Wednesday 21 March 2018

Sense of injustice driving force behind the Irish people's club

I don't think I've been to a thunderous victory at Goodison Park since Danny Cadamarteri made a fool of Neil Ruddock, something which in retrospect was not so difficult, in the Merseyside derby in 1997.

They went mad at Goodison that day and they went mad again last Saturday, cheered as only they can be by beating the odds and beating any one of their oppressors.

I was there last week and it was a very recognisable scene, even if it was an unfamiliar one at Goodison Park. Evertonians celebrate with a fundamentalist fervour. Like most football fans, they are fuelled by many things, but like most fundamentalists, they are fuelled by a sense of injustice.

On that day in 1997, a friend of mine saw a Liverpool player wave a wad of cash from the back of the team bus. The Liverpool players were pulling away from Goodison in disgrace, surrounded by a howling, delighted mob, who took his crass gesture as evidence that they had secured a moral victory which they proceeded to celebrate with the enthusiasm they had previously reserved for the less familiar actual victory.

Liverpool were reaching the point where they had more money than sense and Everton were craving such problems. They had entered a period of deep disturbance and ennui, a period enlivened only by their devotion to Duncan Ferguson. Apart from that, there were slim pickings.

When I was growing up, there was always somebody trying to insert religion into football clubs. We were all expected to support Celtic and I wasn't imaginative enough to disagree.

Then somebody would come along and say that Everton were the Catholic club in Merseyside and we should be supporting them. In the early 1980s, the Church may have still had some power but in the Colin Lee years, Everton didn't.

We were the new generation and we were observing that our elders were mainly engaged in lip-service. If there was any need for a Catholic link to a football club, Celtic would take care of it for us. For the real soul food, we weren't going to make a choice based on religion.

By that stage, it wasn't true that Everton were the Catholic club but there is a case to be made, even now, that Everton are the more Irish of the two Irish clubs on Merseyside.

At Liverpool there was success and even now, in its absence, there is the expectation of success. At Everton, there is the expectation that somebody, somewhere will do them down. Of course, they have good reason to suspect this but, then again, so do we.

It happened again last week, just when everything was going so well. Everton didn't just beat Manchester United on Saturday, they pulverised them and showed them how to play. Then, when things were good, they threw away a lead against Sporting Lisbon. There is no rational explanation for this. In David Moyes, they have the hungriest and smartest manager under 50 in the league. Everton, it must be concluded, are Ireland's club. In fact, they are Ireland.

I remember the mid-1980s when the Everton fans suddenly transformed. The most irritating of them stopped condemning us to an eternity in flames for not following a Catholic club and instead began to talk of Sheedy and Reid. Andy Gray and Graeme Sharp. Kevin Ratcliffe and the astonishing and eccentric Neville Southall (did he keep owls? I have a memory that he did).

Everton fans wouldn't stop talking during those years that stretched into eternity and we began to feel that the Catholic thing made sense. We were turning away from God and look what was happening.

Now we can see things a little clearer. This was their Celtic Tiger. Sheedy and Reid and the rest were the booming property market (Adrian Heath the apartment in Bulgaria) and no sooner had they begun to feel comfortable with hubristic swagger than it would be snatched away. The ban on English clubs after the Heysel disaster was Everton's global economic downturn.

Once they were the model for how clubs should be run. They were ready to rule the world and then it was taken away from them. There was some bad management, but while essentially the problem was beyond their control.

There may come a time in the very near future when a club like Everton makes a lot more sense. They have tried to compete financially and they lose money but they know where they are from. At the Merseyside Derby three weeks ago, a Liverpool banner hailed Everton for having proper owners -- then the two teams kicked the shit out of each other. This is a healthy relationship.

For a long time, they lived in a world dominated by the post-Heysel injustice. There is a sense of oppression too from a close neighbour that has appeared to lord it over them.

When Rafael Benitez described Everton as a "small club", there was outrage, the grievances smouldered and the club released an official statement pointing out that they were not a small club, they were a big one. Benitez was in a "minority of one" in holding this view, the chief executive said, revealing again the massive grandiosity tempered by feelings of tremendous inferiority.

Again the sensations were familiar to those who used to smart at every slight from any condescending Englishman, yet we would always want to ask them what they thought of Ireland (there was only one right answer to this question).

Evertonians don't care so much about what Liverpool think. Liverpool are the source of all their problems so everything they do irritates them. Moyes is a figure they have to cherish. There are too many stories in football of his general calmness and refusal to engage with bullshit for him to be viewed as anything other than an extremely smart man.

Even when losing to Sporting, his view was that Everton deserved nothing from the game. They deserve a lot, as does he. They play Tottenham today and Moyes is the man to produce a response.

With his Celtic background, he understands how his people think. He coined the phrase 'The People's Club' which, in another demonstration of brashness concealing some insecurity, was then plastered on every available piece of merchandise at the club. Moyes was almost right. They are not the people's club. They are the Irish people's club.

Sunday Independent

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