Everton is….

This is another old piece I wrote for When Skies Are Grey in April 2016.

It refers to all those things that remind me why I love my club so much. The things that make me so proud of them, even though we may be a shambles in the pitch.

Everton is……

For the World Cup in 1970, England issued an LP (a 12 inch vinyl record, younger readers) called ‘The World Beaters sing The World Beaters’. It was the England World Cup squad, which included the likes of Ball, Labone, Wright and Newton, ‘singing’ the hits of the day and more. Mostly MOR tosh sung badly, but to a 9 year old like me, whose musical taste had not yet developed, it sounded great. My parents bought it for me and it was encased in a ball shaped packaging. To listen to it now would make me cringe but listen I did to this ‘sing something simple’ style crud. One song’s lyrics I can still recite now was ‘There’ll always be an England’. Dependent upon your leanings, it’s either a proud anthem or jingoistic nonsense. The lyrics went:

“There’ll always be an England

And England shall be free

If England means as much to you

As England means to me’

Hopefully there will always be an Everton, as well. But it’s the last two lines that ring with me, with regards Everton. We all like to think that no one loves Everton more than ourselves. And we all display our love and loyalty in different ways. Sometimes fans can have an inflated view of their own loyalty and disrespect other fans loyalty. Is a fan who goes to every away game but not home, better than one who only goes to the home games. Does wearing every replica kit ever produced make you a super fan? We shouldn’t play our loyalty off against each other, suffice to say we are all part of one big blue family, and other cliches. Bringing another mantra to mind, we literally are born not manufactured – even if that ‘birth’ took place later in life. For example, my father was a blue so Everton is all I have ever known. My friend Paul had no Everton connection. He was from Manchester, his dad was a Man U fan who naturally wanted Paul to follow suit. But despite the fact that Everton were just a middling Premier League side in the early 90’s this was the team Paul came to support and has dedicated the last 24 years of his life to.

So just what ‘is’ Everton and what does Everton mean to different people? To some it may just be the present side and how they perform on the pitch but I suspect most people are like me and it is a whole, indescribable package of things that make up the Everton we love. We come to it usually from the standpoint of the match itself and evolve into loving everything about the club. Let’s face it, that is what gets us through the bad times often. So, at the risk of this sounding like a Hollywood acceptance speech, here are the things that spring to mind when I think of Everton and the things that make me go who-ooo-oooo-ooo.

Everton is Goodison Park. The Street End, The Park End, Main Stand, Bullens, all of it. I love Goodison and will be in tears when/if we leave. Like any true Evertonian, I have such a strong bond with it. From my first game in 1970 to the present day, I can still get tingles down my spine looking at the ground and the surrounding areas. It is no longer the great majesty it was, more a tired old lady and no amount of makeovers can restore that old beauty. But Goodison under the lights and rocking with a full house roaring loudly is an unforgettable and spine chilling experience. Likewise the surrounding area. It is no place of beauty but it is still part of the fabric of Everton, from the chippies to the pubs, the school, the houses, they are all intrinsically linked to our great club. And while we are on the subject, Everton is the pubs that surround the ground. The Winslow, the Spellow, the Royal Oak and further afield, The Taxi Club and the myriad of pubs on County Road. Blues will all have their favourite hostelries, and they make up the usual match day routine of many a Toffee. Should the blues ever leave Goodison, it is hoped that the ground will be close enough for these pubs to remain part of that match day experience. Ultimately Everton is also the grounds we played at previously be it Stanley Park, Priory Road or Anfield (though the less said about that in view of its current incumbents, the better)

Everton is..Liverpool. Liverpool, the Great Northern city that so many of us are rightly proud of. Despite the attempts to disguise the fact by certain sections of the red supporting media (the brochures for the Capital of Culture being the worst example, as well as parts of the red echo) there are two teams in Liverpool and we are rightly proud to have been the first team to have represented the city in league competition (they didn’t exist in 1888, of course). Everton is the Liver Bird. The symbol of our city was on our title winning medals in 1892 but sadly we didn’t put any real claim on it, they did and people now associate the liver bird with them. It’s not theirs. The Liver Bird is the symbol of the city and we have as much right to it as they do.

Everton is the players that take to the pitch every week, that we encourage, that give us joy and frustration. It is the squad and management who currently hold all our hopes and dreams (and generally not delivering at present but…)

It is all the staff who work for the club, not least of all the Ambassadors Sharpy, Snods and Diamond, as well as Darren Griffiths who is a great representative for the club. It is also Bill Kenwright. Like him or not, he is the embodiment of an owner fan, and maybe too much of a fan but no one can ever convince me he is not a true Evertonian. When I think if Everton I often think of Bill.

Everton is of course the great players who have graced our club throughout our history. Dean, Sagar, Young, Ball, Labone, Latchford, Kendall, Harvey, Reid, Southall….. So many great players whom we have loved. And of course the great unloved players, be they Bernie Wright or Brett Angell, still form part of the Everton story. Then there are the managers… The Great (Kendall, Catterick) the Good (Royle, Carey) the not so good (Bingham, Lee) and the dire (Walker, Buchan)…. Where RM fits here is open to debate but unlikely to be the first two…And then the Chairmen from the likes of Will Cuff to Sir John Moores and Sir Phillip Carter.

Everton is the trophies we have won. Nine league titles, five FA Cups and a Cup Winners that we won so gloriously in 1985. But there should be so many more. And that’s why Everton is all the injustices we have felt over the years. Whilst our neighbours have run with the devil and had the luck of satan, we have so often been denied the chance to capitalise on great teams, great performances, through a combination of rank bad luck, rank bad refereeing, the actions of others and dodgy circumstances. Two title winning teams in 1915 and 1939 could not maintain that momentum due to the outbreak of war. When peace returned, the sides had broken up. The 1928 side mysteriously were relegated two years after winning the title. The 1970 side should have dominated the 70’s. Why they didn’t is a mystery to anyone who saw that fantastic team. World Cup fatigue is cited as one reason. Other players had played through injuries that were to plague their career after then. And Manager Harry Catterick’s health deteriorated rapidly. A massive factor, in my opinion. The mid 80’s team, as we all know, was denied European competition through the actions of our neighbours in Heysel. And consequently broke up, and we have never got back to that level since. Seven years after Heysel the money spinning Premier League started. We may have been still in the PL but were no longer a force so missed out on the money making aspects that the likes of Man U and Arsenal were able take advantage of. There was also the ‘one club, one city,’ rule in the 60’s and 70’s that denied us several stabs at Europe. When our neighbours mock our limited record in European competition, that really grates knowing that a combination of that rule, and the post Heysel ban, has denied Everton at least ten seasons of European competition. Ten seasons at least. Ten seasons to establish a European reputation in the way they and Man Utd did. Ten seasons at least because success often begets further success. Exposure on a large stage increases the visibility of the club, increases the fan base, increases the revenue streams. And without the European ban – who knows where we would be now?

Of course, it is the loveables that irk our ire the most and the referees that always seem a central figures in our most contentious derbies. Thomas, Robinson, Clattenberg Poll and Atkinson are names that immediately spring to mind. But maybe the bitterness that springs from such injustices makes us even more uniquely Everton? Stops us from being the smug, condescending type of fan or club that LFC are? They call us bitter and of course we are! We have a lot to be bitter about! But aren’t they bitter about Man U? And thankfully we no longer sink to the low of singing about Munich or Hillsborough. And it is as Everton that we stand by our neighbours against the injustice that was Hillsborough and support the 96.

Everton is St Luke’s. A sad part of leaving, if we do, is no longer having a church in the corner which makes our club unique. And of course Rev. Harry Ross, a wonderful man who exudes ‘evertonism’. St Luke’s is also the base for the exhibitions pre match by The Everton Heritage Society. These people are awe inspiring in their devotion to the blues and do so much to keep our history alive. Their unstinting work, recognising and supporting former players, ensuring headstones are preserved for former blue heroes is the envy of so many other clubs. The likes of George Orr, Paul Wharton, Bren Connolly, Billy Smith and Richard Gilham. They have taken the lead from one of the Great Evertonians, Dr David France, whose collection of EFC memorabilia is mind boggling.

Everton is of course, Everton…the Chilean version. The Ruleteros Society have worked unstintingly to raise awareness of our brothers across the Atlantic, and who can forget the Everton v Everton game a couple of years or so back. And there are Everton clubs in Uruguay and Argentina.

Everton is our heritage and our history. As the song goes, we have a lot of history and a lot to be proud of. A lot of ‘firsts’, many (but not enough) trophies, plenty of records. All of this is to be cherished and through the great work by the likes of Dr David France and the Everton Heritage society, it is kept alive.

Everton is the fanzines that have been produced over the years. Each of them has a special place in EFC folklore- The Blue Wail, Gwladys Sings the Blues, Satis?, Speke from the Harbour, Blue Blood and of course When Skies Are Grey. Being biased, I would always says our fanzines have been the best. But I also know other teams fans who have subscribed to our fanzines and given great feedback about them. Everton has also been the various websites such as Toffee Web and the wonderful Blue Kipper. Nowadays it’s more about Facebook groups such as The Taxi Club Group, or Toffee TV produced by Ped and Baz

Everton is our celebrity fans. Other clubs may have had celebs following their club that simply cause embarrassment – our loveable neighbours have had an array of beauts aligning themselves to ‘the ‘mighty’ reds’ over the years not least of all the Tory loving Tarby and Cilla, and, ahem, Saville. By and large we have celebs following us who have a certain degree of credibility, like Tony Bellew.

Everton is the songs we sing. And maybe also the songs we don’t sing! Whether a simple ‘Everton’ or ‘we shall not be moved’, perhaps ‘when you’re smiling’ or ‘Grand old team’ we put our own unique slant on each song. But our fans are quite bullish and immovable as well, so none of the ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ type nonsense from Evertonians, we are better than that. We can be very contrary when we want to be.

Everton most of all is the fans, so many unique and diverse characters. From Eddie Cavanagh in the 60’s, ‘The Windmill’ in the 80’s, Lcab and Speedo Mick these days.

It’s the songs we sing, the banners that are funny but are never as ostentatious and self aggrandising like our neighbours. It is our refusal to compromise. We don’t like change. Remember when they tried to change Z Cars for ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’? Or introduce music after a goal is scored? Cheer leaders? Kits the fans didn’t like such as the bib kit? The awful badge a couple of years ago? No, Everton fans are a vocal bunch when we don’t like something. Many a new initiative has floundered if the fans didn’t like it. Not for Everton, this manufactured type of plastic fan that you see at Crystal Palace. Designated shouting sections. Manufactured flags. Everton fans will decide what we do, we will not be told. And to be fair, by and large, the club listens. Everton fans are quite unique. Ok everyone says that about their fans but I do believe we are. We always sell our away allocation, Goodison is nearly always full (and but for the obstructed views, I would bet it would be), but it is on the big occasions when Everton fans really excel themselves. Think about Elland Road three sides full of blues in 95. Or over 10,000 at Lille. And the majority of that fanbase is local. However, that is not to denigrate blues fans from further afield. And we have fans all over the world. It isn’t just the redshites who can say that. They may not be scouse or even from Lancashire but our fans tend to adhere to the well used maxim of born not manufactured. No fair weathered fans amongst our fanbase. A hell of a lot of pessimistic moaners maybe but I suppose that is what Everton does to you!

In my case, Everton currently is the lads I sit with or near to at the game in the Lower Gwladys.. Paul, Rob, John, Ben, Mo, Ste, Gaz and others. It is the guys I meet in the Taxi Club or the Winslow, Mick, Dave and co. It is the brilliant Chorley Toffees fan club, and the great times we share on the coach to and from the game, and particular our European tours like Lisbon and Lille. It is our local friends the Croston Blues. It is all the fans I have met or known over the years like Snowy, Daryl, Mark and Rob. It is my dad, who was my match going companion for 17 years until his untimely death in 1987 having watched Everton become champions again.

Everton is so many things, to so may people. Everton to me, is a life long commitment. I entered into a none negotiable contract at a very young age to follow them through thick and mainly thin times, with no remission for good behaviour. It’s almost a burden at times, it’s a life sentence. It brings me misery. It puts me into almost deep depression at times. It also gives me the highest of highs. Bayern Munich. Rotterdam. That Jagielka pen in the 2009 semi. A good win will put me up in the clouds and enable me to face any challenge out before me. I cannot escape, nor do I really want to. I am an Evertonian and Everton is me. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

By Trevor Edwards

@blackrodblue

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Social Media Translator

SOCIAL MEDIA TRANSLATOR

The world of social media is full of extremes of opinion. Rational thinking is there if you look for it, but you have to sift through lots of hyperbole and doom mongering. None more so than in the world of Evertonia. Particularly after a match and certainly after a defeat. Sensible analysis goes out of the window for many, as fans vent their emotions. Some may regret what they post in the post match fume but others are merely enforcing long held views. To an outsider, it may seem a different language and they may struggle to understand the true meaning of many of the rants that are expressed on Twitter, Facebook etc. In the following list, I will try to explain, in a light hearted way (even mocking some of the things I say) the true meanings behind some of the views expressed online.

• “I never wanted him in the first place” – “Yes! I’ve been proved right”

• “We’re a work in progress” – “We are playing shite at the moment but hopefully we will get it right and show those that ‘never wanted him in the first place’ wrong”

• “He’s a young kid, he’ll come good” – “I’ve stuck my neck out here, you little shit, you’d better improve”

• “We have to give the manager time” – “We spent a fortune paying off the previous managers, we don’t want to do that again”

• “F off Davies, you’re shite lad” – (1) “I’m a jealous little weasel because I was never good enough to make the grade (2) “I’m sexually frustrated so you’re getting it in the neck lad”

• “Leave the lad alone, he’ll come good like Stevens, Steven etc” – See point 3 – “I’m an eternal optimist and will ignore the fact that Cadamarteri, Oster, Branch etc never ‘came good’”

• “He’s an Everton legend” – “I really idolise him even though his goal scoring record was nothing to write home about”

• “That was the worst Everton performance ever” – “That was the worst game I have seen of the five I can remember”

• “He’s a colossus at the back” – “He’s very tall and strong”

• “The manager shows no passion on the touch line” – “The manager doesn’t jump around like a complete balloon, like Klopp or Conte”

• “He gets us” – “Darren Griffiths has fed him plenty of information about the club”

• “He’s a lazy bastard” – 1) He doesn’t run around like a headless chicken 2) lazy as a euphemism for black 3) He is on £70k a week whether he plays well or not.

• “The Everton job is too big for him” – “He isn’t a big name, so he shouldn’t be at Everton”

There are many more examples, I am sure you can think of your own. When I started this piece, it was quite easy to write, as, despite a few poor results, things didn’t look too bleak. But I am finishing this off the day after the Millwall game and I am afraid my sense of humour regarding Everton has left me. I actually half expected defeat at the New Den because we are a side in sharp decline, with no sight of a corner to turn. The performance yesterday embodied all our recent ones, apart from Burnley (where I didn’t think we were that good either, despite the scoreline). We passed the ball slowly, side to side, with no imagination. There was a total lack of urgency or cohesion, there was little sign of players making runs into space and when they did, they were ignored. And the set pieces and the zonal marking? That was beyond a joke. We could claim to be unlucky due to the handball for the second but that would be simply papering the cracks of a poor display. Howard Kendall said that in 1983-84 he could see a superb side in training that went to pieces in matchday. I don’t know how good or otherwise the current side is in training but something is definitely going wrong on the day of the match. I cling on to the hope that this is simply a poor run, due to lack of confidence having witnessed some very promising signs up to and including the Anfield derby. Players who were shining then now look lost and clueless now. I think back to the immediate impression made by Schneiderlin in his first season, and how poor he became and wonder if Gomes will be the same. Criticism has rightly been laid at the doors of Koeman and Walsh for their slew of dreadful signings in the summer of 2017 but will Silva and Brands purchases be any better? Initially, that seemed an emphatic yes. But Gomes looks jaded, Richarlison has had some very poor games of late, I am not convinced by Mina, Zouma is better but has his faults and even Digne showed frailties at the New Den. This is probably the most negative piece I have written for WSAG but things do look bleak at present.

I do think things will improve. We need that spark, but most of all, if he is to survive, Silva needs to make changes, and ask questions of himself. He needs to learn from his mistakes, otherwise we have another Martinez situation. We know that we need a goalscorer but would that have made a difference yesterday? I am not sure it would. Because our problems lay all over the pitch. He needs first and foremost, to dispense with the zonal marking. The players clearly can’t put it into practice. For Millwalls first goal, once Mina had been beaten to the first header, their big number 9 was up against Digne – a complete mismatch. Zouma should have been up against him. It clearly isn’t working and needs to go. I’m not sure if Pickford has been instructed to stay on his line as part of zonal marking or whether it is simply part of his game (due to his height) but to me there is nothing better than seeing a goalkeeper command his area – and Pickford does not do that. I don’t have the answer to Everton’s problems but I believe we need to increase the tempo of our passing, up our energy levels, work harder. We are very predictable. Sigurdsson should be the key to it all but in many games he is a passenger. I think we are pretty safe (though we cannot take anything for granted) so the players should see the rest of the season as their audition to see if they are in the manager’s plans for next season – assuming, of course, that Silva is in Moshiri’s plans for next season. If we continue to decline, then Moshiri may decide enough is enough. Personally I would prefer to persevere with Silva because there were signs before the Derby that he was on the right lines. Confidence is usually a massive factor and if that returns then we could see a happier end to the season. Time will tell.

Postscript

And then, four days after Millwall, the mood changed slightly with a gutsy win at Huddersfield followed by another calamitous performance at home to Wolves. It would be wrong to keep changing managers but something has to change. First and foremost Silva HAS to see that our fragility from set pieces is our biggest downfall. As it was with the Hull and Watford teams he managed. Our team is on paper the better team of those three so hope prevails but even if he has Messi and Ronaldo in the team, if we can’t defend set pieces we will struggle. If the players cannot master zonal marking it has to be scrapped. Most of our other problems could be rectified with the vital ingredients of confidence and attitude. But when our most expensive players in Sigurdsson and Richarlison are not justifying their fees, Walcott is, frankly terrible, and Coleman in on the wane, it doesn’t inspire hope. We need a big result against a top side – that could spark us into life. Problem is that the next game is City…..

Trevor Edwards @blackrodblue

The Curse of John Houlding

The Curse of John Houlding.

This piece was written for When Skies Are Grey in April 2017 – when there was an air of optimism about the blues: Today, January 2019, that optimism seems a million years ago.

Disclaimer: the following piece is written partly tongue-in-cheek with no intention to insult anyone or make light of disasters, or to burst the wave of optimism we blues are starting to feel.

Do you like pub quizzes? Well, a old question to throw out could be: which three teams have spent the most years as champions? For the uneducated type of modern fan, who believes that football started in 1992 with the Premier League, they might answer Chelsea. But most fans in the know would offer the first answer as Man United. And with 20 title wins they’d be right. Our red neighbours? Yes. 18 wins. Now the next answer would be Arsenal, on 14 wins. But if you read the question carefully it’s is ‘years’. And so the answer would be Everton. Because in addition to our nine titles we were the reigning champions for a further 11 years in total between 1915-1919 and 1939-1945 – so for 20 years we have been the reigning champions.

Of course it’s a trick question and an unwanted honour. Far better for the world that no wars had taken place. Far better for Everton that our momentum had not been halted and a chance to consolidate our title wins of 1914-15 and 38-39 had not been denied. But there seems to be a common theme running through Everton’s history where, just as we have been building up a head of steam, threatening if not to dominate football, certainly to accumulate trophies, that fate has conspired in one way or another to halt our progress and bring us back down to earth with a shuddering bump. And it was ever thus.

I don’t need to give Evertonians a history lesson. We are an educated fan base, who are aware of our rich history. Things have never run smoothly and the tag ‘Everton That’ could have been applied even in the very early days of the club. Ten years after our formation we were founder members of the football league and three years later, the Anfield based club gained its first championship. But behind the scenes there was unrest as John Houlding raised the rent, and after a fractious board room meeting, they informed Houlding of their intention to move and create the first purpose built ground over at Mere Green field, which was to be named ‘Goodison Park’. Of course, Goodison was the best ground in the country, but did the move have any bearing upon events on the pitch? Because it would be another 14 years before a trophy would be won again. Did the events of 1892 stifle the on field progress of Everton FC? Did the unsavoury circumstances in which Everton left Anfield and a new club formed at the ground have deeper consequences? Was a curse laid upon Everton whilst the team that was formed to take our place at Anfield made a pact with the devil to ensure their future success? There have certainly been some inexplicable events that have befallen us in the interim years.

Take the title race of 1905 for example. Everton were going head to head with Newcastle for the crown. In the end Everton lost out by one point. But here again, ill fate had taken a hand. Everton’s penultimate game was at Woolwich Arsenal, which we lost, effectively costing us the title. However, this was a replayed game. In the original game, Everton had been winning 3-1 when the game had been abandoned due to severe weather conditions with just 15 minutes to go. Those two points would have been enough to turn 2nd place into 1st. The Gods of weather conspiring against us? It was a particularly frustrating season as we had lost in the FA Cup semi final so it was double disappointment for the blues.

In 1906 the blues won their first FA Cup, with a 1-0 win over Newcastle. The goal was scored by the great Alex ‘Sandy’ Young, who scored 109 goals in 265 games for the blues. But he was also cursed as he was convicted of the manslaughter of his brother in Australia in 1916 and later died in an Edinburgh asylum.

The quest for a second title win after six second place finishes was eventually achieved in 1914-15. However, Everton were unable to defend their title due to the league season being suspended as a result of the war. Worse still, some of the heroes who had played a big part in the title win, had seen a premature end to their football careers or were not the same players. The captain, Jimmy Galt, had returned to Scotland and Harry Makepeace had retired. Bobby Parker, described as a ‘big, robust centre forward’ had been a revelation on joining the blues from Rangers and scored an incredible 36 goals in 35 games to fire the blues to the title. He signed up for service in the Great War and although he returned home safely, a bullet in his back meant he was never the same again and only played 8 games in the first season after the war, scoring four goals, as the blues slipped to 16th place and any chance to build a consistent title winning side was gone.

The post war years saw the blues languish in the lower half of the table, save for a couple of seventh place finishes. Salt was rubbed in the wounds as our crimson cousins won two titles in that time. But in the 1924-25 season, we signed the man born to be our greatest ever player. William Ralph Dean arrived with Everton going through a difficult period in the lower half of the table. His first full season saw an improvement as the blues finished 11th but then the curse struck again, as Dixie was involved in a motor cycle accident that would have finished most people’s careers. A season where he established himself in the side, scoring 32 goals in the 38 games had ended in a disaster as our great hope clung onto his life after breaking his jaw and fracturing his skull. Without Dean, Everton were in a mess and looked certain to be relegated. But his returned coincided with an improvement in form and relegation was narrowly avoided. The curse had tried to finish the career of Dixie and relegate the blues in one fell swoop. But the plot was doomed to failure as Dixie and the blues swept all before them the following, glorious season as the title was won and Dixie grabbed 60 goals.

Just why and how Everton managed to follow that glorious season with relegation within two seasons can probably be put down as ‘typically Everton’ but constant niggling injuries to our number 9 certainly wouldn’t have helped. Thankfully the blues bounced back with a Div 2 title, another championship and an FA Cup win in 3 successive seasons. But again it was ‘typical Everton’ after that. Everton returned to mediocrity for much of the rest of the decade.

That was until the late 30’s. Injuries had taken their toll on Dixie but the club moved quickly to bring in the ideal replacement in Tommy Lawton. There are some fans who believe Tommy was better than Dixie. With Lawton, alongside the likes of Mercer, Sagar and Cook, Everton had again assembled a great side, possibly their best yet and swept to another title win (with Liverpool languishing in mid table). Could this be the side to emulate the likes of Huddersfield and Arsenal who had won 3 titles in consecutive seasons? Well, they started off brilliantly with 3 wins in 3 at the start of 39-40. But again, war intervened and a potential dynasty was destroyed. The Houlding Curse had struck again, title winning opportunities were lost and players lost the best years of their careers. Following the war, Mercer and Lawton moved on, and dark times ensued. By the time John Moores arrived at Goodison in the late 50’s, we were a struggling side (but at least we were still in the top division, unlike Liverpool)

Moores rejuvenated Everton and brought back the school of science. By 1962-63, the top trophy was again residing at Goodison Park as Everton, under Harry Catterick, had romped to success with a glittering array of talent in the team. 1963-64 would see us defend our title and compete in the European Cup for the first time. With the likes of Young, Vernon and Kay in the side, what could go wrong? Well, a lot I am afraid as the curse reared its ugly head. I don’t know what Everton ever did to upset anyone but to be drawn against the might of Inter Milan in the first round was a tough ask. And though the blues battled hard against some controversial tactics, the European dream ended before it began. To make matters worse, that was the season Tony Kay, possibly the best centre midfielder in the country, was banned for life, as well as jailed for a betting scandal that took place whilst he was at Sheffield Wednesday (the evidence against Kay being dubious at best). Draconian measures that severely penalised Everton and destroyed a mans career. Without doubt, he would have been part of the England 1966 World Cup winning team. And also there was the unfounded ‘purple hearts’ scandal where amphetamines we alleged to have been handed around ‘like sweets’ in the dressing room. Total nonsense but it can’t have helped things.

Kopites have often mocked Everton’s minimal participation in Europe. And yes, we have to take some of the blame, we have contributed to a lot of our own failures. But Everton have been denied a lot of opportunities to both participate in Europe and to have good runs to the later rounds, through no fault of our own. The events of Heysel are one thing (more of that later) but whoever decided that the ‘one club per city’ rule in the Inter City Fairs Cup (the forerunner of UEFA Cup) of the 60’s and early 70’s was fair needs their head feeling. Everton missed out on several European ventures due to finishing below Liverpool the previous season (in 1969 Newcastle won the cup despite finishing tenth in 67-68 as Everton, Tottenham and Arsenal were all excluded due to finishing below Liverpool and Chelsea and West Brom winning the FA Cup)

The 60’s were a great period for Everton – but could have been so much more. But the end of the decade, Catterick had assembled a wonderful side that was a great mixture of youth and experience. As champions in 1969-70, we looked certain to dominate for a long time. Just why we didn’t has been debated many times over and will continue to dumbfound fans, players and critics alike. It’s easy to say it was ‘typical Everton’ but this was not an ageing side, these were players approaching the peak of their young careers and others who looked set for glory. Many reasons have been speculated. The World Cup in Mexico took its toll on Ball, Wright, Newton and Labone. Labone, in particular was now struggling with injuries and his leadership was greatly missed. Despite being a wonderful footballer, Bally did not have the same calm leadership quality as Labby. Colin Harvey and Joe Royle struggled with injuries as did Jimmy Husband. Alan Whittle could not maintain his initial promise. Gordon West’s confidence was shot. Most significantly of all, for me, Harry Catterick was starting to suffer with ill health and his decision making became haphazard. Even then, the season could have been rescued only for misfortune to strike again. Despite average form in the league, we made it to the quarter finals of the European Cup and the Semi Final of the FA Cup. But the away leg in Panathinaikos saw Everton the victims of what can only be described as thuggery on the pitch from the Greek players (and off it by fans) and a referee scared to upset the fans who allowed the Greek team to do as they pleased. Unbeaten but out of the competition we still had a semi final to play, only a few days later. Worse was to come. Harry went down with an illness and could not attend. Sandy Brown was named as sub. The blues took the lead but at half time had to take off the inspirational Labone and replace him with Sandy, who was a few inches shorter. And the red yard dogs made the most of their height advantage and bombarded the blues with high balls and Brown was no match for Toshack. Had Roger Kenyon been on the bench, who knows what would’ve happened? But the blues lost, the season nosedived and we spiralled into another grim period as Harry deteriorated further until relieved of his duties in 1973.

Another European venture in 1975 again ended in frustration in the UEFA cup in 1975. Again, we were handed a really tough draw against a Milanese club, these time AC Milan, who gained a first leg 0-0 draw with some very underhand tactics at Goodison Park. In the return leg, Milan won 1-0 as a result of a highly dubious penalty whilst Everton had two blatant penalties of our own denied – in one instance Gary Jones was hauled down yards inside the area – actually on the penalty spot – but a free kick was given outside.

Fast forward to the mid eighties and after years of mediocrity and a few near misses, Howard Kendall has come back to the club and assembled a side to take on all comers. The glorious 84-85 season saw the title return to Goodison and our first European trophy in the form of the Cup Winners Cup. In fact but for poor scheduling again, with the FA Cup final being played three days after the Cup Winners Cup Final, then who knows, maybe a unique treble would have been achieved. We were ready to take on Europe. Ready to build a dynasty…..

Of course we all know what happened on the 29th May 1985 and the upshot of it all. No need to into too many details, suffice to say that due to the actions of others (not just LFC ‘fans’ but Thatcher and her cronies) a great team did not get the chance to test itself against the best in Europe. We may have won the European Cup that year, we may not. But what did happen as a result was that momentum was again lost, several European campaigns denied, and we were unable to keep hold of ambitious players and an ambitious manager. It didn’t happen overnight but the seeds were sown and Kendall moving on in 87 set the decline in motion, until, by the time the golden fruits of the Premier League were available, we were no longer at the top table to gorge on them, as Man Utd did. And we have not been there since.

We were not immune to misfortune in the 90’s either. A run in the Cup Winners Cup was halted by Feyenord in 1995, with more underhand tactics at play, some of it by a certain Ronald Koeman! And in a good season, another twist as we were denied Europe again on the last day, finishing sixth, two points and one place outside of qualification for the UEFA Cup. But to rub salt in the wounds, UEFA has changed the qualification rules, and England had one less place in 1995-96. Had we finished 6th any year previously we would have gained a European slot. Joe Royle’s attempts to build a great side were hampered by the curse. His talismanic centre forward was suspended and jailed for events at a previous club, echoing the Tony Kay miscarriage of justice. And as he tried to build a side in 96-97, injuries to the likes of Hinchcliffe, Ebbrell and Parkinson and the strange events surrounding the departure of Andrei Kanchelskis hastened Joe’s own departure out of Goodison.

There have been so many young talents who ‘should’ have been big stars yet a variety of circumstances have led to them not fulfilling their promise at Everton, the likes of Billy Kenny, Branch, Cadamarteri, Jeffers and Baxter spring to mind. But the reds young talents have blossomed. Were they better or were ours victims of the curse?

We have had revivals of sorts, since then of course. Moyes managed to secure a Champions League qualifier for us in 2004-2005. But of course, we were given the hardest possible opposition in Villarreal. And they brought ‘the worlds best referee’ back for just one game. And when it looked as if we might, just might have a chance of progressing, the ‘worlds best referee’ found a reason to disallow a perfectly legitimate goal, not that anyone else in the ground could see it. And again, we were denied. A curse?

Of course, all of these events have proved frustration, anger, and a feeling of ‘what might have been’. They cannot really be compared to the real disasters where lives are lost. Like the 2 world wars. Like the stadium disasters at Burden Park Ibrox, Heysel and Hillsborough. Or the plane crashes that decimated Torino, Man Utd or Chapacoenca. But it could be argued that, certainly in the case with United, out of adversity a stronger, more successful club emerged. Pre WW2, Manchester United were an average club that were relegated and promoted on a regular basis. Post war, Matt Busby built a wonderful side based on youth, who embraced the embryonic European stage. Successive league title cemented their place as the best team in the land. But despite their on field success, they weren’t the best supported club in England. In fact in 1956 , as they swept to the title, their average crowd was only 38,893. Everton had an average of 42,768 in finishing 16th. But in the first season post Munich, that average was up to 53,258. There was a wave of sympathy for United after Munich, and understandably so. The Busby Babes were a fairy story with a tragedy but they rose from the ashes and somehow managed to finish second in that 58-59 season. David France, in his excellent ‘Everton Crazy’ book told how at his school the majority of kids became United fans after Munich. That created a legacy that set the scene for United to become the biggest club in England and one of the biggest in the world, especially as fans followed the dream when they won the elusive European Cup in 1968. I am not trying to make light of that disaster but in the same way as musicians often sell many more records after they die than they did before, so did United become the massive club they are now as a result of a real tragedy. Everton’s curse has only held us back time after time.

Currently there is huge optimism at Everton. After years of looking enviously at the group, of moneyed clubs at the top, there is just a hint of hope we could be part of that elite. We don’t want to sell our soul for it, don’t want to become a tourist club filling a big stand with fans more interested in face timing themselves at the match. But we want to be THE team again. In our own terms. We have finally got a billionaire owner and he appears to be clued up and savvy to the fans needs and desires. We have potentially got a new ground (I won’t believe it truly till I am sat in it). We have an architect on board who seems very keen to design a stadium that satisfies the club, the corporate side and the fans. We have a manager who looks the business, probably the best since Kendall who seems like Catterick Mk 2 to me. We have the top goalscorer in the country. We have an Academy run superbly by David Unsworth that looks like a golden generation. We’ve got a Diamond called Ross Barkley. We’ve got the best supporters at any football ground. We look like we are back in Europe next season. We have just won eight home games on the bounce, scoring for fun. .We have a brilliant relationship with the community. We are a club with a heart. We are a club going places. What could possibly go wrong? If history is anything to go by – plenty. There have been violent events involving English clubs in Europe and who’s to say that our Thatcher-lite PM wouldn’t want to emulate her role model and pull English clubs out of Europe should these instances escalate? It seems unlikely but we never thought it would happen in 85. North Korea, Russia, Syria, USA… it’s a crazy world with lunatics at the helm of each country. It seems the stars are aligning and the Gods of War are ready to commence combat. Who’s to say, should Everton be crazy enough to start winning things that one might not invoke the clause that says Everton cannot dominate football and must be stopped at all costs? Now, I am no David Icke, I don’t carry placards saying ‘The End is nigh’ but there have certainly been some strange forces at work in our long and illustrious history. Maybe the Curse of John Houlding may strike us again? Or maybe – just maybe it might leave us alone this time, and we finally get to see an Everton that truly dominates football at last. In our own classy way of course.

Trevor Edwards

@Blackrodblue

Blue Nose

Book Review

Ronny Goodlass – Blue Nose

I have a huge collection of Everton related books – autobiographies, biographies, club histories, stats books etc. Must be around 150 of them. They vary in their quality, from the engrossing biographies by the likes of Rob Sawyer and James Corbett, to autobiographies that are sometimes quite self absorbed, smug, often ghost written affairs that often carry factual inaccuracies. I know Graham’s views on autobiographies – he is not generally a fan! But in my hunger for anything blues related, I still buy them and display them with pride. In the case of ‘Blue Nose’ I have a vested interest as I have spoken to Ronny many times and see him as a great ambassador for our football club and an all round good guy. And there is the added bonus that in buying the book, I am helping his worthy ‘Health Through Sport’ charity.

This book is an autobiography of a footballer but could equally be classed as the memoirs of an Everton fan. His love for our great club is evident all the way through from the first page to the last. I don’t think I have read a book by an ex Everton player that speaks more lovingly of the Toffees, or is spoken through the eyes of a fan as this one, not even those by other ex players who grew up as Everton fans. Sometimes when reading the match snippets of games he played in you aren’t entirely sure if Ronny was playing or watching – it is a real labour of love. For a man sold by the blues as a player and ‘relieved of his duties’ as a youth team coach at the end of the Joe Royle era, there is no bitterness expressed, just a ‘c’est la vie’ attitude.

For younger readers who don’t know much about Ronny, he was a flying winger who provided a lot if the crosses for Bob Latchford (before we signed Dave Thomas). Ronny came through the youth system at Everton alongside the likes of Mick Buckley and George Telfer, scoring 40 goals in 185 games at all levels. He played 51 times for the first team, scoring twice, including playing all three games in the 77 League Cup final and providing the cross for Bryan Hamilton to score only for Clive Thomas to disallow it in the infamous 1977 FA Cup semi Final. After leaving Everton, Ronny was pretty much a pioneer of playing on the continent for NAC Breda and ADO Den Haag in Holland before returning the England to play for Fulham, Scunthorpe, Tranmere and Barrow, as well as a short spell in Hong Kong. After hanging up his boots, he coached at Everton under Joe Royle, with the likes of Michael Ball, Danny Cadamarteri and Richard Dunne under his tutelage. Since then he has been heavily involved with his charity ‘Health Through Sport’ and works on Radio Merseyside as a pundit, known for his honest opinions.

As you might expect from an autobiography, it starts with tales of Ronny’s youth and growing up in Everton, before his family moved to West Derby during the times of the ‘slum clearances’ (a term Ronny is not overly fond of). This part of the book particularly strikes a chord with me as my dad always regaled me with stories of growing up in Rupert Grove and the surrounding areas and always makes me wish I had listened even more intently to his stories. It may not have been the most glamorous of locations but held great memories for my dad, as it does for Ronny.

We learn of Ronny’s progress through his school teams, playing for Liverpool Schoolboys and eventually England Schoolboys and I was amazed to learn that one game had an attendance of 75,000. There is a lovely story about the day he was presented with his England Schoolboys cap at school – the previous boy from the school to have received a cap being David Pegg who sadly lost his life in the Munich air crash.

There is a great tale of how Shankly and Paisley visited his house and tried to get him to join the dark side. But his dad was having none of it saying ‘he’d never be able to watch a football match again’ if Ronny went to the Reds! Perhaps if the fathers of the likes of Carragher, Owen, Rush and Fowler had adopted the same attitude then there might have been a Reds loss and blues gain!

Ronny of course joined Everton and the book is full of stories of the great characters at the club like Labone, West, Ball and King.. His fellow apprentice, Stan Osborne, related similar tales in his superb book ‘Making the Grade’ which was a great insight into the life of an apprentice footballer and Ronny’s stories are no different- funny, engaging and slightly eye opening! Throughout the book we hear little stories, some of which have been rumoured previously, some are new to me, but nearly always related in an affectionate way – even the infamous Mr Bernie Wright! Though Ronny has a less than positive viewpoint on a certain Samuel Allardyce!

The book uses press cuttings as well as Ronny’s own commentary on games. We get an insight into life in Holland and the differences in the preparation for games and the cultural side of things at that time. The time he spent in Hong Kong is very interesting, including the time he spent a night on the lash with Bobby Moore, George Best and his (and my) hero, Alan Ball. Sadly, in those pre smartphone days, he has no photographic evidence of many of his fabled encounters – including meeting a young 18 years old destined for greatness called Ronaldo! Or the time he and his dad spent an evening with Alan Ball Junior and Alan Ball Senior, the stuff of dreams for any true blue.

Ronny has spent the past 22 years working for Radio Merseyside as a match summariser and there are many tales of his life on the road including one incident where it was nearly RIP Ronny! He clearly views this post as his dream job being able to make a living out of watch his beloved Everton.

The book also includes contributions from his former team mates and friends that he introduces as if a speaker as a meeting “thanks for that, Willo”. One lovely testimony for him is by the Everton Chaplain, the Rev. Harry Corbett who talks about Ronny’s time as youth coach at Everton and him wanting the young players to be good people as well as good players – a ‘concern for the whole person’. Ronny clearly is a man with a good heart, as evidenced by ‘Health Through Sport’. This is a registered charity that he founded in 2005 ‘to deliver football coaching to vulnerable and disadvantaged youngsters across Merseyside’. Ronny believes that every child matters and whatever their background they can make a positive contribution to society and achieve economic wellbeing. The work that this charity has done and continues to do is remarkable and a credit to the man and all of those who are involved.

Blue Nose, ultimately is a love letter to Everton written from the perspective of a fan and an ex player & coach. It achieves its aim of being his ‘football story from every angle’( terraces, dressing room, radio), it is open, candid but not bitter (not even towards our rivals!) it is an enjoyable read. If there is any criticism it would be that it isn’t always sequential- it does jump back and forth a few times – but that did not affect the pleasure I got from reading it. I wish Ronny every success with the book.

Trevor Edwards

@blackrodblue

Love See No Colour

Love See No Colour

Racism has reared its ugly head again recently. Hot on the heels of the wonderful two part documentary by Ian Wright ‘Out of their Skin’, there was the row sparked by the Chelsea fans abusing Raheem Sterling, followed by his comments in the paper, Stan Collymore’s ill advised comments on Twitter and then the Daily Mail’s pathetic attempt to drag Everton’s name through the mud again.

The documentary by Wright was wonderful and a great homage to the pioneers of black football since Viv Anderson made his England debut in 1978. It could have gone further, perhaps, and made reference to those who went before him (including our own Cliff Marshall) but all in all it was a great piece of television albeit a little tough at times to watch, especially when Everton’s name was mentioned, mainly in relation to the abuse dished out to and banana thrown at John Barnes. The shame of those times and the behaviour of a large percentage of our supporters cannot be defended. We were as bad as most clubs, worse than a lot of others. Anyone who was a match day going fan from those days will remember the chants and gestures made towards players of colour and I have no desire to spell them out here. Amongst the glory of those great days of watching a football team that swept all before them lurks that deep shame. It was such a sizeable proportion of our support that few dared to speak out against it. I remember the chants clearly and feeling embarrassed but powerless to do anything about it. But one such group that did are the people behind this very fanzine you are reading. When Skies Are Grey made their stance against racism clear from the off, and one of the classic t shirts created was the ‘No Al Racisimo’ one, a t shirt I am proud to wear still and was modelled in the very pages of WSAG at the time by none other that Neville Southall. The last time I can remember any particularly loud racist chanting – and I may be wrong – was in the 1988 League Cup semi final against Arsenal. A friend who was an Arsenal fan came with me and stood on the Street End whilst the likes of Paul Davis and David Rocastle were racially abused. It was almost poetic justice when those players were involved in the goal that won the game for the Gooners. Incidentally I remember the West Ham player, Clyde Best scoring a wonderful goal against us in the early 70’s down at the Street End. I think there had been some racist comments directed towards him but his sublime goal was warmly applauded.

The club also played its part in trying to eradicate this disease and slowly but surely things improved. I always believed that the fact that Everton did not have a star player who was black focussed unwanted attention on us and also seemed to encourage those fans with their narrow minded views to glory in the fact. I always thought that things would change once we had that black star in the side. Sadly our reputation probably played a part in discouraging players joining us – Les Ferdinand for one. Things had improved greatly by 1994, but needless to say there was still apprehension in the media and amongst some fans about how Daniel Amokachi would be greeted. The concern was unfounded as Ammo became a cult hero, even if he didn’t quite live up to our expectations as a star performer. His two goals in the semi final v Spurs will forever be etched in blue folklore. Ammo embraced our club and is loved still. We have had many black players since and I would like to think that they have never experienced any racist abuse from our supporters, which goes to prove the belief that I held before we signed Amokachi. Likewise, I have thankfully not heard much from my spec in the Street End in terms of racial abuse directed to black players in many years. One funny incident, involved Ian Wright. Wright always scored against us and in this occasion he was baring down on goal, and about to slot another past us. But he woefully miskicked. The fans were starting to give him a barrage of abuse, not racially motivated, when he started laughing, pulled his shirt over his head and mocked himself. This totally defused the situation and earned him a round of applause .

Of course, that is not to say there are no Everton supporters still holding racist views. I have occasionally heard unsavoury comments at the game and there was that appalling Heskey song that some fans used to sing. But should any fan shout anything remotely racist now, I would feel able to challenge them, whereas I would not have risked it in the 80’s. The work done by the club and the likes of WSAG has eradicated that ‘racist club’ tag from all but the most blinkered in society. Which is why Stan Collymore bringing up the ‘Everton Are White’ chant in a tweet recently hurt and annoyed me. We cannot ever forget those days, they are a shameful reminder of less enlightened times, and we should never get complacent that racism has been eradicated from our fanbase. But it is a chant from over 25 years ago and Stan tweeted it in response to a relatively innocuous tweet by a blues supporter. I can only assume he was feeling highly sensitive about the subject as, to be fair to him, he is usually quite complimentary about our club.

The Sterling situation raised several issues. Was the word ‘black’ used in the abuse aimed at him or was it ‘Manc’? I don’t think it has been fully established yet. I am personally not in favour of yelling abuse in a players face, be it our own players or the opposition. I am not a fan who sits and politely applauds, and I have been known to abuse opposition players from afar, but I think there is a line. That said, yelling ‘Manc Bastard’ and ‘Black Bastard’ are on different levels. Of course, a couple of days later we played Watford. Isaac Success, who just happens to be black, wound up our supporters with some shocking simulation. Our reaction was the same as it would have been had it been Jamie Vardy who had been diving. But the Daily Mail decided to post a picture of fans yelling in Success’ face, with the barely disguised insinuation that he was being racially abused. If he was, the fans would deserve a hefty punishment. But there is nothing to suggest that there was anything of the sort.

Sterling’s article in the paper took aim at the different ways players are portrayed by the media, and suggested that the media have fuelled such situations. Phil Foden and Tosin Adarabioyo both bought their parents expensive houses. But both situations were presented in different ways in the press, with Foden looked on favourably whilst Adarabioyo quite the opposite. Certainly, I have noticed that there does seem that there does seem to be a difference and colour does seem to be an issue. Whether fans or media, in the World Cup the only player who seemed to receive as much bad publicity and criticism as Sterling was our own Jordan Pickford. I don’t think either deserved the level of criticism they received. Thinking back to past England players and one player always on the wrong end of fans abuse was John Barnes. It would be hard to prove if there was an agenda, and there have been white players targeted also – Rooney for example, probably for the crime of being Scouse, Baines and Jagielka, for the crime of playing for Everton. But there does seems to be substance in what Sterling said.

In the early days of WSAG, articles about racism were fairly commonplace as the fanzine took their stand. The fact that it is rarely discussed these days in the fanzine is an indication of how far we have progressed. But we cannot rest on our laurels. As a white man, I can only observe and speak out as I find. I have no deep understanding of how it must feel to be the victim of abuse simply because of the colour of my skin. But we all must try to educate others and ensure that this scourge of society is eradicated once and for all. How we do it, I do not have the answer. We can try to educate from a young age but when there are racist views held within the home, in the school, in the pub and subtle racism in the right wing newspapers it is an uphill tasks. But we must try. Things have improved but recent events have proved there is a long long way to go.

Trevor Edwards

@blackrodblue

It’s only Banter, la

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The following piece was something I wrote for When Skies Are Grey a couple of years ago. It’s still relevant today, the day when blues and reds go head to head again. I thought it appropriate, so have a read.

‘It’s only banter’ We have all heard it and most of us have said it. ‘It’s only banter, no offence mate’ We say it when we indulge in opportunities to have a dig at people but don’t wish them to be offended by it. The dictionary definition of banter is ‘to ridicule good humouredly’ . Many abbreviate it to ‘bantz’ nowadays. But when is banter not banter? When is the line crossed and it is no longer good humoured? The recent Derby match at Goodison Park gave some excellent examples of what is, and what is not ‘banter’. Historically, Liverpool has a history of being a city where people have survived through their wit. The phrase ‘you have to be a comedian to come from Liverpool’ refers to the fact that the inhabitants of the city are sharp, quick witted, and enjoy a good gag. Many famous people who have made a living through comedy have come from the city – I will leave you, dear reader, to decide if people like Jimmy Tarbuck, Ricky Tomlinson, Ken Dodd, Tom O’Connor, Stan Boardman or John Bishop are funny (we all have our own viewpoints). But they are the tip of the iceberg – it could be argued that there are much funnier people from the city who have never made it famous. The city has become famous for the Scouse humour – part of the worldwide attraction of the Beatles, especially in America, was for their loveable Scouse wit, as well as, of course the music. And that Scouse humour has always been evident on the terraces of Goodison Park and Anfield – though the press have always made a bigger deal of goings on at the Kop rather than the Gwladys Street. Tales of the Kop singing ‘Careless Hands’ to Gary Sprake of Leeds when he made a mess of a cross in the 60’s, of those loveable Kopites presenting Gordon West with a handbag or the Evertonians who greeted Bruce Grobbelaar dressed in clowns outfits have gone down in folklore. Blue Kipper collated stories of the humour of us bluenoses in their ‘Me Arl Fellas Shouts’ series which was put together in book form in the excellent ‘Turning the Air Blue’ (Guy at St End shouted at the keeper with a colourful goalies shirt ‘Oi Keeper – you look like an accident at a felt tip factory’ (Hoogie 26/09/01) The Merseyside Derby was always known as the friendly Derby and we are all aware of the stories of fans travelling to the matches together. Although many will attest that they were maybe not as friendly as people would have you believe – there were the odd punch ups – my experience was that, yes, Derby games were different than any other game. There was a healthy dislike of each other, but you could hate the redshites and abuse their players on the pitch and fans at the other end of the ground whilst stood next to one of them! And there was always lots of abuse flying between the two sets of fans but generally, in my eyes anyway, not really overstepping the mark as to cause real offence (not sure about the ‘Lyons is Shit’ flag in the Kop, circa 1976) However, in recent years the ‘banter’ has become more vitriolic and has definitely overstepped the mark. Greg Murphy wrote a brilliant set of articles in WSAG a few years back, outlining many issues in this breakdown of communication between reds and blues and where this nonesense about us being ‘bitter blues’ stems from. Suffice to say, some reds believe we have been bitter blues as a result of the ban over Heysel, and because we are apparently jealous of them. In Gregs piece, he talked about how there was no animosity shown by blues towards reds post Heysel, indeed the ‘friendly Derby’ was still in evidence in the 1986 FA Cup final 12 months later. And then with our unanimous support for them over Hillsborough. Greg related how this ‘bitter’ accusation only really surfaced after the spiky ‘McAllister’ Derby of 2001 when the minutes silence broke down when a blue voice questioned why there was not also a remembrance of the victims of Heysel. Post 2001 relations between the two sets of fans broke down considerably to the point where you would not feel comfortable standing on an opposition terrace as I and many other blues did during the ‘good old days’ So why are we accused of being ‘bitter’, and where do you draw the line between good natured banter and the more insidious exchanges between fans? I am of the belief that Everton fans are no more ‘bitter’ than Liverpool fans. Yes, we have grievances which stem from the Heysel ban, but what is ‘bitterness’ anyway? Historically, two teams close to each other have been termed ‘bitter rivals’ – and Everton and Liverpool are certainly that. Are Everton fans bitter because we want every team that plays Liverpool to beat them? But surely Liverpool fans want Everton to lose every match as well. Or maybe not every match. Because there is a team just up the East Lancs Road that could be accused of unknowingly causing a division between Merseyside fans. Man Utd have, generally, always been despised on Merseyside by a lot of fans, red and blue. They still are. But Liverpool’s hatred of them, I would suggest, runs much deeper than ours. When Utd play Everton, our local rivals are torn, and many would rather Everton win, such is their hatred of the Mancs. Why is this so? It couldn’t be anything to do with jealousy, even bitterness over the Old Trafford team having been so successful over the past 25 years could it? Whereas Evertonians, whilst having no particular liking for Utd, would prefer the Mancs to beat our crimson cousins. And we use Utd’s successes as a weapon to verbally mock Liverpool – leading to the accusation that we are closet United fans! Nothing could be further from the truth but many blues do have a sneaking respect for United’s successes at the expense of Liverpool. After all, but for the dominance of the Ferguson led United, Liverpool’s trophy cabinet might have even more silverware and their smug arrogance at an even higher level – if possible – than it is now. And don’t let reds kid you that they always want Everton to beat United. When we played the Mancs in the 85 Cup Final, most of them wanted United to win. When we beat them 2-0 at Castle Greyskull in 86, when the title looked all but sewn up for Everton, I was stood on the Kop and I had them saying to me ‘I hope United win the title now’ as Liverpool seemed out of the race (sadly they weren’t and won it on the last day). Do they think we are bitter because they have been more successful than us over far too many years? Man Utd level the same ‘bitter’ accusation at City fans. Yes, I would say I hate that fact, I hate so many things about that football club and the arrogance and smugness of so many fans and if that makes me bitter then so be it. I am bitter, twisted and proud of it. I was not always this way. I am from a mixed family of blues and reds and we sat down to watch games in the 70’s cheering on both teams. I suppose for me, like a lot of other fans, a defining moment was Emlyn Hughes and his ‘Everton Are Tragic’ jibe when celebrating their first European Cup triumph. Even my red supporting mum was disgusted. In their hour of triumph he chose to mock Everton whilst there were many blues at the parade celebrating their success. Not obsessed with us though, are they? So yes, I am bitter but so are they. But I have gone off on a tangent here. The original question was what is banter and what isn’t? Our red brethren paraded a flag ‘commemorating’ our 21 years without a trophy, and had balloons in their crowd (real ones, as well as human ones). I took that as banter. Piss taking yeah, but not malicious. The ‘sock robbers’ nonsense at the Derby a few years ago when we were looking like moving to Kirkby – cringeworthy maybe but still banter, in my opinion. There are many more instances like this from both sides, that are all good humoured. However, the Steau Bucharest flags and scarves – no, that is more sinister. They are using a tragedy (that they caused) to mock us. You get the impression that some of them were happy to sacrifice their European place to deny Everton – that’s the implication from that flag. It is a reaction to blues fans saying that we would have won the European Cup in 86 but for the ban, and the fact that Bucharest- at that time a very average team in comparison to Kendalls boys – lifted the trophy instead. And yes we were denied the chance that year of a crack at the European Cup by the ban but we were denied so much more. Here is where I get all bitter again! We were denied a minimum of five European campaigns following the ban, as we qualified each year. We lost players like Steven, Stevens and Lineker who left us to play European football. More importantly we lost our manager in 87 who needed to test himself at a higher level. We lost the chance to establish a profile in Europe. European success increases revenue streams, makes the club more attractive on the market, makes the club able to attract the best players, increases the fan base, elevates awareness of the club on a European and global scale. By the time the Premier League started we had slipped down and were a mid table side. The chance had gone. In the pre-PL era, football was cyclic, and teams had good spells and lean periods. Nowadays, money plays a bigger part and teams can maintain success by buying the best constantly and the gap between the haves and have-nots has widened. Liverpool suffered to a certain extent as they have not enjoyed the same level of success in the Premier League era. But their successes in the 70’s and 80’s on the European stage, like Man Utd before them, established them as a very big club with a worldwide fanbase and global attractiveness. I maintain that Everton could have achieved that but for the ban. Using the Bucharest flags and banners to mock us over our denied success and decline is one thing, but they are also using a tragedy to mock us. Thirty-nine people lost their lives on that fateful day as a consequence of the violent actions of the Liverpool fans who caused the tragedy. It is sick and beyond simple ‘banter’ to do this – and I would also state at this juncture that I despise the ‘murderers’ chant by Evertonians for the same reason. It was a minority of reds responsible – they were guilty, but it is wrong, in my opinion, to use a tragedy as a weapon. Some blues who sing it also talk happily of the violent tussles they were involved in during those dark days – when it was precisely that sort of behaviour that led to the ban. The fact that Liverpool – the fans and club – have never accepted true responsibility is shameful. Their fans will never accept this and many laugh at the suggestion that Everton’s decline started as a result of that ban. A ban that they contributed to – England’s poor record of violence in Europe, Thatchers distaste for the working class and football in particular, the inertia and stuffiness of football officials and finally the events at Heysel- led to that final decision. That unwillingness of reds to accept responsibility and to blame others – such as Chelsea fans at Heysel – has led to another chant that crosses the line away from pure banter, ‘Always the Victim, it’s never your fault’ one. I know that most if not all blues who sing this do so because of Heysel, Suarez, etc. Whereas Everton fans castigate players who dive, reds fans defended Suarez. When it was clear he was using racist language towards Evra, they defended him. There seems to be an inability to accept culpability on the part of reds. Of course, in the case of Hillsborough they not to blame, as has been proven in a court of law and both reds and blues have steadfastly proclaimed since day 1. Everton fans have always and will always stand side by side with them over Hillsborough- so it would be pretty stupid to sing the ‘Victims’ song about that. Maybe Man Utd fans reference Hillsborough when they sing it, as part of the horrific tragedy mocking exchanges between the two clubs which goes far and beyond past banter and is incredibly distasteful. Everton fans don’t reference Hillsborough but it is naïve to think that reds wouldn’t perceive it as such, and they do. So I shudder every time any blue starts to sing it (plus, if they sing it about Heysel it is using a tragedy as a weapon again). Yes, the sentiments in it do carry a ring of truth but it is very murky and dangerous waters in my opinion so best leave the waders at home. There have been other unsavoury episodes in the recent derby past. Detractors of Everton mention the Gerrard ‘babies not yours song’ but more distasteful were the songs about Phil Nevilles daughter, or the children of Lee Carsley and Kevin Kilbane. In the end it becomes almost a competition to see who can sing the most offensive song. The internet postings from reds that suggest Everton fans beat up their wives, with the picture of the battered female, was an incredibly distasteful example of overstepping the lines of good banter and I was appalled by that. I am not saying don’t abuse the opposition and I am happy to chant ‘f off to Norway’ as I believe this is still within the confines of ‘banter’ whereas many other chants are not. I doubt we will ever get back the ‘friendly derby but I would love to see the less savoury songs absent in the future. So in summary, ‘those lot’ should really get their heads out of their backsides. We are no more or no less bitter than they are. We want our team to be successful and our bitter rivals to suffer humiliating defeat after humiliating defeat. There have been great verbal exchanges between the fans and long may there be so. But there has to be boundaries. I would love to see an end to the distasteful songs, whether between Everton and Liverpool or the hate fest indulged in by the red teams either side of the M62 where they verbally joust using the tragedies of Munich and Hillsborough. I cannot see the return of the old ‘friendly’ derby, and I am quite happy to remain a ‘bitter blue’ whilst they will always be the arrogant, deluded reds!

“You can’t always get what you want”

But if you try some time, you just might find you get what you need.

Big Sam wasn’t many blues first choice. Hell, I doubt if he was even in the first ten for the majority of our fan base. For some he never will be. Two of our Chorley Toffees swore never to watch the blues again whilst he was in charge. One relented but the other is steadfast in his opposition. Whilst I can understand it to a point, it’s not something I could ever see myself doing. But beliefs are beliefs and I respect his choice.

We desperately wanted a top, top manager who plays attractive, winning football that has a swagger, a style. A manager with class and dignity. A manager we respect and love and loves us back equally. We build this vision up in the pure image of Howard Kendall, who ticked every box. Two failed managerial spells could never diminish the affection we felt and will always feel for him. His light will shine brightly always. And every manager has failed in comparison to him. Even the great Harry Catterick is not held in the same esteem, probably due to his aloofness. The most recent managers had decent starts but eventually failed. Martinez, a likeable guy but prone to hyperbole which was joyful while we were winning, joyless and jarring when we weren’t. Koeman, the antithesis of Roberto, Catterick to his Kendall was welcomed warmly but ultimately left many feeling cold.

Enter Big Sam. We hardly lay out the crimson carpet but the run of disastrous results left many browbeaten and resigned to the appointment. We were informed by many fans this was a sign of the blues acceptance of mediocrity. By others it was our only way out and we suck it up, endure the ride and move on.

Four games later (if we don’t include West Ham) and the world seems a better place. Our blue enveloped world happiness hinges on the results of the boys from L4 4EL. Prior to the Hammers game, how many points did we expect to gain from the four league games to follow? Expectations had fallen so low that those who said 3 would probably be viewed as deluded. But 10 out of 12 points, albeit not won in a swashbuckling fashion has steadied the ship. Suddenly players viewed as ‘shite’ by some supporters are being reappraised. We are looking up and not looking behind us. Even the forthcoming visit of Chelsea is not putting the fear of God into our blue hearts.

Is this all down to one man, the Dudley Doorman? Were we about to turn the corner under David Unsworth? We will never know. But all the hallmarks of an Allardyce team are there: tough to break down, direct, resilient, tenacious, organised. Confidence is flowing through them. The 1-1 at Anfield was not pretty but it was a point gained where we had expected a hammering. The 1-0 at Newcastle was hard fought but there were elements of skill and trickery there – and snide. We are not going to be liked by the opposition but who wants to be liked when you are losing 4-1? Kendall’s side is remembered as a beautiful free flowing football side. But they could do the dirty work too and it wasn’t always exciting 4-0 wins that secured two titles. United under Ferguson were the same. Mourinho too. An Allardyce side parks the bus and it is negative, boring. Mourinho does it and he’s a master tactician. Maybe Allardyce hasn’t had exciting sides because he hadn’t had the players? Just a thought. Who knows if Sam could craft a top side playing exciting football but he did OK in finishing 5th with Bolton.

Could he, after stabilising the ship, launch us into calmer waters and onwards towards the success we crave? Time will tell. Maybe he is merely building the foundations for another more exciting boss to come in and reap the rewards? Who knows.

Sam may be not what we wanted. But maybe: just maybe he is what we needed.