Mickey Blue Eyes
Pre-derby in the last transfer window, speed-merchant stern-faced Aaron Lennon arrived on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, posed for a "photo opportunity" - public relations bullshit for taking artificially-posed snaps - and reported to Finch Farm for induction. His lack of toothy false grin supplied a tediously predictable "controversy" for media hacks, pr clerks and social media fishwives, plus a P45 for the photographer. Fans responses were mixed, though doubtless any reservations would be banished if Smiley came on and scored the winner against you-know-who. At the same time Kevin Mirallas made noises about leaving; well, there is always one. Over in Sampdoria itinerant Samuel Eto'o refused to turn up for his first training session for some reason or other, thus throwing fuel on the fire of rumours that followed his exit: But who knows what goes on in the minds of men, never mind footy players?
Meanwhile, for all I know there may still be a fan or two with their noses pressed up against the transfer window pane, though I have yet to meet them. These days most members of the Real World Club see the twice-a-year cattle market for the absurdity it is.
This time we had more important things on our minds, such as how we were going to beat the pinkies in a league game for the first time in four and a half mortifying years. A win was long overdue. Despite that, the last derby at the Old Lady was the best I have ever seen, including the 4-4 Cup draw. You will recall it was a frenetic 3-3 and even then there were late chances for a winner at either end. Then there was the Jags last minute equaliser last September at analfield, the best derby goal ever, better still than the famous Sharp rocket. These games always have the potential for glorious footy folk lore.
Nevertheless, in this football-crazy beloved city of ours there is a miniscule minority who claim lack of interest in our derby matches. Do not believe them. Such people are either (a) Not footy fans at all, or (b) Trying to hide the tension that burns a hole through their intestines, or (c) Protecting themselves in advance of possible defeat.
Well, I do care. I love these games. And that is in spite of the damage they do to my nervous system before and during each match. Every time we cross the half way line my hopes soar; when the enemy does the opposite I am in dread tension. You can extrapolate the effects of a goal accordingly. A win is euphoria like no other, defeat is an all-enveloping disaster, a draw is meh relief. Damned sado-masochists the lot of us. There is absolutely no point trying to predict the score because it could be anything either way, but whatever happens, good, bad or indifferent, afterwards you look and sound like a drained cadaver.
Try as they might outsiders can never fully understand how we locals feel about these games, that there is no other football derby like it, that it is a unique potent mix of intense competition and community pride simply not evident anywhere else. To show this, the next three seats on my right were occupied by an Evertonian mother with two tiny daughters muffled to the ears in Royal Blue against the cold, one of whom could not have been older than four or five years of age, so small, even when she stood on the seat she didn't stop a line of sight. This is not to idealise these matches or make of them something they are not, I merely point out a fact. It is certainly true they are not what they once were - since Hillsborough football has assumed a different place in our zeitgeist - yet there is still enough left to "enjoy" them, even though English life, including football, has retreated in too many places into a cold suburban existence. Nor is local football humour what it was, but what is left is still well worth preserving; sadly, we are a dwindling band.
Nor should we ignore ugliness that threatens the fixture, for which both sets of minority loonies are as responsible as Emlyn Hughes. No wonder it spins the inside of your head. On such occasions we do not need or want the emptiness of hangers-on, cynics or vicarious hacks. These matches are ours, hysteria, glory, joy, misery, faults and all. I hope the best of it never changes. Treasure it while you can. The worst of it we can do without.
One of the worst examples was led by the local gendarmerie and peculiarly pointless mayor who objected to an evening kick off on the grounds of a supposed threat to community peace. Fortunately this was rejected, but given some past events you could see why they tried. In that respect we fans only have ourselves to blame because we let too much slide by without complaint. Over the years, individual stupidity accumulated until a tiny loud-mouthed minority caused problems from both sides. Still, the bizzies could have helped defuse it by some well chosen advance words of warning and other actions. Instead, their notoriously narrow forehead and no-neck trumped their better vocational instincts. Which was a great pity because generally over the years, odd exceptions apart, local policing of matches has been a model for the rest of the country.
The best example of derbiness came when pre-match Margaret Aspinall and Bill Kenwright unveiled a memorial plaque to victims of the Hillsborough disaster. Those who lost family or friends on that awful day can never forget it or its aftermath and a quarter-century search for justice by the families, heroes all. The new inquest in Warrington has already exposed enough of the truth to acknowledge the reality of what happened. It cannot of course explain the craven all-out lying assault on our city by mainstream media; the causes of that lie elsewhere and are rooted deep in English society and the thieving crackpots who run it.
Elsewhere, the touting of match tickets by StubHub caused fully justified outrage from match-going fans. If you are unaware of it......this tenth rate grubby conmen organisation profits from onward sale of match tickets. But so do clubs. For important games such as the derby this leads to rip-offs by small time barrow boys who can ask and get crazy prices; all of it is perfectly legal and thoroughly immoral. In this case, a few tickets were sold for thousands of pounds: So what did you expect from a nation that long ago mortgaged its decency to bankers profiteering, buy-to-let, accountancy/MBA liars, forex carpetbaggers, warmongers, organised crime and hedge funds? Every football club, including ours, would do well to terminate any connection to StubHub and denounce it for the disgusting scam it is.
There is no reason why clubs cannot organise their own sell-on of tickets at face value plus a nominal admin fee (even that could be absorbed in a sport awash with more money than it knows how to handle). However, do not hold your breath. Political consciousness may finally be stirring in southern Europe but the ripples have yet to disturb Whitehall, Westminster and Canary Wharf, let alone the English Football Association and the Premier League.
So the derby rolled around. Team: Robles, Coleman, Oviedo, Jagielka, Stones, McCarthy, Barry, Besić, Naismith, Mirallas, Lukaku. Lennon came on for Mirallas after an hour, and Barkley and Alcaraz for respectively Besić and Naismith. No Bainsey for some unknown reason.
Football never ceases to surprise you. A half hour before the kick off I settled in my seat to absorb the build-up. And who should arrive but Kevin Eagle of the Gibraltar Supporters Club, accompanied by his good lady and his two sons. The last time I met Kevin was - where does the time go? - January 2008 and the Goodison leg of the League Cup semi-final V Chelsea. It costs Kevin several arms and legs to get to see our beloved Royal Blues a couple of times a season, which puts our collective moans into a very small place indeed. Marvellous loyalty and commitment.
Given our season thus far I was unsure how the fans would react to the game. After all, Goodison has been like a morgue for most of 2014-15. I should have known. Actually, derby feeling was undimmed. You could have crisped several stir-fries on the air, or blistered paint - even throw-ins won were cheered to the echo. Competitive-wise, the pinkies are still as welcome as a Murdoch hack with Ebola. As usual, Dan was yelling incoherent choice and novel insults, one of which included the words "...massive lesbian..." I am unsure of the relevance but it seemed to satisfy his viscera. Elsewhere, the invective language would have neutralised a Jesuit sermon.
This is not to say match play improved because of it. In fact the game was too tense and tight for most of the time; often it settled into safety first midfield keep ball with both sides afraid of mistakes. Overall, the enemy had slightly better shape but it amounted to and guaranteed them nothing, especially after the substitutions made a minor difference to the flow of the game in our favour. 0-0 was about fair. They hit a post and Seamus made a couple of Lennon-supported nostalgic breakaways down our right that could have brought a late winner. Their 'keeper made the best save of the match from one such, while fortunately Joel had almost nothing to test him. Thankfully Jags has begun to recover his form with John Stones alongside him and that was the core reason for another welcome clean sheet. In our case it was another determined performance that means we can begin to hope cautiously that Roberto and Our Boys really are starting to absorb the sobering lessons of a wretched season. Still, a couple of satisfying wins would hardly go amiss.
It was encouraging to see what tentatively looks like the beginning of a formidable midfield partnership between Muhamad Besić and Jimmy McCarthy, though naturally the latter looked a little ring rusty after a worryingly-long injury lay off. It was encouraging too to see Ross Barkley pass earlier and better during his blink-and-you-miss-it five minutes; only his timing is in doubt, not his talent. Against that, the service to Romelu Lukaku remains too little too late and often means he gets caught offside - if he starts to drop back it means an even more reduced attacking threat, our current Catch-22 and one that needs sorting post haste. Lennon made a decided difference down the right, enough to enable Seamus to make his late attacking runs. Early on Mirallas looked likely to make a breakthrough which, alas, failed to materialise, and then he faded. Out at the dotted line Roberto looked more bull-necked and less comfortable. Maybe that was needed all along. Or maybe it is merely wishful thinking. At least now we can begin to think of removing the oxygen mask.
There remains an awful lot of conditional adverbs and adjectives in that lot. John Le Carré would be in his element.