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Everton's John Heitinga is well prepared for Liverpool after Holland's 'destruction derbies'
Published : 05 Feb 2010 20:24:19
Flanked by police outriders, tracked from the skies by a helicopter, visiting players frogmarched into the stadium by the riot squad. Everton and Liverpool will face each other in Anfield's seething bear-pit, full of spite and vitriol, but it is not Ajax versus Feyenoord. It is not the true destruction derby. 'It is not a normal league game,' says John Heitinga, Everton's Dutch international, Ajax fan and graduate, as he recalls his countless visits to Rotterdam and De Kuip, as a youth, a reserve and a first-team player. 'It is history and hatred.' The myth of Merseyside's 'friendly' derby may be long gone, lost in a welter of vile chants, maddening gestures and recrimination, but, for Heitinga, the fact that Everton's team bus is unlikely to be greeted with a barrage of stones, that both sets of fans will be allowed into the ground, is enough to suggest that, amid all the rancour, some respect remains. 'The fans in Holland really hate each other,' he says. 'Going from Amsterdam to Rotterdam there will be a helicopter above the bus, and police motorbikes on the outside. "There will be a big fight between the fans. Last weekend they played, and the Ajax supporters were not allowed in to Feyenoord's stadium. When you reached the city the roads would be blocked off by the police, too, all for a football match. It is not normal. 'I was used to it from my youth. I started at Ajax when I was seven and played many times against Feyenoord, and we even had problems at that age level with the fanatical supporters who would come to these games. Kids' games. It is unbelievable. 'Once the reserves had to have security escort them away after the match because it was not safe for the players. It is not a game about the league table. It is the same with the derby here, but there will not be a problem inside the stadium. There is more respect.' Such a sentiment should not be confused with deference. Heitinga, a £5 million signing from Atlético Madrid last summer, may have tasted defeat in his first derby at Goodison Park in November, and Everton may travel across Stanley Park as perennial underdogs, but there is a sense in the blue half of the city that the Mersey tide is turning. David Moyes's side have not lost a Premier League game since Javier Mascherano's deflected shot and Dirk Kuyt's scrambled strike handed Rafael Benitez's team a scarcely-warranted victory. Such is their form that talk of Europe has returned to Finch Farm, Everton's training base, albeit in whispers borne more of hope than expectation. It is a feeling Liverpool are familiar with thanks to their long, bleak midwinter. Victory over Bolton at Anfield last Saturday closed the gap on Tottenham, possessors of that precious fourth place, and took Liverpool's tally to 14 points from their last 18. The green shoots of recovery are there, but still Benitez's side fail to convince. Fernando Torres, Yossi Benayoun and Glen Johnson remain absent. Alberto Aquilani and Maxi Rodriguez have not yet settled. Steven Gerrard is a shadow of his former self. 'If you see the way Liverpool are playing you can see it is a time when we have a chance to beat them,' says Heitinga. 'We are confident with our league form, and the players coming back from injury have improved the competition and the quality of the squad. This is the right time to face them.' No fear, no doubt. Little wonder Heitinga admits he thrived on the blood and thunder of those trips to face Feyenoord. 'I enjoy games like that,' he says. 'They mean something different. It does not matter how you win. If I have to kick someone because he is going through on goal, I will kick him. We can shake hands and have a drink after the game, but during it there is only one winner, and for me that has to be Everton.'