x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The blue and red of Merseyside thrive in Dubai

Supporters groups in the UAE continue to grow and members from the emirate's Everton and Liverpool brigade speak about on their cordial coexistence.

Victor Anichebe, the Everton striker, squares up to Liverpool’s Daniel Agger after a challenge as Steven Gerrard is pulled away by Tim Cahill during last season’s match at Anfield. These are familiar scenes when it comes to the Merseyside derby.
Victor Anichebe, the Everton striker, squares up to Liverpool’s Daniel Agger after a challenge as Steven Gerrard is pulled away by Tim Cahill during last season’s match at Anfield. These are familiar scenes when it comes to the Merseyside derby.

The Merseyside derby - a relegation six-pointer? Surely not. It cannot have been said too often in the past, but today's meeting of two of England's most celebrated clubs does pit together the 17th and 18th-placed sides in the Premier League.

No-one is panicking on either side of the divide just yet. In fact, it is one issue that rival supporters of Liverpool and Everton agree on: the whole idea of a dogfight against demotion is plainly ridiculous.

"The media are hyping it up as a relegation battle, but we are only seven games into the season," Neil Briody, of the Liverpool supporters club, the Dubai Reds, says.

"If we had beaten Blackpool [Liverpool lost 2-1 at home in their last outing before the international break] we would have gone fifth in the table.

"There is no way either of us will be in a relegation battle come the end of the season."

The blue corner concurs. "One win away from mid-table," Matt Doherty, a member of Dubai's Everton supporters club, says optimistically.

Either way, a collective haul of 12 points from 14 games so far this term has been a bleak return for a place that has a strong claim to being England's most fanatical football city.

Add to that the shared frustration of stalled relocation plans for both teams, the debilitating ownership saga on the red side, some sub-standard recent transfers - "the fans are saying Christian Poulsen should take up another sport," Briody says of Liverpool's new Danish import - and the landscape seems glum.

But a problem shared is a problem halved. Rather than suffering in silence 6,000kms away, diehards from both sides still share in the communal experience as part of thriving UAE supporters clubs.

The schedulers did not pay much thought to them when they fixed today's derby game at Goodison as the day's early Premier League kick-off.

Those wearing blue under their work clothes will hope to ease out of the office unnoticed to make it to The Locker Room at the Golden Tulip in Al Barsha, Dubai, their home away from Goodison, in time for the 4.30pm start.

Liverpool supporters will be beating a similar path to The Underground at the Habtoor Grand, the venue which has an area set aside for the Dubai Reds and their 350-person strong membership on matchdays.

"Living away from home, you do miss the chance to go to the games, but having a local supporters club here means you still feel part of it," Briody, 40, a sales manager who has lived in Dubai for four years, says.

"It is as close as you can get to going to the game."

Living in the UAE even coincided with one of the happiest derby day memories for Doherty, who followed Everton home and away when he lived in the UK and even has a share in the club.

"It was extra time, the 128th minute, 2.30am and everyone had work the next day," he recalls of Dan Gosling's winner in the FA Cup last year.

"At home they lost the [television] coverage as it went to adverts. We were fine over here. That was definitely my favourite moment [while being in] Dubai."

Briody was standing on a crate in the Lads' pen on the Kop when he experienced his lowest feeling in a derby game, courtesy of Graeme Sharp's famous strike in the 1984 meeting at Anfield.

Ironically, an image of said goal, which is the favourite of all Evertonians, is now the screensaver on Doherty's computer in his office.

Judging by the rapport immediately in evidence between the Dubai representatives of the two clubs, relations are relatively cordial on Merseyside.

They might be happy to share a restaurant in a hotel in Media City to chew the cud about life as a English football supporter abroad.

However, sharing the same home ground, as has been mooted as both clubs plan on futures away from their long-term homes, would be rather more problematic for the rival sets of fans.

Not completely unfeasible, though, they both agree.

"If both clubs could finance [a move to a new home ground] on their own that would be the preferable option, but the way the economics are today that has to be considered," Briody says.

"It is not the preferential choice for supporters."

Doherty thinks if any city in England could manage a successful groundshare between two such strong rivals, it would be Liverpool.

"My heart says 'no' but my head says 'yes', it would be great for both clubs the way things are at the moment," Doherty, 27, an investment consultant who has lived in Dubai for three years, says.

"If you went to school in London, you would probably have Tottenham fans, Man United fans, Liverpool, Arsenal and West Ham fans.

"Where we went to school it was Liverpool and Everton - and no-one else. Your best mate, your cousin, your uncle or your dad would be a Liverpool or Everton fan.

"Last year when Manchester United and Manchester City played in the Carling Cup they were fighting each other. That is your next-door neighbour or the guy you sit next to in the office. We would never do that.

"If any clubs could do it, it would be us. But it would still take a lot."

pradley@thenational.ae

4.30pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 3 & 5

Everton

Everton’s supporters club can be found watching their side at The Locker Room, in the Golden Tulip Hotel, Al Barsha, Dubai. For more information email everton_dxb@yahoo.com

Liverpool

Liverpool’s supporters club base themselves at The Underground at the Habtoor Grand Hotel near Dubai Marina on matchdays. For information log on to www.dubaireds.com