THAT special feeling is in the air again on Merseyside. The one which has football supporters, blue or red, giddy with excitement, yet sick with apprehension.
Derby day can do that to folk.
At Finch Farm, however, the mood is a little different. Maybe it is something to do with the glorious late-September weather which has spread across the city this week, but Everton’s players seem quietly confident ahead of their 216th cross-city dispute with Liverpool this Saturday lunchtime.
None more so than Sylvain Distin. The burly defender may only have been an Everton player for two years, but he has already tasted the whole range of derby-day emotions.
And the 33-year-old insists he will treat the build-up to this weekend’s clash as if it were any other game.
“The derby is an important game, we can feel that from the fans,” he says. “But for us it is just another big game. And so we are getting ready for it like any other big game.
“What can you do? It is just another football game. We know it is a special atmosphere, but on the pitch it is the same as playing any other team. There is no special preparation.”
Not even for that unique Goodison atmosphere? Or the inevitable raft of meaty challenges which usually follow the first whistle?
“It is more the fans who create the special atmosphere,” insists Distin. “Maybe foreign players don’t really understand what it is about at first, but it is a special day.
“Derbies in every country are special but in England they are completely different, and that is because of the fans. It is a special atmosphere, a special game. And because of that atmosphere you can feel a little more tension on the pitch.
“You can have some good tackles as well, but they are the kind of things where you need to be careful and try not to be too hard, and to just think about the football.
“Those kind of things can make it a slightly different game. But once the game starts, and after maybe a couple of yellow cards, then it goes back to being a normal football game.
“Do I enjoy it? Of course! That is the kind of thing I want.
“As a football player, you want big games, great atmospheres. That is what I came to England for.
“It is a positive thing for me, as long as it is not too dirty. But to be fair, in ten years in England I have not played in any derby game where it has been too bad. There are some strong tackles, but that is the same in every game I guess.”
Distin has already experienced the highs and lows of Merseyside derby combat since his arrival at Everton from Portsmouth in 2009.
From defeat in each of his first two encounters (“a great experience for me, win or lose”), to last season when the Blues took four points off their rivals, and could easily have taken all six.
Distin himself was on the scoresheet the last time the sides met, a 2-2 draw at Anfield back in January, and says it was a special moment for him.
“It is strange, but in a way you prefer to score away from home,” he says. “I don’t know why, but it feels a little more important. It is a strange feeling.
“Obviously as a defender you don’t score many goals, so when you do score one you want to feel like it is an important one. That goal was one of them.”
So is he expecting to be a marked man if Everton get an attacking set-piece on Saturday?
“Well we have a few guys who can score at set-pieces,” he laughs. “We have Tim (Cahill), me, Jags (Phil Jagielka), Felli (Marouane Fellaini), even (Leon) Osman, who is great in the air for a small guy. So I don’t think the attention will be focused solely on me at set pieces. We have lots of players who need attention, and it is going to be difficult to mark us.”
Also difficult, Distin admits, will be handling Liverpool’s new-look attack. Though he is looking forward to seeing one player in particular.
“I played with Craig Bellamy when I first came to England (with Newcastle) 10 years ago,” he adds. “He is a great guy but he is a real pain on the pitch!
“Even playing with him he is a pain! He wants every single ball, and he keeps barking all the time. But he is a great guy, and it will be nice to see him.
“I haven’t seen him for a long time. I had a great time with him at Newcastle, and whenever I have played against him it has been good.”
Everton fans will be hoping the Frenchman will still be smiling – and that Bellamy will still be barking – come 3pm on Saturday.