OCT
10
2009
Mickey Blue Eyes...
THE STORY SO FAR
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Autumn in its first days.......a break for international games..........the Kirkby decision imminent.............an appropriate time for a hitchhiker's assessment of the season so far. It is a mixed story. It is but a chapter in the continuing story of a club that has dragged itself up by its boot straps to regain an uncertain hold on respectable footy status. Central to that is the relationship between David Moyes and Bill Kenwright. As with other clubs, if the manager-chairman combination doesn't work everything else falters or fails, no matter how talented or hard working the players and administrative side may be. And these days if there is no sign of hope on the pitch clouds of quasi-hysterical gloom gust as quickly as the jerk of a tabloid journo knee, or an equally useless exhalation of ale house or internet gossip.

As I write, we lie tenth in the Premier League (P7, W3, D1, L3, GoalDiff-2, Points10), are through to the knockout stages of the Europa League and have made it to the next round of the League Cup. In the circumstances this has been a good recovery from a start made in Bedlam. If impetus is maintained we can look forward to cementing a place at the top of the table and perhaps enjoying another good run in Europe and Cup competitions. But there are no guarantees for any club, player or fan. That isn't the way football life works.........as if you, a sensible fan, need to be told. Anything can happen. As we all know, a bad result or two is bound to flush neurotic malcontents out of the footy drainage system, to which one cleansing answer is a thorough sluicing with hot water laced with old fashioned bleach, and then brush them down the nearest street gully.

After the first two league games you would have thought we were in the dog days of the late nineties and first few years of the new millennium pre-Moyesy. We had already lost our four best players to injury before a ball was kicked, then lost Joleon Lescott to institutionalised corruption of the game, and then had to integrate three new players into the team pattern. The inevitable happened when a thoroughly wretched 1-6 home defeat to Arsenal was followed by a 0-1 loss to modestly talented and newly-promoted Burnley, which double horror left us bottom of the league table. Then, woe on woes, we lost Phil Neville to another long term injury and Steven Pienaar to a short term injury. You felt someone must have kicked a black cat before walking under a ladder - and crossed their fingers before smashing a very large mirror. Our playing prospect looked bleak indeed. All of it was classic football soap-opera. Then the cavalry arrived in a squadron of good results that had Evertonians everywhere breathing a sigh of relief. Normality was restored, at least so far as anything is ever "normal" in the weird world of professional football and its acolytes.

It is impossible though to make excuses for the Arsenal defeat, which thoroughly deflated heady pre-season optimism amongst a vast majority of Evertonians. Arsenal played well and deserved their win but there's no question the margin was due to the kind of lax playing attitude that rightly enrages fans everywhere. You still couldn't help feeling short-changed even when you made allowances for the kind of luck you get in a match maybe once every few seasons. The Lescott saga was the least of it. Fortunately the blow was eased the following midweek with a sound 4-0 win over a hitherto unheard of Czech side, Sigma Olomouc. Pride was partly restored, at least just enough to remove from Evertonian expressions the look of a basset hound licking urine off a thistle. However, it was short term relief because we then lost at Burnley despite a reasonable second half showing. Uh-oh, you thought, this has an early season familiarity, players looking helplessly at each other, Moyesy sulking in the dug-out. The fans were right to feel uneasy. It looked like one step forward, two steps back. Of course it was nowhere near decisive league wise - obviously far too early - though it might be, come season end.

A competent 1-1 draw in the return fixture in the Czech Republic was quickly followed by a last minute penalty win in a stern struggle with Wigan at Goodison. Relief was deflated by an unnecessary loss at Fulham a week later after a first half display that provided a goal lead and a performance that looked easily enough to see off woeful Fulham. Alas, we didn't come out for the second half and lost in fairly ignominious fashion. It was footy-maddening. You knew the players were more than good enough despite the absence of star players. But they seemed incapable of concentrating as a team for ninety minutes. The best you could say was the fans were disconcerted by the sight of an old-fashioned rickety roller coaster we all thought long demolished.

This goes to show yet again how you can never tell, because we then went on a run of five successive wins in all competitions in which we scored fifteen goals and let in two. That was more like it and very gratifying. AEK Athens were brushed aside in another 4-0 home win in the Europa League, Blackburn and Hull (in the League Cup) defeated as easily, and then Portsmouth beaten after we rode our luck in the second half. But nobody was really celebrating, only relieved. Which was just as well because we then drew 1-1 at home to a Stoke side who were as thuggish on the field as their fans were off it. League wise we are exactly where we deserve to be: midtable. There can be no arguing with a league position whatever the reasons. Modern European competition is, of course, a completely different proposition.

Irritating though it has been, our uneven team performances are at least partly understandable because of the run of debilitating injuries we have suffered. At the time of writing we have lost our best six players to varying lengths of absence. There isn't a club in the world who could take that kind of hit without repercussion. To the club's credit - especially David Moyes - nobody has complained of the treachery of fate or bemoaned what might-have-been. They have got on with it and somehow struggled back to reasonable if unsteady acceptable form. In encouraging patches the team has showed the kind of triangular pass-and-keep movement required of all successful teams. This has made it all the more irritating when it suddenly disappears during a game and we descend into give-the-ball-away chaos. Gawd knows how Moyesy and Steve Round stay sane during these phases of play. Like any other manager in any endeavour they have to work with the clay they have and try to mould it into the best shape they can. Like all outstanding managers they do this in spite of their own all too human defaults. This is tested even more when new players are brought in and they have to settle in, get used to their new team mates, the manager and the team pattern. None of this can be done to order since players and manager are human beings, not machines on a production line, a fact too easily forgotten by unevolved malcontent mentalities. Whatever happens in the short term we still have a weakness on our right flank that by now is known to the world and his wife, which likely will disrupt any progress until solved.

Despite the results, we haven't missed Joleon Lescott's individual play, but his sudden departure and its manner undeniably disrupted our team formation and playing confidence. The paradox is that newcomers Sylvain Distin (French), John Heitinga (Dutch) and Dinyar Bilyaletdinov (Russian) have each played well. In Distin's case particularly well because of his previous experience in England. If anything his performances have been better than Lescott's. Heitinga and Bily (didn't take long to shorten it) are bound to take longer to settle since it is their first time in the English league; at times the pace has caught them unawares, but it seems only a matter of time before both get it right. Bily's deadly crossing is reminiscent of Andy Hinchcliffe's, Dave Thomas's and John Morrissey's. If all our injured players come back to full fitness - still something I feel will be against precedent - we are going to have a formidable squad. On the surface they will be capable of the final break through sought by every Evertonian. If it happens it will be an amazing achievement in such a short time and against truly formidable odds. Six seasons ago you could have got even odds on us being relegated. In the current economic climate that would probably have been a disaster that would have required many years of recovery. In any case we are still in a highly vulnerable position. The arse could fall out of everything tomorrow, as the banks scam has demonstrated in searing fashion. If you haven't learned the lesson or drawn an obvious conclusion then you are best taking up macramé or stamp collecting. It is still a very rocky ride indeed.

The overall playing experience has yet again highlighted how important it is to have a large, talented squad available. This requires lots of money. You can only do it if the club is generating sufficient revenue to keep the organisation going before buying new players and paying them the kind of money most of them want for their services. If you haven't got that, you either languish in the middle or lower regions of the game or take a gamble and go into debt in the hope that future prize money/media deals/increased gate prices will cover the wager. The arithmetic is rather straight forward and uncomplicated. Only accountancy practices make it obscure. If you get most or all of this wrong you face the kind of staccato yoyo future most suffer outside of Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and now Manchester City. That is the way capitalism works and will continue to work until we are rid of it. Fans whingeing and whining won't make a blind bit of difference unless it is organised, articulate and determined on a national scale. Mere bitching and personality obsession (incredibly, at one time some crackpot Ipswich fans wanted rid of Bobby Robson and the Cobbold family owners - there are many other examples) has never helped any club at any time and never will. Likely it would have precisely the opposite effect. Usually it just hardens into a tiny gang of like-minded neurotics looking for an axe to grind them through middle age.

By the time this gets posted on Blue Kipper the outcome of the government's Kirkby inquiry may be known. Your guess is as good as mine as to what it will be. Whatever the result, we have to get on with it. The debate about the move is long over, everybody has had their say and the proposal has been analysed in the coolest arena of all, a formal inquiry. If we remain stuck at Goodison, however much we love the place, the future will look ominous. A move to the new site will give us a chance, nothing more, to really regenerate the club. So the next few weeks will be a decisive moment in its history. But whatever happens, whatever the difficulties, the club and the overwhelming majority of its fans will continue to exist and love the game. That tiny minority who prefer their own neuroses to the club's future can move on and not be missed in the slightest; in fact the sooner they're gone the better it will be for everybody. Everyone else will relish the prospect of keeping their club on course for an improved prospect. Sensible members of the species know you either adapt or die. Football is no different.

All in all, an interesting opening phase to the season. And it is bound to get more engrossing.

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