Liverpool and Turin are two of Europe's great soccer cities - with a lot more in common than the fact they host local derbies this weekend. Liverpool FC face Everton FC at Anfield on Saturday, while Torino Calcio entertain Juventus FC at Delle Alpi on Sunday.
In both cases, the words of Torino coach Giancarlo Camolese ring true. "Our clubs operate in different leagues: they [Juventus] are with the big boys while we [Torino] are playing against the bottom ten clubs." Liverpool, second in the FA Premiership, will expect nothing less than a win against Everton, fifth bottom and fighting demotion. Serie A leaders Juventus will also want maximum points against a Torino side seven rungs below them in the league ladder.
Local bragging rights
Even so, as Liverpool supporter Chris McMullan told the Shankly Gates website, there are no guarantees where local bragging rights are concerned: "It is arguably the most intense fixture of the season. The Manchester United game might be referred to as a derby, but let's face it, you can't hear the taunts 30 miles away."
Them and us
However, it is not their proximity that sets these two sets of rivals apart; rather it is the distance between them and the rest. The city of Liverpool has claimed more English league titles than any other - with the Reds champions a record 18 times, the Blues nine times. It is the same story in Turin, where the Scudetto has spent 32 years in residence, 25 at Juventus and seven at Torino. McMullan adds: "The Merseyside derby seems to stand above all others in the English game. Between us, we've won more trophies than any other derby in the country, and over the decades we have been fighting it out in the league and even the odd cup final."
How times have changed. As financially secure institutions, Liverpool and Juventus can continue to fight for, if not always win, the game's top honours. The only scrapping Everton and Torino get to do is against the threat of relegation. The Granata twice endured that fate in the 1990s, although their current eighth place suggests a determination to hold on to the top-flight status they earned last May. However, Camolese warns: "Nothing will change until Turin gets a top-class derby like the ones in Milan and Rome. For too many years this hasn't happened because Torino have been struggling."
Il Grande Torino
Poor relations they might be, but they have had the sympathy vote in Turin for over half a century. In May 1949, with Torino on the verge of a fourth straight Serie A title, the club's first-team squad was killed when the plane carrying them back from a friendly in Portugal crashed into the basilica at Superga near Turin. Since then, 'Toro' have emerged only intermittently from the shadow of Il Grande Torino.
Everton, too, have had reason to curse their luck. Never more so than in 1939, when as newly-crowned English champions they looked set to dominate with a team of young stars like English internationals Tommy Lawton and Joe Mercer and Welsh international TG Jones. Then came the war. Ironically, when league action did resume in 1946, Torino tried to sign Jones but he opted to stay at his beloved Goodison Park.
Here and now
That was then and this is now, and it is the modern-day superstars of Liverpool and Juventus who are most likely to put smiles on faces this weekend. If or when that happens, the supporters of Everton and Torino can at least take comfort in the words of a song made famous by their counterparts at Celtic FC. "It's a grand old team to play for, It's a grand old team to support, And if you know your history, It's enough to make your heart go."
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