating and managing foodbanks has been inspiring over past few years.
The flare is unlikely to have inflicted permanent damage on the statue but it has caused significant harm to the relationship between the two sets of fans. Those who carried out the act should be ashamed.