Everton want abuse stamped out of Merseyside derby

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The Independent Football

Everton have called for all fans to end the acrimony in Merseyside derbies and help rekindle the friendly atmosphere of previous encounters. Police are to speak to both Liverpool and Everton about alleged incidents in Sunday's 207th meeting of the clubs.

Officers are investigating claims the Blues captain Phil Neville was spat on and punched by Liverpool fans as he prepared to take a throw-in.

They are also looking at reports that the Anfield captain and England international Steven Gerrard was subjected to hate-filled chants about his daughter.

Everton spokesman Ian Ross has expressed his concern that future matches could become even worse unless action is taken now.

"There is almost an accepted level of abuse that takes place in all derby games," he said.

"The Merseyside derby is usually laced with humour but on Sunday that was not the case. I think both sets of supporters crossed the Rubicon and went that step too far.

"From our point of view we would like to see this reined back in and we could return to a situation where the Merseyside derby, going back 15-20 years, was seen as the friendly derby.

"We don't want a situation where this starts to snowball and the meetings next season are even more acrimonious than this one was." Television cameras clearly captured Neville, who was targeted for being a former Manchester United player, being abused by several fans in the second half of Liverpool's 1-0 win.

As Neville, whose brother Gary still plays for United, prepared to take a throw-in supporters just inches away could be seen screaming down his neck.

And Gerrard faced a torrent of abuse as he walked to take a corner in front of visiting fans in the second half. "Police will be speaking to the clubs involved," said a spokesman for Merseyside Police.

Dave Lewis, the force's football liaison officer, who travels abroad with the teams when they play in Europe, will conduct the discussions. Ross added: "We felt it necessary to try to involve the safety officers and police because we cannot have a situation where fans are having physical contact with professional footballers during the game.

"We want to make sure that doesn't happen again at the Merseyside derby or any other game."

Responding to the Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez's comments, that he was "very disappointed" by the abuse aimed at Gerrard, Ross said: "Whilst we would never condone the singling out of individual players for vitriolic insults, it is a shame that Mr Benitez chose to ignore the actions of his own club's supporters. Not only was Joleon Lescott subjected to an afternoon-long barrage of quite disgusting and quite audible abuse, Phil Neville was seemingly spat at several times and was also punched in the back by a supporter as he took a throw-in. We have asked Merseyside Police and our safety officer to look into the matter.

"In calling for Everton supporters to respect his players, Mr Benitez should, perhaps, remember his comments of 12 months ago when he sought to belittle one of world sport's oldest and most respected institutions by describing us as a 'small club'. Respect is a two-way street."