STATISTICS, WITCHES, DEMONS AND BROOMSTICKS
Mickey Blue Eyes
So that's that, then, another season over, this one very similar to the previous one. Understandably it left most of us deflated because of a perceived lost opportunity for a trophy-winning season; often it was hard to find a rational explanation for the team's inconsistency up to January. Like the previous season the final run-in took away the sting, but this time there was no left over euphoria. Instead, we felt fractious and pissed off. At its worst our team play resembled a gormless back-to-front baseball cap. At its best, when we won, sometimes it was like the Sugar Plum Fairy in a tutu had just executed a mugging. It was almost surreal. In these circumstances how easy it would be to get post-season footy-jaundice. Until you get everything into commonsense perspective. With that in mind, here are our league placings for the last twenty seasons:
1994. 18th. Peter Johnson bought controlling interest from the Moores family.
2000. 13th. True Blue Holdings bought controlling interest from Johnson.
2002. 15th. David Moyes arrived in March.
In other words, the David Moyes/Bill Kenwright partnership has provided our best league place sequence in over twenty years, thus time and again confounding ale-house misery-arses. And it began just two seasons after Kenwright appointed Moyes. The placings speak for themselves. No other manager/chairman association has had a similar league run since Howard Kendall/Philip Carter during 1982-1987. (How long ago that seems). It was only bettered during the great Harry Catterick/John Moores era of 1961-1970. There is nothing else comparable, not even during the Dixie Dean years. All it lacks is silverware and a reasonable measure of good fortune and freedom from injuries, which these days are much, much harder to get. As we all know, the final leap is heavily dependent on ridiculous amounts of incoming money; but the inevitable banking collapse and the loss of a new stadium makes that even more unlikely. All the wishful thinking or noisy, poisonous nonsense in the world won't improve prospects. That is the straightforward, indisputable reality.
The above statistics are courtesy of Steve Johnson's wonderful web site at http://www.evertonresults.com/ataglance.htm. (Do buy his superbly detailed and essential book of Everton's playing, players and other records up to 2010, see http://www.evertonresults.com/bookinfo.html). The same site shows average league gates went up by just under a third after we won the FA Cup in 1995 and have not dropped below 34,000 since (there was a similar reaction after the 1984 success). This is despite a dearth of trophies and obvious financial problems. Had things gone wrong, make no mistake we could easily have dropped through not one but two trap doors in the manner of Manchester City, Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday. We still could. David Moyes could still leave at any time for any number of reasons. But not only have we survived against heavy odds, we have improved playing prospects. It is quite an achievement, however fragile, which, of course, will go straight over the heads of some, the ones who sound like afflicted girls in seventeenth century Salem. They remind you that individual and collective hysteria is not dead, that there are still some peculiar people who believe in witches and demons. How can it be otherwise when sometimes you hear these shmucks even blame Kenwright for the Peter Johnson record because he was on the board at the time, meanwhile conveniently ignoring the fact that he has also been a director since 1984......so by their "reasoning" Kenwright should, but naturally doesn't, receive credit for the great team of 1984-1989 too! Then again, has that weird rationale ever been any different in any club spectator sport?
This always makes an interesting backdrop to any Everton-Chelsea match. It couldn't be otherwise, given Roman Abramovich and his never ending straggle of grim-faced managers on a treadmill. Maybe he would fly in and out on a broomstick, cackling demon-style, maybe he wouldn't. It depends on whether you believe spectral evidence or not. In the real world, before Saturday we hadn't lost to the Rent Boys in the last five encounters. We won two of them. A draw would secure seventh place, an unlikely prospect for us just a few months ago.
The day dawned with a quick, grey-clouded sky, spattering rain, an annoying wind and a churning river. It cleared to bright spring sunshine in time for the late afternoon kick off. Pre-match saw a cameo appearance from our greatest ever goalkeeper, Neville Southall, now a large figure in an ill fitting suit and quite different to the marvellous footy athlete we remember with huge affection as the greatest 'keeper in the world during his era. It also featured a well-earned warm greeting for the Under-18 championship side, a line of young lads of impressive height and achievement, who, I regret to say, I haven't seen in action this season despite some sterling reports; you couldn't help wondering how many of them will make the breakthrough. As we all know, the game can provide glory or disappointment in indiscriminate quantities. The attrition rate is high, but who would never have the dream?
Teams: for us, no Phil Neville, Jack Rodwell in his place from the start, everyone else same as; for them, zillions of pounds worth on the field and on the bench including an anaemic Torres doomed, poor sod, to be pursued all afternoon by hoots of, "Layyyyyydee Boy." Off the field, Chelsea brought a two-thirds, scattered contingent, who managed to sound - as do most Lahndan fans except West Ham - like a gang of Uriah Heap office clerks singing half-hearted psalms on a 1950s charabanc trip to a meeting of the Plymouth Brethren.
I estimated our chances of success as slim so I would have been happy with a draw, especially after last week's silly and avoidable loss to West Brom. Ominously, the game opened with a few fouls by Chelsea (or "Chewlsee" as their chintzy fans seem to prefer) that felled Becks and Tony amongst others. Uh oh, you thought, I hope this isn't the way the game's going to go. Well, it did, not helped by the worst and most inconsistent refereeing I have seen this season. Soon we were retaliating. As a result, what might have been an outstanding match became narky with some brilliant highlights. What quickly became clear was that we were more determined and hungry than they were. This more than compensated for the obvious difference in individual abilities; this time there were few maddening inconsistencies in our pattern of team play. Our Boys showed once again that when they get sufficiently pissed off they are more than a match for anyone in the league. By comparison Chelsea merely got angry and frustrated however much possession they had, and eventually it did for them. Overall it was an edgy spectacle with flashes of high excitement.
We started well with most of the play in their half and Beckford had a first wild shot with about eight minutes gone. It was ten minutes before they even crossed the half way line, but when they did on a couple of occasions they narrowly missed getting someone through the middle. Their passing ability was dangerous throughout, whereas we were fine up to just beyond the centre circle, then.......well, you know the rest if you've been paying attention this season. However, there were enough threats on Cech's goal to keep up our hopes. Jags hit the bar with a close in header he should have buried, Jack the Lad made a right wing breakaway only halted with a last second tackle, and then Mikky stuck a brilliant through ball left side for Becks to burn off their big centre back in - and then smack it very wildly wide. If only his shooting matched his acceleration, we mused. No doubt their expensive and hapless centre back wished the reverse because he kept kicking and kneeing him to slow him down. For all their passing, the Rent Boys had their first shot with the half almost up and Tim saved it well.
I became optimistic; I had expected to be overrun in midfield but John Heitinga and Mikky were having impressive games and everyone else made maximum effort too. Seamus Coleman's game has come on in leaps and bounds since he stopped listening to the run-at-them morons in the crowd. These days he times his runs much better and still finds time to get fractious when needed, which combative latter in the end was his undoing. Still, midfield's combined work ethic prevented Essien and Mikel establishing any form of control.
The fractiousness came to a head five minutes after half time when Alex did Becks for the umpteenth time, got booked, and a minute later Seamus went in, did Alex in revenge and got sent off with a second yellow after earning the first right after the restart. It was all uppity because the referee had little idea how to deal an even hand and frankly looked as though he'd have difficulty on a zebra crossing. If Chelsea thought they had it made they couldn't have been more wrong: it woke the crowd up to determined outrage and put more, not less, steel into Our Boys. As with Manchester City it was akin to a wakening beast. Still, there was another forty minutes to go. I expected it to tell in the final quarter.
A minute later Terry, another one hooted throughout, hit Tim's right post at the root and it only narrowly avoided rebounding off his back into the goal. It was all going off. Minutes later Becks, right-side and closing, made a donkey of Alex yet again, won a pissing contest and was left one on one, only for Cech to make a desperate feet first save. A couple of minutes later Jack almost hit row Q with a Becks style shot from twenty five metres. It was going off even more. Far from being intimidated by the loss of Coleman our Royal Blues had them unnerved sufficiently for them to give away a string of fouls. They even made two subs, but it made no difference. We even managed to get a few corners.
With just under twenty minutes left Chelsea scored but it was disallowed for offside. I had just finished saying glumly, "Well, I don't suppose it'll be long delayed. It usually counts in the last quarter," when we scored the winner through Jermaine Beckford, one that would have to be up there for goal of the season. He was actually just inside our right-side penalty area when he first got the ball and set off on a slightly diagonal run that ended short of their goal area right angle. He stole it from a tubby, slow-witted Lampard, raced forward, lost Cole, then burst between Terry and Alex, got clear left-side after killing an awkward bounce to feet, seemed to let it get too far ahead of him but didn't, drew Cech, and clipped it home. Some of the pace came off it as it hit the 'keeper and looped high for an eternity before bouncing gently into the side net.
Vic Anichebe subbed for Becks with ten minutes left, won a few heading duels and roughed up their centre backs in a way Becks never could, but it was enough to make the enemy wary. Still, they managed enough shots to have us chewing finger nails while waiting for the final whistle and howling at everything we could. It was enough. We made it to the final whistle without a late disaster. A few minutes after the final whistle Abramovich sacked Ancelotti for finishing second and after he won a double the previous season, thus demonstrating football hysteria isn't confined to morons in the crowd. As the inimitable Jimmy Greaves once said, "It's a farnny owl gime."
In keeping with this, doubtless the close season will bring all the usual tedious moans and whinges about kit design, incoming transfers (or lack of them, or, even if there are some, that they are "the wrong signings"), the shape of hamburgers, the cost of pies, and all the rest of the usual hubble-bubble-toil-and-trouble, rumour-ridden, I-heard-it-first claptrap. Meanwhile, if you are one of these riffraff and you are leaving never to return: here, let me carry your bags and pay your bus fare to Miseryville. You won't have far to go - the terminus is between your ears. Here's the only football you will ever understand: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9k3L1NC2mE......The rest of us can get ready for next season and whatever it brings or doesn't bring. That's the way football support works, always has and always will.
This time around I doubt anyone will be in a hurry to make forecasts for next season. Me, I forecast nothing, which might mean we'll win the league, the FA Cup and the League Cup. Maybe pork will fly in squadrons. Who knows? After all, sometimes playing fortunes can turn on a single back pass. Ask Howard Kendall. Or, for that matter, Carlo Ancelotti.