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Can Everton fans be trusted to behave against Liverpool?

The council doesn't think so....

Michael Regan/Getty Images

A row is brewing between Liverpool city council, Merseyside police and the Premier League about next February's Merseyside derby at Goodison Park.

The match was originally due to kick off at 3pm on Saturday February 7 but has been moved to a 5:30pm kick-off in order to be shown live on Sky Sports.

This move has got the local council twitchy and they are taking legal advice which could see action taken against the Premier League if the kick-off is not switched to an earlier time, probably 12:45.

Police say the later kick-off time will allow fans to drink more alcohol in the run up to the game, increasing the likelihood of disorder before, during and after the match. The police also say the cover of darkness increases the chances of anti-social behaviour. All of which would put an increasing - but in their eyes avoidable - strain on the emergency services.

The Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, has also written to the Premier League requesting they listen to the police's recommendations and switch to an earlier kick-off.

In a meeting of Liverpool council’s licensing committee, Superintendent Chris Markey, who will be the police commander for the derby, said:

"We understand that the majority of supporters who attend this fixture contribute to the occasion, but our responsibility is to prevent crime and disorder.

"The earlier kick-off time gives us the best chance to fulfil our obligations. It is well-documented that over the years the relationship between supporters has not been as good as it has been historically."

I suspect the police and the council's fears stem from incidents at a Merseyside derby more than 10 years ago - April 16th 2001 to be exact.

That game was an early evening kick-off on a warm sunny bank holiday Monday. You can imagine what it was like, people were hammered left, right and centre. I remember it being a particularly vicious atmosphere during the game with some unsavoury chanting from both sides and flash points after the final whistle - no doubt encouraged by Gary McAllister's dramatic last-minute 40-yard winner for Liverpool.

Since then 11 out of the 13 Goodison Park derbies have been 12:45 kick-offs on police advice, the exception being a 3pm kick off in 2003 and evening start on December 28 2005.

Just four Anfield derbies in that time have been early starts though the majority have been 1:30pm kick-offs on a Sunday. No Merseyside derby has ever started so late on a Saturday.

I can understand why there is so much concern about allowing such a highly-charged fixture to kick-off later on a Saturday. Alcohol does contribute to a lot of the unsavoury incidents at games and I have to admit I was surprised when I saw the game had been switched to a late start.

But on the other hand a boozier crowd also helps generate a better atmosphere. Games that start at 12:45 are often played in front of quieter crowds, even against such fierce rivals as Everton and Liverpool, and often lead to duller matches.

The trouble back in 2001 wasn't just down to too much booze (though that helped), the game marked a low point in the deteriorating relationship between the two sets of supporters, going back to the 1980s. Everton's struggles during the 1990s only heightened those tensions and the 2001 fixture came at a time where the Toffees were battling relegation while Liverpool were winning three trophies.

Some lingering bitterness and resentment remains, but Everton's improvement in recent years has seen the gap between the teams close. Times change.

There will always be a few idiots that will tarnish the image of the club but by in large Evertonians are a well behaved set of supporters. Just ask the German police, who praised the Everton fans for their behaviour during their recent Europa League trip to Wolfsburg. Don't tell me the travelling fans weren't drinking for several hours in the build up to that game!

Combined with well organised and sensible policing there is every chance the game will pass off without incident. Everton have also said they will come down hard on anyone caught troublemaking and stress the ground is well covered by CCTV. The fans deserve another chance to show they can be trusted.