In the interests of keeping fact separate from fiction, it is probably worth clarifying that Manchester United are the club who have offered the rescued Chilean miners a free trip to watch one of their games. This sounds as though it only needs a punchline to become a joke but is apparently true. Bobby Charlton's dad was a miner, and the offer is genuine.
Liverpool, on the other hand, have not made any contact with Chile on the subject of how to get out of a very deep hole before Christmas. That was a joke – feel free to split your sides laughing – one of several on the same subject texted to my mobile this week.
The reason cheap shots at Liverpool's expense have been zeroing in on me may be gleaned from the short paragraph of biography to be found elsewhere on these pages, but what they all have in common is that they are not being sent by fellow Evertonians. The one about the Chilean miners came from a Leeds fan. The one reproducing almost all the lines to Amarillo – sample chorus: "Is this the way to relegation? Meet the laughing stock of the nation" – was sent by a Bolton supporter. And the one about scousers in court, actually the half dozen or so about scousers in court, came from goodness knows where but obviously not scouseland.
The reason Everton fans are not wholeheartedly sharing the evident glee at Liverpool's plight is twofold.
One, no one will believe Liverpool are really in as much trouble as Portsmouth until they sign Michael Brown and get relegated. Already the initial court case appears to have gone their way and the immediate threat of administration and a points deduction been removed, so while it may not be plain sailing from here on in it appears likely that some of the early scare stories were wide of the mark. A pity, of course, but as an Everton follower one learns to live with disappointment.
Two, and much more important, Everton play Liverpool on Sunday in a Merseyside derby they are now expected to win. No matter what ignominies Liverpool are currently suffering, from being argued over by separate groups of Americans to Fernando Torres's form and fitness and Dirk Kuyt injuring himself while playing for Holland, Everton can do without that sort of pressure. It might have gone largely unnoticed, with Liverpool hogging all the headlines on the front and back pages, but Everton have not exactly made a blistering start to the season either. And while it might seem reasonable to expect a team as spiky and combative as the one David Moyes has built to do well against a demoralised outfit beaten at home by Blackpool in their last outing, Everton's preferred method of attack is the ambush.
Under Moyes, Everton have managed to make a virtue of being underdogs when they come up against leading teams, even leading teams now slumming it in the bottom three. Everton have proved they can beat most of the normal title contenders – Sir Alex Ferguson admits his United side were "battered" at Goodison last season and they were mightily embarrassed at dropping two late points last month – but they usually like to trade on an element of surprise. Everton's modus operandi in recent seasons has been to go quietly about their business and rise to the occasion when necessary. Just about the last thing they or their supporters need is to be installed as favourites to heap more misery on their oldest rivals.
Because everyone knows that derby matches have a life of their own. They exist outside normal time and space, and pay scant regard to form or league tables. If Torres has been struggling all season, it seems more or less certain he will be man of the match against Everton. If Jamie Carragher has one more towering performance left in him, you can bet your life it will be this Sunday at Goodison. Am I taking too gloomy a view? I don't think so. I can still see Sandy Brown scoring that absurd own goal against Liverpool 40 years ago, and the policeman walking behind the net clapping his hands. I can hear Emlyn Hughes chanting Liverpool are magic, Everton are tragic, a few seasons later.
I have, in fact, been taught by a lifetime of experience to leave optimism out of derby calculations. Fearing the worst saves time and lets you down more gently. My favourite Everton-Liverpool story of all time does not concern a derby but the night of the Champions League final in Istanbul in 2005, when an Everton fan walks into an Everton pub and demands to know why the match is not on the telly. "We're not watching that," he is told as he orders a pint of bitter. "Haven't you heard the half-time score?" the customer says. "They're losing 3-0." So they put the telly on, and you know the rest.
The customer wasn't me, by the way, because I was in Istanbul myself, but even if the tale is apocryphal it still brings a smile, because it is so good it ought to be true. As far as this observer is concerned, rumours of Liverpool's demise are always likely to be exaggerated. So no more, please, at least until Sunday night.
This is not a news report and may contain views expressed by the author which are not supported by GNM.