Why we expect fireworks when Blue battles Red

Liverpool and Chelsea’s rivalry has developed in intensity and bitterness with every passing year

Why we expect fireworks when Blue battles Red


Liverpool v Chelsea

History. You can argue about what it means in football, and who has it, until you’re blue in the face — or red — but 107 years after Liverpool and Chelsea first met, this fixture has acquired as much history as any big match, and more than its share of animosity as well.

To outsiders, and maybe quite a few fans of both clubs, the animosity is only recent, stretching back to the “phantom goal” of Luis Garcia on that evening in May nine years ago, when Liverpool went through to the Champions League final in Istanbul. For Chelsea supporters, it rankles still. Without the injured Damien Duff and with a semi-fit Arjen Robben only playing for 25 minutes, they lacked pace and width, although Eidur Gudjohnsen might still have scored five minutes into stoppage time.

But matches between these two sides have hinged on dramatic moments and controversial decisions for the past 50 years.

Villa Park, March 27, 1965. Bill Shankly’s side are seeking the win that will take them to Wembley. It’s three days since they won a knife-edge European Cup tie against Cologne on the toss of a coin. Tommy Docherty’s youngsters — Docherty’s Diamonds — are riding high, top of the league. 13 minutes in John Mortimore’s header hits the back of the Liverpool net but what looks like a good goal is ruled out. Liverpool go through thanks to a solo goal from Peter Thompson and a Willie Stevenson penalty and their first FA Cup triumph, against Leeds, sets them on the road to glory.

Chelsea got their revenge the following year at a foggy Anfield in a sensational third round tie decided by goals from Peter Osgood and Bobby Tambling. But this was still a friendly rivalry. Those on the Kop even wished the winners well.

As Liverpool prospered, so Chelsea struggled. But that struggle was relieved by a couple of cup upsets, in 1978 and again four years later, both at Stamford Bridge. The 1978 match maybe started the animosity. Liverpool were champions of England and Europe and would go on to retain their European title that season but seemed unnerved by the crowd and the aggression of their opponents. Already 2-0 up, Chelsea were handed a third with a panicky back pass from Phil Neal; Emlyn Hughes — never a popular man at Chelsea — attempted to get Bill Garner sent off by feigning he was head-butted. The crowd swarmed on to the pitch at the end. “Bloody pathetic... we went out with sawdust in our heads,” said Bob Paisley.

Those two cup ties were amply revenged in 1986, when Chelsea were contenders for a domestic treble but ended up with nothing. Liverpool not only beat them in the cup, and went on to lift the trophy, but also won the title at Stamford Bridge on the final day of the season thanks to a brilliant finish from Kenny Dalglish.

Liverpool seemed unstoppable, but that was an illusion. In 1991, Chelsea ended their title challenge with a 4-2 win thanks to late goals from Kerry Dixon and Gordon Durie, and then with Ruud Gullit as manager produced the most extraordinary comeback to knock Liverpool out of the cup in 1997.

The match turned out to be as important for Chelsea as the 1965 semi-final had been for Liverpool. Liverpool were 2-0 up and apparently cruising to victory only to be ambushed by a half-time substitution. Ruud Gullit brought on Mark Hughes and the opposition visibly wilted. Chelsea ran riot with goals from Hughes, Gianfranco Zola and two from Gianluca Vialli. The win set Chelsea on their way to the FA Cup and two further trophies the following year, a defining occasion that cemented self-belief in a group of players and gave the club momentum that continues to this day.

But Chelsea’s fortunes might have been very different but for another win against Liverpool six years on. In 2003, Chelsea were in trouble financially, deeply in debt and with a huge pay bill. Salvation was round the corner but to achieve it, Chelsea needed to qualify for the Champions League ahead of Liverpool. Another dramatic match ended 2-1 to the Blues, their survival was assured — and seven weeks later the club announced the Roman Abramovich takeover.

Titanic matches have ensued — not least those three Champions League semi-finals and the amazing 12-goal drama of the quarter-final five years ago. It’s been more or less neck and neck in Europe, whereas Chelsea have had the edge domestically, beating Liverpool in the 2005 League Cup and then the 2012 FA Cup on their way to their first Champions League success.

No quarter has ever been asked or given on either side and tomorrow is most unlikely to be different, though Liverpool this time are favourites.

The animosity remains, for all that José Mourinho is on quite different terms with Brendan Rodgers than with Rafael Benitez. It is only partly to do with what happens on the pitch.

Traditionally Chelsea fans hated Tottenham and then Leeds. Those rivalries remain. But some have never forgotten that after the Heysel tragedy the then Liverpool chairman, John Smith, sought to blame ‘Londoners’, and by implication Chelsea fans, for the violence. That resentment was there when Liverpool won the title at Stamford Bridge in 1986 and lurks below the surface.

And as Johan Cruyff observed: “Both Liverpool and Chelsea reflect the worlds they come from.”

Chelsea is a byword for wealth and luxury — although it’s not that long since there were council houses and factories on the King’s Road.

Liverpool by contrast is a working-class and somewhat deprived city, although parts of Merseyside are as lush and prosperous as anywhere in the Home Counties.

Chelsea fans also typify those who benefited from Thatcher’s economic revolution in the 1980s, Liverpool by contrast was the city hit hardest in those years. London — though not all Londoners — prospered, Liverpool lost out. Behind the banter and the abuse and the north-south divide, there’s something else. History.

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