Everyone expects it to end in disaster at Everton
Published by The Daily Mail (21st January, 2023)
There is something deeply irrational about being a football fan. The time, money and effort spent following your club. The delusions, the hopes, the fears. How your mood is dictated by a few multi-millionaires gathered from around the world kicking a ball for 90 minutes.
But for more than half a century, I have followed my chosen club of Everton with strange devotion. So today I will head over to east London to watch them play West Ham, a fixture blessed with many unusually fond memories of victory for a match in the capital.
But this one is being played amid clouds of swirling darkness, an existential fight for survival against another struggling club with deep roots in its community — ironically managed by David Moyes, who led our own team so adroitly for 11 years.
Both managers are fighting for their jobs. But for Everton, the issues go far beyond the future of Frank Lampard — a legendary player who seems a lovely fellow and has forged a strong bond with his new fans, but looks sadly out of his depth as a manager.
Everton’s decline is a morality tale for modern sport: a famous club with a proud history and strong community ties that sold its soul in the desperate search for silverware — only to prove again that money does not always buy success, let alone happiness.
It is a tale of tragedy with terrible failures in the boardroom and on the playing field leading to anger, bitterness and the looming threat of relegation for a club with nine league titles and the second-longest number of continuous seasons in the top flight.
There is a bumbling owner who never attends games blaming fans for his need to keep sacking managers. Loathed executives allege they were too scared by threats to attend the last disastrous home match — beaten by the bottom club, to stay winless since October.
And a few frustrated supporters chased a local player who made a silly mistake down the street afterwards as he drove away in his G-Wagon.
Perhaps as fans we were blinded by ambition, fooled by history and failed to appreciate that era of stability under Moyes. As we fought for European places, the club largely used its limited cash wisely in the transfer lottery and we followed a gritty team with character.
One pal even suggested to me the club motto should change from Nil Satis Nisi Optimum (Nothing but the best is good enough) to Cave Quid Volunt (Be careful what you wish for).
Maybe they can pull off another great escape. But the mood seems so toxic, the ineptitude so immense, the breach between owner, officials and fans so stark, that every supporter I know expects this season to finally end with a disastrous slide into the Championship.
Even the simple question of who really runs and funds Everton is swathed in controversy.
This club has been a big part of my life. I do not follow any other sport — just Everton FC. I have forged close friendships with fellow fans, enjoyed joyous communal moments around games over the years and grown fond of Liverpool (the city, not the club).
I chose my allegiance as a contrary eight-year-old boy in Surrey, seduced by the 1970 title-winning team. I wanted to be different to my father who supported Arsenal, my Chelsea-loving brother and my friends who followed Leeds.
My devotion was secured by the first game I attended in 1976, seeing my hero Bob Latchford lead a fabulous comeback in the last few minutes with a flicked headed assist and then a barnstorming run to complete a 3-3 draw against Spurs at White Hart Lane.
Everton were the Mersey Millionaires, bankrolled by a pools tycoon who splashed out a UK-record transfer fee of £350,000 to sign the formidable forward from Birmingham City.
It was money well spent, since Latchford became top scorer for six seasons — unlike the hundreds of millions blown in recent years to end up with a toothless team who cannot find the net.
‘Once Everton has touched you, nothing will be the same,’ said Alan Ball. His sentiment — based on the passion of fans and the club’s bonds with its local community — was echoed by many players over the years, even as our national game evolved into a global monster.
And this makes today’s acrimony between the board and supporters all the sadder.
Living in the West Midlands during the Howard Kendall heyday in the mid-Eighties, I could enjoy the balance and beauty of a glorious team who would have dominated Europe if not for the post-Heysel ban on English clubs. We have long seemed cursed with bad luck.
A 4-1 destruction of Sunderland in 1985, with two incredible headers in four minutes by Andy Gray, was the finest Everton performance I have seen in person. Although what joy to be at Goodison many years later when a 16-year-old of astounding confidence and skill called Wayne Rooney announced himself on the world stage with a winning goal against Arsenal.
This was 2002, the start of the Moyes era that began with the Glaswegian’s christening of ‘The People’s Club’, a clever move to restore pride in a club struggling in the shadow of its successful neighbour. Then he built a team of committed battlers, typified by Tim Cahill.
The club punched above its weight. It was owned by a local boy made good. But as money flooded into the Premier League, often from dodgy foreign sources, fans grew frustrated by the financial struggles and failure to quite make it back into the elite.
Bill Kenwright should have quit when he sold up to Iranian-born Farhad Moshiri in 2016 rather than a rival US bidder, whether for personal or professional reasons. Instead he stayed as chairman and we all thought we had found a saviour to take us back to the top.
Like fans at other clubs, we ignored the source of the tainted money — in Everton’s case, an oligarch close to the bloodstained Vladimir Putin, since at the very least Moshiri made his riches as the accountant assisting Alisher Usmanov, the Uzbek metals multi-billionaire.
An ally told me Moshiri avoids games due to post-Covid health fears. Regardless, his weak leadership has been catastrophic, spending close to £700million to end up with an insipid team and crippling financial restrictions under the League’s bizarre spending rules.
Lampard’s five predecessors, plus two directors of football, were chewed up and spat out amid factional fighting, cronyism and some crazed decision- making.
A £20m joint deal with Hull for Harry Maguire and Andy Robertson was rejected for ‘better’ options. Erling Haaland, the Norwegian goal machine now at Manchester City, was turned down after a four-day trial when he could have been our successor to Dixie Dean. Rafa Benitez was hired.
Now the imploding club seems to have turned on its fans — which as the former jeweller Gerald Ratner could attest after mocking his customers, is never wise PR policy.
Not least when it was their fervour that helped save Everton last season — along with the saves of England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and the tenacity of the beloved Brazilian forward Richarlison, who was instantly flogged off for £60m to keep the club afloat.
The club feels so broken that there are fears relegation might be fatal as spending stalls, sanctions against Russia hit the flow of cash from Usmanov and a stunning new stadium being built on the Liverpool dockside is revealed to be costing £760m.
I gather loan deals are being finalised to ensure the stadium’s completion over the next couple of weeks — but if these fall apart, along with talks involving another group of US minority investors, the future looks grim for those of us that really care about the club.